However, despite the new awareness of racial issues, there are still too many black people being killed by police. There are too many white supremacists not being punished for their actions. There are too many apathetic "non-racist" white people. Because of this, there is a lot of anger in the black community, as there should be. I am angry that racism still exists at a de facto level and that it affects all people of color so strongly, even if there is no form of legal racism anymore.
However, I can't help but feel that I am an outsider to the conversation. I am biracial. My mom is black and my dad is white; however, in many circumstances, I can pass for white. I say, "in many circumstances," because in the context of my mom's family, I am really pale. However, within the context of my dad's family, my thick, dark curly hair and tan skin sticks out among their blond hair and pale faces. Every biracial person's experience is unique. I don't intend to speak for every biracial person; I am just going to talk about my experience.
Because of society's obsession with labels, I have always been someone who never identified with any label, whether it be as important as race or sexual orientation, or as trivial as which social clique I belong to; I have always been an outsider. I come from a really diverse town, which is amazing because I got so much exposure to different cultures. However, most of my friends, even if they were a person of color, identified as one race. I didn't become close friends with any other biracial people until high school.
I never thought twice about my race until high school. When people would ask me what I am, I would say, "I'm black and white," and of course there would be looks of surprise, but it never really bothered me. I don't think I started to be bothered by it until conversations about the racially based power structures started happening among my classmates. All of a sudden, my classmates and I were becoming more aware of the turmoil in the country over police brutality and racial profiling. We were becoming more aware of the idea of privilege.
That's when people started telling me that I have white privilege.
I was confused. How could I possibly have white privilege if I'm not white? I started to feel uncomfortable talking about anything related to race. I became envious of my mono-racial friends. Not all of them are white, so not all of them have white privilege, but at least they could say, "I'm Indian" "I'm Assyrian" or "I'm Jamaican," and not be questioned. I don't have that luxury. Nothing is more painful than having people doubt something that is fundamentally a part of you. I felt weird saying I was black and I felt weird saying I was white. If I said I was biracial, people would want to know which races made up my background and then I'm back at the beginning. It's a never-ending cycle.
It's even worse for my sister. She is paler than me and she has blue eyes. Comments directed at her are more overtly racist than anything directed at me. Someone actually told her that she, "has a black girl's name," and another person said that, "her nose is the only way to tell that she's black." The worst overt racism I've experienced was someone online referring to me as a "mutt," by someone that I didn't even know. The comments directed at my sister were from people she knew and talked to at school. Both of us experience our fair share of subtle racism, however.
It is hard trying to talk about the issues facing the black community, especially police brutality. I am constantly worried that people will dismiss my opinion as "less valid" because they perceive me as white. I don't feel comfortable telling other black people that I'm biracial because I always feel like I'm sort of co-opting their experience, even if I'm really not. With white people, I become a specimen when I tell them. But I know it is my responsibility to speak out about the issues. While I know that the lightness of my skin makes it unlikely that I'll be targeted unjustly by police, who's to say that my darker skinned cousins won't? The experiences I've had as a biracial woman have made me stronger and they've made my commitment to social justice stronger.
Despite all of the issues I face, I love being biracial. I get to experience two different cultures. It is difficult sometimes to reconcile the privilege of my white family with the experience of my black family, but both sides have made me who I am. Both sides have their positives and negatives, but they don't treat me any different because I'm biracial. When I'm with with my mom's side, I'm free to embrace my blackness in a way that's not always possible outside the comfort of family. My dad's side is a little more reserved, but they love me unconditionally and that's really all that matters when it comes to family.
I think the most important thing being biracial has taught me is that I have no right to question other people's identity. In an ideal world, everyone would live by this and everyone would solve their problems simply by listening and talking things out. It's easy to say that the problems facing the black community, especially about police brutality, can be solved if everyone would listen to each other, but the problem with that is that it ignores history.
Historically, black people have had to fight for their rights through demonstration and legislation, and that's pretty much what's happening now. A lot of people want to say racism is over, but that's simply not true. Until we as a country can accept the fact that there are a multitude of identities and millions of different perspectives and that some are more discriminated against than others, we will not be able to move forward into a post-racial society.
I have hope though. Each generation is more accepting than the last, and while there is still an extremely long way to go, we are making progress. It's not as fast as I would like, but it's there. We need to continue the trend of activism, as well as start meaningful conversations about what race truly means. If racism is learned, it can be unlearned.
Lead Image Credit: Callie Folke