Columns / Discourse / February 19, 2020

The Fire This Time: Half truths in half lives

This weekend, our fledgling club of the Young Democratic Socialists of America traveled to Chicago to take on a three day jaunt of workshops, seminars and speeches at our Winter Conference. During lunches we even had breakout sections: groups for disabled comrades, groups for Jewish comrades and groups for comrades of color. One of my members and I made our way to this latter table and feasted on both an array of good food and unimaginable information from our fellow leftists at the table. And no matter how excited I felt to be there among them, I couldn’t shake the overriding feeling: I do not belong here. Why? Well let’s go through some background. 

When my parents were in the midst of their divorce, I would be bopping to Taylor Swift on the regular. I would be walking around with my horse shirts and my notebooks full of stories jamming to every track of Fearless. And people bullied me for it, as was often the case for most people who went to middle school in the United States. And although I remember all those moments, there was one that stung more than most. I was walking with my friends to the playground –– people I trusted and took joy in being around. I was saying something about a particular Swift track when one of my friends, who was a black woman, turned to me and said, “See, she isn’t black. She’s too ditsy.” Everyone laughed and kept walking on without me.

In the same week, one of my friends, who was a white girl, was waiting with me in line for the cafeteria. I had a habit of buying my friends’ lunches when they ran out of money, so it was no surprise when I had no money in my account for food. I asked my friend if she’d be willing to cover me and she said yes. Then she added, “It’s not surprising you needed money. You people are always begging for money.” Hurt by this, I told my mom, who is white, who then told the school. After mulling it over with my friend and her father, the administration determined I was “over-exaggerating” the severity of the issue and that I misunderstood her meaning. Rinse, repeat and you get 21 years and counting of me. 

This is all to say that I have had a very significant experience with my race and identity as a woman of color who is of both European and African descent. This is definitely not to say that I don’t also experience privilege from my appearance, I absolutely do and must acknowledge that daily. However, I want to develop a conversation I have seldom seen embarked upon in good faith that actually centers our voices: our government, our societies and our own communities do not care about biracial individuals. 

Before I continue further, I want to take a second to acknowledge that term. I understand the weight that the terms “biracial” and “mixed” carry in our white supremacist society that has developed for us many dehumanizing ways of referring to ourselves. It is important to see and know that and consider new ways of identifying. But that is a long and important conversation for many of us to have that goes far beyond just the scope of this measly column. 

Continuing on, my intentions in writing this column are two-fold: I need you, dear reader, to recognize how horribly underrepresented and under-discussed the experiences of biracial people are, and try to make space for the validation and importance of these experiences. 

It is easy to weaponize an identity you don’t understand. If someone finds something I am saying or doing in regards to the black experience disagreeable, I am able to be negated from my blackness with a simple assertion against my lived experiences. If I do not resonate fully with various experiences in the diaspora, I can easily be nudged out of its category entirely. If I do not perform my blackness the correct way, my blackness can be taken away. The identity of the biracial individual is determined on the level of convenience it has for someone else’s comfort. 

This puts me in a bind. At the same time this can occur, given the history of race and identity in the United States, there is never a point in time for me to be white. That is a category I do not fit into. A white person has never seen me and thought I was one of them. A white person has never lent me the privileges of whiteness because I adhered with “white” culture. Biracial people are stuck between something they’re pushed to be and something else they never will be. 

Such friction leads to the extreme lack of resources I have always seen throughout my life. There is no resource for me if my white mother or if my white aunts or uncles or grandparents say something racist to me or to others. There is no point person I get to speak with when someone has made me feel so horrible about my identity that it affects me mentally and academically. There’s no club to go to to coalesce around the triumphs and pains of our own lived experiences. 

I am 21-years-old and I still don’t know how I feel about myself. I don’t ever know how to refer to myself. I never know when someone will refer to me in a way that feels cruel or inaccurate or abusive. Something has to be wrong when it feels like there must be a correct way for myself to be. Something especially must be wrong when it feels like I must rely on others to give me that correct identifier. 

If you’re reading this and aren’t biracial, I hope you’ve read through this all the way. I hope you’re beginning to have considerations over how you ask people like me to fuse our identities to either black or white, only to strip them away from us the moment we don’t comply with your ideals. If you’re reading this and you’re biracial, I want you to know that I see you, I know you, and I know how strong and brave you are. Try as many might, the only people who can determine who we are and what we’ve been through are ourselves. Best believe.

Soleil Smith, Discourse Editor
Discourse Editor

Tags:  advice biracial blackness colorism race racism

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