Today I saw something par for the course. Taye Diggs apparently came out and said that he wants his son to identify as mixed as opposed to black and outrage followed.
Here’s the thing: For all of the people who hold an opinion on the matter, the most vocal seem to be people who belong to one single race or another. Mixed people have been relatively silent in the wake. Why?
Because we know what’s real.
It doesn’t matter what we try to label ourselves or how we want to be viewed. The rest of the world has decided that they will decide for us and that’s that.
When we do something great, we belong to the race that is pleased with us (Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, President Obama).
When we do something not so hot, that must be our other side coming out (Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, President Obama).
Let me tell you what’s real.
I have curly hair and light skin. My young years were spent in progressive areas surrounded by people who had more class than to talk about the race of a child, at least in her hearing or in public forums. I didn’t grow up knowing what race was. I’m sure there were many times that I faced racism from which my parents kept me sheltered. But with the exception of a handful of incidents as a child that I won’t get into now, I didn’t really have a rough go of it.
One day my (black) dad brought some (solely white) friends and I to the store. We were running amok and generally acting like little brats. My dad gathered us all up and crouched down with a huge smile on his face.
“All of these white people are looking at me right now so I’m smiling at you but if you don’t act right, I’m going to tear up your behind when we get out to the car.” His eyes held certain death while his demeanor remained cheery.
To this day, that bright smile that was so incongruous with the terse, whispered threat remains the scariest moment of my life. It’s also one of the few times that my parents openly acknowledged race around me as a kid.
However, it wasn’t that my parents somehow screwed me up by telling me I could be whomever and whatever I wanted to be without the caveat of race, as so many people of a single race like to claim. No, what led me down the path of self-doubt was everyone else.
I remember the time I hid under my bed all day because on the news they said the KKK was up to something and one of their interviews included a man who ranted about ‘abominations’ as spittle leaked down his face. It took me a bit but by the end of it, I realized that I was one of the hell spawn to which he was referring.
When I was a trainer in high school I was patching up one of the guys when I heard someone say something racist. I’d lived in the South for a few years by that point and didn’t even bother looking up, just chalked it up to some more people with whom I wouldn’t be interacting after graduation. What caught my attention was when someone whispered, ‘She’s black.’ and the conversation came to a screeching halt. My hands shook as I continued about my business, but I couldn’t bring myself to look up and see the faces of those who I’d counted as friends prior to that moment.
One date seemed more infatuated with my blackness than me as a person, remarking over and over that he’d never dated ‘a black girl’. It stunned him into slack jawed silence when I finally told him that I’d never dated a white dude and he was the reason why.
Another guy I dated told me just before meeting his mother that while she might have a problem with me, it wasn’t personal. When I asked why (automatically assuming I’d worn the wrong clothing) he told me that his first crush had been white and after she’d very vocally told him what she thought about that he’d never so much as crushed on another white girl, much less dated one. That time it was I who was stunned into silence.
My ex-sister-in-law caught my wrath when she made racist remarks about white people while holding my toddler son and yet no one, including his father, could understand why I was upset.
I am consistenly told that my opinion doesn’t count when I disagree about race issues on both sides, be it something as small as how to care for hair or whether or not our President is indeed mixed and not solely black.
The list goes on and on but what remained true no matter which racial group was doing the talking is this: They all knew exactly what I was and what they had decided was what mattered, never mind that I had my own thoughts on the matter and that at the end of the day I. Was. Mixed.
So to me, and probably to a vast majority of mixed people (though, unlike many, I don’t claim to tell others what they think of themselves) it isn’t that our mixed heritage screws us up. We aren’t confused about who we are because our parents come from two different races. No. It’s you.
You screw us up, confuse us, consider us outliers. You tell us we’re one race when we please you, another when we fail. You tell us how you want us to act, to which group we should show alliance, how to talk, walk, listen to music, eat, live.
On one point you’re all right, though: It doesn’t matter what his father tells him or how his mother raises him, because as he grows, every day he will be told by others what he is and what that means to them.
He isn’t yet old enough to drive, think about college, vote, or marry and yet you are already arguing about who he is as a person. His father tries to say that he has two parents and both will have input on his life but you think that your opinion somehow holds bearing.
I, for one, applaud Taye Diggs for recognizing that while it is true that the world is filled with a bunch of you his son needn’t be concerned with your caveman logic while learning his ABCs. Here’s hoping that he’ll be one of the few to make it to adulthood with this thought intact:
Screw you. I’m mixed.