Unidentified female X, in comment on facebook picture of self looking v tan:
oh gosh…i need to stay out of the sun!
Unidentified female Y, in response:
yuh lookin BLACK
Unidentified female X:
I know. This is terrible…definitely not the shade I want to be!!! I love being fair!!
I have the right
- not to justify my existence in this world
- not to keep the races separate within me
- not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical ambiguity
- not to justify my ethnic legitimacy
- to identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify
- to identity myself differently than how my parents identity me
- to identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters
- to identify myself differently in different situations
- to create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial
- to change my identity over my lifetime–and more than once
- to have loyalties and identify with more than one group of people
- to freely chooose whom I befriend and love
By Maria P. P. Root (via Light-skinn-ed Girl)
This is a thought-provoking piece of work, with which I can at least partially identify. So much of the discussion about “mixed-race issues” is limited to the experience of bi-racial (white/black) people living in the US of A; the “Bill of Rights” is broader in scope.
Some of its declarations I have always taken for granted – never have I had to justify my existence, for instance. And the phrase “physically ambiguous” is downright amusing.
But it made me realise that I don’t know how my parents self-identify, and nor do I know how they would describe my siblings and I.
And I have had to justify my ethnic legitimacy, on more than one occasion and to the gamut of family, friends and the parents of former paramours.
It’s a strange thing to be a victim of generic racism. It sounds absurd, but I have always wanted to ask, when faced with such discrimination, which part of me most offends.
In other words, is it because I is black? Or is it because I am not Indian/Chinese/White enough?
(Or, more recently, is it because I’m a twenty-something overachieving chick with dreadlocks and a predilection for wearing Converse to work? Hmm.)
I have never felt (insert ethnic grouping here) enough.
Still, I have had more experience of Trinidad’s version of black and Indian culture than I have had exposure to my Chinese and White heritage. But I am comfortable with none of these. In situations that are purely one or the other, I have always felt ill at ease.
When I donned a shalwar to attend a Divali celebration at my highschool, eyebrows were raised.
When, in my younger days, I was briefly part of the tennis-playing set, I didn’t quite fit in with rivals at tournaments in Port of Spain and environs, and that wasn’t just because they were way better than I. We didn’t speak the same language – and if you’ve ever hung out with the Westmoorings crew, you’ll know what I mean.
Total lack of Chinese-related anecdotes is sufficiently telling, methinks.
I have no real, first-hand experience of what it is like to be white/Indian/Chinese in Trinidad.
Nor do I know what blackness means, as much as I use it as political shorthand for my identification with issues of racism, discrimination and other minority concerns.
Does that make my claim to these multiple strands of history less valid? Am I less authentic because I exercise my right to tick “Other”?
Nothing like an identity crisis on a Friday afternoon.
I feel an identity crisis coming on.
This most recent bout of mixed-person-itis was triggered by a post over at What Tami Said, in which the eponymous author comments on “black people” (italics mine) who claim mixed heritage.
While she makes some interesting points, two of her affirmations thereupon unsettled me:
Mixed ancestry is often what we bring up to prove that we are different from other “just black” folks.
It is about elevating ourselves in the hierarchy of race–from “just black” to something special.
The folks in question are not those “bi-racial people who rightly claim both family cultures,” Ms Tami said, but those “who reach back 100 years in the family tree to tout a Cherokee princess who may or may not have existed.”
I’m not bi-racial. I’m not even tri-racial. Rather, like so many other Trinidadians of my generation and prior, I’m a Chinese-Indian-white-black poster child for miscegenation.
And those roots are much less than 100 years old.
It is true that when people ask me – as they often do – what my “background” is, I reel off that list. But that is not because I’m trying to prove that I am more than merely black.
Because the fact of the matter is, I am not just black.
Nor am I just white, Chinese or Indian – and in fact I am “more” any one of those than I am black, judging by the overwhelming Chinese/Indian presence in my family tree.
So what then?
I’ve said in the past that it is only when I left Trinidad I discovered I was black. Before that, I was happily race-averse, content with and never questioning the legitimacy of my red woman status.
Now, increasingly and usually in the context of discussions socio-political, I self-identify as black.
But I still don’t know what that means. I’m working on it.