I hit the ethnic jackpot as an African American, Italian, Hungarian and Native American, and I don’t mean that superficially. I say jackpot because it has shaped the way I not only view life, but live it — and I think I’m better for it. During times when so many young people need to be encouraged to embrace what makes them different, it seems appropriate to share one of the things that make me most unique. Thanks to people like Mariah Carey, Derek Jeter and our current President, hearing about us biracial folk is more accepted but it wasn’t always that way. Growing up being black and white, or like an “Oreo” as I used to call it, it wasn’t always fun and games because most people like to see the world in either black or white. So what do you do when you’re both?
I was taught at an early age that being biracial was something to celebrate, not something to hide, but not everybody saw it that way. From being stared at walking with my dad because I didn’t look like him, to just the physical traits being mixed gave me. The biggest thing, and I literally mean the biggest, was my hair. Saying it’s curly is an understatement, yet, ironically it gave my classmates a lot to say. For my entire fourth grade school year, I had the nickname Scary Spice. While, now I would totally take it as a compliment (the woman is seriously hot), back then it sure as hell didn’t feel like one. Her hair was always unruly, and having people call you “scary” wasn’t the best feeling in the world.
Then there were times when it went beyond how I looked. There were times when people began applying separate stereotypes and blending them together because since clearly I was a blend, their assumptions should be too. Cleverness at it’s finest. There was this one boy (for his sake, he shall remain nameless) who made sure to verify that I was in fact biracial, and then proceeded to assume that that was why my parents were no longer together. Apparently one has to do with the other, who knew? It’s not breaking news that people are ignorant, but this was circa 1997 in New York. At 8 years old, and even now at 22, it still mind-boggles me.
I’ve played sports all my life and basketball will forever be my one true love. But just like any relationship, we had some tough times. And just like most relationships, it had a lot to do with an outside factor. One of the girls on my team’s mother felt obligated to tell my mother that I shouldn’t take it personally if none of my teammates liked me — because I appeared white, and a lot of the girls on my team were black. Little did she know that I was half-black, and that I was already friends with all the girls on the team. Gotta love assumptions.
Speaking of, if you look at a picture of me now you probably wouldn’t assume that I was biracial. My hair is a lot straighter, and a lot of my features changed as I grew up. The irony that never goes away is that because I straighten my hair now, people assume I’ve picked a team. Like who I am is a game. So, by their logic, because my hair is straight today, it means today I’m whiter than yesterday when it was curly? Just because the appearance changed, what makes me as a person sure as hell doesn’t.
Luckily, I became the type of person who doesn’t carry baggage with me. I’m more of a no-suitcase traveler. I see it as your opinions are your opinions, and just like you’re entitled to say them, I’m entitled to disagree. I’m a firm believer in the fact that the things that try and break you, usually make you stronger in the end and my nationalities were no different.
I love the fact that I’ve been exposed to two entirely different ways of living, and in turn kind of created my own. I defined who I am, instead of letting it define me. It’s made me open-minded, and embrace diversity no matter where it comes from and helps me see past the exteriors of both people and life–which clearly not everyone else can do. Being an “Oreo” has helped me realize that not everything is as simple or as complicated as they seem. Sometimes, there’s more to things that meet the eye, and sometimes there’s less. At the end of the day I am who I am, and that just happens to be a girl who is biracial. I may be black and white, but life doesn’t always have to be.
Has there ever been a time when people made assumptions by you? Do you celebrate what makes you different? How?