What Is She?

*This where it all starts. I am standing up here, with you staring at me, wondering to yourself, but too scared to ask, What is she? I’m mixed. I’m biracial. I’m black and white. I’m the cookie AND the cream. Even though I’m pretty much an oreo made into a human, life hasn’t always been a swim in the milk.  When people look at me and ask “What are you?” I say, “ I’m human!!”  “No, what is your nationality?” “American.” “No, what are your parents?””Well my mother was a female, and my father was a male.” They finally quit the game and lose that round of “Guess that girls ethnicity!”

The problem is, people don’t realize it, but they bombard us with these actions and words trying to make us chose a side. They play this game of twister with the board only having two options, Whole body on black, or whole body on white. Studies like ones done by Brunsma and Rockquemore in 2001 have shown that multiracial individuals have four possible identity options: singular, border, protean, or transcendent. This means that mentally biracial people can classify themselves as a single race, mixed race, one or the other depending on what is convenient, or no race at all. They can also be broken into validated or unvalidated, meaning that their perception of themselves are either approved by society or aren’t . Most of the time, people accept the fact that I am biracial. Except for some that say “Well you don’t look white/black/mixed.” and this one kid. in sixth grade who, Not even five minutes of walking into school, came up to me to say “ Why is your hair that big? You look like you’re from mars.”

Looking at how we group people shows how closed minded we really are. It also has a highly negative affect on the individual who is biracial. As Coleman and Carter stated in their Biracial Self-Identification study, “ A high level of societal pressure to identify as monoracial may thus have a greater impact on levels of anxiety and depression symptomatology than racial self-identification as biracial.” This basically means that even though we can chose from four different identities, classifying ourselves as both is the best option. Obviously. If you think about it, its like a mule. The only happy mules are the ones that admit that they are both horse and donkey. If that mule runs around thinking and telling people it is full horse, or full donkey, that mule not only has some psychological problems, that mule is the first mule I’ve ever heard of that can talk.

You all are probably thinking “Oh, you’re your own person, think what you want about your own identity, ignore everyone else.” But its not that simple. As Charles Cooley stated. ” Our ideals of personal character are built up out of thoughts and sentiments developed by intercourse, and very largely by imagining how our selves would appear in the minds of persons we look up to.” Sort of like a mirror.  Now adding on with a little Erik Erikson, we know that during the adolescence years, our psychosocial crisis is our identity with our significant relations being our peer groups and leadership models. When both of these people are telling you that you aren’t really white, while the other half is telling you you aren’t really black, then that leads me to think that I’m not really anything. Although why we look up to people who can not accept the simple concept of being of two ethnic backgrounds is beyond me! Not knowing who you are in a time when you already have enough problems figuring out who you are on the inside in the rough time of life called adolescence can lead to some huge problems that can lead to you spending all of your time writing a five page speech trying to change the minds of people who can’t understand the concept of a two in one steal of a deal like myself.

Society tends to unknowingly throw us into whatever category they think is most relevant in their own mental catalog system. The other day, I came across a list called “Fifty Experiences of Racially Mixed People” by Maria Root that perfectly explained how people vocalize these thoughts about what category they stick us in.. Reading over these experiences, I found some perfect examples of how monoracial people stick us into categories that we don’t belong in, or that we do not approve of.

One of them was, “ People always tell you “Mixed race people are so beautiful.” If they are all so beautiful, then why am I still single??

Another one was, “People say things that they would never say in front of a monoracial person.” Well, in their eyes, I’m not really black, or I’m not really white… For example, This one kid told me that the reason he started to fight this black guy with whom he had no problems  with was because black people kill people. I informed him that white people kill people too.. Yeah, he replied. But Black people started it.” As he walked away he said “ I don’t know why she cares, She’s not even black.” And this was coming from a kid who constantly called me the N word because wasn’t quite white enough for him either.

Number fifteen on the list was: “Judgments of your racial authenticity have been based upon your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s (partner’s) race.” While this hasn’t happened, people will ask me “What type of man do you like?” I respond with Tall.. They look at me funny and say, “No, I mean color. Since you’re mixed, which side do you lean towards?” .. Well, you see, I really like dark men.. and the lighter men.. and the light ones… and the white ones.. I mean, I like men.

And Number 20:  “Your parents or relatives compete to “claim” you for their own racial or ethnic group.. “ One of my relatives said to me one day, “ A black president, what has the world come to.” I said, He’s just as much black as I am..” She reached out to hug me and whispered to me so sweetly, “Don’t worry, Natasha, I think of you as white.” I just laughed at her. I knew she was old and grew up in a time where passing as white was a good thing. I failed to realize that it’s not just the older generation who tries to decide for me which group I belong to.

In an essay written by Melissa Burkley and Hart Blanton called “The Positive (and Negative) Consequences of Endorsing Negative Self-stereotypes,” they state that “Stereotypes often arise, it is commonly observed, because perceivers have cognitive and motivational interests in living in a simplified social world, one where other people can be judged by their categories.”  Maybe you aren’t convinced yet. Maybe you think that our society labels us for us. Look at it this way; Do you know this guy named Barack Obama? First Black President right? No? He is mixed. He is just as much black as he is white. What about Booker T Washington? Or more recently Alicia Keys, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix. All black right? Huh.. Halle Berry? Black too..If she has a white mom, how is she only black? yeah, lets use our brain next time.” Because society deems them dark skinned enough, or “black acting” enough, they are seen as fully black. It’s like the one drop rule still applies.  As stated by F. James Davis in his essay “Who is Black? One Nation’s Definition,” “Not only does the one-drop rule apply to no other group than American blacks, but apparently the rule is unique in that it is found only in the United States and not in any other nation in the world.”

Now, what can you do to change this? Stop, as Burkley and Blanton put it, trying to live in a simplified social world. We do not see in black or white. We do not see in black and white. We see in black and white and red and yellow and blue and purple and green and brown and grey and pink and orange and… Our world is not simple. It is such a complicated place. Simplify your life instead of someone else’s identity. It is fine to ask us what we are if you are curious. Yes you can touch my hair.  No you cannot just assume I am spanish when my hair is straight. No you can not tell me a black joke. No, you can not tell me a white joke. No, I am not half-offended, I am fully annoyed.

It’s 2013 everybody. It has been 50 years since the civil rights movement. Just last month I had a police officer classify me as black without asking what I was, when he was just there to assist me. He radioed in and announced that “We have a black female here.” I would have been just as upset if he called me a white female. I am not one or the other I am both. I still have friends telling me that I shouldn’t be offended by a black joke because it is just a joke. I still have friends starting every statement about black people around me with, “ I am not trying to be racist, but..” Its 2013. Its been 50 years. Most of the people I interact with have not been alive before the movement, but they still have problems understanding what equality is. I don’t want you to look at me, and see a black girl. I don’t want you to look at me and see a white girl. I want you to look at me and see me. Natasha Brooke Sykes.

*Going out to take pictures today, but in the mean time here is a rough draft of a speech I wrote.

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16 Replies to “What Is She?”

  1. You don’t have to answer specifically (state is good enough)- Just curious where you grew up that this was such an issue that has clearly effective your life and unresolved . Hopefully the blogging is one way of you getting out your frustrations.
    You or anyone who has been deprived of life without prejudice not only has a right to be angry, but more importantly is having the choice to remain angry or choose to come to resolve in anyway that frees you of the oppression you are psychologically placing on yourself with all these thoughts….
    PLEASE DO NOT MISINTERPRET ME AND THINK IM IN ANY WAY DIMINISHING YOUR RIGHTFUL ANGER!
    MAYBE IT IS BECAUSE I LIVE IN NYC THAT BLACK, WHITE, RED, BROWN, YELLOW, WHATEVER COLOR OF THE RAINBOW — -WE HAVE IT, AND I CAN NOT REMEMBER WITNESSING ANY RACIAL PREJUDICE (BESIDES TV).
    I KNOW YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU DO NOT LIKE ANY RACIAL JOKES…. ****DON’T WORRY I’M NOT

    This is a topic I really never expected to engage in or even read…… but, you have raised some very serious issues (that I couldn’t even imagine) AGAIN THIS IS WHY I’M CURIOUS IS TO WHERE (STATE) YOU ARE FROM?

    GROWING UP IN NYC RACE WAS NOT AN ISSUE AT ALL. IN FACT IT WAS AND STILL IS MORE THAN A NONISSUE – IT’S ALWAYS BEEN

    *******DON’T TAKE ANY OFFENSE TO THIS REFERENCE AND THE LANGUAGE I’M GOING TO USE, IT IS CLEARLY NOT SOMETHING THAT YOU WOULD TOLERATE UNDER YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES******

    ——— ACTUALLY, IVE DECIDED NOT TO SAY IT OUT OF FEAR IT MAY BE UNACCEPTABLE OR EMOTIONALLY RECEIVED NEGATIVELY.
    -IT WAS JUST A WAY WE TALK TO EACH OTHER AND WORDS/NAMES WE USE NOT IN A JOKING WAY MORE OF A FRIENDS BUSTING EACH OTHERS BB

    THERE IS SO MUCH MORE I WOULD LIKE TO ADRESS ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL AGGRAVATION AND POSSIBLE WAYS TO CHANGE THE PERCEPTION AND BLSH BLAH
    I’M NOT GOING TO BE PSYCHOLOGICAL,

    ILL FINISH BY SAYING THAT WHEN I LOOK AT YOUR PICTURE, OR, ANYONES PICTURE FOR THAT MATTER- I SEE PICTURE- THE PERSON THAT IS TO BE SEEN IS ONLY AVAILABLE THROUGH GETTING TO KNOW THEM

    1. I grew up in Southern Ilinois close to Saint Louis and lived a bit in Virginia and Florida. It is definitely a way that mixed people feel all over the country. I found many studies on this and many individuals felt this sense of being marginialized and being forced to pick a side, and other things I mentioned. Not just black and white, but all mixes of race. I am not angry, it is society not necessarily the people around me, but the history and media and how it has always been a black or white issue, ever since the One Drop Law.

      1. Well, I can only hope you find some resolve on this through yourself —or by society changing (very unlikely) lol
        not just racial —– I have my own personal frustration with the general public on different issues
        hopefully things get better

      2. Look at Maria P P Roots Survey done on experiences of racially mixed people. This is not just southern Illinois where I was raised lol this is all over America.

  2. First of all it’s amazing Girl… I love how you actually came up with this idea and yes societies anywhere in the world need to stop judging us and categorizing us!
    We breath in the same air, bathe in the same rains and share the same mother Earth for home, so, shouldn’t it be enough? Alas People dont get this wee thing. It’s simple yet complicated!!!
    And You’re only YOU!! You’re beautiful and amazing….

    1. Thank you! Maybe I would be more open to society categorizing us if they did it right! You would be amazed how dismissive the US Census forms are towards minorities and especiallg mixed individuals. Its ridiculous how a simple categorization method used to categorize us does it wrongly! Lol doesnt make sense!

      1. yepp it is wrong indeed!!! and it’s totally racial too… No one should be judged or categorized like that!!! Colors and casts or even Religion shouldn’t matter… we live on the same planet no one owns it… we breath in the same air….. we must learn to respect each-other!! 🙂

  3. Natasha, I told you you are a great writer!!! This was very interesting to me. I never knew people could be so rude to another person! To ask such personal questions or make such thoughtless comments. And 50 years ago is what I want to say to people every time something comes up about race or in a conversation. You always express yourself so well.
    This is a great speech. Did you give it to a class or somewhere? I’m not very good at expressing myself a lot of times, but any way I think this is very well said by you!

    1. Thank you Margie!! I appreciate that a lot, and yeah it surprises me too, the comments people make. I wrote it for speech and debate. This is what I originally wrote, before my coaches helped me rewrite it for a specifit category of speech, but this one is my favorite 🙂

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