Is there anything you’re curious about regarding someone else’s race?

Cat: “Most of my questions are for people who are monoethnic/ monocultural/ monoracial, and I honestly don’t think they can be answered. I just wonder a lot what it feels like to have a place you can go home to where there is shared context and experience.”

How would you describe yourself?

Cat: “I describe myself as mixed. This is the term my mother primarily used to describe my sister and me when we were growing up. As I got older and did my own research, it was the term I became most comfortable with. While I will sometimes refer to myself as biracial in order to clarify my identity for others when they express confusion about my own terminology, it is not a label I use for myself often. I always use the language of black and white in reference to myself as well. This is mostly due to the racist roots of the term Caucasian and the nature of the term African American, which I do not feel is broad enough to accurately describe my family history.”

“I am also a female who grew up in a very rural part of New England. While I do not fit in the place where I was born and raised, there are aspects of New England culture that are still very strong within me (most particularly loyalty) which I will likely carry with me for life.”

“Finally, I am a Christian. I consider this to be far and away the most important part of my identity. When the circumstances of your life are such that you are lead to believe you are unimportant and unappealing, you have to find a way to make meaning of things if you are going to be able to successfully press on as a whole and healthy human being. God has been, without a doubt, my primary and/or only source of meaning on my darkest days. It has been through the person of Jesus Christ that I have come to understand how deeply loved I am, even when the world may try to convince me otherwise.”

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Name: Cat

Race: “I refer to myself as mixed or black and white. If I’m checking boxes, I check both black and white. If there isn’t an option to check 2 boxes– or a box that says more than one race– I check other. I refuse to ever choose.”

“If there isn’t an option to check 2 boxes– or a box that says more than one race– I check other. I refuse to ever choose.”

Ethnicity: “I’m from the US as are both of my parents. However, I think it is important to note that my mother (who is my black parent) is second generation born in the States on her mother’s side (from Barbados) and first generation born in the States on her father’s side (from Nigeria). This matters more for cultural context than anything else.”

Birth Decade: 80s

Hometown: Hollis, Maine

Place of Residence: San Jose, California

Any other places you consider home: Chicago, Illinois

When (if ever) did you first realize that your race mattered? 

Cat: “My recognition of this started when I was 3 or 4. Growing up in the white environment where I was raised meant that my race and culture never went unnoticed. Some of my earliest memories are of being stared at in grocery stores or dealing with uncomfortable questions from peers. When I was in preschool, I frequently came back from school crying because yet another child had told me that I was adopted. My mother used to have to get out the photo album to show me that she had indeed been pregnant with me and eventually given birth to me. The other reality about being mixed is everyone in your life is constantly telling you who you should be and what you should be like, so it requires that you figure this out for yourself pretty quickly. The alternative is you end up believing the garbage you are constantly being fed, and it can be very confusing. This helped me to gain certain core beliefs about my cultural identity very early.”

“My mother used to have to get out the photo album to show me that she had indeed been pregnant with me and eventually given birth to me.”

Does race matter?

Cat: “This question is very complicated. I believe we are created beings; I believe the diversity of our appearance was created for a purpose, and I believe beauty was meant to be found in that diversity. While we use the term “race” to describe this diversity, the truth is, the term was created to solidify a hierarchy based on difference that was never meant to exist.”

“So in the truest sense does ‘race’ matter? Only as far as it allows us to recognize the beauty in ourselves and others. However, in the context of the current reality of a very broken world, race matters a whole lot. Our entire cultural context in America was based on the premise of racial difference and white supremacy. It is impossible and incredibly reckless to take the view that race doesn’t matter. In order to take this stance, it would require erasing the stories of past generations of Americans and ignoring the very real dangers and inequality that continue to be dictated by race today.”

“It is impossible and incredibly reckless to take the view that race doesn’t matter.”

Does everyone in your immediate family feel the same way about race? If not, why don’t you think so? 

Cat: “I am confident everyone in my immediate family does not feel the same way about race. This primarily comes out in our politics and language. My sister and I have more similar views, however, it is pretty remarkable how living in different regions of the US brought about different experiences for us in adulthood. My sister has not experienced some of the things that I experienced while in Chicago. Therefore, we do have some variation in how we speak about ourselves.”

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Growing up, to what extent did your family educate you about your race and/or other races?

Cat: “I love my parents, but this is an area where I will take a different approach if I have children some day. My mother did make sure she taught us about black history (and the histories of other people of color), but she often shared oversimplified success stories. I think this was her way of encouraging us. She could often be quite harsh when not sharing these stories.”

“Much of the message was that people were going to hate us for any number of reasons, but we were to prove to them that we were just as good or better than they were. There were also a lot of statements about how things likely would not be better this side of heaven. When other children were mean, we were generally told to ignore them and there wasn’t much processing involved.”

“My father came from quite a racist context and so when viewed objectively; his marrying of a black woman in the 70’s was pretty radical. However, my parents’ approach to their marriage and raising us, seemed rooted in false color-blindness more than anything else. There were many things I had to learn on my own or with the help of others much later in life. To her credit, I do believe my mother is the reason I never felt the need to choose a race just to make others comfortable. She advocated for loving both sides of our identity, including our physical attributes. She also made it clear that all human beings were to be treated with dignity and respect.”

If you’ve ever been treated differently because of your race, can you describe any/all relevant experiences?

Cat: “I cannot recount all the times I have been treated differently because of my identity; there are simply far too many. The life of a self-aware, light-skinned, mixed person is a complicated one, however. I am constantly cognizant of the privileges I have that my darker brothers and sisters do not. There are many dangers and obstacles that I do not have to face due to my complexion and how I show up in spaces. This cannot be emphasized enough. But, in my situation, this negative treatment does not come from one direction. I have had to deal with a large amount of negative treatment and rejections from both the white and black communities. For a long time, it was difficult for me to speak openly about the negative treatment I received from black peers. It felt like a betrayal.”

“For a long time, it was difficult for me to speak openly about the negative treatment I received from black peers. It felt like a betrayal.”

“The more I speak with other mixed people though, the more I realize that this cannot continue to go unaddressed. If I skip over this reality, I skip over the concern that anti-blackness is so strong in the US that it plays out even in how the black community treats each other. If being mixed has taught me anything, it has taught me there isn’t one way to be black or white or any other race for that matter. White supremacy has told us enough about how we should look or talk or engage. I think we should be breaking down these expectations in our communities of color, not continuing to perpetuate these mindsets. I understand it’s not that simple and it makes sense why we do it, but it still hurts. For a mixed person, these ideas can make it feel like no place is safe.”

To what extent have you considered how (if at all) you will discuss issues of race once you have children?

Cat: “If I do have children someday, I intend to speak to them about race early and often. Being mixed and not currently having a partner means I don’t have the ability to imagine what my children may one day look like or what ethnic identities they may hold. What I can say is that I want them to know who they are, where they come from, and the reality of the world they are living in. I also want to someday have an authentic relationship with any children I would have. For me, I simply cannot have a genuine connection in which I am real about my identity if the concepts of race and culture are not addressed.”

How regularly/often do you engage in conversations about race with friends, family, or peers?

Cat: “Environment means everything. Race and culture are a very important part of the work I do with my students and clients. It is also in language that is more engrained into the context of higher education, which is the field I work in. So at work, I would say I speak about it fairly regularly. Outside of work, it is less common. I do have certain friends I can speak about it more openly with, but it has been really interesting to find that as a mixed person of my age, it is very difficult to have a conversation with anyone other than my sister that can understand the context I am coming from.”

Would you prefer to engage in these conversations more often or less often? Please explain why.

Cat: “It was a strange day the day I realized that essentially everyone around me had a culturally safe place that they could go back to, friends they could relate to that looked like them, and a shared common language. Sometimes it feels like there can hardly be a moment that goes by without me thinking, ‘I’m different, no one looks like me, no one shares my language, etc.’ All that to say, if I talked about race and culture every time I thought about them, I’d be talking about race and culture non-stop. Since this wouldn’t work in many contexts, I do spend a lot of time holding back. Suffice it to say, I’d like to engage in these conversations much, much more.”

Is there anything you’d like to add that you haven’t already mentioned?

Cat: “This may seem quite controversial coming from a mixed person (or maybe a mixed person is the best person to say this) but the older I get, the more I believe that interracial relationships have more racist roots than we care to admit in more progressive circles in America. Is it possible to have an interracial relationship genuinely built on love? Of course! However, I think they are also often built on willful ignorance, self-loathing, and fetishism.”

“This may seem quite controversial coming from a mixed person (or maybe a mixed person is the best person to say this) but the older I get, the more I believe that interracial relationships have more racist roots than we care to admit in more progressive circles in America… I think they are also often built on willful ignorance, self-loathing, and fetishism.”

“I do not believe more interracial relationships or having a bunch of mixed kids running around is going to increase tolerance in the ways people like to pretend. The trend of men of color engaging increasingly in relationships with white women really concerns me as well. I think America’s perception of beauty and status are largely at play in these dynamics. All that being said, I have many friends in interracial relationships whom I adore and the reality is any relationship I engage in will technically be interracial. I deeply respect some of these relationships and have been impressed by how gracefully some of my friends have engaged the difficult topic of race in the context of a relationship.”

“The trend of men of color engaging increasingly in relationships with white women really concerns me as well. I think America’s perception of beauty and status are largely at play in these dynamics.”

“However, I do think interracial relationships should not be entered into lightly. People can do a lot of damage to their children if they do not talk about the implications of what it means to raise a mixed child in America and they are not ready to engage in the messiness of this large undertaking. I do not think these kinds of relationships are for everyone, and I would strongly challenge anyone considering such a relationship to get real with themselves and their partner about the potential complications of such a relationship and the reasons the relationship seems appealing in the first place.”

Thanks for sharing, Cat. I appreciate you!

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