Thought Catalog

Biracial Girl Problems

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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. TC mark

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More From Thought Catalog

  • http://www.breakfastbachelor.com Breakfast Bachelor

    Loved this!

  • http://twitter.com/rainbowcouch Ronete Cohen

    Exactly like you say it! Everything you’re saying here is so true and so familiar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    what would mark twain say about this? william & ellen craft? racial identity in the 21st century

  • http://twitter.com/spencercniemetz Spencer Niemetz

    MLK couldn’t have said it better.

  • Elyse

    It’s funny. I heavily identified and related with this. I’m half-Mexican, half-white. I get told nearly on a weekly basis that I’m not a “real Mexican,” or that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m not “100% white.” This is probably the best article for me on this site.

    • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

      People have such a limited view of what Mexicans look like, anyway.
      Just because I have color eyes and light skin, people question if I’m telling the truth.

    • Anonymous

      Same here! I am Mexican, Ukrainian, and Irish, but since I only look Irish to most people, I have had people laugh at me when I share my Hispanic background.  It’s made worse that I live in Southern Arizona and am surrounded by people who say that since I pass for white I’m not “really” Mexican.  

  • http://twitter.com/Erikhaspresence Erik Stinson

    THIS SONG: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKFPdf8-Uew

  • Guest

    As a bi-racial woman myself, I agree and identify with much of what you wrote here. But as far as your stance on the whole “white girl problems” thing, I don’t think the intent of that is to say people of other races cannot experience the same “problems.” It’s suppose to poke fun in a light-hearted way, just like all the other whatever-problems (i.e. College Girl Problem, Party Problem, etc.).  The original intent of those sort of things was not racist or malicious and taking them as so is probably going a little too far.

    • http://omgstephlol.tumblr.com Stephanie Georgopulos

      I agree with you re: the original intent and I still think the Twitter account is LOL, almost qualified all of that with something about not totally lacking humor about it — but I think there’s a diff between parody (like the Twitter account) and actually saying, “Get some real problems, white person” in response to anyone complaining about anything that isn’t famine, war, etc. Hope that clarifies.

  • Kelsea

    I can’t believe people would say, “No she’s not!” Like, “Sweetie, I swear you can’t even tell you’re half-black, so don’t worry about it.” Fucked. Up. Everyone should read “Caucasia” by Danzy Senna, it’s a phenomenal novel based on the author’s life growing up bi-racial.

  • http://twitter.com/laurahtfraser Laura Fraser

    Growing up, my parents always taught me to say to people “I’m half Chinese, half Scottish, and 100% Canadian”. I love being biracial for the reasons you listed: the perspective, the stories of hurdles my parents had to overcome, etc.

    What I don’t understand is why some people find it absolutely necessary to pick one or the other. Or even worse, just categorize me as “Asian” (as if already grouping so many cultures into one word isn’t bad enough). People are funny about race. I think it drives people crazy when there’s no way to instantly figure someone else out.

  • Jessica Leigh Stewart

    Girl! This could preach! Thank you for sharing! Love love love it!

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    One of my best female friends encounters similar “problems” (Is this a problem? Is my assuming it’s being written about in that context presumptuous? Shit, now I’m seriously second-guessing everything I wanted to say) as she is asked to identify one way or the other. 

    This was a really insightful read — you talk about being Greek so much I had no idea you were from the future. ;) I’m sure you guys have content quotas to fill, but I think this is one of the best pieces you’ve posted on TC & I’d love if you wrote more stuff in this vein than… lists. I think I speak for (most) everyone when I say we’re over the lists.

  • http://twitter.com/Martenstyn Lynsey Martenstyn

    Sweet. I’m a tomorrow person.

  • Tessah Schoenrock

    Good shit. I am also a “Tomorrow Person,” and I love/hate that you wrote this, because I was going to write this and you did it first and better. I mostly love it though.

  • woo

    I’m full filipino but look half, I had a white friend tell me “Oh you’re not asian, I don’t think of you as asian” as if that was supposed to be a compliment :O

  • http://www.facebook.com/ARosario589 Alex Rosario

    I have red hair and freckles and I’m half Italian and half Puerto Rican. No one ever believes me, or they look at me like I have three heads when I explain my ethnicity. It’s the hair that throws people off! :)

  • http://twitter.com/mariedabbles Marie Martinez

    Very well articulated!

  • http://twitter.com/DorryAlena Dorry Alena Funaki

    so wonderful! I like being a tomorrow person, thank you so much for articulating what I’ve been feeling for most of my life! 

  • Munchimaid

    “Are you half-offended?” No, but I’m whole-annoyed.”I’m going to use that one next time.  Agree with us “Mulatto’s” being individuals and there is no definite race class for us.  I too look mostly white so it says caucasian on my birth certificate even though my dad is black.  I’ve used people’s reactions as a tool to figure out if they’re going to be assholes or sweethearts. ex. “You’re half black? No you’re not you’re indian.” vs “You’re half black, wow that’s amazing what’s it like?”         

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=635471321 Katherine Pimienta Ryan

    So relevant. I’m mostly Mexican and German (among a LOT of other things), but my skin is so pale that people really think I’m lying. I’ll never understand.

  • amanda

    I really love this, it’s part of my grad research I am doing and this article really explains it well. Being biracial as well and getting the “you’re not really black, are you?” thing is annoying

  • http://twitter.com/melvinismad Melvin Alvarez

    what matters is you know who you are, period. or no period

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    This was great.

    I am half-Korean, and I get asked at least three times a week what my ethnicity is.  It’s sort of funny to watch people dance around the topic, “Where are you from?” “Ohio.” “No, where are you really from…ethnically?” Lol, other times it is just plain annoying and rude.  My mostly white/Euro looking friends cannot relate and are hardly compassionate about my annoyance.  I am really sick of the names too…

  • Anonymous

    ta.gg/5jo

  • Kazz L

    Great piece. Also, I hope your quotes around “post-racial” signified the silliness of the term, and the silliness of what it implies…

  • http://www.facebook.com/authorjames.w.lewis Author James W. Lewis

    Very nice write up. I bet it gets annoying as hell hearing questions like “what are you?” 

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