I published an article recently about my journey to self-acceptance. I poured my heart out and admitted things to the world, of which I am deeply ashamed. I was legitimately scared to post the piece on my Facebook page because I didn’t want to offend the people I love; even if I was just relaying my truth. I soon realized I was right to be hesitant. I offended and angered both Black and White people.
My essay was merely an exercise in telling my unique story to the world. I am not speaking for all Biracial individuals, nor do my attitudes and paradigms represent the psychology of any other person of multiracial descent. Therefore, speaking only for myself, I’m going to take the time to address people’s main misconceptions and criticisms regarding my article and Biracialism in general.
My Use of the Term “Mulatto”
(The word is used in the original essay on For Harriet, but I removed the paragraph about being “mulatto” in the version for Thought Catalog.)
Many would argue it’s impossible to claim the word “mulatto” while embracing my identity in a healthy way, and they have a valid point. The etymology of the term “mulatto” is debated. But, the dominant theory is that the word is derived from the Spanish or Portuguese term “mulato” which means “of mixed breed” or literally “young mule” – in reference to the hybrid parentage of mules.
The abhorrent history of the word “mulatto” is not missed on me. I do realize it has a sordid and controversial past. But when I wrote, “it meant so much to me to discover there was a word that described my unique ancestry”, that’s all I meant. My essay is autobiographical in nature, and it is mostly based on the past. I discovered the term “mulatto” at the age of 15, so just a few years ago. When I initially learned about it, I did experience a kind of joy. I’m not going to lie, back down, or deny that.
For me, it was like living your whole life without a name, and then being given one. I understand the word’s connotations, I do. But I’m not going to deny what I felt the first time I read the word. Be that as it may, these past few days have taught me that, for most people, “mulatto” has too much history to ignore. Perhaps they’re right.
I think this is hard for me to see because I have no associated trauma with the term. I’ve never seen it used negatively in my life, or even second-hand through the media or friends’ stories. Nonetheless, out of respect for the validity of other people’s experiences, I want to formally apologize for any offense or confusion I caused. I was only trying to be honest about my past.
My White Mother
Some people have brought my mother into this. They ask how she “could have put her child through something like this”. They question her parenting abilities or concern for me as her daughter. They blame her. Under the circumstances my mother was dealt, she did a phenomenal job raising my siblings and me. She has had a complex life. She gave up her dreams in order to nurse an ailing and mourning mother, she then lost her eyesight and was pronounced legally blind, her husband – who was the primary parent – died after only a few short years together, and then she dedicated the rest of her life to the overwhelming feat of raising three children, whom she’s never actually seen, completely on her own, in a foreign city.
While she wasn’t necessarily the most equipped to teach me how to face racism, she brought other attributes to the table. She made sure to provide me with a community in which to grow and thrive. A community which was consistently accepting; albeit, a tad homogeneous skin-tone wise. All things considered, she did a heck of a job. My mother is a saint. Yes, she’s made mistakes, who hasn’t? But I will not blame my personal issues on her. I made my own choices. Much to my detriment, I admit I have struggled with resenting her for many things over the years; however, I am loathe to criticize her for something like this. She did the best she could.
The Tragic Mulatto Trope
It was 100% not my intention to perpetuate the tragic mulatto stereotype. I thought about not publishing my article because I knew my story could be misconstrued as an example of that trope. But I want to clarify that I know many well-adjusted biracial people. My essay is really more about the impact of parenting than anything else. I am proud of my unique heritage and I only experienced confusion as a result of a singular set of circumstances.
I have come to love my skin color, my hair, and my identity, and I absolutely wouldn’t change them if I had the opportunity. (I’m actually currently experimenting with wearing my hair in an Afro-like style, something I would never have considered even two years ago!) To any mixed people reading this, love yourself! You are unique and beautiful, never think otherwise. Embracing who you are will bring the most fulfillment. We have the wonderful privilege of being a part of two very different worlds. We’re not neither race, we’re both!
Not Calling Myself Black Is Indicative of Denial
There were people who slammed me for not identifying as Black. They said that was an act of residual self-hatred. A commenter claimed I only identified as mixed because “I want to feel special”. Well, the truth is I’m NOT Black. I’m also NOT White. Those are just the facts. If I’m not going to go out in the world and identify myself as White, why would I do the opposite? Here are several facts about my experience being mixed that clarify why I believe being Biracial is not the same thing as being Black:
Personally, I feel completely at ease with people of any race. Yet, there is something unique about befriending a fellow Biracial person, especially if they’re the same combination of ethnicities. There’s a kinship shared, the knowledge that we have comparable experiences, since the world most likely has treated us similarly. I would describe it as a stronger version of the connection I feel with fellow tall girls, book-lovers, or Allentown natives. Yes, it’s true I don’t have that same kinship feeling with people who are dominantly one race. BUT THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. That is not being a “tragic mulatto”, that’s recognizing one of the thousands of ways to connect with someone.
Colorism is a thing. I have come to realize that in my life I will receive privileges for being light-skinned, for having “good hair”, or for having lips that aren’t quite as full. Some will view me as more attractive. I may be more likely to have successful job interviews than my darker-skinned sisters.
On the other hand, I will face discrimination from some Black people. They will ostracize me because “I’m not really Black”. They will sneer at my English (read: white) name (It originated in Middle English, and was derived from the Hebrew “Joseph”). They may resent me because I benefit from colorism.
My point is, my experiences are distinctive from the experiences of those who society would perceive as Black. Hence, it is simply not accurate to disregard the White part of my heritage, in favor of only claiming the Black side, which is what some would have me do. “Biracial” is the most accurate moniker for my identity. It is not something to be ashamed of, it’s not something to be proud of; it’s simply a word.
I’m Not Far Enough along the Path of Growth and Self-Love
As many of you pointed out, I still have a ways to go. Duh. Of course I do! I’m a teenager, what adolescent has it all figured out? I never claimed that I am the epitome of self-acceptance and racial understanding. I am actively trying to dispel any internalized racism. It’s an uphill battle in today’s society; but, I am striving to consciously analyze why I think what I think, why I’m attracted to certain people, and why I’m drawn to particular hair and fashion choices.
I want so badly to rid myself of any racist remnants, but it takes a while to root it all out. For example, I recently came to realize the full implications of my first-impression of a woman I met a year or so ago. She’s a mentor in my life, and I very much appreciate her. She is primarily Dominican, but she identifies as Black, and the day I first laid eyes on her she was proudly wearing her natural hair in a large, Afro-like ponytail. And I’ll just be honest here, I judged her for it. I’m not saying I decided I wouldn’t like her or that’s she’s a bad person, or that she’s unintelligent. Yet, from that one glance I immediately made a plethora of assumptions about her, assumptions that took several weeks to overcome.
As I relayed all of this to her recently while she calmly listened, I was on the verge of tears. It made me so incredibly sorrowful to think that I had allowed worthless ideas and stereotypes from a vastly biased media to impact my opinions of this person who’s had such an influence on me. Time is necessary to undo the effects of a system of racism that took centuries to construct. Crafting your identity and rooting out ingrained prejudices is a life-long process.
I wrote this to address the main points of dispute related to my article. Biracialism is topic that people respond to emotionally. Considering some of the wounds of the past, that’s understandable. But we are a segment of society that is rapidly growing. Our lives, successes, and struggles; are distinct and relevant. We only want to be embraced by the communities of our parents, and the world as a whole. In summary, sweeping away all peripheral matters, this boils down to three facts.
I am Black. I am White. I am Biracial.