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Lithium I'm mixed-race—and, no, I'm not going to "pick a side"

Jan. 15, 2018
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I’m mixed. My mom is white and my father is Black. Some people say I look like both of them; others say neither. 

When I was little, I felt extremely self-conscious about my identity. I never knew how to answer the question, “What are you?” It always seemed like a rather odd question. I’m a kid, I thought. What difference could it make what my race is? My response was always the same: “I’m mixed.” But that began to get tricky; people would ask which side I identified with more. Most of my friends in middle school were white, and I really only spent time with my mom’s side of the family, so it seemed easy for me to identify with that part of me. 

However, when I started high school, I slowly began to relate more to my Black side, in large part because I became friends with more Black people. In addition, with the 2016 presidential election giving free reign to bigotry, the all-too-frequent racist comments that went around my school caused me to relate more to being Black. The election unleashed a hunger within me to advocate for people of color and other marginalized groups. I have since joined my school’s civil rights club and begun attending anti-racism marches.

My biggest struggle as a mixed young woman is that, while I now identify more with being Black, I feel like there’s always a barrier between Black people and me. First, my hair is not what is known as “Black” hair. I feel like an outsider—guilty, even—when Black girls around me complain about how hard it is to make their hair look “nice”. They get made fun of for wearing their hair natural, yet they receive just as much flack for styling it. On the other hand, my hair, which falls somewhere between “Black” and “white”, garners praise on a regular basis for its loose curls.

My “year-round tan” skin color also creates a divide with Black people, due to the enduring remnants of the historic “pecking order” for Blacks: the darker the skin, the less beautiful, intelligent, and capable you are. In this hypercritical world, where we preach equality for all, we have no problem denying Black people their rights, while completely idolizing mixed, lighter-skinned people. For these reasons, many Black people assume that I’m privileged. As they see it, I’ll never know the anxiety they feel each time they get into a car and pray not to be pulled over by the police. I’ll never know the shame they feel when they’re in a store minding their own business, and a salesperson follows them, convinced that they will shoplift. I’ll never understand the resentment they feel when they are told, “You speak so well, for a Black person,” or “You’re actually pretty, for a Black girl.” 

But to me, being mixed comes with its own baggage. I feel “too white” to be comfortable in my school’s Black Student Union, and “too Black” to be comfortable in my mostly-white academic classes or competitive gymnastics team. I feel constant pressure to “choose a side”, but when I do, I feel ostracized. I feel even more pressure not to let either race down. 

Yes, I’m mixed. But that doesn’t mean I have to publicly display the percentages. It’s not just about the biology of being mixed-race. I want to be able to experience both cultures fully, such as attending Jack-and-Jill events with my father and religious events at my synagogue with my mother, without being told that I’m not enough of one or too much of another. Because if I’m constantly told what being mixed means—able, as a supposed poster child for America’s melting pot, to take advantage of the perks of both races—it no longer feels like my identity.