Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

You don't look mixed race

But you do. What does mixed race look like? My children and I experience the "you don't look mixed race" along with its companion phrase "oh I could tell you are mixed" as racial reassignment statements. These statements serve to relocate us into categories that either make sense for people or render our power of self-naming suspended. I can remember the opening scrimmages of basketball when the boys were young. My sons started basketball after having been covered up with football gear since August. They went into pads with beautiful bronze skin and I really didn't see a lot of them out of uniform until basketball. Year after year I would sit in the stands, the team would be warming up, and I would struggle to find my child on the court. All the boys looked a lot alike with sun deprived skin and short black hair. I would have to ask the mother sitting next to me and together we would search for my child both of us thinking we surely be able to find the black kid on the court. There were some years I would have to look at the program to find out what number they were. When I finally found my child, the mother on my left and I would laugh. There he was the very pale skinned, short haired, Italian kid. Almost immediately the mother on my right, in front of me, or behind me would butt in to assure me that my black child looked nothing like her white child. Year after year someone would feel the need to tell me that THEY could tell that my child was black. One woman told me that my son did not look "mixed" to her. I am ashamed to say that one year it was so obnoxious I made my poor child hold his arm next to hers. When she saw that she was no lighter than my son, that particular mother never spoke to me again. At some point I realized it was about them, not me. I know who I am. I know who my child is. I take delight and joy in the way our skin color and hair change with the season. I love the chameleon affect of all of those converging genealogies. My sons have as much right to look Italian as they do black. Second only to the "What are you?" question, or possibly as its replacement, the "you don't look mixed race" "you don't look black" "you don't look Irish" has reinforced my sense that mixed race is a threat to the monoracial location of others around me. My daughter has her father and his mother's hair. Honey blonde, curly, thick, amazing hair that caused one mother at a soccer game to pronounce my child's head "nappy". No offense to my beautiful Black Irish child, but she didn't get a whole lot from me and she certainly didn't get my hair. The length this woman went to reassign my daughter, and her hair, was unparalleled in its insistence, forcefulness, and racism. This woman, proclaiming her expertise as a hair dresser, grabbed my daughter's silky hair and declared "this is black hair". All I could say is "it’s just hair". I know Jewish and Italian people with course rough hair and black people with silky hair. Hair is hair, skin is skin, and skin color is relative. I did an exercise in a class the other day where I mixed in pictures of my daughter and her friends. The students could not figure out a) who my daughter was and b) that there were any black people in the picture. I am not bragging that my daughter is "white", it is what it is. What is amazing to me is that I am there to talk about mixed race, I am mixed race, I have mixed race children, and they still could not figure out that there was a mixed race person in the picture. Equally alarming... the same students were SHOCKED that I identified as mixed race "because you are so dark". "You don't look mixed race" Well, what exactly does mixed race look like? And why does it matter. It matters because if someone cannot locate what my race is, or that of my children, then that puts their own race in question. If the mother at the basketball game is indistinguishable from the black kid on the team, what happens to her child's whiteness and ultimately his privilege? Worse, does that mean that my son has some privilege not meant for him because he is black and must be identifiable as black? It is a pretty amazing thing, when we don't look like what people think we are. Men who look like women, women who look like boys, black people who look Italian, and Latinos who look black all interrupt the binary that we rely on to identify other people and to recognize ourselves by virtue of not being the other. In our family we delight in our various skin colors, facial features, and hair textures. We love that some of us tan and others freckle. What we know is that none of these things make us any less human or any less family but they sure do make us, proudly, mixed race. ... more soon

1 comment:

  1. I am biracial. I have a African American mom and a Caucasian father. I have encountered every example you wrote. You don't look mixed... You don't look black. I have mixed cousins, you don't look like then, you are mixed. I used to not care people wanting to know my race and I never thought I would ever mind people wanting to know. I used to love being asked. Now because of the comments I have been getting since after high school this is something I feel is personal now. Sad to say. I still love me and being biracial I just hate that it's such an issue of what are you. I just want people to see me and not my outside features. I get a lot of you look Hispanic. A lot if black women have given me a lot of these issues from saying rude comments to me assuming I'm Hispanic as if they are better than me. Then all of a sudden when they hear oh she is mixed they want to talk to me. White people are so open and not rude about my race to me. They don't ask like typical black girls ask just to be mean.