My dad is black, not African American. I see no need to throw in hyphenations just to make everyone feel better; that’s all that is. Our African roots were only figured out through the guise of my Mom’s obsession with Ancestry.com over the course of one entire summer. Dad and me had always thought that our Africanness was lost somewhere on those transatlantic slave ships, but seemingly a little spit goes a long way.
The small curvature of Western Africa that envelope Benin and Togo hold some of our ethnic truths (that 1% Irish is mad questionable tho…). That was so long ago, my dad’s family associates their ethnicity primarily with Barbados… in the Caribbean (note *not Africa). The maternal grands were then moved to North Carolina for cotton reasons and paternal grands migrated up to Brooklyn and Hoboken. Let us not forget that my great great grandmother was a Panamanian beaut (just found this out) who married my seafaring great great grandjawn. So, yesterday I wasn’t hispanic and now I am, so it’s lit. My Dad didn’t care as much as I did upon finding all this background info out, which… is cool I guess. He was and will always be a black man, visually, ethnically and mentally. Ya girl, though, has remained a confused little babe.
My mom is a white, blonde haired, blue eyed, stunnah and her ancestry can be traced back hella far — like so far back that her lineage is almost brown again. That’s like, the farthest back one can go forreal! Yet, there was quite a stir when Mom did her own spit test and she was not 100% anything, but 82% Irish. And gasp!
19% English (with some randomly light Dutch and German activity).
She relayed the info to her parents, whom rejected this scientifically backed information. Shocker, that age old Irish Catholic denial front and center #amirite? They chose to be ethnically, fully Irish, and that was that. I mean shoot, up until I was fifteen I thought blackirish was a race. Actual LOL.
In my own home I never took note of being brown skinned next to my fair mom, dark dad, and mainly friends that looked like my mom. I grew up in an urban suburb of New York and thus it was normal to be around every sort of person, albeit primarily of the browner sort. It was a fun game to guess the ethnicity of a kid that transferred from another school or country. Choosing between being boxed in as black or white happened sometime in middle school, so I had a lot of time to never contemplate it at all. Now, it’s around me daily.
It would be many years later, circumnavigating the planet, that I took a good long look at that resentment I hadn’t realized. I attended an event an hour outside Hanoi, Vietnam on an eco farm where we did very hippie things. Group meditation, interpretive dance, observing baby calves, et al. The question that arose was, as the sun was setting and group meditation had come to a close before dinner, what’s your biggest failure? When my turn came around, I started off as well as one can when emotions inevitably creep up from your toes unawares.
And then, I could barely get words out as I cried profusely, possibly more than any time ever. I was hugged and held from behind by masculine arms (Thx CM), infusing me with just enough energy to get the rest of what I was saying out in a puff of air. My biggest failure was that, I was brown. I never recognized that I’d been internally holding on to the fact that I wasn’t involved with much family besides my parents until I was thirteen.
My maternal grandparents had tolerated my parents being friends for decades, but once mine decided on Holy Matrimony, things went a little haywire. I didn’t even know I had grandparents until I was a teenager. If I did, I put those memories so far back in my mental cabinet that that doesn’t exist in my list of experiences. I vaguely recall seeing immense white men come in the house and hang sometimes, but I was thrown by the fact I actually had a shocking four uncles, not two. Holidays started to normalize sometime around sixteen years old, but by then, it felt obligatory. The love I had to scrape up for them took time, lots of time. It took until I was in my twenties before I chose to just forget and forgive, because it takes less exertion than most other emotions.
To be fair, my mom harbored resentment and anger for quite some time. The blame can’t all be cast upon everyone else.We all have skeletons.
My dad, one of six, lost his father before I was born (in his fifties to esophageal cancer) and it was devastating. Seemingly, they were true homies and had a relationship that was envied by many. Dad grew up in the projects and once he became a cop in his late teens he finagled his way out of there, invariably into my Mom’s arms and later into a home in the burbs. He got out and for a time, so I was told, one of the most difficult things was for him to shed that guilt of success. As a result, I saw the black side of my family every once in a blue moon. For parental reasons that can remain private to my unit, I respect their decision and how they chose to raise me. Simultaneously, I do often pause to wonder what would have been had I had the fortune of seeing more family more frequently growing up. It’s not hard for me to say goodbye, escape, or cut ties because, I never had too many deep bonds to begin with.
Back to regularly scheduled programming…
My mom was a high school teacher and eventual guidance counselor; she often left for work before my dad did. I remember waking up every morning for school and having an excessive amount of waffles with both butter and syrup while watching Saved by the Bell or Pokemon. (LOL #90s) I’d take a shower and not know that I had to comb my hair. I’d utilize both shampoo and conditioner because Mom used both daily; naturally so did I. There were just some aspects of being biracial, mainly hygienic, that were unknown to not only myself, but my parents. I was the only biracial person in our extended family for many years and thus, my parents had no one to really confide in; not to mention one just doesn’t know wtf they don’t know. The issue wasn’t even faintly realized until my mom came home one day from work and looked at the supremely sad, very sad shape of my hair. She took out my bun and audibly gasped because I had one severe dreadlock of knot rounding my noggin. You know what happened.
I got all my hair chopped off that afternoon. The next day, the kids at school thought I was the new boy. Great.
Literally no hair mom, thanks.
Sometime in early grammar school, my mom got me into Girl Scouts and that was where we met the majority of the white girls I would be friends with for several years to come. I enjoyed myself, as any kid would, and never saw any issue with looking different than the girls around me. When Tricia (bff at the time) and I started making new friends towards the end of middle school, this was when the essence of my color became real to me. I distinctly recall walking around the corner from the ⅚ building into the ⅞ side (big ass middle school), bumped into Tricia, spilled our books and noticed her new posse. Molly and Anabelle were cool, but not cool enough for me and Tricia (no one was in those pubescent years #amirite #cantsitwithus), so I was confused by this new trifecta. I apologized for the bumpage and asked Tricia if she was coming over for dinner that night, as we’d done since literally first grade. She gave me eyes I’d never seen directed at me before, pity? and just simply said not tonight. That was it, as if it were suddenly obvious. Doesn’t seem like much of a moment, but for me, it said that’s that ol pal see ya never. She was moved on real quick. And in my little kiddish eyes, all I saw was that her new friends looked similar to each other and different from me. Basic connection making was occurring in grade eight.
For the first time, I had felt abandoned and a little hopeless. Where do I go from here? I felt like Tricia’s friends (whom were white, enjoyed things that I did not, fit in clothes stores I couldn’t like American eagle, wore makeup that didn’t have my shade) didn’t really want to open their circle wide enough to include me in it. There was a hispanic group at school, but they were bilingual and I felt left out. The punk white group just wore Dr Maartens and smoked a lot, so that was a no. I figured I might as well pop into the urban (mainly black though) crowd because at least I can visually fit in and I could sort the rest out later. LOL at foreshadowing. Isn’t it all, really?
Once high school hit, things got weird.
I hadn’t been looked at as attractive until I got to high school. That awkward stage ran a little long, let’s be real. The girlfriends I had going into high school were a solid group of about eight to ten assertive, gossipy, loud girls with yikes reputations. Seniors in school began to take a real notice of this group, but they were especially interested in the fact that I didn’t quite belong, something was a dash off, if you will. Where the other girls were used to myriad flirtations and sexual passes, I was soon seen as a friend and confidante. Some of them saw me as a little sister, some liked me, but most never tried anything with me on a real tip.
The rumors started early in my ninth grade year; all sexually explicit and completely fabricated (years later I found that these rumors were made by my friends). These guys I chilled with were all either hispanic or black and I felt perfectly fine with that, but it became noticeable that my surroundings were solely brown, not mixed, like me or the house I grew up in. I was uncomfortable with being seen, categorized, and called black because I was not just that! And, oh isn’t identity so fickle? Everyone at school was making me choose one side or the other. Yet, there was never a time or place to make that correction, so for years I let it fly.
Immediately I got into sports in high school and that was the best decision I could have made. In athletics, one never has to be categorized by anything but skill. The most liberating time was when it was me against the clock, only. I love volleyball, tolerated softball, but I excelled in track. I did give just as much effort in volleyball (white and latina predominantly) and softball (mainly white) … until I got into an almost physical brawl with our new softball coach, quit on the spot, walked over to the football field and told the track coach exactly what he’d been hoping to hear for three years, Got space for me this season or nah? Outdoor track was my very closely tied favorite to volleyball due to the amalgam of better looking, ethnically diverse, hormonal males that participated in outdoor rather than indoor, let’s just face it.
Over time, I became more settled in my outer visage due to sheer fake it till you make it mentality. Look, I knew I was pretty, but not pretty enough for a white boy though. I knew I was attractive, but also too masculine with my naturally bulging muscles and deep voice that are often associated with men. But, I didn’t have the black butt and so, not every black guy was interested. This whole above sequence was hell, obviously. My face was pretty, but little else was, in my minds eye. How could I talk to either parent about this? I was resentful, for a long time, before I had some quality friends (of all variations) walk me through this dicey terrain. I am hella grateful for them, they know who they are, for their patience and reserve at helping me see myself the way they saw me.
Today, at twenty eight, I am confident. Aye aye aye! I’ve been working, consciously, at leveling up my view of myself because that’s what matters first, before anyone else views me. Friends, parents, and a life coach have been integral and I’d be mad remiss if I went on without appreciating them. Rewriting your internal script, from the old ugh he’d never go for me because I’m thick to the more fabulous why would anyone want to miss these luscious thighs though, another bullet dodged thank the gods. When it’s internal, it’s more difficult let’s be real. You have to be super mentally and emotionally awake to stay on top of your internal script. You got it.
Putting post-it notes of affirmations around your bedroom is a solid idea and even just asking for brutal feedback from a friend — do you prefer my natural hair or how I style it nowadays? That’s what the real ones are there for.
Just remember that you will always belong, you just have to sift around until you find those that compliment who you are. Accepting my identity is up to me, or you, and that’s all there is to it.
*Originally written in 2018