Wednesday, May 5, 2010

insist on racially categorizing mixed-race people

This is a guest post for swpd by Brenda, who writes of herself, "I'm a half black, half white young woman trying to discover what it means to be both and neither. After 19 years, I still haven't figured it out."


I’m black. My skin is what I have self-described as "caramel," my eyes are green, and my hair is curly (although these past few years I‘ve been straightening my curls, adding to people's puzzlement). Yet I have been asked countless times by white people, “What are you?”

When asked to a white person, this question is met with confusion. But for me, it’s an inquiry about my race. No one had to tell me, even as a child, that “What are you?” meant “What race are you?” I just knew. My answer used to be, “I’m mixed,” which would raise other questions about what I was mixed with and how much of it. “Mixed” was never a good enough answer.

So, during a racial epiphany in my teens I realized: I’m black. I never thought of it as a choice, to choose to be either white or black, despite being mixed with both. I knew that “mixed” wasn’t working for me, and I just felt black. I thought that once I started fully considering myself black, and telling people who asked that I was black, this whole “What are you?” problem would be solved forever. However, that simply raised another, more offensive question:

“Really?”

And the occasional, “You don’t LOOK black…”

Perhaps it's because I don’t have that stereotypical “black girl attitude.” Maybe it’s because I don’t wear Jordans and say the N-word. Or maybe it’s because I have light skin. Whether it be a combination of every reason or just one, the message is clear: I’m not allowed to be black without a white person's permission.

This message is further exemplified in an episode of the tv comedy “Scrubs,” in the beginning conversation of what would be an entire episode about the subject:




Dr. Cox: That laughing had better not be aimed in my direction, bro.

Turk: "Bro?" Dude, bros don't even use "bro." You're not as hip as you think you are.

Dr. Cox: And you are?

Turk: I'm black. God knew my people would go through some struggles, so He gave us a lifetime supply of cool to compensate. Just like He knew white people would be rhythmically challenged, so He gave y'all this dance.

(Turk does a cheesy dance.)

Dr. Cox: You're black? Because last I checked, you had a nerdy, white best friend, you enjoy Neil Diamond and you damn sure act like a black guy, and these, my friend, are all characteristics of white guys. Please understand, I'm a big supporter of the NAACP, and if you don't know that stands for, it is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And quite frankly, I always thought they should change the "Colored People" to "African Americans" but then, of course, it wouldn't be the NAACP. It would be the N-Quad-A, or NAAAA, and I know this probably sounds like a digression, but it actually leads me back to my original point. Do I think you're black? NAAAAAAHH!


So maybe it’s not a matter of skin color that Turk (Donald Faison), a black man, has his blackness refuted by Dr. Cox, a white man. Maybe it's instead because he acts “white.” At any rate, while the show is fictional, the real life comparisons are not. I feel under constant pressure to prove myself to white people, to prove that I’m black. I study slavery, racial and social issues, problems in countries in Africa, all the things that (I assume) white people look for when determining if someone without typical black characteristics can receive their “Black” stamp of approval.

Unfortunately, this white racist way of thinking carries over into the black community, and I find myself not being taken seriously when I tell other black people how I feel. I’ve been laughed at and I've received the same confused expressions that I get from white people. This may be because of the reasons I've already listed, but also for another: calling myself black and being treated as a black person are very different things. Very few times have I been blatantly discriminated against because of my perceived skin color, and I’m sure I’ve gotten away with things for the exact same reason. It’s possible some black people don’t see light-skinned people as having the same struggles and social disadvantages that they themselves have. I know my skin color is envied in this country, where dark skin often isn’t considered beautiful. And because of this light skin and the treatment from whites and some blacks alike, I feel robbed of the true “black” experience. I have the feeling I could be white with no problem from most white people; it’s the being black part I have to prove to their satisfaction.

Still, all this effort seems futile. In grade school, my brothers and I, who all have the same white mother and black father, were marked as different races in the school's information system. My brothers were labeled black, but I was labeled white. While it’s true both my brothers have darker skin than me and appear to white eyes as African American, the three of us were glanced at through these same white eyes and labeled differently. It happened in an instant, with one click of a mouse; it happened without a thought. Only my mother's outrage changed what the school considered me. With their permission, after my mother stated her case, I was allowed to be black.

I’m wondering if this problem is uniquely my own. I like to believe that it’s not. I know without a doubt that never has a white person accepted that I’m black when I tell them. I know that it always requires explaining, and that it’s always slightly awkward thereafter, as every time I’m asked and misunderstood, it’s another wedge between me and any white person I try to befriend. I know it’s still a personal struggle to understand what being black means to me, and how my blackness, or lack thereof, affects the white people I discuss it with. Every quizzical expression and stiffness of the words, “Oh… I get it,” while they lie through their teeth, is encouragement, or perhaps forced motivation, to keep proving myself to them, and to myself.

With this article, I hope to find insight into the question that has plagued me since childhood.

“What are you?”

108 comments:

  1. That is heavy stuff. I've known other mixed-race people to complain of similar situations, but the paragraph about your experience in grade school was worse than I'd heard of before.

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  2. this has constantly been a problem of mine.

    i'm half white and half asian. my mother is filipino and people often ask me what i am. When i reply that i am half asain.. they have the audacity to tell me 1) that i dont look asian because I dont have the eyes and 2) that i look more like a latina, italian, grecian, indian, etc.

    what the fuck does that even mean that i look like a (insert whatever you want here)?

    I've also been told that for a woman of color I act very white... um... what? And when I happen to do something "non white" I get told that I am "getting in touch with my roots" .. for example I had a roommate comment on the fact that I was eating rice and fish and how that was very asian of me.

    this shit has got to stop.

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  3. Tiburón:

    I'm glad someone can relate to my story! I know a lot of mixed race people but none have really voiced their feelings on it. It needs to start being discussed more often I think.

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  4. I'm...a person.

    (This is a fantastic POC, BTW. Thank you.)

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  5. I'm biracial -- my dad was black and my mom is white. I'm dark-skinned enough that people usually don't argue with me when I self-identify as black until they know me better; then they say I should say I'm biracial instead. I don't feel part-white, though. I'm certainly not treated as white.

    People also love to argue -- or at least do an incredulous double-take -- when I tell them I'm Jewish. (I guess black people can't be Jewish?) It's kind of funny, actually -- Jews are the people who are most accepting of this, once I explain that my mother is Jewish. For those of you who don't know, you can only be born Jewish (by which I mean the race/culture, not necessarily the religion) if your mother is Jewish, but once you're in, you're in, regardless of how observant you are. Them's the rules. I'm Jewish whether or not I practice the religion, and I will be til I die, and my kids (if I have any) will be Jewish too, and if I have a daughter, her hypothetical kids will ALSO be Jewish. It's only people who AREN'T JEWISH who persist in telling me I can't possibly be a "real" Jew if I'm black and/or if I don't do such-and-such.

    I've also been told I'm "not black enough" by white people because of, at various times and places, the way I talk/write/dance/sing/walk/dress/eat, or because of the music I do or don't listen to, or because of what cultural stuff I do or don't find interesting. I've also often been called "oreo" (black on the outside, white on the inside).

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  6. I am Chinese, Polish, and Estonian, but for simplicity, I identify as biracial (Chinese & White), and I, too, have had people try to pigeonhole me i.e. "You must be First Nations/Native American, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Hawaiian, Mexican, etc." or dictate how I should identify i.e. I have a Korean friend who, despite my requests, constantly refers to me as or calls me "white" or her "only white friend." Even if she means westernized/Americanized, I can't help but be offended. Also just recently I was asked, "Where are you from?" and I replied, "California." but the person was like, "Ohh, but you must be Puerto Rican then." and after several denials and before I could explain my background, they still affirmed, "No, you must have some Puerto Rican blood in you." As one Racialicious commenter put it, "My multiracial identity doesn't negate my monoracial identity(-ies). They exist together."

    Regarding your experience, I actually wrote a paper on how multiracial people experience prejudice and discrimination by their monoracial counterparts due to this recent social psych phenomenon known as horizontal hostility, where people tend to show greater dislike of those outgroups that are similar to the ingroup who pose a threat to their distinctiveness. According to social identity theory, group members try to achieve a positive social identity, which can be attributed to distinctiveness, but with the existence of a similar outgroup, that distinctiveness is threatened, as is their positive social identity, and even when stigmatized, the minority group will value its social identity.

    Not that this makes "you're not X enough" OK because I have certainly experienced it from the Asian community, and I really long to be a part of it, but I found this psych concept interesting. I've struggled a lot (and still am) on how I benefit from white and/or light-skinned privilege sometimes, too, so it seems to be a Catch-22.

    I've also decided that from now on, whenever I am asked, "What are you?" instead of stating I'm XYZ just to appease them, they will have to listen to a bit of my family history, but in reverse chronological order i.e. parents meeting and then how my parents/grandparents immigrated from XYZ countries. Another reply I love is, "I'm a carbon-based life form."

    Just know that you're not alone in wanting to have these discussions. Whenever Racialicious posts about mixed race issues, there are many multiracial commenters just as frustrated as you! :)

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  7. "what are you"

    I used to never even THINK to mention my race in how I describe myself. I'm white- that's just normal right?

    It took stories like this to help me realize I was doing this.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Brenda, this post was great. I thought this line:

    Very few times have I been blatantly discriminated against because of my perceived skin color, and I’m sure I’ve gotten away with things for the exact same reason.
    was especially poignant. Not only do white people insist on racially categorizing mixed people, it's not enough for them to listen to the category that YOU personally identify with, whether that's mixed, black, or white. It's just how they decide they're going to see you (which makes me wonder why the even bother asking the incredibly rude "What are you?" in the first place).

    Tiburon-
    Are you serious? "You look more like a Latina/Italian/Grecian/Indian"? Are they saying that in some failed attempt to pay you a compliment or something? And I don't even know how to begin with the "how Asian of you" comment. Yes, because you are obviously trying to deny your "Asianness" (even though we should all know at this point that's not a singular culture) by acting white, and trying to flaunt your Asianness by eating fish and rice. There's no way you're just being yourself and doing things you like and that feel comfortable to you.

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  9. The kind of introspective reflection that you've shared here is an invaluable contribution to the issue and people learning to deal with it from all perspectives. As a white man, I have much to learn about how to subvert whatever racist (and other -ist) thoughts, perceptions, and judgments I perpetuate. Your story, and others like it, help me appreciate the sensitivity of the issue and how difficult it can be to figure out how to categorize yourself or deal with people who try to categorize you. These issues of personal identity and offensive essentialism must be incredibly frustrating and painful, so thanks for sharing your experience.

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  10. While (being dark skinned), I've never had anyone look at me and ask what I am, I have gotten over the phone. I have also gotten "You're not black enough" from family members (of all people!).

    It's because I enunciate my words, use correct grammar, and listen to a plethora of music (i.e. I listen to "white" music).

    In fact, one of the best examples of this was when I was first going to college and I was contacting my assigned roommate-to-be, and half of the phone call was her asking if I was "sure" that I'm black.

    I've dealt with it for a lifetime, and after a while it just starts to roll off your back.

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  11. I wonder how much the impulse to described mixed-race identity in fractions and percentages has to do with the dominant (read: White-supremacist) concept of race.

    Someone else wonder this too.

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  12. I am a member of a bi-racial family. And this trait is not solely one that White people use. I'm in my 50s and my sibs are in their 40s and 50s too. People have various feelings about mixed race people.

    My grandchildren are bi-racial. I have insisted that they use this as their racial identity. Their mother's are from different White ethnic backgrounds. But so is my Black family.

    There are people who will continue to use the old school ideas about mixed race people. Some will also continue to reject the idea of trying to develop a way to non-offensively identify people who are.

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  13. It's quite rude and racist to say that someone isn't black enough because they do certain things. It perpetrates the idea that black people are all the same and we can not be different from one another.

    There are different nationalities of black people. Africans, African Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans and so on and so forth. So all of us should all act the same?

    It's also like saying black people just can not do certain things. Often when people say to me 'You're not black enough' I ask 'Why' If they say something like 'Well you speak Good English' I ask them 'So are you saying Black people can't speak good English?'

    Often people refer to "being black" in negative terms. "I live in a bad neighborhood. I'm blacker than you."

    So black people can not live in good neighborhoods? You guys should try it. The look on their faces when they realize how racist and rude they sound is priceless.

    Brenda, sucks that you have to go through stuff like this all the time. How dare they tell you you are not black? Even worse how dare they put your brothers as black and you as white? That makes no sense whatsoever. Kudos to your mother for setting them straight. I bet if you'd told those same white people that you are white they'd say something like 'Yeah but not completely right?' or even 'You don't look white.'

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  14. I identify as white because most of my immediate ancestors were white, and even though parts of my family were mixed-race (we don't know what race) in recent generations, it wasn't most of my family and I know it's a serious problem when white people claim to be mixed based on something distant. So I almost never talk about myself as anything other than white.

    But apparently there's something about my appearance that not everyone reads as white. Because people are always asking me the "What are you?" thing. If pressed to elaborate on what they mean, they say I look Mexican or "part Asian" (except they say "Oriental" half the time).

    I've also encountered some scary discrimination because of this. The worst of it was nearly being deported to a country where I didn't speak the language. The rest has been smaller things.

    But at the same time I experience way too much white privilege and immersion in white culture to feel comfortable calling myself anything other than white. If it was one of my parents who was a POC I'd feel different about it. If I were raised with part of that culture I'd feel different about it. But they aren't, and I wasn't, and combined with all the other factors that means I'm white.

    Sometimes I wish categories were allowed to be a little messier and a little more complicated. Because I will never have the experience of someone who can't get away from their skin color and the oppression that brings. I will never even have the experience of someone who's mixed race because of their immediate family, even if they "look white". But I will also never have the experience of a person who is so completely white looking that they will never experience racist discrimination and the danger that brings. I couldn't safely go to Arizona right now.

    But I still get the probing "What are you, Mexican or part Asian?" question a lot. And I think what that question really means is "Why do you look like that?" combined with "Eek, I'm experiencing a category crisis. I can't possibly know how to interact with you until you tell me which of my overly stereotyped and simplified racial categories you fit!" Which reminds me all too much of a question I've had shouted in my face before, "Are you a man or a woman?"

    Both questions always feel like a threat to me. Like if I answer wrong, someone could really hurt me or worse. Especially since I have been put into dangerous situations over it before at times when because of my disabilities I couldn't fight back. And it always occurs to me that I won't know which answer is the "wrong" one until it's too late.

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  15. I don't have my own personal dealings with what you're going through, but I grew up with my cousins who are black and white, so I do hear everything you're saying echoed in my cousins' words. I've been there with them through everything and observed the ways people have either tried to exclude or include them based on their own assumptions about the validity of their being mixed.

    For as long as I can remember, the older cousin has self-identified as "mixed: black and white" whenever asked - just like that. Her younger sister is much lighter, has long curly hair, and self-identifies as black much of the time, which WP seem to not question as much. I've noticed that BP more often just assumed she was biracial and would ask just to verify. "You're mixed, right?" Then she would say yes, but like you, she feels black. Of the two of them, she has been the one who has felt she had to prove she's black most often. I guess being darker, the older one was often perceived like your brothers were.

    And to further complicate things, here in South FL it is just as common for someone to assume they are either Dominican (older cousin) or Puerto Rican (younger one) and just start speaking to them in Spanish as it is for them to be asked "what are you?"

    One thing I didn't like that some of our white friends who knew us since childhood would do was cut in and announce that they were mixed for them if someone asked. As a kid I didn't understand why I didn't like that, but now that I'm older I know that they did a lot of juggling and trying things out to find a space that was comfortable for them on individual terms. For someone to step in and define them as something they may not have been feeling on that particular day was REALLY messed up. But as a kid I could just sense that uncomfortableness that followed. There were some times they felt like answering "Puerto Rican" or "Dominican" if someone asked, just because NO ONE questioned that. They would laugh it off, having pulled one over on someone. But really it was about protecting themselves from being forced to over-expose to complete strangers.

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  16. Brenda, great post. I can empathize (mixed Native girl). I remember realizing at around age 12why it was so stressful to meet new people - they would always ask about my heritage and skin color. It was a huge shock to recognize that not every kid gets asked this question! YOU define yourself and don't let anyone take this away from you. For me, this constant agony and back-and-forth has been eased because I am extremely close with my siblings, and I also have formed close friendships with mixed and bicultural people, who are the ones who best understand me, and who don't tell me that I'm crazy for being angry about other people asking/telling/limiting me about my skin and my heritage.

    Another thing that you mentioned, about figuring out what it means to be mixed - There's a poem by Wendy Rose (also mixed Native) where she says: "the feeling never congeals into truth/you are one thing but another as well/inside/one kind of woman/outside a different kind." Simultaneously one of the saddest but most liberating lines of poetry I have read about the experience of being mixed. I don't know if it can be figured out, I think it is a lifelong struggle, and I've realized at almost 30 that I don't want to spend any more time trying to figure it out, but instead must find a way to live with my duality that doesn't tear me apart, and I'm going to do that on my terms, and nobody else's. :)

    Anyway, blessings to you and keep your head up.
    Some other reading, that you might enjoy:

    http://www.racialicious.com/2010/03/19/the-what-are-you-game-rules-and-regulations/

    The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow.

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  17. Here's a related post, posted today at Feministing: "Dark Skinned White Girls?".

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  18. I think a common theme of the mixed raced persons (MRP) experience is rejection from both communities. When i'm here, i'm definitely something else. When i'm in Japan, I sure as hell am not Japanese.

    In saying this, I'm also fairly uncomfortable categorizing the MRP. I think those who are Hapa ("Part" Asian) have a very different experience from those who are Part Black or Part Latin@.

    On a side note, a friend of mine identifies as Whack (White and Black).

    You'll be fine Brenda. There are struggles that are unique for us mixed kids and there's a community out there for us. I always try to remember that it's not us that's confused, its the world that's confused by us.

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  19. It’s possible some black people don’t see light-skinned people as having the same struggles and social disadvantages that they themselves have.

    This is what darker-skinned black people think - no probably about it. But more importantly, it is a fact that light-skinned people have less of a struggle than darker-skinned. This is not to say that they do not experience racism or any less, but that in aligning closer with the American commercial beauty standard, in being perceived less "threatening", we may be more "accepted" by white people. Like you, I can recount very few instances of overt racism towards me.

    I have the feeling I could be white with no problem from most white people

    This touches on what I just said about being more "accepted", but make NO mistake - you are NOT being accepted as a "white" person, just a less-threatening black person, or maybe less-threatening "mixed" person, which at least in America means pretty much the same thing.

    Except maybe the white people in question have some "renegade" relative who went and miscegenated and produced some "darling little" cousin or niece, and "isn't she just adorable!? - you know, in stark contrast to her black-ass father/mother.

    It’s the being black part I have to prove to their satisfaction.

    Speak a little AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) and they'll box you up in blackness in a heartbeat.

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  20. No, I can tell you from personal experience, the experience of my family and friends, that your experience is hardly unique. The "what are you?" question is very common.

    Another common one - though not a question - is "You know what, you look a lot like my . She's mixed and has the same green eyes."

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  21. Great post, Brenda. Like your mother, I'm a white mother of biracial children (their father is Asian). They are still very young but so far it seems that my son will probably be "read" as Asian but my daughter will probably be read as white. So I'm wondering, if you (or others) care to share more, whether there are things that your parents did/didn't do that we helpful to you and your brothers or things that you wish they'd done/not done?

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  22. I can relate to much of this post and the ensuing comments. I, too, have been asked all my life, "what are you?" It was actually the subject of my college admissions essay. I've always resented the question (especially from impertinent strangers!) but even moreso now, as my answer to the question has evolved and is really too complicated to answer with a one-liner. I don't really self-identify as black (though when people refer to me as black, I don't correct them as I did when I was a teenager). I'm mixed race. I'm black and Italian-American. I'm not white (I don't have white privilege -- when I talk about whiteness, I'm not talking about myself, so why use the label?). I talk about my blackness because I do experience discrimination and racism from people who ID me as black. On the other hand, I do have relative privilege due to lighter skin and my hair. It's complicated. And the thing is, I'm okay with that, with the imprecision. But other people are not. White people really like to put others in boxes. They often fail to understand, for instance, why Pres. Obama identifies as a black man with mixed heritage and how that's really not so confusing after all. Like others have mentioned, it's not just white people who comment on my racial makeup: black folks just seem to handle it differently. I'll get the: "you're black, but mixed right?" Or the ever popular "what you mixed with?" from dude on the corner -- but I think that is more reflective of internalized racism (mixed with white being perceived as more attractive) than anything else. But I don't want to get off topic.

    I find that as I've gotten more vocal about anti-racism and discussing treatment of black people, white folks who are well-aware of my mixed race status are much more likely to call me black. Funny how that happens.

    For me, the best illustration of how personalized and complicated this can be is to look at my sisters: I have 2 sisters who share my ethnic makeup, and well all identify and feel differently. We all look different too, and thus get different guesses as to what we are.

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  23. I know exactly what your talking about. I live in FL and I can't even remember the amount of times I've had people walk up to me and speak to me in Spanish, then give me the worst stink eye when I tell them I don't speak spanish and that I'm black. So for me, If I'm not getting told that I don't "act black" by black or white people (especially from my family members on my dads side), I'm getting told that I'm pretty much denying my nonexistent hispanic heritage by hispanic people when nobody in my family is hispanic.

    While I normally don't care about peoples assumptions, nothing frustrates me more than when people find out I'm black, ask me if my hair is a weave (because I have really wavy/curly brown hair and apparently people seem to think black people can't have curly/wavy hair), then yank it HARD before I can answer. Honestly, it baffles me how people can think that invading my personal space then YANKING my hair is somehow perfectly acceptable.

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  24. People would like to think they define their own race(s), but society will always end up defining it for them in the end no matter what each person says he or she is.

    This sucks for sure, but I'm not sure if its going to change anytime soon?

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  25. You are not alone. I am the white mother of a biracial 10 year old who has a black father. Since she was tiny, first *I* was asked "What is she?" then the questions went directly to her!

    However, my personal favorite was "Where did you get her?" This question was asked by a white woman as my daughter and I stood in line at the restroom at a performance of, are you ready-"The BLACK Nativity". When I replied that she was biological daughter, the woman looked confused. "But what is her FATHER?" My daughter was 5 or 6 at the time.

    Sadly, she's been told she's "too white" to play with by some black kids at school, and harassed by some white kids in her class for being black (that's a whole other story involving a gifted program, white privilege and racism).

    Today she considers herself black and will tell anyone who asks that's what she is. She made us put "black" under her name on the census too. She's found a nice group of kids, mostly black, but white and Asians from several countries of origin, but her church, her hobbies, her CLOSEST friends are all part of the black community. And that's fine with us. She finally has figured out where she feels she belongs.

    Now if only she could get the ignorant comments about her occassional braids and things like that to stop...

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  26. Karen L:

    Growing up, my father wasn't around, so my mother went out of her way to teach us things about the black side of us, about our personal black history and about black struggles. I think that's a huge reason I am the person I am today. She even bought us all matching traditional African outfits as children, and I can't count how many pictures of us there are wearing them.

    She also told us, mostly my brothers who are darker but to me as well, that if we ever got pulled over by the police, put your hands immediately where they can see them: don't look for your registration or pull your wallet out of your pocket, because more likely than not, they'll probably think you're pulling out a gun. She knew this from years of seeing it happen to my father. And because they lived in Los Angeles (where we were born) during the riots and all of the tension leading up to them. My mom, as a white woman, knew a lot about the black struggle. Her telling us things like this made us realize there's inequality in this country. We didn't grow up ignorant, she made sure of that.

    Most importantly, my mother didn't decide for us what race, if any, we identified with. My brothers still call themselves mixed, and that's ok. I think she did everything in he power to raise confident, aware children.

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  27. You are not alone. My biracial daughter has heard the question "What are you?" her whole life. First people asked ME (white) or her father (black) what she was, then they just asked her directly. At first we said "mixed", but she quickly started saying "tan". That usually shut people up.

    However, my personal favorite was the time I was asked by a white woman "Where did you get her?" Um, what? I had to painstakingly explain that she was my biological daughter, but that only made things worse. She then asked, "What is her FATHER?"

    At 10, my daughter has decided that she's black. She had us put that on the census form, and that's what she tells people when they ask. She more closely identifies with BEING black, since that's how people see her. Just ask the white kids in her gifted program who have asked ignorant questions about her race, her hair, etc. Just ask their parents, who insisted THEIR kids don't SEE color and would NEVER DO THAT (a whole other, long sad, story).

    Your post was eloquent and touching-it put into words exactly what my own child has expressed to me, along with the comment as I've tried to sympathize, "No offense mom, but you're white. You can't understand." But I try. Really I do.

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  28. Oh Karen L, one more thing:

    If you have a daughter, I'd suggest buying her something other than white dolls. My mom made an effort to have things around the house or just in general of things not related to white culture. I got reminded of this after reading the last comment involving black nativity, because my mother collects black figures: black angels, black Santas, black nativity scenes, things like that.

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  29. You know, that question 'What Are you?' has plagued me since grade school
    I think it's a question asked to all people of multiracial ethnicity. What's worse, besides that question is when someone judges your personality based on your background. For example:'oh well, your mixed, your not really black, no wonder you don't get that joke'. Or even better than that, when someone says something RACIST, but they only say it out aloud in a crowd, because even though your the only person of color in there, they don't think your whatever race they just put down.

    Heh, and I got the pluck of the draw. Now, before I go on, I am proud of my heritage, and I do identify as mixed, but..
    my mother is portugese and carribean (st.vincent), and my dad is african-american. Now, when people say mixed, they always think 'white and black' but even within my mom's family, we're such a blend. And my dad's family? Blend too. That's relevant, because even though I have 3 big backgrounds I say I am, in terms of looks, I have been called ' pacific islander' 'hispanic' or 'tahitian'. So people can't tell what I am.

    Anyway, I loved your entry, it was a piece of brilliance!!!!!
    I really identified with it, and reading all the comments of other people's experiences, felt..supportive... that there are other people out there who are going through some of the same things.

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  30. Yes, VERY beautifully written. I am a sociologist, who teaches and writes on "race" and racism, and I have struggled with this all of my life. In grade school, I was told that only people from Mars mark the category "other." In another incident, my teacher asked the class what I should mark and since they could not decide, she told me she would have to check with someone about it. The next day, she told me in the hallway that I should mark "oriental". My mother is Korean; my father is German/Irish. The comments I hear change depending on the place and context. In my small town in Western PA, people wanted to know what I was and placed me into whatever category they wanted. In New England (during Graduate School), I had the same experience the author did, where "white" people insisted I couldn't possibly be Asian. "You don't look Asian to me." Usually, they would say this after I had just told them about my experiences with discrimination. Does it really matter that I don't look Asian to them? That doesn't change the experiences I have had all of my life. Or, another one of my favorite incidents, when a colleague told me that I wasn't really Asian, because my "race" goes by whatever my father is. Really? Because, when I was a child, I tried to pass for "white." It didn't work. So whatever law or informal practice she is going by really doesn't matter. I was interviewed on some of these issues for an article in The Huffington Post. I wrote much more on the topic but it is too much to include here. Here is the link of the Huffington Post article:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/abby-ferber/black-or-biracial-who-get_b_172012.html


    Again, thank you for writing this blog. It is good to know others have experienced these things.

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  31. Thanks Brenda! We have a few dolls (one black, two white, and one ambiguous) but right now they are being monopolised by my 3yo son - much to the chagrin of his grandfathers. Thanks for the reminder, though, I'll start looking around for more for my daughter's 1st birthday next month.

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  32. @ Godheval

    THANK YOU! You cannot talk about being mixed-race without dealing with light-skinned privilege and too many such discussions want to skip over that and demonize monoracial (including "monoracial" AA Blacks so you see how socially constructed race really is) making it seem as though we make special plans each day to torment mixed folks.

    Except maybe the white people in question have some "renegade" relative who went and miscegenated and produced some "darling little" cousin or niece, and "isn't she just adorable!? - you know, in stark contrast to her black-ass father/mother.


    THANK YOU! I've been thinking about this a lot since my White husband and I are planning on our old asses having some kids! The way many Whites say "Oh your kids'll be BEAUTIFUL!" seems almost like they're saying, "Well, at least YOU had the good sense to find a WM to breed some of that nigger out of your bloodline even if you're tainting OURS with it!" To me, this is where a lot of the fetishizing of part-Black mixed folk comes from, the racial hierarchy that makes ANYTHING better than Black.

    This is why I've made the decision to tell my kids that they are Black. Being Black was good enough for their ancestors, many of whom were just as half-White as they ere. And this whole thing would not be an issue if it weren't for White supremacy and the worldwide denigration of Blackness. If there were no racial hierarchy the question "What are you?" would seem patently absurd in regards to racial identification. I am NOT going to participate in the further denigration (no pun intended) of Blackness. I ain't raisin' no damn Pinkys in MY house!

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  33. And I've also got the "you're not Black enough" treatment in my past. What I never got as a non-light-skinned, sub-Saharan, West-African featured, kinky-haired AA woman was light skin privilege along with that. So really, to most folk of any race I was and am just a weirdo Negress, but still a Negress. I still remember many times how light-skinned and mixed Blacks were preferred over me by all including Whites (cuz White folks stay wanting to act like they don't actively participate in colorism-"That's y'all darkies doin' all that shit! Y'all just ALL BLACK to us!" Pschtt!) for all my "not really Black/Black enough" quirkiness.

    And to many Black folks my alleged race treason is regarded in even a worse light because I don't have light-skinned or mixed privilege to fall back on or to explain myself ("Well, you know she got a non-Black momma/daddy so..."). So while mixed-Blacks perceived non-conformity to Blackness is excused by being in the "blood/genes" mine is seen as willfully heinous.

    I've never asked ANYONE "What are you?" or any permutation of that question. I figured 1) it wasn't my business and 2) if they wanted to tell me they would. I also never Soul Patroled anyone. I really couldn't being a Black witch who has full Tudor noblewoman garb she wears to Ren Faires and wore to SCA events and married to a WM.

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  34. I'm a really mixed black woman (I usually like calling myself "colored" because it's more ambiguous and universal), resulting in a range of phenotypes (light skin, long hair when straightened, etc.) and I've had similar reactions from black and white people. People see that I obviously have some African descent, but then they ask, "what are you?" I've gotten guesses ranging from mulatto, latino, Middle-Eastern, Afro-Asian (usually Filipino or Indian), etc. but it's usually the "oh is your mom white?" guess - though ironically, my mom is the darkest skinned member of my family and it's my dad who has most of the European blood.

    As if this archaic rule of hypodescent known as the One Drop Rule isn't demeaning enough to today's standards, I'm heavily scrutinized because I'm accused of "acting white", especially since I identify with the goth subculture, which, to most people, is something that only really pale and mopey white kids are into.

    It's as if the fact that having certain interests, that a lot of people in the black community are not known to have - like medievalism, cemeteries, reading non-urban literature, nature, and neo-Paganism - is now concidered criteria for being considered a certain race, since the stuff that I listed above are constituted "white behaviors."

    "You can't like the environment/rock music/Oscar Wilde and be black at the same time! You HAVE to be half white/something else to dilute that!" Since I'm light-skinned and people automatically assume that I have to have a parent of a different race, I guess I'm "off the hook", as I have an "excuse" for my behavior. Darker skinned blacks might have to put up with more.

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  35. Brenda, thanks for sharing your story. My son is two (he is biracial black/white) and from birth people have been asking me that question (oddly enough, NO ONE asks the question when he's with my husband...hmmm, gee, I wonder why?). Once I got "Where is he from?" from an old white woman and I, confused and taken aback, said "Um. Here? New Jersey?" People can be all kinds of ignorant. He is very obviously non-white and most black people read him immediately as black. White people are generally the ones that are confused. I know this will be an issue for him when he gets older and we already have conversations about how everyone's skin is a different shade. When asked, I generally say either "He is black." or "His father is black." in response. I sometimes say he is "biracial" but not frequently, although I don't think being biracial is at all incompatible with also identifying as black. I don't feel like its up to me to tell him how he should identify and I respect that he will potentially make that identification choice over and over again in his life. Its not my place, and I don't think its anyone's place, to tell a mixed person how they should identify. That is very very personal. Other people might try to force identification on mixed people, but they have the right to respond to "what are you?" however they feel that particular day even if the response they feel is most appropriate is the middle finger.

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  36. It's quite upsetting that we have so many societal prohibitions on personal questions, like asking someone's age, or weight, or what grades they got, or how much money they make, but not one on asking people what race they are (or gender -- transgender people get the "What are you?" question all the time). And not only is their no prohibition on asking the question, but for some reason people are ok with phrasing it in the most offensive way possible (e.g. What are you?).

    (I mean, the obvious explanation is that race and gender typically have external visible characteristics that we notice and thus don't need to ask about. But it really shouldn't matter.)

    I think in some ways the disturbing encounters described by the original poster (and in some of the comments) are a product of a society in which we are constantly forced to classify ourselves in some meaningless way on forms, surveys, etc. Even the Census, which has come a long way, is not great. It's only since the 2000 Census that people have been allowed to check multiple boxes in the "Race/Ethnicity" section. Prior to that, mixed-race people were forced to choose a single race (which strikes a blow to their identity).

    So now on the 2010 Census someone can check the boxes for "White" and "Black". But that assumes that for someone who identifies as mixed-race, their identity is the sum of (or intersection of) the boxes they check. I'm not mixed-race, so I've never had this experience, but I'd have to assume that's not necessarily true. For example, for someone with one White parent and one Black parent, their identity probably can't be summed up as "everything Black" plus "everything White". Nor, I would guess, can it be summed up as "only the things that are common to both Black and White identity". (It may be that these assumptions are wrong, and if so, please let me know)

    I think this forced compartmentalization hinders a lot of racial identity development. There are a lot of catch-all categories on the Census. We finally have "Asian Indian" on the Census, which is better, but previously people from India had to check off "Asian", and I can only imagine the amount of insensitive double-takes when a White person expected to meet an "Asian" person who was from India. We don't have an "Arabic" or "Middle Eastern" category, however, so anyone of Arabic descent checks off "White" on the census, which is not particularly helpful to their identity, since, for example, I bet they get treated a little differently at the airport than a European (who also checks off "White").

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  37. I'm mixed as well - and light-skinned enough to "pass". The only time I identify as black is when I'm trying to get something (like a scholarship). I've been rejected from the black commnunity and unthinkingly accepted by the white community so many times I consider myself almost white - almost in that I have a large butt and my skin isn't quite white and my hair won't ever, EVER behave like it "should". But my skin's not dark enough for black people to think i'm one of them - even after I point it out and show photos of my dad, they look at me like I'm the little sister in the group, nowhere near black enough to really be one of them. I can see how they get that idea - I speak "like a white person" because I don't use much slang from any particular subculture, I dress "like a white person" because I wear what's comfortable and feel many fashions from various subcultures are degrading, and everyone knows light skin + lack of subculture = white. Like A Girl said, it's horribly racist to think that way - but that's what I get from white AND black people, so I've made my peace with the fact that people are going to assume I'm white unless I lather on a bunch of ethnic stereotypes and tan my skin as dark as it'll go. I hang out with white people because they assume I'm one of them wheras black people assume I'm not. Granted, I'm also a young woman - a lot of people my age are douchebags, so it's possible when I get out of a school setting I'll find people who don't think that way, but it's... almost disturbing, really.

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  38. Sing it Witchsistah

    What I find amazing is when non blacks or some times black men want to dig into my past to find a non black person to explain why they are attracted to me. I really enjoy those conversations, cue eye roll.

    My friend told me a story of a white woman who had her daughter with her. A friend came up to her and said how did your daughter get to be so tan/brown (in admiration) so she said Marry a brown man. Funniest explanation I've ever heard.

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  39. I'm mixed as well - and light-skinned enough to "pass". The only time I identify as black is when I'm trying to get something (like a scholarship). I've been rejected from the black commnunity and unthinkingly accepted by the white community so many times I consider myself almost white

    And it's all sorts of fucked up that you'll use Blackness when you can benefit but deny it when it suits you. Blackness and by extenstion Black people are not your whore to pimp out when ou see fit.

    And folks wanna know why mixed peeps sometimes get the side-eye from us undeniably darkies.

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  40. Witchsista:

    Please do not hold contempt for mixed people on behalf of Bay. My article was not about using my blackness for personal gain, and no ones life should be about that either. Honestly, Bay, that was a ridiculous thing to say. If you don't identify as black, don't abuse that title, which millions of people take very, very seriously, just to apply for scholarships. That's insulting beyond belief.

    I know my skin may not be as dark as yours witchsista, but I feel black. I can't change the way I feel about that. I don't pick and choose when I want to be black (for jobs, for scholarships, for the census, in everyday conversation). I'm black all the time, whether it benefits me or not. But I also know that white people don't see me this way. White police especially don't see me this way. I do feel guilt sometimes, because I've often noticed in the black community, pretty mixed girls are sought after to a huge extent, just because they're mixed.

    I know as a pretty light skinned girl I have advantages. Mixed privilege? Probably. But I hate it, because it seperates me from the people I feel I belong with.

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  41. Brenda,

    Was it ridiculous of Bey to DO that ish or ADMIT IT OUT LOUD?

    The thing is, I've met with her attitude from light-skinned and mixed Black folks all my life. When they want stuff out of Blackness then they're Soul Sista/Brotha Numba ONE. When they're trying to impress non-Blacks then the percentages come out with Black usually being listed last if at all.

    Now I've also met light-skinned and mixed Blacks who were truly more down than most undeniable Negroes I knew, including me. I've met elderly mixed folk that hated White folk even as they looked just like them. "How'd you think I got these features? My grandma was a slave and the Master raped her. My momma was raped by a White man. I don't understand these yella folk all proud of being yella like it was a college degree. Basically they're sayin' they're proud of being the offspring of child rapists!" And we all know dark-skinned folk whom we wish we could turn White and put us ALL out of their misery (*cough Clarence Thomas *cough*).

    I'm black all the time, whether it benefits me or not. But I also know that white people don't see me this way. White police especially don't see me this way. I do feel guilt sometimes, because I've often noticed in the black community, pretty mixed girls are sought after to a huge extent, just because they're mixed.

    I know as a pretty light skinned girl I have advantages. Mixed privilege? Probably. But I hate it, because it seperates me from the people I feel I belong with.


    It does separate you, and that's the burden White supremacy and anti-Black racism has given you as it's given us ALL a burden to carry. Honestly, why should YOU be exempt? But don't ask me or any other Black person to carry your burden when we're this >< close to collapsing from ours. We simply just don't have the room or the strength. I know I'm getting mean, impatient and beyond tired in my old age, but I got no more Mammy bosoms of love to comfort folks with especially when no one's ever tried to comfort ME.

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  42. Bey,

    In the immortal words of the Doors, break on through to the other side! In other words, live as White 24/7/365-366! Do not ever admit to having ANY Black "blood" in you ever again for any reason. In my humble opinion as a BW, I think we darkies can get along FINE without you in our ranks. Trust me, you will NOT be missed so PASS, DAMMIT, PASS-ON!

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  43. @Brenda:

    Please tell me you are not assuming that Witchsistah is so stupid that she would draw such conclusions based on a single random sample on the internet and not on a lifetime of experiences and observations.

    Please point out to me how this is not an insult to the intelligence of Witchsistah and other Black women.

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  44. RVC and Witchsistah,

    I don't think Bay's what she says she is. I think it's a troll. Maybe she'll breakdown in "Queen" mode and come to her senses.

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  45. It's ridiculous to me that Bay just said that.

    People of color and mixed-race people dumping on black folks hurts me so much more internally than white folks doing it. White folks hate on me? Pisses me off, but I expect it. PoC? Mixed? Damn. That's like a stab in the back.

    I wish Bay just went ahead and said she were white. Please don't tell me you think my people are only good for a few bucks. Some people may not feel it like I do, but that really reminds me of how low a lot of trifling people think we in black America really are -- good for nothing, or next to nothing, Negros. Damn. Not saying all mixed people feel that way, but Bay's probably not the only one. Far from it, I guess.

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  46. well, I'm a white guy. my girlfriend is non white and I lately feel like she just likes me because she wants whiter babies or something. Yet I feel like it would be shallow and hypocritical to hold that against her. It really messes with my head. Makes me think, wait, maybe I shouldn't want browner babies. what if our children wish they were fully white when they grow up and harbor a deep subconscious resentment of their mother for being black and their father for being a member of the race that is the source of the white racism that hurts them? God, I think I would die of a broken heart if that happened. Racism sucks and it messes up things for everybody, even white males. I actually feel racism, I feel racist. I'm realizing that I guess, or finally admitting it to myself. But I also can tell that it's just my societal environment that makes me feel this way--it's just extremely obvious to me that that's where it comes from. But it is still a real feeling even if it's not innate. I think my girlfriend is racist in favor of whites and against dark skinned people, against her own skin color. She probably doesn't want to be racist, and I don't either, but we are. but we can't admit it to each other, or to anyone else I think. So I am the white one and I have the privilege and the guilt and the loneliness. She is the one who has to live with a longing to be taller and whiter, which probably makes her feel guilty too--guilty about feeling that way. but neither of us can help it. It's just tragic and I feel hopeless. I feel so alone. I'm a white man who never realized or admitted to himself he was racist and now hates himself for secretly liking his whiteness. I now see white racism as an evil that is hurting the person I love most and threatening to strangle my future children. Imagine it. Its like having to watch your family being maliciously hurt in front of your eyes while you helplessly look on, and wanting nothing more than to protect them, you're filled with hurt and rage, with everything you've got you want to kill whoever or whatever is hurting them, and then realizing it is yourself who you want to kill.

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  47. My son and daughter are mixed race. I'm whiter than paper and my husband is Mexican. I have Armenian in me and my mom is a medium/dark olive tone. My husband in is the military and not around very often so my mom goes to the store with me and the kids. When they see us all together the assume that my kids belong to my mother because they're skin matches hers more than mine. My husband asked me a few days ago...When you're out with the kids alone do you think people think that the mexican father just knocked you up and left? I usually tell him no they probably just think I'm a whore. While I personally have never asked someone what they are or judged them for thier coloring I know that there are people that do. When you are mixed you are judged by everyone and I can only imagine how hard it is that you catch shit from all sides. I just hope that when it comes time I can help my kids deal with it.

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  48. @salamandee, I don't mean this to be hurtful, but this isn't really the place for white males to make it all about them and their emotions and guilt. If you're feeling these things, and especially if you're interpreting your gf's behavior like this without really knowing what's going on for her, you need to get used to talking with HER about race and racism, and most of all, LISTENING. This'll be really important later too if you end up having kids - listening to children is already tough even without factoring in race. Own up to the fact that you have some work to do that can't be accomplished by asking strangers on the internet for answers.

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  49. @salamandee

    But I also can tell that it's just my societal environment that makes me feel this way--it's just extremely obvious to me that that's where it comes from. But it is still a real feeling even if it's not innate.

    Why do you shy away from taking responsibility of your racism? Yes, our environment affects us, but at the end of the day, we’re responsible for accepting those prejudices as our own. I struggle(d) with internalized racism and other prejudices. It is true that I have been affected by the social messages that I picked up from my surroundings. But I was responsible for picking them up and I have to own up to it as, I believe, do you.

    I think my girlfriend is racist in favor of whites and against dark skinned people, against her own skin color. She probably doesn't want to be racist, and I don't either, but we are. but we can't admit it to each other, or to anyone else I think.

    (This is sort of a rhetorical question.) Why do you feel you can’t talk about it? Are you scared? If so, why? Are you scared you’ll find out she likes you only because you’re white? My apologies if my suspicions are incorrect. But if they are, then I gotta say that it’s probably rare that people get into interracial relationships ONLY based on the other person’s race. Even if race was a factor, there are other stuff that influence how you feel about someone. And if race was a factor, it doesn’t mean then that the relationship needs to end. There is another way. Both parties can learn to deal with their attitudes about race.

    e.g. If a mixed race person who is part white finds out that they like being part white because of the white privileges it accords – they can’t cut themselves in half and throw the white half away can they? But what they can do is deal with their attitudes towards whiteness. I think it’s a similar deal with interracial relationships.

    Or maybe she just feels lucky her kids will have it easier than her. Who knows.

    So I am the white one and I have the privilege and the guilt and the loneliness.

    Stop feeling guilty. Seriously. Seriously. Seriously. Stop. It. If you feel guilty, I think you are missing the point.

    (Apologies for helping derail.)

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  50. Why do you feel you can’t talk about it? Are you scared? If so, why? Are you scared you’ll find out she likes you only because you’re white?

    It's not just that. It's also what does it say about him that he's fine being with a self-hating PoC? Did he pick her BECAUSE she so values Whiteness? Did he just wanna take the lazy route and be with someone for whom it's more than enough that he only need show up White so he really doesn't have to do much else? Does he like that his Whiteness has such cache in the relationship? Would he even want to be with a WoC who my like him but wouldn't elevate his Whiteness so? Does he talk to her about her internalized racism or does he leave it alone because that fits in fine with his agenda and inflates his ego?

    Most folks I know see self-hatred as a definite turn-off in a partner. I'm not saying that they want their partners to be militant, but no one wants to be with someone who hates himself. It basically says they're with you because they can't get or don't deserve any better. I can't see being with someone hating who they are and elevating me to the point of impossible expectations.

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  51. @Kittywhompers:

    "But I still get the probing "What are you, Mexican or part Asian?" question a lot. And I think what that question really means is "Why do you look like that?" combined with "Eek, I'm experiencing a category crisis."

    Yes, that's exactly what they're asking.

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  53. I think the only time I've been asked about my race is when a guy asked me if I'm white (which I am). As far as I can remember, I've never had anyone ask me, "What are you?" At least, in regard to race. I'd notice people say that to others, and I just thought that's a really weird and pretty rude thing to say. It's like people feel more comfortable after they find out what race you are.
    Also, me and my boyfriend (white) were talking about something similar to this yesterday. He was saying how he really dislikes that "acting white" is like "the norm." Anything outside of that, and you're "acting black" or "acting Asian," etc.

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  54. i identify as white and i have to say i empathise with your dilemmas but don't think of them as a problem with your identity. really it's the problem of white supremacy. how can anyone but yourself (especially people of different colour/race) set your standards for what you consider yourself to be? you are what you are, even if you decide there's no existing word for you. self identification is so strongly linked with self determination. i only have a white outsiders view of the race problem in america, but in australia heaps of people have similar identity issues because of racist assimilation laws raising (and stealing from families) whole generations of people with 'black' blood in white orphanages/institutions. it sounds like your passionate about race issues, and in your position it sounds like you could make breakthroughs for yourself and others who are effected by the gap between 'white' and 'black'.

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  55. I don't understand why we "choose" what race we are. Genetics cannot be ignored or explained away. And it's been my experience that those of a mixed background usually end up choosing a race to relate with for political/racist/social reasons.

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  56. Sarah, you basically answered your own question. There's more to race than genetics. And when it comes to race, very little of it, next to nothing of it, has to do with genetics.

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  57. Dunno if u ever check back 2 this or how old it is.

    most mixed people feel more black. this is mostly because of the fact that during more racist times there was a 1 drop policy meaning mixed race people would of been in black schools etc

    however having a "black" attitude or behaving black is terminolgy along the lines of "all old people are boring" or even "all europian girls are slags"

    these sterotyping sentences have no truth yet will be said as if fact. ie a "black attitude" - you think of the street rats running around being rude.
    but you do not think of the brain surgeon in jamaica. would he behave the same?

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  58. i know what you mean. im 14 and mixed. i live with my mom. shes white. my little sisters are white. everyone on that side of my family are white. and you know what hurt me? was when my little sister told me that im not her REAL sister because I'm not white.
    everyone judges me because of my skin.
    reading your story made me realize that i ALWAYS think of my race when people ask me what i am.
    and when I'm with my dads side of the family (hes black)
    no one asks me what i am. or whats wrong with me or something.
    i also realized a lot of my friends are mixed as well.

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  59. wouldulike2driveMay 21, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    This is true, I'm half black half Dominican( no not all Dominicans look black)and I have caramel skin, long dark curly hair, and large brown eyes. Yet when I was in high school( a predominantly white high school) I'd always get the question " what are you?" I would say "a human". Then they'd get a little irritated and ask for my ethnicity again,I'd reply "mixed" and of course they wanted to know what with. They could tell I was black, but that I wasn't completely, I even had one guy tell me he assumed I was a "very dark mexican" and he was extremely shocked that to find out I was black.

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  60. First off, thanks for writing this insightful piece. One of my best friends has a black American father and a white German mother. She was born in Germany, but grew up in Montana. Her parents divorced when she and her brother were quite young, and they were raised by her mother. When she filled out applications to go to college and such, she always marked "white" as her race. I asked her once why she did so, and she said because that's how she identified. I realized that I (like the people in the author's life) thought of her as black, because she fit some of the criteria our society has labeled as identifiably black. Ever since then, I have never assumed someone's race/ethnicity/etc. based on outward appearance. To me, it's a lot like being queer. I identify as lesbian, but I don't "look" like a lesbian (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean). And I get pissed when someone assumes I'm not "lesbian" enough because I don't have a mullet and ride a Harley. I mean, are we all supposed to be caricatures of an identity so that straight, white folk can distinguish what box we fit in at first glance?

    I'm Native and white, and only once in my 27 years of life has someone asked/assumed I was Native. I'm assumed to be white, and white only, and because I know that my appearance comes with privilege, I feel I have to say I am white because otherwise I'm co-opting someone else's experience.

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  61. I want to thank everyone that commented, even the ones who weren't very nice.

    I never claimed to speak for all mixed people. I think some of the other people of color who posted comment are trying to speak for all Black people on the way light skinned people are perceived by the Black community. I almost believed you, but I realized, DUH, this is what a few random Black people think of me, not the entire community. I was honestly shocked to read so much resentment towards mixed people, and I started to question my own identity.

    This blog for me is, among other things, a guide on what not to do, as in, examples of racism I may not even know I myself have commited. Examples to be aware of and to avoid, so I can learn. I strive to be a living example of everything this blog speaks against. When people of color exclude other Black people from the Black experiance just because their skin is lighter, you're doing the exact same thing Whites did in slavery days. You're taking a superior posistion and based on absolutey nothing else but my skin color and robbing me of my connection to Africa and to everything else Black about me. You're discriminating.

    But that's ok. Because whether you like it or not, I'm Black, and all this shows me is another example of how we still have a long way to go.

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  62. This blog for me is, among other things, a guide on what not to do, as in, examples of racism I may not even know I myself have commited.

    And you do quite a few in this thread.

    ReplyDelete
  63. @Brenda (and others) - I fully understand that being both and neither comes with its own set of struggles, namely with identity. I struggled with identity 24/7 myself (though I acknowledge that I didn't have to deal with racial ambiguity with regard to my physical appearance - I look fully Asian though I'm culturally mixed).

    Yet there is something about your last comment that doesn't sit quite right with me. You may not have intended it to be so, but it comes across as somewhat condescending whether intended or not. It almost sounds as though you are doing exactly the same thing that you're saying white and black people do: exclude others.

    I understand that you're coming from a place of hurt, of feeling excluded. Like I said, being both and neither can be very hard.

    The thing is, I struggle with my feelings towards people of Eurasian decent myself. But that doesn't mean I base my judgment of them purely based on skin color. That's not the point. I've met Eurasians who are culturally down with Asians. I don't have a problem with them. I've met ones who are culturally Western, and identify as both White and Asian, but hate 'whiteness' (which is not at all the same as hating white 'people'). I don't have a problem with them. Then there are the Eurasians who perhaps profess that they hate whiteness, but at the same time look down on full Asians, and there are also those who identify with whiteness most, if not all, of the time. I have a problem with this last group. I hate it when on most days they identify with whiteness, and then they identify as 'Asian' just on days when they want to seem 'unique/different' (read: exotic). Heck, there are even those who are fully Asian who also identify with 'whiteness' (which in my dictionary = arrogance/sense of superiority) on most days. I don't particularly like them either. Heck, I've been guilty of identifying with 'whiteness' (which is different from being culturally Westernized) too, and I hate it when I see it in myself.

    What I'm saying is, it seems a little condescending to think that the not-so-nice commenters you are referring to can't tell the difference between the different kinds of attitudes mixed people (like all people) take on in relation to whiteness.

    Not that I'm speaking on their behalf, but as much as I really appreciate hearing about the mixed race experience and am learning a lot from posts like this, there's something about the dicussions/posts on the mixed race experience here and elsewhere that just doesn't seem to reach an 'aha' moment where we're building bridges instead of reinforcing boundaries.

    ...mmm, I probably sound a little vague as I'm having a hard time putting my finger on the issue and am trying to sort through it by talking out loud.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Now, RVCBard and FTT, you know all we lowly darkies can do is seethe with interminable jealousy at the inherent superiority of mixed Black folk even as many of them have a deathgrip on their non-Black privilege (and yes that DOES exist) that daily grinds undeniably Black folk into mush on the daily.

    I've seen the Black community embrace mixed Black folk before their non-Black folks do. Being mixed is not at all new or novel in the BC. I wonder if THAT is the real beef so many mixed Blacks have with "monoracial" Black folk. Many of us don't fetishize or worship their mixed-ness. When we include them into Blackness ("Pfft! Mixed-schmixed! You Black just like me"), we're accused of diminishing and denying their other heritage(s). We're trying to lump them in with the rest of us to share in the same horrid nigger fate we undeniably Black folks share. In other words, not recognizing how they're more "special" than us ordinary darkies and somehow admitting they're better than us and do not deserve to suffer from the soul-crushing racism that the rest of us who were NOT born with the proper skin color and non-Black features must endure.

    If we say "Fine you're NOT Black. You're a 'breed' apart," then we're denying them their rightful claim to Blackness (which many of them don't really want anyways) and Soul Patrolling them, handing out Race Tickets against them for the offense of not being "Black enough."

    I'll really need folks to PICK A SIDE AND STICK WITH IT! If you're down, truly down, then it really doesn't matter what ANYONE else says. Hell, folks think I'm completely White identified because my husband is White. If you've read ANYTHING I've written here, you know that's FAR from the truth. But if you really don't want to be in the club anyway, don't get pissy when you're not offered a membership!

    What I REALLY love is the assumption that my pea-sized, darkie brain cannot make distinctions between or even begin to comprehend the varying attitudes and behaviors various mixed folks, especially mixed Black folks exhibit EVEN WHEN WE'VE DIRECTLY ENCOUNTERED SAID ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIORS MUCH OF OUR LIVES!!! We cannot make such distinctions much less ACT ACCORDINGLY!

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  65. I think what really bothers folks like Brenda, and has bothered so many other people on this site, including the blog owner I suspect about what I write is that I am not nor am I ever going to privilege someone else suffering over mine. I know that's going to get me the "selfish" label and a finger waggle in my face because as a nappy-headed, dark-skinned, Afri-typic-featured Black gal, I'm supposed to understand that I'm too lowly a being to have her issues even considered let alone remedied. I'm supposed to sacrifice myself for others while no one lifts a finger to help me even when it will cost them next to nothing (see the post about the sistah who had to speak up about a White BUM in a train station spouting nigger jokes because everyone else there was silent or the many posts about how Black women are treated. Read the comments and note who posts and who is absent and WHAT they posted. Now read the post on how Asian women are treated and repeat the other steps).

    I realized that all those times I was defending other folks no one EVER defended me, not even the peeps I was taking black eyes for. It was often demanded of me to man the barricades, but I was usually manning them bishes ALONE.

    So waggle your e-finger in my face if you want (you may not get it back, though you can try) and call me "selfish" all you want. But as long as I'm catching beatdowns that are killing me physically, mentally, spiritually, I'll be preoccupied with those.

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  66. Oh, and one more thing. BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT A MONOLITH! We do not speak with one voice because we've not all had ONE experience in this world! So there is no ONE attitude regarding mixed folks amongst Black people. Brenda, for every Black person you meet who sneered at you for being mixed, you'd probably find TWO who'd worship the mixed ground you walk on thanks to internalized anti-Black racism. But probably the majority'd be folks who either wouldn't give a shit or would be cautious around you till they found out what type of mixed person YOU were.

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  67. I am not nor am I ever going to privilege someone else suffering over mine.

    Just a side note: By the same token, despite how harsh Witchsistah may seem to get with her words (something I openly struggled with initially), or how she may be critical of the differential treatment that Asian women get on this blog (and in real life), or of how Asian women often align with whiteness at the expense of others in real life, I've never really seen her diminish the suffering of Asian women and talked about it as though it was any less than hers...Which is weird considering how she sometimes does say things which seem to be critical of 'the plight of' Asian women. (And I'm only talking of 'Asian women' here because that's what I am, so I can only speak for myself and how I experience her comments.)

    Last night I was trying to put my finger on that vagueness I spoke of, but I think witchsistah got to it first. There's something about the discussions on the mixed race experience that hints at 'oppression olympics', which is often worded subtly in a positive way as 'our struggles are unique'. But, mixed race discussions aren't the only place where this happens. I see it in discussions by mixed cultured people too (e.g. 'Third Culture Kids (TCKs)'), and discussions of black people, or Asian people, or the white expat experience...a lot of places, really.

    I went through (and probably still am going through) a period where I got pissed off when those who were born and raised in one place and in one culture said that they could understand my struggles (e.g. because they moved to another country as an adult). "You'd never understand! How dare you say you do!" was my internal reaction. It's as though the pain of exclusion over the years conditioned me to think that exclusion is normal, and thus I learnt to take refuge in the uniqueness of my/our struggles because I didn't really know what it's like to 'belong'. It initially felt really uncomfortable to think that others could understand (parts of) my experience. Because I was so used to people not understanding, and feeling excluded. (I think in psychology circles it's sometimes referred to as 'negative identity' - where one's identity is defined as being different from those around them.)

    I wonder if those who are mixed race experience similar things? And I wonder if those who neither identifies as mixed race nor mixed cultured also experience similar feelings? Can anyone relate to the above paragraph?

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  68. And I wonder if those who neither identifies as mixed race nor mixed cultured also experience similar feelings? Can anyone relate to the above paragraph?

    In my experience, that feeling comes from not fitting into convenient molds. I know everybody wants to be different (aka, special), but in my case I may as well be from outer space (not in the cute space cadet way - in the "I don't know what to make of you so I'm terrified but I'm going to be cruel to you to hide it" way). Isolation and alienation have been persistent themes throughout my life, really coming to a head during adolescence. Most of the time I felt like there was something fundamentally and irrevocably very wrong with me that made people incapable of relating to me as a real person.

    I don't doubt for a second that the expectations of Black women don't have anything to do with that.

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  69. I don't doubt for a second that the expectations of Black women don't have anything to do with that.

    Like I said in an earlier comment in this thread, my race treason gets judged even more harshly because as an undeniably Black woman, I should know better than to try to be anything more or other than the lowly nigger bitch I was obviously born to be.

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  70. Ok, I should preface my comments with the disclosure that I'm a white male, so I might be unwittingly driving an unconscious racist agenda with my objections. I'm not being sarcastic, just trying to get a handle on your post, since I'm rather confused.

    The question of race, of "what are you", gets complicated when taking into account the fact that there are both biological and cultural standards for race, and these standards can be at odds with one another. A parallel situation would be with the transgender community and their distinction between "sex" and "gender". The former is biological and determined by your genes, the latter is the societal construct subject to manipulation, and even rejection. Our language doesn't distinguish so easily between these two aspects of race, so a lot of confusion and awkwardness results.

    It's clear that you decided to identify yourself as Black culturally. You mentioned having an epiphany in that regard earlier in your life. This is of course perfectly valid, and admirable. But I doubt anyone can (sanely) have an epiphany about how to categorize their biological descent. That's not really subject to revision.

    You say that White people "insist on racially categorizing mixed-race people", but your initial anecdotes don't seem to suggest that. You say that people seem to just evince confusion when you tell them you're of mixed race, which you go on to say seems to suggest that such an answer isn't sufficient. I think you're right, but for the wrong reason, at least most of the time. It seems that the question "what are you", however indelicately rude, is often actually an inquiry into your biological racial background. "Mixed" WOULD be an insufficient answer because they're interested in your lineage. I don’t think the questions at all suggest that you need Whites’ permission to be Black, they just reflect further curiosity as to your biological lineage.

    I really don't believe questions in this regard should be considered sinister, or acts of subtle racist categorization. Why? Because it's a topic I've seen raised constantly between all sorts of people, of all colors, with no judgment. The fact is one's lineage is actually rather interesting as a conversation topic.

    I'm confused why you'd think that people were questioning your race based on how you carry yourself or the cultural mores you've adopted (not wearing Jordans and not using the n-word, etc.). A thought experiment: do you think that they'd float those same questions to you if you had the physical traits of entirely someone of sub-Saharan African descent? Dark skin, dark eyes, the curly hair, etc? I doubt you’d get a single “really?”, no matter how “white” you behave.

    Now, if these people had said you don't ACT Black and proceeded to deny your race, that would be insane, pigheaded, and racist. I acknowledge that a decent (but I think fairly small overall) number of people do this, but those people are (no other way to put it) stupid fucking assholes. Most white people do not think this way, nor do most people in general. Indeed, I’m confused why you associate this primarily with Whites. The fact is, this form of racism cuts across all cultures across all continents. Any cursory study of history can confirm that. It’s not as if it just happened in Europe and the Europeans brought it to the rest of the world. It’s a fundamental aspect of our anthropological roots.

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  71. GL, regarding the point you make in your last paragraph -- it's associated with obnoxious whites doing it because that's the topic of this blog, which, in case you hadn't noticed, is entitled "stuff white people do." It's also worth pointing out because we live in a de facto white supremacist society -- hurtful and damaging actions hurt and damage more when white people do them. Also, before you comment here again, please read this post as well.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Macon:

    Fair enough that the sort of racism discussed is associated with Whites, given the topic of the blog. But: the author goes a bit further in her claims, I think, in saying that this sort of racism is particular to Whites. She's making a substantive claim, one that I am willing to question even in light of the blog's name.

    I agree with your general point about the "white supremacist society", though I'd phrase it different. I'd call it hegemony, or cultural oppression, since it captures a lot more of the subtleties involved rather than simply painting the U.S. as populated by skinheads.

    Finally, I dutifully read that article that post that you cited before I posted here again. I'm afraid it doesn't apply to my post, though. But nice try. The post you cited was about moral equivocation. The attempt to use other parallel examples from history to mitigate the guilt a people should feel for wrongs they committed. I'm not equivocating on the issue at hand in my response, though, and I make that quite, quite clear. It is unacceptable and stupid to clumsily categorize people by race, and unforgivable. My final point was separate to this judgment, arguing that it's simply not a type of racism specific to Whites, nor do I think it originates with Whites. (Whites do exacerbate it particularly due to their hegemonic position though.)

    I'll close by pointing out that the main thrust of my response was dedicated to clarifying the issue at hand and hopefully shedding light on the interactions that seem to cause the OP so much grief. Which is emphatically NOT the same as explaining it all away or equivocating (remember my words "stupid fucking assholes"). Anyway, Cheers.

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  73. the author goes a bit further in her claims, I think, in saying that this sort of racism is particular to Whites. She's making a substantive claim, one that I am willing to question even in light of the blog's name.

    No, she doesn't. She says whites do it, because that's what the blog is about -- stuff white people do. Saying that is not automatically a way of saying that ONLY whites do it. And your persistent attention to the fact that others do it IS a form of the Arab Trader Argument, and so it IS derailment (so stop it, yeah?).

    My final point was separate to this judgment, arguing that it's simply not a type of racism specific to Whites, nor do I think it originates with Whites.

    But again, in the context of this blog, and of a de facto white supremacist society, who the hell cares? Aside from derailers like you?

    I agree with your general point about the "white supremacist society", though I'd phrase it different. I'd call it hegemony, or cultural oppression, since it captures a lot more of the subtleties involved rather than simply painting the U.S. as populated by skinheads.

    You should not have dropped the "de facto" in the term that I used, "de facto white supremacy." Keeping "de facto" would distinguish the phenomenon from plain old white supremacy. It also would have obviated this little lecture of yours on the obvious.

    Anyway, yeah, Cheerios and Fruit Loops to you too.

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  74. I might be unwittingly driving an unconscious racist agenda with my objections

    You are being unwittingly insensitive and ignorant and unwilling to see things from other people's perspective, that's for sure.

    Firstly, you do realize that "biological racial background" is a descriptor that came about as a result of colonial attempts to prove that non-whites are inferior?

    Secondly, there are other less rude ways to ask about someone's background.

    Thirdly, the problem with the question is that usually people don't give a damn fuck what that person's background really is. They just want to be given answers that'll help them box the individual up in a category or two. e.g. When people hear me, they think I sound American. When I tell them I have a Canadian passport, suddenly they think I sound Canadian (which I don't). Then they see me, and suddenly they say, 'Oh, yes, I could hear some Asian accent there' (though they didn't hear it before). I don't get asked the 'What are you' question, but I imagine it's the same dynamics at work. People don't really give a damn, they just wanna box you up. If they did really want to know, then being asked about our lineage wouldn't be so annoying.

    Fourthly, which ivory tower did you come from?

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  75. Wow, I have to say I'm impressed by the hostility you guys can muster up in responding to me. I'm not interested in rebutting everyone's raggedly emotional claims. We're talking past one another, and clearly there's little ground for dialog. Good luck with everything, guys. You'll need it.

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  76. Hey GL..
    Don't mind these people.

    They will take any opportunity to defend themselves and correct ignorant racist cretins who think that the merely the same airspace as a POC should be seen as a sign of equality.

    I think they should have completely over looked your nonsensical ignorant mutterings after all your ideas are right because erm.. yeah.. well because ..
    well I dunno why, but you think they are.

    I mean look at you! Really look at yourself in a mirror, you have inside knowledge of that which you speak of don't you?

    CAn you believe the nerve of these people, breaking down your points and getting to the nitty gritty of your ignorance, they didn't even have the common decency to not challenge your points.

    I'm glad you employed what always works... you know?.
    When your ignorance gets pointed out, just accuse those darkies of hostility haa haaa it always works.

    Oh and you showed your civility, (gosh, you are too much) see how you wished them good luck!

    Bravo!.
    You have done well.
    O_O

    ReplyDelete
  77. This was a great article. I also liked the later part of the Scrubs episode you quoted:

    Turk: That's not it. I know I'm black, I'm reminded all the time. Patient doesn't want a black doctor, people think I know the score to every NBA game, and I told you what happened last week, when the new board member met the surgical staff.

    (Flashback. The surgeons are in a line as the board member greets each of them.)

    Board Member: Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. [to Turk] Hey, what up, dog? Nice to meet you.

    Read more: http://scrubs.wikia.com/wiki/His_Story_III_transcript#ixzz0pp4sjsHt

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  78. I am Austrian, Hawaiian, and Chinese, but I identify myself as Hawaiian/Chinese because I don not look White at all. I was also born a dual citizen, which makes it even more confusing for me. I have never felt part of any group, or any country, and have always been categorized by people who think they know what I am.
    I lived in Alabama for a while, and was asked "what are you?", I lived in California, and was told that I was Samoan, Native American, Filipino, Mexican, and so on. In Austria, my mother's country, I was called a Turk, and when they heard Hawaiian I became a display item like an animal at a zoo.
    I appreciate you all sharing your struggles, because it lets people who are struggling with their multiracial backgrounds know that they can be mixed and happy to be mixed.

    ReplyDelete
  79. im mixed race and i find it so annoying when people say, "you act so white!" as if i am automatically assigned to a race even though im not one or the other. funny the first few times, but sometimes people are way too shocked that im half black - how am i supposed to behave?

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  80. one of my favorite Public Enemy quotes:

    White voice: You're quite hostile.
    Black voice: I got a right to be hostile man my people been persecuted!

    I have no idea where they got the sample from, but i think of it at least once a week. That's for GL.

    i made a concious decision growing up to call myself Black. not mixed, biracial (that term wasn't in use when i was growing up in the 70's & 80's), mulatto (a term that comes from mule--specifically for the inability of the donkey/horse hybrid to mate--this was the hope, at least), or African American (haven't yet been to afrika, and tho my roots are there, i don't want to claim a place that likely i wouldn't recognize and that wouldn't recognize me, and i've never ever felt comfortable calling myself american). for me Black relates to the Black Coniousness movement of Steve Biko in south africa, with the idea of relating to Black in intentional opposition to White, as a means of saying we know what you think is ugly must be beautiful, like us. i've rarely, since junior high school, had anyone in the Black community question my right to be there (Zebra jokes seemed to grow old once we got into high school and we needed to stand together). they might state, not ask, "you're mixed right?" but that's about it.

    the "what are you?" question, from white folks, continued until i grew to be six foot 200 lbs. and grew into my body in my late 20's. suddenly, the questions stopped. funny.

    in my early 20's when i would get that question (either from complete strangers who were clearly wealthier or from the leftist circles i spent my time in), it went a little like this:

    white person: "What are you?
    me: "Right now, i'm pretty much just the fist that's moments from your face. any more questions?"
    (pause)
    white person: "ummm...no...."
    me: "good."

    but that only works for so long.

    part of what makes the question so intense, as i think others have said, is the feeling of ownership that defining something gives. when someone says that i am undefined and NEED to be definied, to me it means that they don't quite have me and need to figure out how to define me in order to feel that they have me in my place.

    i have never liked "my place."

    one thing i will say, as a person with Black and White parents, is that i have always tried to understand my struggle/oppressions as mine, and as experiences that i have had. i feel that when i am with other P.O.C. we can bond on what we share, but we all know that we have things different, in a lot of ways. there's a lot that i can share, instantly, with someone who is Korean or Mexican, and there's a lot that separates us. other folks with similar families to mine who grew up on the west coast (i'm from the east) had completely different lives than mine, tho we still have a lot in common. i look at the things that my Black father had to deal with that i didn't, and at what my white mother went through as a woman that i won't as a guy.

    i'm not trying to say that we're all the same, cuz we're not. but that oppressions are different, even when the causes are similar (my older sister had the ability to, depending on how she dressed or did her hair or talked, to come off as anything from Jewish to Latina to Italian to Black, and she enjoyed, as a teen, messing with peoples heads--as she got older she too settled into "Black"--i have never been able to pass, just confuse).

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  81. thoughts to pass on to white parents of mixed children (part one)

    (my thoughts as person with parents who did NOT do a good job preparing me for the world-- my thoughts, i speak for no one but myself)
    1-own your shit! seen too many people think that because their spouse is P.O.C. or child they adopted is that they are excluded from swpd. my response to that is, "you mean because my wife is a woman i can’t be sexist?" the absurdity of that idea should explain how ridiculous it is to me as a P.O.C. that your marriage/family makes you immune to racism. no. no magical miracle whitewash (un-whitewash?) takes that crap away. the baggage you bring will be your children's baggage, they don’t deserve it. i understand that by being on this website you're trying to broach that, but one website aint enough, and you're not gonna be on it 24/7.

    2. don't panic! being aware of/owning your shit is what it is. it sucks, we all have to do it for different things, deal with it. Not an excuse for guilt, don't wanna hear how hard it is, can’t let it become something you can't tackle. if you love your children, chances are they're gonna love you, remember that. you make mistakes but as parents we make mistakes all the time, try to be concious & honest about them, at least to yourself if the children too young to discuss it with.

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  82. part two: (sorry, had a lot to say and computer wouldn't let me post it all in one)


    3. be up front with them about what they have to face. biggest disservice my parents did was believing in/passing on idea we were beyond racism & if i just kept my head high i would be better than the rcists people would respect me everything was great & perfect we were all free to be you & me. as a result, when i faced straight up racism violence threats fear cops i wasn't really equipped to handle it. it's rough out here, your kids need to know that. yes, teach them love & all that, that we can all get along, but also that we usually don't, prepare them for the fact that people will hate them. period. nothing you can do to protect them besides making sure they are able to protect themselves (i mean that physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually).

    4. find ways of building/supporting their efforts to build community with their P.O.C. side. a friend recently gave birth to a beautiful daughter; she is white, the father black. for various reasons he will not be a factor in the child's life, his family won't either. she knows it’s her responsibility to find ways for her daughter to connect w/her people/culture, & that this will lead to times/places where she (white mother) isn’t welcome. but for her daughter to understand herself she has to understand herself, & she can't do that if she is only exposed to one aspect of herslef. this doesn't mean that she (the daughter) has to go to a specific church, or act "Black," or act in any certain way; she might, as she grows up, decide that she doesn't wish to connect with her Black heritage--but that would be her choice, one that she would only really be able to make/understand if she had been shown what it was. i say this as someone whose parents moved to a white suburb in order to give us better schools, more safety, the hope of a better life, in a (supposedly) liberal area. what happens when one side of a child (personal experience speaking) is left out is that the child assumes it’s shameful, & SHOULD be left out; when it comes time to relate to others it’ll be as if they speak a different language, which, if we look at language as being more than just spoken words & include visual cues & other ways of speaking, is true. this is part of the "acting/speaking White,".

    whew. didn't mean to write all that. i know that i speak as if i am an expert, i understand my tone can get me into trouble, but as someone who is mixed i feel like i have ideas on how to make other folks' childhoods turn out better than mine.

    last thing i would like to add is that i grew up thinking that i was alone, that no one (besides my sisters) felt like i did. this blog shows that this is clearly not true. we have each other. sometimes, that's enough. not often, but sometimes, & tonight i guess (for me) is one of those times. thanks y'all--even the folks who pissed me off, cuz y'all took the time to try, which is a start.

    ReplyDelete
  83. one of my favorite Public Enemy quotes:

    White voice: You're quite hostile.
    Black voice: I got a right to be hostile man my people been persecuted!

    I have no idea where they got the sample from, but i think of it at least once a week. That's for GL.

    i made a concious decision growing up to call myself Black. not mixed, biracial (that term wasn't in use when i was growing up in the 70's & 80's), mulatto (a term that comes from mule--specifically for the inability of the donkey/horse hybrid to mate--this was the hope, at least), or African American (haven't yet been to afrika, and tho my roots are there, i don't want to claim a place that likely i wouldn't recognize and that wouldn't recognize me, and i've never ever felt comfortable calling myself american). for me Black relates to the Black Coniousness movement of Steve Biko in south africa, with the idea of relating to Black in intentional opposition to White, as a means of saying we know what you think is ugly must be beautiful, like us. i've rarely, since junior high school, had anyone in the Black community question my right to be there (Zebra jokes seemed to grow old once we got into high school and we needed to stand together). they might state, not ask, "you're mixed right?" but that's about it.

    the "what are you?" question, from white folks, continued until i grew to be six foot 200 lbs. and grew into my body in my late 20's. suddenly, the questions stopped. funny.

    in my early 20's when i would get that question (either from complete strangers who were clearly wealthier or from the leftist circles i spent my time in), it went a little like this:

    white person: "What are you?
    me: "Right now, i'm pretty much just the fist that's moments from your face. any more questions?"
    (pause)
    white person: "ummm...no...."
    me: "good."

    but that only works for so long.

    part of what makes the question so intense, as i think others have said, is the feeling of ownership that defining something gives. when someone says that i am undefined and NEED to be definied, to me it means that they don't quite have me and need to figure out how to define me in order to feel that they have me in my place.

    i have never liked "my place."

    one thing i will say, as a person with Black and White parents, is that i have always tried to understand my struggle/oppressions as mine, and as experiences that i have had. i feel that when i am with other P.O.C. we can bond on what we share, but we all know that we have things different, in a lot of ways. there's a lot that i can share, instantly, with someone who is Korean or Mexican, and there's a lot that separates us. other folks with similar families to mine who grew up on the west coast (i'm from the east) had completely different lives than mine, tho we still have a lot in common. i look at the things that my Black father had to deal with that i didn't, and at what my white mother went through as a woman that i won't as a guy.

    i'm not trying to say that we're all the same, cuz we're not. but that oppressions are different, even when the causes are similar (my older sister had the ability to, depending on how she dressed or did her hair or talked, to come off as anything from Jewish to Latina to Italian to Black, and she enjoyed, as a teen, messing with peoples heads--as she got older she too settled into "Black"--i have never been able to pass, just confuse).

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  84. Brenda, I never thought that I'd find someone who could identify my feelings as you did. I'm also mixed (half white, half black) and I am 999/1000 times labeled as white. Only the very trained eye can tell that there's something off about my whiteness. I have red hair and ivory skin, not what people typically see as black.

    I too struggle with people flat out telling me that I'm not black, even when I insist that I am. I'm going to a college next year that is over 75% white, and my greatest fear is that of falling into the category that I am most often shoved.

    I'm just glad that there's someone else who shares the struggle of self definition and the fight against people's assumptions.

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  85. My dad's white and my mom's filipino. When I was a kid, all my class-mates and friends kind of knew each other, so everyone knew I was mixed. I'd tell people I'm half filipino. They'd say I know. Then I went to college and I just don't look filipino at all. I don't even feel filipino. I haven't got the skin color, I don't speak the language, I've been assimilated into white society. People don't ask me questions about my race. They all assume I'm plain white and I'm not sure how to feel about that. I remember in the school registry in grade school I was also labeled white because they always used the dad's race.

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  86. I just want to say that you are a really great writer! I love how you express yourself. What I can tell you about the whole black/white issue is that the current system of categorizing people according to a particular race is seriously flawed and illogical, so trying to make sense of something that doesn't... well you will never make sense of it. There is only one race on the planet... and that is the Human Race... you can try and chop it up any way you want and you are going to eventually run into the same problems... therefore as a "black" man I have retrained myself to think of myself first as a human being. When you really break this whole thing down it is all quite foolish to try so hard to categorize people according to race.

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  87. I am multi-racial, not pretty at all, and've been asked what I am all the time. My brown skin and strange mix of features keep people guessing.

    Like another commenter shared, my two primary backrounds are so mixed in themselves, it'd be hard to break it down- Brasilian & Black American. And why should I? I've never, ever, asked someone 'what' they are- like we're horses or breeds of dog.

    I also get the "You're so different" kind of treatment, which kills me. I mean, I am different, but that's because we ALL are different as indiviual human beings- each of us with our own unique set of experiences, tastes, personalities and so on.

    Everyday, I struggle with my lighter-skinned privilege. I hate the fact that dominant culture will ascribe to my non-Black heritage the positive aspects of my person- I speak properly, I'm a hard worker, I read a lot, I listen to different kinds of music, blah, blah, blah. I get so furious! Once, my family had to stay with my Brasilian grandmother between homes, and her family called her and told her to lock up her valuables because our 'black sides may come out and steal' her things. WTF?

    Sometimes, White friends have gone 'there' with me, or taken me there, thinking that since I am 'only half' Black, I'd understand. Hurts every time, but I'm never surprised. No I don't understand their racism and bigotry. I never will accept it because "I'm only half."

    Then, when the going gets tough, I'm a *n*, right? Or a Black *b*? All of a sudden, I'm not so different, right?

    Though it hurts me to the core that many, many Black people have not accepted me as a Black person, I understand. I myself tire of the 'yellow aesthetic'. But I don't expect to be fully embraced- the privilege assigned to me based on my skin color has done its job well. It's up to me to continue to reach out, to continue to renounce that stupid ass privilege.

    And I will.

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  88. I've started answering "What are you?" with either "human" or "libra", at when it seems like I didn't understand the question, it makes people uncomfortable enough to think twice about what they're saying.

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  89. I'm late to the party but here it goes:

    You don’t have to be visibly mixed to have your blackness questioned. When I was a child (in Seattle) I navigated two worlds. The North end of town - where I went to a predominately white school and picked up the speech and mannerisms of my peers there - and the Central District- where my best friend lived, and you couldn’t be black unless you had the inner city slang down and the accompanying swagger. I was teased for my love of rock music, my proper English, my good grades and my affinity for books and speaking French. And, even though I’m dark as a Hershey bar, my hair is long and my features are not as “thick” as most blacks. I was consistently accused of being not quite “black” enough. I just dismiss these attitudes as born in ignorance and self-hatred, the result of internalized oppression after centuries of brainwashing. The modern media has also played a role in that it perpetrated this one note view of what being black should look and sound like. A perception that is nothing like reality. There may be a semi-collective black history in the US (and this includes mixed-race blacks), but we all have varied experiences as well shaped by class and region, just like whites. Not every black is from the ghetto, there has always been a middle class and an upper class black community in the US. We are not some undifferentiated mass no matter what the brother on the corner or anyone else may think.

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  90. It’s funny, but I’ve noticed that half-black individuals are black when the f* up and only “half-black” when whites are happy with them.

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  91. I'm not mixed, but alot of people think I am. I'm white. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. So why do they think I'm mixed? Because I'm "built like a black girl" I'm in pretty good shape but I have wide hips, muscular legs, and a round butt. The other reason is probably because I very rarely date white guys. It's not that I hate white people or anything stupid like that, but I'm from a very diverse area and I just think darker skin is really attractive. I get shit from white people because by dating outside my skin color I'm not acting white enough. Everyone else is either convinced I'm mixed and confused when I say otherwise or pissed because they think I'm "stealing their men." So while I can't really relate to your specific situation I feel similar frustration over everyone feeling the need for me to fit into some racial mold.

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  92. I happened upon this web page by mistake, and would like to add a few words if I may.

    After reading several of the above posting, I am surprised that those who are blessed with such wonderful, yet, diverse ethnicities and cultural wealth are just blatantly being asked “what are you?” Perhaps those who have been asked this should just say “I am a sheep”, and return the question.

    I wish you all well, and hope you all embrace your dual/bi ethnicities’ or nationalities.

    P.S. I refuse to refer to ‘people groups’ as racial groups because there is only on race – the human race.

    Regard to you all,

    (From England)

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  93. I found this upon doing research on a law review article, and how race is considered an "immutable" trait when considered in equal protection cases. The part where you mentioned your siblings struck a chord with me. It's a perfect example of how skin color is not an indication of one's race.

    On another note, I fully connect with this article, as I have a white father and a black mother, mostly resembling my dad (while one of my brothers is a little more in between). I only identify myself as black, as well.

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  94. when im at school some people say im white because i dress goth and lisin to rock n roll instead of rap and hip hop, but theres one thing wrong about what people say because im not white im mexican , puerto rican , cuban and native. i hate it when people say im something im not, im told be alittil amount that im white but told by alout of people that im tanish, i have like this tanish color to my skin, its not dark but then yet its not white, and im not tring to slam white people because i have a best friend who is white and my other very best friend is black and hes goth to, and he gets the samething sed to him, im sorry i just wont to understand why some people call me this because it makes me kinda sad because thay dont see me for what i truly am, im MEXICAN PUERTO RICAN CUBAN AND NATIVE AND IM PRODE !!!

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  95. I too have always been asked, "What are you?" Recently, after abandoning my fight against my natural nappy hair and Trichotillomania I started wearing a wig I’m automatically considered Hispanic. Sometimes white, a cop filed my speeding ticket under white. But I’ve been called everything from Indian to Hawaiian.
    I don't act black and have immersed myself into the 'white' culture by natural processes. I'm an atheist that is into philosophy, science, rock music, etc. because this is what speaks to me. But I feel like I am not wanted their sometimes. It’s like there is an invisible ‘Whites Only’ branded on rock and country music. Even though white people say race doesn't matter, it certainly matters to me when some white person I once liked goes off on a racist rant. Like Mel Gibson, someone my sisters loved as children and had a crush on, I can't imagine how his words affected them. You never know what white person will turn on you tomorrow and have you feeling like an inferior sucker and race trader for liking them. I never liked John Mayer that much, but it really hurt me when he claimed his 'dick' was like a white supremacist. I guess Black women aren’t good enough to get him going. I actually cried for quite a while after this; feeling inferior, ugly, and unwanted. I guess his words didn’t matter enough to white people to stop listening to his music or to stop watching Mel Gibson’s movies. It must be nice to be white and to be able to ignore racism against others because you live in white spaces.
    As for white people and how they view mixed race or mixed looking people they are absolutely clueless as to how racist they are being when they make certain comments. Most white people tell me once I tell them I’m black that, “You’re beautiful; you don’t look black at all.” Or “You could pass for Hispanic or even white.” As if being black were the last thing I should want to be and the lowest on the totem pole. A doctor told me when I was 17 in front of my black mother how beautiful she thought I was. “Are you mixed?” she asked. When I said now she was in disbelief, “But you are so pretty.” My mom was annoyed, but honestly she took it too well in my opinion.
    Whenever white people see an attractive black person, that person is more than usually always mixed or has white features in some way. They often make a big deal about this, as if this is such an amazing thing that they found a Black person attractive. I’ve seen it so many times you just get used to it. Perhaps this is the cause of hidden anger and low self esteem. Perhaps this is why I decided to start dating a racist and abusive white guy that constantly called me the N word and complained about how horrible the black race was. At least he was outright and honest about his racism. He told me that I helped him realize that Black people are actually human. I think most white people feel this way but don’t see it. They view us as ‘them’ or the sidekicks. It’s like white people are the Batman’s and minorities are the Robin’s. We are never the main character, never the norm or relevant. We are the side show yet when we complain about the ills of how we are treated, we are told we are playing the race card. Whites only see race when it is convenient to them, and attempt to claim it doesn’t matter when it’s convenient for them.
    In order to be beautiful we have to have white features. In order to be accepted we have to adopt white values, likes, and tastes yet are still not fully accepted into their white world. By so doing we lose our black culture and dignity. I have nowhere where I feel I fit in. I feel animosity towards whites yet crave their acceptance and love. Problem is a white washed society that glorifies whiteness. It sucks looking ambiguous too, despite the ability to pass; you fail to feel at home anywhere.

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  96. I was born in America, partly raised in Liberia, then raised to adulthood in Germany. My mother is Nigerian. So whenever someone asks me "where are you from?" I answer depending on how I feel that day. If you ask me, you are whatever you say you are.

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  97. when i was in elementary school i answered "ima mutt" instead of explaining im half black half white-ish, and that only stopped recently in high school when it gave the kids and excuse to mock my curly hair and call me poodle or straight up bitch. i dont want to deal with this anymore and have started ignoring people when they ask but it doesnt help when they have the "what r u" column on standard tests and im only allowed to bubble one! i actually got detention for bubbling both white and black on csap.

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  98. btw its nice to know its not just me whos been tormented by color. it makes me feel less alone, less of a freak. i mean i live in colorado and i know maybe 3 full black people in my graduating of about 1200!!its mostly a white school, but we do have 40 times more mexican, students then black and i keep gettin called mexican and i dont mean to bash, but that fucking pisses me off! the worst thing people do at this school is TELL me what i am.. like i dont know. They're always wrong but do they listen to me? no! who the fuck knows what i am more than me?!

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  99. I'm called spanish, indian, italian, muslim and many other races even before black is considered. Why is this? I have kinky black hair and a "black" broad nose and yet all of these are always considered first despite my "half-fro" as I like to call it textured hair. When I reply, no, I am none of those things I am african-american and (insert white areas from my father's side here) People are like oh, so you are white too. Wtf? Why is it that I am guessed as everything else except by other mixed people? It is hard for blacks, but at least blacks have blacks and whites have whites, mixed kids don't really belong anywhere, or at least feel that way never being treated as such. I normally go with being "black" but my skin turns a light caramel in winter and people just assume too. It is hard. I loved this article by the way it helps convey my feelings too. How come mixed people never get dolls that look like them? It is always black or white, or we are forcibly picked into hispanic. There is little about us even though we are a fast growing group.

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  100. My experience as a mixed person has been a little different. I am Chinese, Filipino, White and Mexican. I grew up in the poorly publicized crime-ridden rough southern fringes of San Francisco in a mostly Black neighborhood. I moved to suburban Maryland at a fairly young age.

    Most of the time, White people never ask me "what are you?" White people, especially more upper middle class suburban White folks just assume that I am not White. They do not care to ask, they just assume I'm non-White despite the fact that my skin is White, I have freckles and I have hazel eyes that turn green when wearing green articles of clothing. And the end of the day, White people do not claim mixed people of any kind unless they look 100% White. Blacks, Latinos and Asians are much more likely to claim mixed race individuals as long as they look "ethnic".

    Most people who ask "what are you?" to me are Black people and other minorities. I always ask in counter "what do you think?" Being from the West Coast but living on the East Coast makes me weird to people who have lived on the East Coast their whole lives. On the East Coast, Asians are not very socially integrated with other races like they are in many areas of California. Some Black people act like I am a poser because I dress urban and do not act like a stereotypical nerdy Asian or a short Mexican dude. I am from the hood though, so what can they really say where they would have a valid point?

    The thing that sucks about being mixed is that people assume what your race is and act like you should "stop being a sellout" and a wannabe embrace the dumb stereotypes associated with that group. But as mixed people, our life experiences are more diverse by definition.

    People have assumed I'm full blooded Asian, full-blooded White, Black and Asian, Puerto Rican, Black and Latino, full-blooded Latino, Native American or light-skinned Black. People have pretty much mistaken me for every race and every possible mix except East Indian or Arab. At 6', my height throws people off from guessing I'm part Asian. Being comfortable around Black people makes a lot of people think I'm Black. No, I am just cosmopolitan and get along with all different types of people. I don't care about race at all and I still think of myself as "mixed" and being a human being despite what idiots think.

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  101. I used to make my race a philosophical quandary when I was in college and a few years after; but these days I just keep things very, very, simple for myself. If asked (very rude to ask) I say I'm black, period. I ignore any resulting curious or questioning looks, and divert any further questions. Some think I look black/light-skinned and to others think I look Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, Cuban… I’ve heard it all, but regardless, "I'm black," that's what I said, end of story. It ends there. To downplay the complexity of race in your own life is just a healthy thing to do; and plus, you’ve received far too much attention for your beauty/uniqueness anyway, have you not? Vanity is an unattractive character flaw and can become a distraction from the more important things and people in your life. Personally, my focus is on my daughter now, who is getting an awesome education and extracurricular lessons, so she has the confidence in herself, not because of how she looks or other’s opinion of her, but because of who she knows herself to be. That’s something we all can strive for.

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  102. Thanks for writing this. I thought I was the only one who felt and experienced this.

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  103. I wish I couldve met all of you in highschool to prove that not all whites are idiots. I cant believe people have asked and said stuff like this. I ask ALL people I meet, INCLUDING whites, what their heritage is just because I LOVE learning about people, and cultures or whatever. But, beyond that point, I feel like personality isnt definitive by what race you are.... that is stupid. Everyone has their own brain and own likes and dislikes.... to say that you arent black because you dont act like or do certain things is beyond stupid.... do whatever the hell you wanna do, why should people limit how you can act by race? People do this to me though, when I dont act "white" whatever the fuck that is. They will say, "Are you sure you arent asian?" "Are you sure you arent black?" Its like dude. I am who I am, my personality is me, I didnt know I had to be one certain way. I think each race gets that, stereotypes that each person has to be in order to prove what race they are. It is really annoying. I am sorry people are so stupid and just cant see that EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT....

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  104. What are you? Ive heard this before, only when I change my hair color. I havnt read all the comments bc I am at work and I see that several of you are having issues being accepted as black. Is there anyone having issues being accepted as white? I understand completly. You see, I am white.... or maybe Im Native American. No, Im pretty sure Im Native American so what if Im not dark skinned with black hair. Natives dont have "black hair" its dark brown mine is medial and I dont sun. My daughter has medial blonde hair but her skin is darker than mine. Maybe thats only bc my husband her father is half Native and half Italian? pft. Since when did half Native and half Italian become classified as white (per the black community) or Black (per the white community) or MEXICAN (per anyone who just cant figure it out)? Not so long ago people didnt mix and each community as a whole was labeled by the actions of the majority of that whole. Someone once said In order to know where you are going, you need to know where you have been. The problem is we arent educated in our past enough to know where we have been. The most of us are educated by what our elders teach us. I for one like to figure things out for myself. I think those of us in the community who are accepting of one another have chosen to mix our racial ethnics in hope of a brighter future without the traditional black and white feuds. I believe one day this hope will be our reality. Until then we must stay loud and strong and educate ourselves, our children and each other. What are you? There is no definitive answer. You are WHO you choose to be. A da do li gi o gi na li. (Blessed be my friend)

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  105. This post is so so true! I'm 1/2 Indian 1/2 Jamaican, and my skin is a lighter caramel color too! I've been through most of these problems before. Great post keep up the good work because I enjoyed reading.

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