My Bi-Racial Coming of Age -
Updated: May 3, 2019
NOTE: If you find conversations about race, race relations, white privilege and or light skinned privilege to be something that upsets you, I invite you to take a look at this post anyway. Keep in mind that this is MY journey, not anyone else's. I speak to my experiences through my life lens. I in no way am telling you what to think and feel.
With that said if you read through and you are upset by anything that I said, please feel free to reach out to me for clarification or to simply express your view. I can't guarantee that you will change my mind, just as I can't guarantee I will change yours but at least we will have given each other something to think about.
This is so hard, breaking down who I am into a 7-minute read is so much more complicated than I thought it would be. I am me, so I've never really sat down and tried to analyze what it was like to be mixed race, it just was what it was. How do you condense 45 years of racial identity and life into a few paragraphs - you can't, all you can do is hope for the best and write what you feel.
Because of the difficulty of putting myself into a box, This post won't be written in my typical format. I tried several times to format it the way I have done all of my other posts but to no avail. Then I realized this is who I am, and it's inherently complicated and there is no "format" for my racial identity; just a story.
What Am I To The World?
So here goes...........
Per my parents: I am half Black/half White.
Per Ancestory.com: I'm from Ireland, England, Benin, Togo, Cameroon, Congo, Southern Bantu, Mali, Ivory Coast & Ghana.
Per What I look like to others: I am Latina, dark Italian, Kinda-Maybe Filipina, Or "What are you?"
Per the majority of Black girls in high school: I was not one of them, no matter how Black my Daddy was
Per the majority of White kids in high school: I was not one of them, I was an other
Per myself: I am a proud Black woman who is mixed race
Per my mirror: I am too light to be Black and too dark to be White
What Was I When I Was Little?
I didn't always struggle with my identity. To my Dad's side of the family I am just like them, a Black girl. There's no argument, I was family and it was not discussed. To my Mom's side, I was always just me, no race, just Britt.
I went through grade school blissfully unaware that I was any different than any other kid. I didn't even flinch when another little kid came up to on the playground and screamed the "N" word in my face. I didn't know what it meant and if I had heard it before I must have never absorbed it. I brushed it off and continued on with my 3rd-grade life.
The only thing I can think of now that would lean towards how I identified back then was how I felt when the news came on. Whenever they showed a Black man in trouble my heart would drop and I would get so sad. I wanted to yell at the tv to leave him alone.
My Dad discussed Black history all the time, he didn't just stop at the obligatory figures, the Martins, the Rosa Parks, or the Harriet Tubman of the February Black history month blurb. Instead, my Dad brought up Malcolm, Bob Marley, Madame C.J. Walker, The Black Panthers.
I can still hear him saying " As-Salaam-Alaikum " " Wa-Alaikum-Salaam" to his friends or seeing him give the "head-nod". You know the head nod, if you don't, you're missing out. For the longest time, I thought he knew every Black man in Seattle, until one day he let me know that it was how Black men showed respect to each other when they passed on the street. For a time in high school, he wore a Kufi with an earring that I had made him, it was red, gold, black and green. I had made it as a present in Camp Fire Girls. Being Black wasn't something I questioned it just was something that I was.
But I also grew up with my Mom's family and that was the complete opposite. Not only were they White but their life was so opposite of my Fathers. My Grandma's house was full of Lawrence Welk, Bonanza, Hee Haw, Louis L'Amour books and canned peaches from their orchard. My grandfather would ride a John Deere mower to cut the acre that they had. I would spend my day's jumping the irrigation ditch, and cutting earwigs in half. sometimes I would get to go over to Annie's house and play with her kids. My Uncle Ron was a big bear of a man, he was all long beard and pot belly. I remember he used to pick me up by my ankles and tickle my feet, or even better when he would see me in my footie pajamas and he would make sure to drop some ice down my back.
If you had asked me what I was back then I would have told you "Britt!" just me, never understanding that we were divided by race. I was raised by a Black man, my siblings were White and I was loved and cared for by people of all backgrounds. I didn't have my Mother in my life; she had died when I was five so I couldn't exactly look to my parents to get an understanding of racial harmony.
But Then Things Changed
Everything changed once I entered high school how I identified racially was only half of the equation, the other half was something I could not help; how you looked, where you lived and how you talked. I didn't fit in, I was too light, the nose too small and straight, my attitude too uppity. I remember wondering what I could do different, what I could say to fit in with the other girls but there was nothing I could do, either they liked me or they didn't. There were some girls, usually, the toughest who would stand up for me, they really didn't like bullying and boy was I bullied. I spent those four years with a constant sour taste in my mouth.
I had never had my identity cross-examined but once I hit my teenage years everything I thought I was, was called in to question. No one had told me that being considered Black if you were Mixed came down to the "right" features. So I spent my high school career coveting what I didn't have. I wanted to change, I wanted to look like the few Black girlfriends I had, I didn't want to be different.
Fitting in with the White kids wasn't even a thought in my mind, they had no interest to me, they came from a totally different world. Their thought processes and in some cases their values were miles away from mine. So they were never an option for me. I was stuck somewhere in the middle incredibly aware of where I didn't belong; anywhere.
I look back and wonder if I had been accepted by one group over the other would that have made a difference for me? Would it have forced me to identify one way or another? I don't think so, even when I wasn't wanted, even when I was excluded - I was always Black or Mixed. No amount of bullying could change that. It was who I was, deeply and truly to the core of me.
I remember the school finally got a Black history class in my senior year and I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. Looking back I can't believe that class was taught by a White teacher but considering we barely had a handful of Black teachers I'm not sure why I would ever be surprised.
In that class, I learned for the first time that my voice was not always valid in matters of the Black community. "Light skin privilege" wasn't a term back then, it was more of an unspoken rule. If you were light there were times you needed to sit down and shut your mouth. I didn't quite understand it back then but inherently I knew there were certain subjects that were off limits to my opinion.
I also learned that without even trying I was going to be fetishized, that too was not a term used. Instead, I was treated as if I was the quintessential mixed girl; constantly after someone man and invariably slutty. Never mind the fact that I didn't have boyfriends or go to parties, I looked like me so I must be slutty. Mixed girls were the quintessential, Ms. Steal Your Man.
How Did It Affect Me?
These interactions shaped how I view myself to this day. Back then in the 90's and early 2000s, I was not one of many I was one of few so I didn't have actresses and actors that looked like me. There was no Rashida Jones, no Megan Markhle, we didn't have Derek Jeter and we most certainly did NOT have a bi-racial President of the United States. Representation matters and when you have none you start to believe that you don't exist. I had no true identity, I was no longer the Black girl I grew up thinking I was, I knew I definitely wasn't a White girl either but because I couldn't find anyone to look like me I truly felt lost.
I had a conversation years ago with someone very close to me about how hard it was to be biracial in my time. They had children who were half and for them, their kids didn't struggle as I did. I never knew if it was just me or if it was the era I grew up in.
I am part of the "Loving Generation". I was born in 1973 and 6 short years earlier...
Loving v. Virginia
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court which struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage as violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The case was brought by Mildred Loving (née Jeter), a woman of color, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which criminalized marriage between people classified as "white" and people classified as "colored".
Because of this case, there was a spike in mixed-race births shortly afterward and I fell into that category. But this didn't save me from feeling ostracized as I grew up. Once I left for college and moved to Boston I was bound and determined to find a place where I didn't stick out, but I had no idea where that was. And then I found Puerto Ricans! When I was around them no one played the "what are you game", they all made assumptions that I was Puerto Rican and I was so happy to finally feel accepted that I was more than willing to be enveloped into the fold. I learned to cook Puerto Rican food, Dance Salsa, Bachata and Merengue. I became somewhat fluent in Spanish and for a brief shining moment, I felt like I had found my place.
It didn't last, I knew what I was and nothing could change that. Once I moved back to California with my half Latino children I wanted to reconnect with my heritage more than ever, never had I wanted to be a Black girl so bad but I also knew from life lessons and the shift in the world that I was no longer the Black girl my father had raised me to be, instead I was mixed, high-yella, red-boned and Mulatto(hate that word). I ran into this with a sense of purpose, I truly wanted to understand where my place was in the Black community. I got lucky this time, the film industry, local media, and sports had changed and there were more like me out there. And they taught me things that I had never know.
I learned that as Black as I felt, I could never completely understand the struggle because my skin had given me a pass, not a pass I wanted but it didn't change how I was viewed and treated. But I also learned that being light didn't change my identity it just shaped it differently. I have since become more "militant" more likely to stand up when I see injustice in the Black community. Less likely to cower in fear because I think Black women will hate me immediately. I have also learned that all the girls in high school that didn't like me on sight were going through their own shit and it wasn't always about me. The fetishizing of light-skinned Black women didn't just negatively affect the light skinned women it tore holes in the self-esteem and psyche of so many beautiful Black women. This goes so far back we are crazy to think that it can be erased simply because we understand it better.
The world has changed in so many wonderful ways. We have terms for the injustices perpetrated against people of color, we are able to give a voice and name to these violations. "micro-aggression" "White privilege" "light-skinned privilege" "driving while Black" "Walking while Black". There are so many more and because we can identify them we can discuss them. They have become legitimate and no one gets to sweep them under the rug again. But as wonderful as that is, that's all we get to do; talk. We have so far to go, further than some of us realize.
How Do I View Myself Now?
I struggle daily, there are some days when I feel validated in my Blackness, I feel deeply in touch with how my father raised me. And other day's I feel lost, there are times when I catch myself almost running up to girls who look like me and immediately asking them to be my friend. Not because I am desperate to have friends, but so that I can talk about things that only mixed raced women can understand.
No matter how far I feel like I've come I still feel like I need to be validated by other Black women, to be wanted and accepted. I don't know if this will ever go away but I work daily to find my place in the struggle, to know when to sit down and listen and when to stand up and speak out.
I am by no means a voice for Black culture but I find that people will come to me with questions that they feel they can't ask their Black friends or colleagues. More often than not their questions come from a place of not understanding rather than blatant racism, but I never sugar coat my response. Just because you see me as "Black Girl Light" does not mean that I excuse racist, borderline racist or even low key racist behavior. I make sure it is understood that the lack of melanin in my skin does not condone triflin behavior.
So here's a quick list and then I'll go......
No! I do not think the "N" word with an A at the end is okay for you to say if you're not Black. I don't care if your other Black friends think it's fine, that's them and I am me.
No! I don't excuse your culturally insensitive remarks and conversation. Simply because you think my skin color gives you a pass, it sure as Hell DOES NOT!
Yes! I will call you out when you behave in a manner that is degrading to Black culture
Yes! Cultural appropriation is real, it's legit and if I see you participating in it I'm going to call you out. If you're another minority and you're doing it, I will not only call you out but I will judge you in a way that I would not judge a White person. Because you sure as hell should know better
The list is ever growing and consistently subject to change.
Remember in the end it is not my job to explain to you who and what I am. But if you ask what I am and I answer you don't ask me if I'm sure, look at me funny or give me other cultural identities that I didn't tell you about. It's rude, it's disrespectful and TBH I don't care if you can't come to terms with what I am, you'll be fine.
Please let me know about your experiences, I so badly want to hear them.