I decided to post a small excerpt from my work-in-progress titled “Black People Don’t Have Blue Eyes Do They?”
In this excerpt I dive into my perspective on how to react to the infamous question, “What are you?” I also talk about the role my parents played in making sure that I grew up to be a well-rounded individual who had no problem making a path for themselves in this world of labels and stereotypes.
I hope you enjoy this little tid-bit!
“What Are You?”
I don’t ever remember my life seeming odd or strange in any way. I had cousins who were black and some who were white. I understood that my mother was white (Polish and British ancestry) and my father was black. I looked in the mirror and saw a boy with curly brown hair and lightly tanned skin. To me it made sense. I was light brown because my mother was the same shade of white as Grecian marble and my father was a warm mocha color. Combine the two and viola! One child who looked like a merger between the two.
My parents didn’t hide my ethnicity from me. They didn’t pretend that I was just like everyone else. They didn’t hide the ugly truth of the world from me. They told me point blank from my earliest years that I was a person that some people would call black regardless of who my parents were. I was told to expect some people not to like me because of who my parents were and because my skin was a little tan. My questions were always answered and I never felt alone or confused. I thank my parents for this. Too many times I’ve seen people of mixed race try to claim one race or the other only to be disappointed and left jaded.
You can’t deny who you are. Some mixed children come out looking more stereotypically black and usually they identify more with the black side of their heritage because of their phenotype. A prime example is our current president, Barack Obama. Some come out looking more white and sometimes they associate more with that side of their ethnicity. Usually, these individuals don’t deny where they come from. They might associate more with one side of their ancestry because of the restraints or lack of restraints that society has placed on them but they don’t usually deny that they are from two separate races. However, this wasn’t the case during segregation when people that came from a multiracial background would pass for white if they were able to just so that they could escape the limitations that were placed on them by white society.
There are also those like myself who come from heavily mixed black families. Families that have been in America since the earliest slave trade days, blending with Native Americans, whites, and other black families that also have blood from other nationalities flowing through their veins.
My father’s family has individuals in it who have red hair, blond hair, light brown hair, white skin, tan skin, brown skin, black skin. Some have hazel eyes, some have gray, others have varying shades of brown. My paternal grandmother and her sisters have freckles. Her skin is only slightly darker than mine, yet she is a black woman. My black family is a kaleidoscope of colors and features and a true portrayal of Black America.
My father’s DNA combined with my mother’s produced a wavy haired, big eyed, light skinned, child who has a blending of both parents’ features and attributes.
People like me don’t fall easily into a category…and that makes people – mostly white people in my experience – anxious. People love to categorize everyone, and when someone looks maybe black, or possibly white, maybe even Latino, what do you categorize them as? Hence the infamous question that I’m sure every racially ambiguous mixed person is well versed in…“What are you?”
My initial reaction used to be one of annoyance followed by a very curt reply, “Human”. Over the years I’ve started looking at that question as a way to educate people rather than as a way to chastise them. The problem with taking everything so seriously is that you tend to miss the point. Why are they asking you about your origins to begin with?
Instead of getting upset and telling people to back off, try educating them. I love to explain the rich, varied, culture of Black America. I love to make non-black people aware of the many different faces and facets of black society.
Black people are always painted negatively in the media and even to this day everyone thinks that blacks are the ones sitting around on welfare and using up tax-payer dollars when in reality there are more white people on welfare than any other racial group.
Like I said…people must be educated. Knowledge is the only thing that can tear down the barricades that have been in place for hundreds of years in this country.
I grew up knowing who I was…accepting myself as I am and not having to try and create a false reality for myself to try and fit into, and that is thanks to my mother and father. They educated me in the ways of the real world and I can never thank them enough for that.
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