Don’t call it a comeback. Or a setback. OR EVEN a clap back. This is just something that needs to be said.
I’ve been asked countless times through the years “what” I am. Not who I am. Not where I’ve been. Now even HOW I am. “What are you?” As if I’m a mistake. An anomaly. Something that shouldn’t be allowed to walk the earth for some reason. Throughout the years I’ve been asked if I’m Puerto Rican, Indian, Egyptian, Dominican, Somali, Native American…anything but Black. So when I tell them I’m Black, or even that I’m Black AND Italian…I either get a smile, an “ohhhh okay”or a blank stare.
In Corporate America it’s always “ohhhh…you’re Black?” And then I can hear the rapid retreat of opportunities they were about to extend me prior to that disclosure. For the record it sounds like scampering oompa loopas. But honestly I’ve come to expect that. The glass ceiling is even lower for women of color in Corporate America. Sheryl Sandberg could lean in because she had the right people in the right places to catch her if she fell. But as I don’t want to deviate too much from this topic I’ll save that for another day.
What I didn’t expect, but grew up with, was the lack of acceptance from the people I thought I identified with — the Black community. I’m one of those people with the disease to please and be liked. And when I went into Kindergarten at 4 years old, with my hair half up, half down, in a denim jumper, the last thing I expected was to be looked at like a science experiment gone wrong. When I had to self identify, I went to check Black and was sometimes reclassified as “other” – that is, until my father, a Black Militant during the Civil Rights movement, stuck his foot so far up the administrator’s ass they never even touched my demographic again. But I was frequently told that I wasn’t Black because I had “white girl hair” and features. And I was consistently degraded, passive-aggressively most of the time, for something that I couldn’t control — my genetic makeup. I was called a “smart little Indian girl” at best and a mutt at worst.
I never really told anyone how bothered I was about it because the goal in my teenage mind was to be accepted more than respected.
I married a Black man. My children have met all of their grandparents. And I have raised my daughters to know that while they are certainly Black first, ultimately it is who they are inside that counts. But now in today’s racially charged climate, I find myself trying to find the words rather explain to them that in this world, we have regressed back to a time where the color of your skin is starting to mean more than the content of your character. How President Obama, once celebrated exclusively as the country’s first Black president, is now “downgraded” to being biracial. Like oh he’s “just” biracial so he can’t understand the struggles of black people fully. I’ve heard this before. And I’ve heard this directed at me before as well. I live in a big house and I have “white girl” hair and features so I can’t possibly understand the struggles of the black community. Really? Because last time I checked being biracial didn’t exclude someone from slavery and nobody has ever confused me for being white. I’ve never received any special treatment and I’ve never asked for it. Everything I have is what I’ve been blessed with. And the last time I checked the God I serve is colorblind.
There’s a movie coming out called “Loving”, about the story of the Mr. & Mrs. Loving, whose Supreme Court case made interracial marriages legal in the US. Not accepted, but legal. Even today people look at mixed couples – and their offspring – as if there is something wrong. A science experiment gone amiss. Unnatural. Fucked up. People are as uncomfortable watching an interracial couple kiss as they are a homosexual couple kiss. In almost 2017.
All of this being said – you don’t get to define me, ok? It doesn’t matter how exotic I look to you or how backhanded of a comment you meant for it to be. I’m Black. And my voice and life matter equal to those of you whose parents both identified as such. There’s no reason we can’t all have pride in ourselves and each other under the same umbrella. To try to qualify (or rather, disqualify) my Blackness in order to validate yours, shows that the forces that seek to divide us by the color of our skin rather than the content of our character are winning. And I won’t participate in that. Neither should you.