I met my first pathological liar in middle school. When I told her I’d moved from Brooklyn, she told me she was originally from the Bronx. When I confessed that I had a crush on our class president, she told me he was in love with her. And when I mentioned my mom is black, she concocted a singular black grandparent who’d died long, long ago but who was most certainly black (spoiler alert: he wasn’t). People like that ruin it for the rest of us.
Race is like gender – most of the time, people see it and assume how one identifies. Black woman. White man. Hispanic child. Anyone who’s biracial or struggles with his or her gender identity knows it’s not so cut and dry.
For me, it starts with a guessing game. The Greek surname is taken into consideration, but because I don’t look “100% Greek,” the inquisitor takes it a step further. Am I Egyptian? Jewish? South American? When I mutter, for the billionth time, “My mom is black,” I’m typically met with a guffaw or aggressive eyebrows or flat-out disbelief and denial. “No she’s not.”
Unlike my truth-challenged friend in junior high, I’m not lying. My skin color may be, but there’s not much I can do about that. “But you’re so… white,” and yes, that’s true. I like to think I’m olive, but tomato tomato. Usually, I just respond with, “I know.” If appropriate, I’ll take out my phone for show-and-tell. “Here’s my sister, who looks exactly like me except not white, and here are my happily married parents, one of them is white and the other is black, there they are sitting on my couch.”
As a mostly honest person, the implication that I would lie about who I am is hard to swallow. I know people are well intentioned and mostly curious, and I’m open to having a conversation about my race (or lack thereof), but I sometimes feel like I’m on trial for something that is beyond my control (not that I’d change it if it weren’t).
The thing about being biracial is that you can hardly even relate to other biracial people. Some of us are constantly explaining or defending our “race” to others; some struggle to create their own identity. The racial issues of an “Oreo” (UGH) tend to be individualistic — they’re dependent on our families and our culture and yes, our skin color. This is not to say that there aren’t overarching issues we all face – for example when you look one way but identify with something else, prejudiced people don’t know when to bite their tongues. I can’t count on two hands the number of times I’ve witnessed an acquaintance go on a bigoted rant only to have a friend chime in two seconds later with, “Steph’s mom is black.” After that, the real fun begins.
Or someone will make a racist joke and follow it up with, “Are you half-offended?” No, but I’m whole-annoyed, because I’ve heard that joke 1,001 times and it’s never been funny. And don’t get me started on dismissing people by calling their non-race related grievances and desires “white girl problems.” That implies, based on skin color alone, that my sister and I can’t experience the same (admittedly privileged) difficulties – despite being raised by the same family and coming from the same socioeconomic background. Having grown up with her, I can confirm that we’re both capable of having our computers crash or, like, wanting a new pair of boots. A first world problem has nothing to do with race. Ask my black middle-class mother. Ask a single white mom on WIC. It’s insulting to every race to say, “Sorry, this problem is elite and you’re too Not White to have it.” Come ON. To isolate a question of privilege and automatically attach race to it is problematic, discriminatory.
And maybe that’s my number one Biracial Girl Problem – that in a “post-racial” America, there is no room for the “Mulatto” (UGH) experience. We’re invalidated because we’re expected to identify within preexisting confines that aren’t relevant to us. Everyone is quick to assign us to one “side,” but speaking for myself here, I’m incapable of seeing the world in just black and white. And I’m grateful for it.
Here’s the deal – no matter where we fall on the biracial rainbow, we have two parents who are two different races and hopefully, we love those parents. They make us who we are; their problems are our problems. We have black cousins, white cousins, Indian cousins, whatever. Just because we don’t look like them doesn’t mean we need to be pit against them. We’re not going to join a team or choose a side just because it makes classifying us easier. It doesn’t make understanding us easier, which is what we need more of – more compassion and empathy, less categorizing and organizing. We’re all people; we don’t fit in square holes or round holes or pigeonholes.
Instead of interrogating us or making off-color jokes, have a real conversation with us. There’s an opportunity to learn something, here. Our parents had to leap over some pretty massive hurdles just to bring us into this world — we have stories you didn’t grow up hearing and perspectives that will only become more and more prevalent in society. Even better? It’s almost guaranteed that our identity crises and checkered family histories will make you feel better about your own screwed up childhood!
Oh, and if you’re wondering what to call us? I was watching this episode of Shameless the other day, and one of the characters referred to his eventual biracial children as “Tomorrow People.” You can call me that.