Living While Black...Or Mixed, in America

I remember when I was in High School and February was approaching. My circle of friends were mainly black, with the few randoms who were bi-racial, Hispanic or Caucasian. One of my friends said to me, "Saphia, Black History Month is coming, so you can't talk for the entire month--and you have to do whatever we say." At the time, it was amusing and I laughed about it. Later on I thought, am I not considered to be black?

My mother told me a story about when I was a little girl, around four years old. After a shower I asked her how come your skin is white and mine is black? At that time, I figure that I identified myself as a black child because my mothers complexion was white compared to my own. When she told me that story, I felt a sense of guilt and wondered if at that age had it become an insecurity.

Now that I am older, I've experienced situations in life that make me question my "black-ness." For those of you who are not aware of my background, my mother is Italian and my father is Trinidadian.

The first moment that made me question myself was when I had to select "BLACK" or "CAUCASIAN" on an application form. I never liked those because back in the days it was like they never acknowledged bi-racial people. The nerve.

The trigger of this post was something that I recently experienced on two separate occasions. We all have a freedom to say whatever we want. My complexion isn't necessarily black or dark enough to consider me black without having to question my ethnicity. My hair isn't strong & kinky, but the curl pattern automatically allows one to have an assumption that I am "not just black." On several occasions, I am automatically pointed out to be either Dominican, Puerto Rican or anything other than just black.

Personally, I don't care to identify with either black or white, or any race for that matter. I am human. We all bleed the same blood and shed the same tears. I have no purpose to declare one of my ethnicity's over the other because each create who I am.

I'm standing at the bus stop, waiting to make my way to work. A woman begins to talk to me about her visit to see her son in his Brooklyn apartment. From her accent, I could tell she was one of those "Italian Staten Island women." The big fur coat, long blonde hair. She started to talk about how she needs to dye her roots because the natural dark color is growing in, compared to her bleached blonde hair. I mentioned to her that her hair was pretty thick. In response to me she said, "Yeah. I've always had really thick hair. Back in the days they used to say that my hair was like a negro because it was so thick and coarse."

Naturally, I wouldn't have felt a way, but for some reason, how she freely said "negro," I felt a sense of discomfort. I thought to myself, I wonder if she would have rephrased her sentence had she been talking to someone who had darker skin than I did. Yet, I stood silent and let her continue on with her statement because--we all have a freedom to speak.

A few days later, I was swimming in the pool during my aqua aerobics class. My professor and another older man who was in my class began to ask me questions about my future. "What are you going to do next?" He asked me. The questions came randomly, but I went full force to talk about my journalistic and film production dreams. Soon after, the other guy began to talk about how he taught in the past. He mentioned how he had a bunch of "hoodlums" that he had to teach in his class. Then he began to talk in a comfortable manner about how white people went to private schools and "the black people, you know, they went to other schools." The moment he said that, I was a little taken aback. Yet, I thought--am I black enough to take a stand on that statement?

Soon after, they asked what my background was. I admit, growing up, I was always eager for people to ask what I was mixed with. I felt exotic. I felt rare. I was both black and white and I wanted the world to know it. The thing that irritates me is that people automatically assume I am mixed because of my curly hair and skin complexion. However, sometimes I get a little bothered by it from time to time.

So overall, I've experienced a lot more than these two situations. I've been racially profiled by non-blacks before(especially if my hair is straight) and I've been accepted differently because I am lighter and lean more towards another ethnicity. Most of my adult life, I've been viewed as bi-racial. It's not to say that every February I want to be considered as a black woman for once, but I always drift back to the idea that my friend said I couldn't speak because I was not black.

I love being bi-racial. Sometimes I find it hard to side with either because I feel like I am disowning the other. I embrace who I am and what I represent. I've never received white privilege and I've never been totally degraded because of my "blackness."Still, I am aware of the luxuries and the disadvantages that I experience on each end.

From this lifetime of being ambiguous to most, it has taught me a valuable lesson. God willing, when I have children, I would hope that they do not see color. For some, that may seem ignorant to history. It's not.

Saphia Louise