Mixed and Passing

 

Race it’s a big and important issue, a trait that should be recognized in people but should not define a person. My heritage is a big part of my identity, barebones I am ¾ Black, and ¼ Vietnamese. My family is made up of people with many different skin tones, body types, facial features, and physical attributes. I take after my mother a lot, though I always joke that she ran out of toner when she had me. I’m light-skinned, VERY light-skinned and it’s caused me a bit of an identity crisis growing up. 

Women Sitting on Brown Wooden Bench Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

Nobody, besides my family, looks quite like me which makes me pretty unique but as a kid, I absolutely did not want that. I grew up in the suburbs of three different states and I wasn’t like anybody I grew up with. There weren’t a lot of minorities around me, so I didn’t fit in. So, I tried to cram myself to fit in, and eventually, I started feeling self-conscious. My hair wasn’t similar to theirs, my traditions were not like others, and my family didn’t look like their families either. You can't help the feeling of wanting to belong and while no one has ever made me feel like I didn’t, I couldn’t help but feel I was walking on eggshells. I was never taught that I was different from anybody else but the world is anything but little bubbles that you can use as an escape. I learned it As a result of my observations. In the news, and on TV,  people saw us differently.

 I saw how people looked at my brothers who are many shades darker than I am. How they’d back away when I was near them. It messes with you but  I’ve accepted it as the norm. I was taught to be wary of people with prying eyes, to always have my receipts on me, to not make any fast movements, code-switching (example, example), to make the people around me as comfortable as possible even if I am not. Little things that I’ve picked up and do unconsciously, to make sure everything goes right, exhaust me. It’s tiresome work, bothersome work but it is the way it is. I don’t say this, to say “woe is me”. Frankly, it could be much worse. I’m glad my day to day isn’t battling blatant racism, but rather microaggressions, no threats of physical violence, and just long curious stares from passers-by. In such a way, yes, I am lucky. It’s been a privilege to live in areas progressive enough to be safe. Not everyone can say that. 

Initially, I felt guilty that I hadn’t experienced the full brunt of racism, which is odd, but for some reason it made me feel like I was assigned to the “other box”. Apart, so to speak, not belonging where I was and where I prefer to be. This feeling stems from a whole different debate, one I don’t see much point in, and in my opinion, it’s counterproductive. Colorism is a topic all on its own but I think it’s pointless because it was how white racist colonials determined our worth. I acknowledge that the effects of the paper bag test have been long-lasting but I don’t imagine racism, slavery, or life was easy for anybody. I mean how would you explain that a white slaver would feel guilty over hitting someone who looks like me but not feel guilty over hitting someone like my mother, and deny her humanity, intelligence, and her grace? Yet somehow compare my skin tone to being more like them to being superior to others of my own race. I am disgusted by that line of thinking. My skin does not determine my worth and it doesn’t yours either. Continuing the paper bag argument though in my eyes is counterproductive. It sets us back and keeps us in boxes that a white majority are comfortable in seeing. 

person holding a sign that says Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

 This argument brings me to the term “mulatto” a term coined way before slavery ended, mind you. Mulatto meaning of two races black and white (European), way, way before it was even legalized to mix races. The term dates back to the 16th century and it should be noted that this term was used in a derogatory way. No one really discusses this term or has made the connection that it was around before the end of slavery. The fact that there we people who were mixed way before slavery ended and way before Loving v. Virginia was passed. I can’t say whether all these children were planned or consensual and I can’t tell you if every child born wasn’t killed shortly after or before the child was delivered. This is where the misconception about women being able to control if they get pregnant is bound to have it’s beginning. I can tell you however that 80% of America’s black population has at least 1-16% of caucasian in their DNA. According to the National Institute of Health, the average African American show proportions of 73.2% African, 24.0% European, and 0.8% Native American ancestry (Table 1). 

Which to me is enlightening and terrifying. How many times this must have happened to be so prevalent in our DNA that it is a genetic trait. Like I mentioned earlier, interracial couples were a thing before. I’m sure some were consensual relationships but I know the reality I live in and many more of these relationships, which I am reluctant to call them, were not. The things Black women have had to live through is not a topic that’s discussed thoroughly enough. Sometimes it's not even covered or really talked about in American or Women’s History and I think it should be. The vastness of human experience, especially the experience of minorities has not been explored enough. I know there are plans in the making on campus but planning and doing are different things. You can talk yourself in circles to justify what has and has not been done but progress must be made, not talked about. Progress must be made and maintained and my race is a motivator. I don’t want the norms minorities and non-minorities have accepted to be the norms. Therefore, if I can use the fact that I pass in some situations to keep the ball rolling then that’s exactly what I'm going to do.