It's Black History Month, and I thought I would share my story on growing up biracial. I'm not speaking for biracial person out there. Just my own experience. To start, I'm African American and Caucasian, and this is what it was like for me growing up.
The biggest thing I remember in my family was getting black barbie dolls. I spent most of my time with the "white" side of my family, which was my mother's side. This side was very accepting. So accepting that from a very young age, I knew I was different. It doesn't sound great at first glance, but let me explain.
I had three other cousins who were also mixed (Hispanic and Caucasian), but the oldest out of the three had blonde hair and blue eyes, so it was easy to dismiss. She got light-skinned Barbie dolls with blonde hair just like hers, and even her younger sister got brunette haired dolls, meanwhile, I was getting very dark-skinned Barbies. And it wasn't just Barbie dolls.
Now, my family is religious, and my cousins and I always had a children's Bible to take with us to church. Each child's book had a character that matched the kid. The oldest had a blonde child, her two younger siblings had kids that were white with brunette hair, and then there was mine… My Bible had a dark-skinned little girl, and I have to say, whenever I got something like this, I was confused because I didn't look like that. I was not remotely dark. When it comes to gifts of Barbie dolls and Bibles, that's what I received, something that didn't look like me. And I sometimes envied my cousins for getting something that looks more like them. Why was I getting barbie dolls that looked nothing like me? The short answer, they didn’t want to hide who I was. They embraced it in their own way. Looking back on it now, I think it was sweet. They were never trying to hide who I was. I can't say I didn't question it. But toys weren't the only way they showed their acceptance. There was also the manger scene.
Every year my family would put out a giant plastic manger scene, and four of the angels had our names on them. There were two tall angels with my name and the name of my oldest cousin because we were the oldest out of the four. Then there were two small angels that had her sibling's names on them as well. Don't ask me how because even I still scratch my head about it, but out of the whole manger scene, they managed to have one angel that was dark-skinned. Out of the entire manger scene, one dark-skinned angel with my name on it stood out. They didn't even paint it! It just came like that! And all I can ask this day is, where did they buy this? But like I said, I've learned to appreciate this. My grandmother was taught that black people were inferior, but she never saw it that way. And she wasn't about to start now.
It was a little different on my father's side, mostly because a good portion of his family had passed. His parents loved me. For the short time, I spent time with them; they loved having me over. They even gave me white barbie dolls oddly enough. I probably would have seen more things like this if they hadn't passed away. There was one pair of family members that dropped contact with my dad because he was marrying a white woman. And then there was my Aunt Dorothy. She was wonderful. I spent a lot of weekends with her. She treated me like one of her own and loved whenever I came over. But aside from her, that was the only family member I spent time with on my dad's side.
Outside of my family, school was interesting. I went to a private school until seventh grade, and aside from me, there was only one other black student. Otherwise, it was a mainly white class — actually, a primarily white school in Reidsville, North Carolina. I was never picked on for my race. Teachers treated me like every other student, and in some classes, I was a teacher's pet. Even if one could argue that my skin color was the reason they treated me equally, my race wasn't hidden. Any old photo would show an afro the size of a basketball.
When I went to public school, many didn't believe I was half black. I had to show them a picture of my dad just to prove it. And though it was a reasonably diverse school, that didn't stop people from wanting to touch my hair. Yes, I know the feeling of a bunch of people wanting to touch my hair. Back in middle school, I rocked my fro, and some kids would come by and ask to touch my hair, and then some would just do it, and I would get annoyed. In all honesty, there weren't a lot of mixed kids at school, at least not many that I knew. I, for the most part, look predominantly white. The usual way you could see my other half was through my tangled, curly, fluffy hair. I always joked that I looked a lot more black when I was younger. My mom gave me all of the black hairstyles. Cornrows, beads, hair twists, she went through them all. In middle school and a little bit of high school I rocked a fro like no one’s business. But when I got older, I kept my hair straight because it was easier to deal with and A LOT less hot. Over time my curls loosened up, but are still just as stubborn as ever.
But with my hair straight, it was harder to tell what I was. Not that I was trying to hide who I was, it was just a lot easier to manage. But because it was harder to tell, everyone who knew I was something wanted to play a guessing game.
I have worked at a grocery store for four years, and security for one year, and I got all kinds of questions. Different people tried to guess my race, and I would simply answer what I was. The oddest question was if I was Lumbee Indian. That was a new one. Many questioned if I was Hispanic or even just Dominican which I still laugh at since my cousins are darker than me. Even my oldest cousin with bright blonde hair is somehow darker than me. My coworkers would either guess or be surprised that I was mixed. But other than that, there is one instance I still remember with a customer. It was A and T Homecoming at my store, which was the equivalent of Thanksgiving. People bought buckets of chitlins, collard greens, frozen slabs of pork, and any cookout food they can get their hands on. One woman went through my line with three buckets of chitlins, and I couldn't help but say "Man, I haven't had chitlins in a long time." and the woman (who was black) kind of scoffed and said "Well I didn't think you people made them that often." emphasizing you. I paused for a moment. I didn't think I would ever hear someone say that remark towards me, but I thought I would take it further. I said, "Well, my dad would cook them at Thanksgiving." watching her reaction closely. She gave a shocked half look and said: "Oh, well, ain't that something." I went a bit further. "My dad is black." Her eyes popped open as she said, "Oh, that's good!" looking genuinely happy, and by the time she finished speaking, I was just ready to kick her out the door.
My dad always taught me that no matter what your race is, you are still going to find ignorance on both sides. My dad also taught me a lot of lessons about this world and the justice system we have. That no matter what color you are, you can be screwed either way. And that no one gets you where you are but yourself.
So, where do I fit in? If I'm being honest, I’m not sure. I'll keep my political views to myself, but I question where people see mixed races like myself in this world. Are we entirely accepted? Or do we only have half credibility? This has never been answered for me. I simply have to guess. And a lot of times, it seems I'm only half credible. It is always a constant question when looking at the black community. The question of “Do I have your support even if I don’t look like you?” I’ve had other black people tell me that because my skin was lighter, I passed. I’ve had to deal with racism on both sides, so I clearly don’t. Sometimes it feels like I only have half credibility when speaking my opinion on black matters. And it stings. It stings a lot, especially when I’ve been told that I “pass.” But at the end of the day, I’m myself and my color is not all of who I am.
I'm not knocking the black community because I know they work hard for each other. I just feel I don’t belong. I don't think I fully fit in with any one group.
I'm sharing my story because maybe there's someone out there who relates to how I've grown up. Or feel that they don't fully fit in either. And it's okay not to. And that goes for any of us. Sometimes we make our way in the world with a book bag on our backs. And sometimes we stop and watch the world while holding a black barbie doll.