Another of the far-too-common scenarios if you’re mixed is to be told what you are. I’ve had the following conversation more than I can count:
Random stranger, “You’re black, right?”
Me, “Part, my dad was from Eastern Europe”
Random stranger, “Oh yeah, I knew you were also something else. But you’re mainly black…right?”
People are creatures of comfort who often prefer easily digestible concepts. In America, we’ve been taught that there are distinct categories of race and everyone gets shuffled into one of these. And when someone like me comes along, it means doing a lot of questioning.
So the easiest response is usually to decide for them which category they fit in. No mental work needs to be done on their part. Leaving us, the mixed person, left with grappling how to fit in a world that sees us only in land of the binary.
The Sea of Categories
While everyone finds comfort in absolute definitions, America has almost an obsessive need for it. From as early as childhood, we train our children to have early definitions and expectations of themselves. And when you’re mixed, sometimes our parents can define our race for us.
My mom raised us to be proud of all of our cultures. I spent time with my Latvian grandmother and also African American family. But when I began to have trouble at school because of my skin color, this education immediately shifted into how to live as a black man in America. That’s what the world saw me as, so she did her best to prepare me accordingly. I embraced this at first, but eventually began to recognize that this was only part of the truth.
While America might see me as a black man, that was not the way I needed to be. I could recognize the expectation and then decide what of those expectations suited me best.
Our parents try to do what is best for us. Especially as men and women of color they prepare us how they think best for our survival. But in this training, our identities can sometimes get lost trying to adhere to their teachings.
There’s a great burden places on people of color across the world. Our every move is scrutinized and analyzed. Our emotions can seem threatening, and our lives are often expendable. We have to band together, but often in that solidarity there are criteria set to make sure everyone in the group is “down with the cause.”
This is understable reality. All people of color in America have been made to feel shame about their ethnicity for decades. Only in the 60s and 70s did we begin taking back the categories of race that were branded into our psyches and using them to empower ourselves en masse.
But these expectations make a lot of us who are multiracial either back away from joining the struggle, or succumb the need to declare allegiance to one side. And we’re left feeling like something is lacking, like imposters. Or worse even, that we don’t belong anywhere.
I refuse to bow down to these expectations. We can learn to live in our uncomfortable duality.
Am I mainly black? No I am not.
Does that mean I can stand up for the rights of black people? Can I personally know the pain, suffering and struggle that entails? Absolutely.
We have to remember that while society tells us that our race encompasses all of our identity. It’s only a small piece of who we are as individuals. When I get up in the morning, brush my teeth and look in the mirror. I’ve never laid out a plan of action how I can be more multiracial for the rest of the day. Thought of making sure that show the proper amount of black as I head to the grocery store (with proper social distancing) never crossed my mind.
Culture always changes and there are no gatekeepers for it. The only criteria that we have to meet to recognize injustice and fight against it are the possession of empathy and compassion. And the sole requirement for me to be considered part of the culture I was born into, is to define for myself how I relate to it.