I grew up in a white home. I lived in a mostly white town, went to a mostly white schools, had white friends, and the family members I loved most were all white. But I am not white. I am a biracial woman, with a white mom and a black dad.
I don’t presume that my being biracial makes me an expert on matters of race. And I certainly don’t want to be taken as the voice of what it means to grow up biracial in a predominately white world. Yes, it is a unique experience (thankfully becoming less so as multicultural families continue to grow in number), but even though it’s a cliche, it is true that we all have our own stories to tell. What being biracial has meant for me, though, is I have been on the receiving end of racism. But I have also been taken for white and therefore given a glimpse into how comfortable some people are with making racist comments when they think they are in like company. I have been told to my face that interracial couples go against God and the Bible (yes, really!); I have been told it must be sad for me to not fit in anywhere. I have been told I don’t “act black”; I have been mistaken for Latina. My mere existence has been a curiosity to some people, and how difficult it must be for them to not know how to label me. Which stereotypes do you go by when someone claims both of their racial identities?
As a child, I didn’t know that the things people said and thought about me were actually about them. However, a few decades worth of living has taught me that race is really, really complicated – a never-ending balancing act of trying to reconcile how the world perceives me versus how I experience the world- and this has solidified my belief that race matters. I am familiar with the well-meaning, but misguided mantra of “I don’t see a person’s color,” and aside from that statement being untrue, it sounds like the worst kind of dismissal to those of us who really want to be seen and accepted in our entirety.
When I became pregnant with my daughter, I admit to not having given a single thought about race and how it would influence my parenting. When my daughter was born, pale skinned and curl free, I realized I had been expecting a miniature version of me. Where was my brown skinned baby with jet black hair? Why did this baby look so much like her white dad? I did not know, even at that moment, how much this changed things. I did not know I would be mistaken for the nanny on multiple occasions. I did not know she would be seen as white, and how different that would make her life from mine.
My white baby is now an eight-year-old. The curls did come, but she’s still as blue-eyed and fair-skinned as she was at birth. If you ask her about her race she will tell you, “I am one-quarter black.” I do not know why she embraces this, and I can’t help but wonder if someday she will ditch it, knowing it will do her no favors in this world. I do know that we will continue to talk about race in our home, and I will make her aware of racial injustices whenever they occur. I will not try to teach her to be color blind, but color accepting, and I will do this with the hope that her adult world accepts her back, one-quarter blackness and all.