(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

“I Am Who I Am” is a nonfiction account of biracial or multiracial teenagers who are struggling with identity. Adolescence is a trying time of learning about self for those who have mixed ancestry. They struggle as their peers and society demand that they choose one race with which to identify. As the number of multiracial people increases, their voices become more powerful as agents of change.

Kathlyn Gay begins the work with a discussion about prejudice and how it is based on stereotypes. She defines racism and the power of racism. She concludes that racism is based solely on stereotypes and myths, not on any conclusive scientific evidence. Gay next addresses the fondly-held view that the United States is a country that is a melting pot in which all are valuable as Americans. The reality, according to the author, is that the common cultural demand for a single homogenous identity wipes away important parts of the self. The culture talks about a melting pot and demands that all identify as a single race, which is impossible for some. The teenagers in the book believe that picking one of the cultures in their ancestry eliminates all of the others. They believe such a choice eliminates parts of themselves.

Gay states that U.S. society does in fact believe that, when a child is born to parents who are of different ethnic backgrounds, the multiracial child somehow “dilutes” the bloodline. She cites apartheid in South Africa, the abandoned biracial children (fathered by American soldiers) in Vietnam, and the inability of American multiracial children to mark an appropriate box on any school or employment application as the defense of this argument.

The book ends with a call for all multiracial people to come together to demand change. Gay states that close to five million multiracial people live in the United States. Gay believes that some form of the Canadian system of population identification would be ideal for U.S. culture. In the Canadian form there are classifications for all races, and each applicant can mark as many as apply. The racist legacy of the U.S. system suggests that categories are based on the notion of skin color. The new manner of identification will eliminate the focus on skin color and celebrate cultures. All Americans, regardless of their color, are a mixture of various and probably numerous cultures.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Allison, Lynn. Review of “I Am Who I Am,” by Kathlyn Gay. Book Report 14, no. 2 (September-October, 1995): 58.

Flynn, Kellie. Review of “I Am Who I Am,” by Kathlyn Gay. School Library Journal 4, no. 8 (August, 1995): 160.