I’m from rural upstate New York, spent most of my time on my grandparent’s farm. In the summer this meant cleaning up after the cows, riding on the tractor, slinging hay bales, building “forts” in the woods, and going to field days. In the winter it meant building snow mazes, snow forts, and making snow angels or snowmen.
My mom is White, and my biological father is Black. I didn’t grow up with my biological father. Instead I was adopted by my Mom’s second husband, who was also white, and together they had my sister. I’ve always felt “out of place”, but I could never put a finger on it. My mom’s family raised me and were loving contributions to my life. However, I was also that kid that always asked:
So I’m sure that played into my feelings.
The feeling didn’t get better as I got older. When I started school, initially it was great. I went to a Montessori school with many kids from diverse backgrounds. However, when I went to public school life became more difficult.
“You don’t look like your Mom.”
“You don’t look like your Sister.”
Which I knew, but didn’t negate the fact that we were indeed related.
It got worse when I went to middle school and high school. There were few students from diverse backgrounds, and a lot of racial bullying. My seats in classes were tagged with slurs, and I was often called the same in the hallway. On one occasion, the principal tried to explain to me that it was “because I was smart.”
Prior to college, I tried my hardest to fit into the guidelines of what society was around me. This meant white, and in many cases anti-Black. This meant internalizing micro-aggressions and forming opinions about inner city situations that were factually wrong and, in many cases, harmful.
When I dropped out of high school early to earn my Associate’s and my GED at the same time, I quickly realized I didn’t fit in with the Black students either. Their experiences were mostly urban, and I didn’t have a good point of reference for that. I buckled down in my studies, and became an honors student, and found my place among international students. We all in one way or another “didn’t belong” in the campus culture. We were all great students and were involved on campus.
As graduation approached, I began to think more about finding my biological father. It seemed like a good idea, and I felt a strong desire for a “Black” point of reference. But I didn’t follow through with it. There were too many variables that I couldn’t account for or reconcile.
I moved on to my Bachelor’s degree and once again had a difficult time identifying and finding “my people” attending a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) that was socially segregated either by race or by financial means. I was once again too Black for the White groups, too White for the Black groups. On more than one occasion I was asked:
“What are you?”
Or my personal favorite “Where are you from? You speak really good English.”
Once again, I buried my head into my work and research in mental illness stigma and joined the honor’s program. This was the best fit for me once again, as we all had at least one thing in common, our passion for learning.
I got engaged in my Junior year, to my long-time (then) boyfriend and as I was wrapping up my thesis thought how great it would be to try and find my biological father. Once again, the fear of whether he would fit in my life or I his, overtook my decision.
Graduated, I began working for the same University where I received my degree. I started my Masters of Social Work degree part-time in August of 2017 and quickly began to feel “behind” on what it meant to be Black, especially a Black Social Worker. It was difficult to find out information that contradicted what you were raised to believe.
In the Fall of 2019 I started to have some pretty serious health issues, that doctors were having a really hard time pinpointing. In March of 2020 a doctor recommended that I try and find out the other side of my health history. I mulled it over and decided that at the very least I could get some valuable health information I also felt that with the current state of the COVID-19 Pandemic and racial relations in the U.S.
“What’s the worst that could possibly happen?”
On April 15th 2020 I reached out to a Search Angel with all the information I had about my biological father. I wasn’t expecting much as it was a “hail Mary” in my mind. I wasn’t expecting an answer for a few months’ minimum.
On April 19th 2020 I woke up to a message from my search angel with a probable match. I laughed it off, and actually turned off my phone, and went about my day. No way it was that easy, that quick. Later that day, I turned my phone back on to a second message, and my search angel had sent me a picture and she said that I might have a brother. I once again scoffed and showed my husband and said the words:
“They don’t even look like me, it’s not possible.”
My husband shrugged and said no harm in reaching out. I took a little bit more time and then sent the most generic template email that the Search Angels recommended.
Shortly after the message was sent I received a response back – it was my biological father. And I not only had a younger brother, but a younger sister too.
In the span of less than a day my biological relationships grew by 3 people. There is a certain amount of happiness, along with a certain amount of sadness and anger that I go through on a continual basis. There is time we cannot get back, and milestones missed.
I was, and still can be, bitter about not having a reference point of Blackness in my life. Growing up phenotypically Black, but surrounded by whiteness in a culture that praised whiteness (hello 90’s), I struggled to love parts of myself that the world and my environment told me were unacceptable. I still struggle to find my own identity as a 26-year-old woman in a world that is very anti-Black. I am struggling to reconcile my privilege as a light skinned Black/Biracial woman, while also reconciling the trauma that being Black/Biracial in this country can carry.
I have yet to meet My biological father and siblings in person. We live in different states, time zones, and we are all in different stages of our lives. So it’s difficult to connect. The pandemic has made travel to meet difficult given the rules of our jobs, education, and/or states.
One thing that is being reaffirmed through this process is that my identity as a biracial (Black) woman in America is not linear. I experience Blackness in a different way than some, and I experience Whiteness in a different way than others. Biracial individuals, will always have a unique lived experience, one that cannot fit into either category neatly. This doesn’t mean it is easy for us to move through the world, but it does mean that we carry unique experiences that should be shared.