Cogitation: On Being Biracial

I am biracial. My mom is White American and my dad is Black Kenyan. I am African-American in the most technical sense. Being biracial is one of the most important part of my identity. In my experience, it’s hard for people to understand the biracial experience or how I can identify with two different racial/cultural groups at the same time. This piece is amazing and really puts into words a lot of what I’ve experienced as a biracial woman. This quote, in particular really spoke to me:

“And the biracial experience? Can’t say I understand that entirely, either. Depends on what we look like, on what we’re mixed with, on how we identify. I love this aspect of being biracial, but it’s also what makes it alienating… Biracial people are largely invisible as a group; we get tossed into whatever category we resemble most. We’re expected to choose black or white (or Indian, or Chinese, or whatever traits dominate). But lots of us don’t want to quietly “Circle One.” Some things aren’t black or white. Like human beings.

I don’t know the black experience, and I don’t know the white one either.All I know is my own biracial experience, which looks like this: it’s strangers addressing you in Greek instead of English because your name is Greek and what else would you be? (I know two words of Greek.) It’s telling a new acquaintance you’re biracial, then furnishing a photo of your family when she insists that you’re lying. You have to do this, though, show her a picture — because you might be the one person who can change her mind about what blackness looks like. It’s census reports that won’t acknowledge you, and a white friend screaming the n-word through his open window because someone cut him off in traffic. It’s that same friend turning around to say, “Oh. Sorry,” as though the problem is that you’re in the car, not his own racist inclination toward someone he’s never met.

…It’s befriending someone great and immediately wondering if her mom, or brother, or grandparents will say something offensive in front of you because why would you care, you’re white, right? It’s segregated proms in 2013, sobbing over segregated proms in 2013. It’s mainstream Hollywood ignoring interracial relationships, even though one in ten Americans is in one. It’s Cheerios commercials and YouTube comments and knowing that somewhere, a total stranger has called your ‘kind’ “unnatural” or worse, just because your parents’ skin tones don’t match up. Who cares if they love each other? It’s knowing your parents’ new home state — Florida — will protect you before it protects your mother. It’s witnessing one of the most exciting conversations about race since the civil rights movement, and wondering whether you’re the white voice that should shut up and listen, or the black voice that should speak out, or the mixed voice that should ???. It’s the feeling that you belong nowhere, and not knowing what to do about that, and not knowing who to ask.

And it’s coming out. It’s coming out to strangers, and friends, and lovers on the off chance that you might convince them that race isn’t one size fits all. It’s coming out to see the look on some bigot’s face when he realizes his idea of white is wrong. It’s coming out so that interracial couples don’t have to fear the America their future children will grow up in. Looking like a white woman comes with white privilege, but it also comes with the responsibility of making myself known, of changing minds. I’m treated the way all black Americans deserve to be treated, and it’s only because my dad’s genes won a round of tug-of-war with my mom’s. My skin color is just a small joke that racists—career or casual—aren’t in on.

So I come out. Again and again and again. My appearance can’t do the talking, but I sure as hell can.”


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