On Slowly Convincing My Family That We’re Not White

Dec. 7, 2012
Tess Brown is originally from Greenwich, CT, which is about 45 minutes outside of New York City. Currently in her ...

This idea began when I was really young, maybe eight or nine years old. My parents always joked that they “never knew where I came from” because I’ve always looked and acted differently than my family. I kept asking them if I was adopted but they would just feed me some line of bullshit about how they have the home video of my birth somewhere in the attic. I’ve seen pictures of my mom pregnant with me, but that could be any baby! Maybe I was switched at birth or something. I figured there was absolutely no way for them to prove that I’m their child.

My little sister, on the other hand, is an exact replica of my mother. They have the exact same personality and all of the same features. They can prove that my sister is my mother’s child. My mother unexpectedly gave birth to my sister on the bathroom floor in our house. I was there, I saw my sister in my mother’s arms after she was born, I know they didn’t mix up any babies at the hospital with her. How unfair.

My parents often get a little offended when I don’t believe them about being their daughter. If they want me to believe them, they need to start coming up with hard evidence that can support their claims. Admittedly, I do look more like my father than anyone else in the family. He has dark features like me: dark brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. The only weird thing about my features is that I have freckles as though I’m Irish, which is definitely not the case. I guess since my mother has freckles, and they’re a dominant gene, it makes sense that I have them (thanks, biology class!). My heritage is your typical European mutt. We’re sort of from Russia, sort of from Germany, sort of from Austria, and sort of from Poland, just like any European Jewish family is. Clearly my ancestry is a product of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, which probably caused them to move around a lot and to change their names often.

Not a day goes by without someone asking me where I’m from. People tend to think I’m Italian, Spanish or Greek — or really just any of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. This has led me to think about my heritage and question it. I’ve come up with a theory to explain all of this: along the family lineage on my father’s side, there is a bastard child who is the product of infidelity between someone of Israeli, Arabian, or Greek decent. I’ve told my parents this idea many times and every time they push it to the backburner by kind of mumbling something about “maybe that’s possible.”

This summer, during a trip to Israel (yeah, I went on birthright, because that’s what Jews ages 18-26 do), an Israeli man came up to our tour group and asked everyone where they were from. He started guessing the states where people are from, “You’re from California… I’d say you’re from Ohio… Oh, you’re a Southern Girl, you’re from Georgia.” Then he got to me, stared at me, paused, and said, “You’re Arabian or Israeli.” I quickly answered him by saying, “Connecticut.” But what I wanted to scream in his face was, “HOLY SHIT THANK YOU THAT IS THE NICEST THING ANYONE HAS SAID TO ME.” This was all the validation I needed, I knew that there is a reason that I look the way I do and this guy was proving me correct.

One of the first things I told my parents about the trip was what this guy said. I’m sure my parents wanted to know about my sight seeing and the friends I made on the trip, but to be honest, I was more excited that some Israeli guy thought I looked Arabian. I’d say I’m pretty justified in thinking this, I mean; I’ve been trying to prove this to my parents for years. My parents actually seemed to care when I said that this time. They know I’m pretty crazy but for some reason, having someone they don’t know say this to me made them question their own beliefs on their heritage.

That night at dinner, we discussed the possible options as to why my father’s side of the family is so dark skinned. I was in utter disbelief when we were talking about how possibly someone on his side of the family had an affair with a Sephardic Jew, but kept it a secret because they’re 100% Ashkenazi. So many possibilities were getting tossed around. I was so excited to see that my parents actually thought this was a possibility.

They’re as clueless as I am as to what our actual family lineage looks like, but my family was starting to think that we’re not completely white. TC mark

image – Shutterstock
Tess Brown

Tess Brown

Tess Brown is originally from Greenwich, CT, which is about 45 minutes outside of New York City. Currently in her …

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