I swear I’m not trying to steal your shine.
I grew up in a predominantly white community. Attended a school filled with primarily white students. With white friends. With a white family.
Nothing out of the normal for most small town girls, living in a well off area. Except I’m not like everyone that surrounded me. My head is covered in nappy curls, my skin is the color of caramel. My nose is a tad wider, my lips full.
I am the product of a beautiful and brilliant white women, and a dark and driven black man. I am biracial or mulatto.
Some say, as a mixed race female, I have the best of both worlds. The caramel skin all women with lighter complexions dream of. The hair that has texture, but is easily tamed with a quick stroke of a flat iron, or the swish of a blow dryer. The eyes of my mother, as green and bright as the leaves of a willow. The lips of my father, plump and soft. The figure that slims at the waist and curves at the hips. I’m occasionally described as exotic, people assume I’m from an island or a country south of the equator. But when I explain that I’m a mix of a French woman and an African American man, it’s suddenly a less interesting topic.
As a young child, and into my early teens, I would ignore the topic when it arose. A boy would show interest in me, flirt and comment on how soft my skin looked, and follow it up with the simple question ‘where are you from?’ My response was always, “here”. But they would always insist on being in the know, until I told them.
Now, I don’t want to appear as a victim. I know, as a biracial female, I have privilege. It is not to claim racism, but to speak on my personal experiences, to point out what you may not see.
When I was sixteen, a junior in high school. Someone I called a friend yelled “Hey, Zebra” down the hallway. It had a friendly inflection, but I met his gaze with a quizzical look. Never once in the three years I had known this tall Italian boy did he ever call me Zebra. I looked behind me, thinking maybe I had misheard him, and he was simply shouting someones last name. But when I looked back, there was nothing but an empty hallway behind me, and he was still looking my way.
He then smiled while explaining to me that he was referring to my race. My half black, half white birth right.
My jaw dropped.
In that moment, I was both angry and frightened. Had anyone else heard him? Would that soon be a name that followed me around for the remainder of my high school years?
Thankfully it wasn’t. But to this day, I wish I had stood up for myself. In the least, told him that he hurt my feelings.
That following summer, my family and I travelled to Florida via I-95. We stopped at a Denny’s somewhere in the Carolinas, just looking for a place to stretch our legs, grab a bite to eat. But after we were seated, the waitress refused to serve us. I could hear her speaking to her manager, claiming she could not polity serve a table with a mixed family.
In college, things changed. I wasn’t the darkest person in the room. And I was in a serious relationship with a white man who saw me, as just me. My friendships grew diverse and I was no longer the most interesting person in the room (excellent for my ego).
Come time to choose classes for my second semester, I chose an African American literature lecture, determined to learn something that belonged to the other half of me. I read books I would have never thought to pick up before, I became enthused in learning everything there was to learn. Picking up history books at the library, asking questions to those that offered to answer them.
Halfway through the semester, we were expected to present a book report to the class. I’ve never been interested in public speaking, but this topic.. this thing that had awaken in me, erased all fear that usually filled my throat when someone uttered the word ‘presentation’.
I breezed through my essay without even a stammer, emphasizing my personal experiences and how they related to the fictional black characters experience. When I was done, I beamed, expecting a “good job”. Instead, I got a hushed “She’s not even black” from the far corner of the room.
I waited for the professor to speak up on my behalf. But when I turned to this beautiful woman with skin the color of pecans. She said, “Thank you, you may take your seat”.
First there was shock, then anger. Why could I not find acceptance in either of the races that I was created from? For the few years that followed, I struggled with my identity. If I wasn’t black, and I wasn’t white. Who was I?
It took the birth of my cousin’s first mixed race child to know the answer was simple. I am not black and I am not white, but I am a mix of the two.
It is a fact, and nothing more. I have learned to love this fact, along with everything else that makes me who I am.
Sometimes I like coffee. Sometimes I like tea. I am extremely passionate and highly analytical. I see the beauty in people. I believe love should feel free. I am strong and independent. I demand deep conversation and yearn for human connection. I am a mixed girl. I am a blend of all things human.
I am progress.