How do I look (March 2013)
Updated: Sep 22, 2018
A few months ago in a team meeting, I shared with my colleagues that I assume when people look at me they see Black, not necessarily Biracial. Another therapist said, "And why would you assume that? I looked at you and assumed you were Biracial." I smiled. She's Biracial, too.
My team is mainly African American and I've heard a range of assumptions. My supervisor last year said to me once, "I like this term 'Mixed-Race' you keep using. Because aren't we all Mixed Race as African Americans? None of us is pure." I just did a tight-lipped smile and didn't comment. Because that's not at all what I meant. Yes, African Americans are most definitely mixed, but a Mixed-Race experience is altogether different. I didn't talk to her about being Mixed after that.
In yesterday's team meeting, one of my colleagues said she was thinking about me this weekend. In talking to a friend of hers who is having some issues related to being Mixed, her friend was lamenting about other people assuming her racial identity was just Black. She showed this friend my picture and her friend knew I was Biracial by looking at me. "I think Biracial people recognize each other," she said. I think my colleague wanted me to be pleased that someone else recognized me as Biracial.
Reflecting on it now, it's not about me being pleased that people recognize me as Biracial. It's not about me not wanting to be mistaken for monoracial Black. Because of old baggage, it makes me uncomfortable that people think I need to distinguish myself from Black people. There's a connotation sometimes associated with being Biracial that puts it at a value above being Black. And that's not what I'm trying to do. But little Black girls accused me of it all the time when I was a kid.
Why do you talk like that? Are you trying to be white? You think you're so cute, you're not better than us!
I never said I was.
But the accusation was so ugly and at the same time so demeaning. I was degraded as a little girl for assumptions that I didn't have. It made my skin tone and my voice inherently wrong, bad, evil almost. That did a complex number on my self-esteem.
When I was little, my (Black) friend would always offer an excuse to these other Black girls: Leave her alone, she can't help it, her mom is White!
Ahh. So that's what was wrong with me.
And I guess that's what I've carried into adulthood as the sore spot, the hot button related to what people assume about me based on looks before I open my mouth.
I don't want to have to make the excuse to you.
If I looked more Biracial, more ambiguous, then maybe you wouldn't expect an explanation for why I'm not as Black as I should be based on how I look.
I'm having a hard time writing this post because I feel like I'm in the midst of a change of feelings.
Getting down to the excuse, that's old stuff. I wanted to write this post because I felt weird about my colleague relaying that story yesterday and letting me know other people could identify me as Biracial. I don't feel like it's such a necessary comfort to me anymore that people identify my on sight as Biracial, because now I'm living in my body rather than hiding in my mind.
Every once in a while, that little anxiety will pop up when I'm meeting a new Black person, waiting for them to strike out with, Why do you talk like that? But grown ups don't talk to people like that.
I gotta stop letting those little mean Black girls run my life! That was 30 years ago. But isn't that how it goes sometimes? We've gotta get all the way down to the bottom to really let something go.
Goodnight, mean girls.