I am a biracial man.
My mother is a Black woman and my departed father was from a family of Eastern European immigrants. I was brought up to respect and admire both sides of my family and this includes being proud to be Black.
But for a lot of us who are mixed with Black in America, this becomes a complicated path to navigate. One one hand, many feel the need to represent Blackness depending on how we look. We “can’t forget where we came from” and are expected to act accordingly. Which sometimes can feel like a betrayal to the other side of our heritage.
But on the other, we’re not considered “Black enough” by many are treated as outsiders. Written off as imposters that are invading a space not our own, and hurting the cause for social justice.
So I would like to delve into how to reconcile this confusing reality. Because during Black History month, I know that I can be Black and Proud without compromising any part of my identity.
From Struggle to Strength
We have to remember the evolution of Black identity in America which started as a punishment. Black was (and in a way still is) a life sentence of being dehumanized and abused to build the wealth of colonizing nations. Even after the abolition of slavery, being Black was a trial to be overcome.
It was something people arriving from foreign shores fought to not be labeled as. In the beginning it was all you could be besides White or Indian. Groups of immigrants lobbied to be considered White because being labeled Black by the government was almost a death sentence. Any trace of it would make life a constant struggle, a nearly insurmountable barrier for any kind of a good life.
To survive meant to suppress your Black culture. To make yourself seem amenable to White society.
Being Black was a threat.
Being Black made you an outsider and often unhireable.
Blackness was something to be expressed in quiet places away from the danger of White eyes.
To be unapologetically Black and Proud in a public space on a widespread level has only been occurring for around 60 years. It was only during and in the near aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement that Black Americans began to feel empowered to revel in their Blackness in public.
Black people fought and died to be able to just begin to show their true selves in society without fear of an immediate death. So naturally, there’s a sense of wanting to protect what has been gained. Because as we all know, it’s so easy for social gains to be easily lost.
And we still have barely scratched the surface of Black people feeling comfortable to truly express themselves. To be seen as equals and not a separate entity.
A Tenuous Beginning
Being Mixed is concept that came from the creation of Black. Still today, many see mixed people as the absence of something completely undesirable. The exoticism of multiracial comes from the idea that we are somehow less tainted. Mostly because of any features that are deemed White.
Any proximity to Whiteness makes us both more acceptable as well as enigmas. In a nation categorized by race, we don’t fit into just one on the surface. And with it brings a pressure to pick a lane that we can never seem to fully occupy.
While I was taught to accept and admire both sides of my parents culture, my mother stressed that I needed to be prepared to be regarded as a Black man in the world. This wasn’t by choice, rather her reaction my encounter with a prejudiced Kindergarten teacher who attempted to use her power to suppress any chance of my advancing in life. She saw me as Black – as a threat to the success of the other White children. Because that is what I would be read as, my mother and I began preparations to fully occupy the racial category society had placed me in.
I delved deep into what it meant to be Black. By the age of 10, I had reach Richard Wright’s Black Boy as well as a host of other books by Black authors. I knew the contributions that Black Americans had made to the country, and not just in the arts. I was also painfully away of the injustices we had endured in order to be in the tenuous position we currently occupy.
While I knew my father was White. I knew the world would see me as Black. And I had internally chose a side.
An Enduring Legacy
It took moving abroad to a foreign country, returning home and then relocating to another city to throw away the idea of needing to pick a side. I realized that individual perception and experiences shape the lens of how one person views another. To many people, they saw a Black man. But so many others saw a host of other ethnicities. All with their own understandings and misconceptions. So if I left it up to others, I could never find a space of my own.
We’ve reached a place in the world where binary choices no longer need apply. Instead of identity being a choice of Either/Or, we can instead empower ourselves to be Both/And. I have the power to proudly Black, proudly Latvian and proudly Mixed. I can occupy all of those spaces because my presence is one of enhancement. I would not be who I am today without my Blackness and I use it to be a supportive ally. I am adding to story that is to be Black in America.
It is part of who I am and at the same time all of who I am. It was my ancestors struggle and strength that shaped how I experience the world. I feel in my soul the harm that was cast on us for centuries. And the ability to use it to show the world how great they can be. It is that ability to endure, overcome, create and love that has willed me to share these thoughts you are reading now.
So when we speak of Black history (which frankly should be more than a month). I feel no need to step aside. I step forward and say with absolute certainty.
Part of who I am is a a Proud, Black Man.