My family is different. When we go to a restaurant, the waitress always asks us if we are paying together – those of us sitting at the table include my dad, who is black, my mom, who could pass for white, my brother and I who are somewhere in the middle, and across from me is my white, blue-eyed grandmother. So I suppose the puzzled look that our waitress has when bringing out the check makes sense. When I was in elementary school, all of my classmates always asked me, “Are you adopted?” I guess I hadn’t realized that I don’t look like my parents until I was constantly reminded of it. However, as the years have gone by, I have learned to accept and love the diversity within my own household.
What I mean by “mixed race” is someone who has a parent or grandparent of a differing racial group. A lot of people claim the label of biracial, and they may have a Native American or White great-greatgreat-grandparent; however, because that person is so far removed from an interracial relationship, they will never completely understand what it means to be truly biracial. The tension that is caused within their extended family would not be present, and they would never have to face the fact that they don’t completely fit into one specific “race.” Mixed race individuals often have difficulties with their identity. We are forced to answer the question of “what are you?” This happens because society has clear-cut boundaries for race when in reality, the boundary is not always clear. Society forces biracial individuals to choose one ethnicity over the other – it feels like choosing one parent over the other.
I see this every time I take a standardized test – I have to ask myself what I’m going to bubble in once I get to the section for “race and ethnicity.” Filling in “black” feels like rejecting my mother, while filling in “other” feels as though I’m confused about my racial identity – I am in no way confused. I am proud to be biracial. Growing up, my parents made it a priority to raise me as “biracial” rather than “black.” Knowing fully of “what I am” has helped me to have a healthy view of my racial identity. My mother’s story is different. Even though her father was black, she was forced to identify as white during her childhood. With her darker complexion and thick curly hair, she did not look like the rest of her family, and her differences were constantly made clear to her. Her grandparents wanted her to reject her father and be “white” because that was easier for them. Painless for them, but painful for her. This was a time when interracial relationships were not tolerated; her family did not want to deal with the social consequences that went along with my mother’s racial identity.
To them it was my mother’s fault, even though it was out of her control. If my mother had been raised to identify with both parents she would have avoided a lot of hurt and uncertainty. My diverse family has impacted my worldview and has allowed me to relate to a wide range of people. As annoying as it can be to constantly be asked about my racial makeup, or the weird looks from people when my family goes out, I would not change any of it. It is unfortunate that our society still does not accept others for who they are but rather focus on the superficial things. My background has helped me to not let skin color dictate who I choose to identify with. The amount of melanin I have in my genetic makeup – whether “too much” or “too little” – may define “what” I am but it does not define who I am.