Famous Friday: Dr. Sarah Gaither
Sarah was born to a white mother and a black father. She presents as white, but proudly identifies as multiracial. As a child her identity was regularly questioned by strangers. As with so many others, people would sometimes fear that her father was kidnapping her.
“Growing up I always wished I looked a little more like my brother”, Sarah said. I always wished I looked a little more like how I actually identify. But I grew up in such a supportive household where I knew I was all these different racial and ethnic backgrounds. To be proud of that fact was really how I got through my various identity transitions across childhood and adolescence.”
Childhood experiences like these created an awareness and interest in how skin tone determines how people will be treated and how racial identity influences how multiracial people feel about themselves. Her interest grew into academic passion and she engaged in her first study on the multiracial population after her college career at University of California Berkeley in 2007. Sarah quickly discovered that very little research had been done on multiracial people, and she set out to do her part. Today, after earning her Masters and PhD from Tufts University, Sarah is serving as the principal investigator of Duke University’s Identity and Diversity Lab. She has become an informative voice for the rapidly growing multiracial population.
“I try to use this work as a way to push our understanding about identity more broadly – that we actually all have multiple identities,” she explains, “So pushing people beyond this binary is something that I’m hoping this work will do. What a lot of our work is trying to argue is that if you are biracial or have these multiple identities, this actually leads to what we call “identity flexibility.” You’re able to cross diverse spaces more easily compared to people from monoracial backgrounds … It really highlights this malleability of biracial individuals and the fact that they might have an extra tool to help navigate different types of spaces.”
Her research work as a social and developmental psychologist has been published more times than I could count and featured on NPR’s “Code Switch”. Sarah is a self-identified “foodie.”
“Knowing people who are biracial or transgender or anyone who is transitioning or confused about their identities,” Sarah shared, “we’re usually confused because of how society is treating us. And so if we weren’t so fixed in what groups we think we have to belong to or don’t want to belong to, I think we’d all get along a little better.”
I bet she’s right.
Karson Baldwin, President Project RACE Teens