I am biracial. I was born from one half black and half white parent and one white parent. Though my experience is nowhere near the experience of a Black person, I wanted to share my story of being mixed and trying to figure out what that meant and where I fit into the narrative of White privilege and Black experience.
My parents split up when I was 6 years old, and I lived primarily with my Mom and my White grandparents after that. I was more heavily influenced by my White Northern European heritage, because I grew up with it and of course my White side of the family had the privilege of knowing our ancestors going back multiple generations.
My Dad is half White from his Mom and half Black from his Dad. My Dad’s side of the family however is not as clearly known. My Dad is not very close to his Dad as an adult and did not know much of his family history on the Black side of the family. However, my Dad still identifies as Black and would tell me stories about being mixed growing up and having a hard time figuring out which group he belonged to.
When I was around 8-10 years old, my brother, who is my half-brother from my Dad, and I would go to visit our Dad during the summer. One summer I remember our Dad showing us the movie “Roots” and wanting us to talk about it. We also watched BET and listened to some of my Dad’s R&B records. This was my first understanding of Black culture and that part of my heritage was Black.
When I went back to school the next year, I talked to all my friends and told them, “Hey, I’m Black!” I was met with some weird facial expressions and the sentiment that I was crazy for thinking I was Black. After that, being Black was something that I knew was not something I could talk about and was different than just having Black blood in my DNA.
In high school, I joined the Multicultural Student Union club to gain a better understanding of Black culture and other cultures. I had some Black friends and really started to understand that my experiences as a mixed person that is White, were nowhere near to the experiences of my Black friends. I started to see the privileges I grew up with that they did not and how the color of your skin really was an important factor to how you were treated in society.
I think this was about the time that I learned that it is important not to talk FOR Black people and that listening to their experiences was what was important. Always being the rule follower and the caring person I am, I resigned myself to thinking that I cannot really talk about being Black myself because I am not Black. I am White when I walk down the street, so that does not give me the right to claim that I’m Black.
When I went to college, I remember having an experience of talking to one of the Zumba instructors I was trying to be friends with and somehow wanting to bring up the fact that I was a quarter Black. After I mentioned it, she was like, “There is no way you are a quarter Black when I am a quarter Black” and she had darker skin than me.
I then did a paper in my social psychology class about learning what it was like to be a minority in a group. I went to a Black Student Union meeting on campus and I definitely felt the feeling of being the only White person in the room. Everyone was really nice and welcoming, but I definitely felt out of place. I did not know how to reconcile my heritage with my real life experience.
So these encounters definitely made me feel as though me being a quarter Black was not something I could ever talk about because it was not my place to talk and I could never understand what it meant to walk down the street and have dark skin.
It has really taken me until my mid 20s to understand the difference between culture, nationality, ethnicity, and race. Race is what is on our bodies every day. I know now that I am White because I have white skin. I can be proud of my Black ethnicity and heritage, but I will never know what it is like to be Black in society.
I want to acknowledge that being Black was never something I was ashamed of. I was always proud to be part Black and to know that I am a mixture of cultures. It was just hard navigating that when there are not a lot of resources out there on what it means to be mixed, especially if you look more White or Black. We are only just now starting to see some more people come out and talk about their experiences of being mixed.
Because I am White though and because I mostly grew up with my White side of my family, I have made sure that I really understand my privileges and how those have impacted my life. I did not grow up in Black culture and therefore I cannot claim it as my own. All I can do is be curious and reverent to this culture and heritage where part of me comes from.
Calls To Action:
1.) Learn about White privilege and what that means
2.) Educate yourself! Seek the things that you don’t know! Do not rely on Black friends of family members to educate you on how they are oppressed.
3.) Have the uncomfortable conversations in White spaces where Black people are not allowed. Make sure you are trying to say something when you hear a racist comment being said.
4.) Reimagine public safety. If everyone in our society (police and citizens) does not feel safe, how are we calling this public safety?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlRxq… ( Ted Talk: Understanding My Privilege”)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aCn7… (Ted Talk: “Lets get to the root of racial injustice”)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZgkj… (Ted Talk: “How to deconstruct racism, one headline at a time”)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd9iW… (Round Table on the book “The End of Policing”)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xp8YY… (Ted Talk: “I grew up in poverty. Here’s why I recognize my white privilege”)