Being Biracial: Embracing the Missing Pieces
Photo Credit: Federico Vecchi/Unsplash
Black History Month starts today, and with it comes an opportunity to reflect upon the past year, dating back to February of 2020. Clearly, such a dizzying amount of disturbing events have come to pass within that time that it is difficult to pick only a handful to write about.
Most consequentially of all was the execution of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of police. His death, of course, catalyzed newfound energy behind the Black Lives Matter movement and fueled months of protests — the likes of which the country had never seen before, beginning in Minneapolis and spreading nationwide — and even overseas. In the weeks that followed, a collaborative effort between citizen journalists and grassroots activists mobilized via social media, shedding more light on police brutality toward Black citizens. Millions were made to face for the first time the deep-rooted systemic racism sewn into the fabric of American society during the days of slavery and segregation.
Being biracial is its own realm of purgatory — you are never quite white enough to be white and never Black enough to be Black.
As someone who is biracial, I can only speak to a small portion of America’s 400-year Black experience, and because of that, this piece will likely be a bit more on the personal side. I must also acknowledge that, as someone on the lighter side of the melanin spectrum, I benefit greatly from "colorism," and as such have rarely experienced overt racial violence.
That being said, being biracial is its own realm of purgatory — you are never quite white enough to be white and never Black enough to be Black, and as such, there is not often a real sense of community or belonging for us. In my lifetime, it has been exceptionally rare for me to find others with similar shared experiences, with the exception of the one sister with whom I share both biological parents.
Alienated from One Half of Ourselves
Our mother’s parents were born in Mississippi and Arkansas in 1929 and 1935, respectively, and were just a couple of generations removed from slavery themselves. Several generations of trauma resulted in deeply dysfunctional dynamics between our mother’s family, and it grew within her an obsessive need to separate from her roots as much as possible. While most of her family spoke in varying degrees of African American vernacular English, our mother tirelessly practiced assimilation into white societal standards of speaking and acting.
This was passed on to my sister and myself in the form of daily assignments of written standards from the dictionary, as well as repeated drills of Western etiquette, with a special focus on syntax and politeness. We were sent to predominantly white private schools and largely deprived of any contact with our Black family. This attempt at raising us within the context of white assimilation was incredibly dissociating from our personal identities, because at the heart of the matter, we were not white and would never be white, no matter how well we could play the part. We were alienated from one half of ourselves, causing self-resentment, misunderstanding, and discomfort that we could not grasp.
We were not white and would never be white, no matter how well we could play the part.
However, for the most part, our years of what is essentially assimilation training granted us "exceptionalizing" status among our white friends and teachers. Over the years, we received a slew of micro-aggressions, disguised as attempted compliments. Comments expressing disbelief, such as, “What? You’re not really Black, are you?” or conveying surprise, such as “Wow, you’re so articulate,” followed us throughout our lives, as well as many inappropriate questions or comments about the nature of our hair (“Is that your real hair?”) and whether we gave permission for it to be touched (although sometimes, permission was not even requested).
As adults, my sister and I have slowly found and embraced the missing pieces of our identities as proud brown women. We no longer feel pressure to adhere to the standardized behavior expected of white public spaces in order to keep its population comfortable with our presence within it as “others.” Even so, the sudden flood of Black voices sharing Black experiences in the aftermath of Floyd’s passing and the platform that resulted from it was perhaps the first time that I felt that the experiences I have described being fully heard. Without reservations or doubt, and without the accusation of “playing the Black card” or taking the aggressive actions and words of others “too seriously.”
Hopeful for Real Change
In the months that have followed Floyd’s death, several positive steps have been made for the Black community. Grassroots networking has yielded never-before-seen outcomes in organizing protests and civilian action, in terms of protester turnout and involvement. Organizational efforts made by those like BLM founders Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, Melina Abdullah, and Opal Tometi led millions in human rights efforts, and most recently, former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives Stacey Abrams had an immense impact on the Georgia runoff election, inspiring 25% of Georgia’s Black youth to vote for the first time and directly aiding in the election of Georgia’s first Black senator, Raphael Warnock.
On a more local level, many police officers are being made to face consequences for needlessly violent and racially charged actions, reallocation of bloated city budgets is being considered in several cities to be divested into better community services, and criminal-justice reform is on the federal agenda with the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Of course, it remains to be seen what the actual results of these changes may be, and after 400 years, I think it’s safe to say that the Black community has waited long enough. But for the first time in my life, I feel hopeful that real change may be coming within my lifetime.
This post is part of a month-long February CircleAround series, tied to Black History Month — the first since the loud calls for social justice this past summer — in which we asked writers to explore the topic of race in America from a variety of perspectives. The murder of George Floyd last summer catalyzed a national reckoning on race, with many questions to be answered. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."