Interracial marriage became legal across the United States in 1967. My parents, a black man and a white women were married in 1974. I was born soon after. Their marriage was short lived, and they were divorced when I was a one-year old. I don’t have memories of them together. They both remarried people from their own race.
In a time of intense racial divides between black and white, somehow, neither my mom’s side of the family or my dad’s side of the family held any animosity or racism towards the other side. I never once heard a negative word said about my mom or my dad by either of them or by their families. Instead, it was the opposite. My grandfather on my white side always talked about the respect he had for my dad. Even with the divorce, there was never hatred or criticism stated or implied. I didn’t realize growing up how unusual that was. I did, however, experience racism and prejudice from some of my step parents and their families throughout the years. At times, it has been difficult for them and for their families to accept me and my other race. I’ve also experienced racism, prejudice and discrimination from white teachers and students in school. As an adult, I’ve been racially profiled and followed by police, followed by security members in stores, and given the cold shoulder in business establishments in areas that were mostly white. This racism and discrimination scares me, especially when it comes to the police, our legal system and the political climate.
I identify myself as a woman of mixed race black/white, a choice I made a couple decades ago because I wanted to challenge white people’s tendency to use the one drop rule when it comes classifying non-whites. It felt like some of the white people that I encountered were overlooking the fact that I’m half white, something that black people never seemed to overlook. But, even though I use this mixed race classification now, in my heart I feel black because of my experiences. What else could I be?? Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve been black. My parents and my family told me I was black. I was black on the playground at my all white grade school, when white kids circled around me and got my only friend (a boy) to punch me in the stomach while the ring leader girl yelled “Punch her, punch her!” My friend later apologized while he and I sat in timeout for “fighting”. All of the other kids involved had no consequences. I was black in my 4th grade class when one girl would stand behind me in line ever day and sneer the n-word in my ear. She’d tell me I was so ugly and ask me why my braided ponytails looked like poop. When I told the teacher, she did nothing. When I got my white grandmother (who I was living with at the time) involved, she reached out to the girls parents and we went together to their house. With my grandma sitting next to me, and the girls parents sitting next to her, I directly confronted her for what she was saying to me. Her parents seemed shocked and verbally scolded their daughter in front of me. However, within the school faculty, there was no support for me. I don’t remember my teacher even asking me about it at all. When my grandmother questioned the school on what they would do about it, the school’s solution was to move me to another classroom mid-year. Even now, when a police officer or a security guard follows or watches me, I don’t get the vibe that he sees me and thinks, “Ohhh, she’s mixed race.” I think he sees me and thinks, “black” and all of the negative stereotypes and stories playing in his head at that moment apply to me.
I was black when I had two police officers walk up on me in my own garage in my own car. At the time, I was inside the gated parking garage of my apartment building. It was early in the morning and I was dressed for work wearing a skirt and blouse. I was standing outside my car with the driver’s door open bending into my car looking for something. I was parked at the far end of the garage, furthest from the entrance, and it was very quiet in the area by my car. All of the sudden I heard a footstep behind me and felt someone’s presence. I jumped and turned around to see two men less than 10 feet away walking silently towards me. I thought they were going to attack me and I must have turned pale; I was so startled. They froze too when I jumped and both of them put their hands inches away from their guns on their sides. By this time I realized that they weren’t thieves or rapists; they were cops. I just stood there frozen in silence. When I think about the incident now, I’m not scared, I’m pissed!! I think how dare you sneak up behind in me in MY garage and not identify yourself. It’s like they already had an assumption that I was stealing. But of course, I stayed silent. They said they got a call about a disturbance and asked if I’d seen anything. I hated them so much in that moment for making me feel like crap in my own garage when I was doing absolutely nothing wrong.
Oh yeah, and I’m definitely black to my Asian in-laws.
(Sigh) All that being said, I know that being black isn’t just about being discriminated against, it’s also not about how you speak, how you act, what music you like, or who you marry. I’m not saying that I don’t have very real privileges by being half white, that my full black sisters (I’m talking about my step sister and my half sister) do not have. I do agree that it is very different to experience the world as a mixed race person versus a person with parents of the same race. There is no question about that! But, I don’t understand all of the hatred and pushing people away when we share so much of the same struggles, passions and dreams. My son may be mixed with black, white and Korean, but when he walks into a classroom, store or park he is seen as a black kid by most non-black people.
My very real experiences of racism have fed my heightened sensitivity to even the smallest slights. When I’m out in public with my husband or kids, I get a lot of ice from all sides, Asian, white and black. Instead of acceptance, there is often rejection, and it hurts to receive judgment from all angles. My husband grew up in the United States as a second generation Korean American. Growing up, my husband and his family lived in a white neighborhood. They all moved back to Korea when he was in middle school and high school. He and his family returned to the United States after high school. Prior to meeting me, my husband built many significant friendships with African American men during his college years and after.
Even though my family has experienced racism from many angles, I would love to be able to say that we feel welcomed and supported by the black community at large. Unfortunately, I can’t say that. Recently, we needed to find a new barber for our 5-year old son. One of our African American friends gave us a reference to the barber shop where he takes his own son. When my husband and son entered the shop, instead of feeling welcomed as customers they were met with confused and questioning looks, as if they were aliens. My son, who is very comfortable with his black family and our black friend, felt so uncomfortable by the way they were being treated that he asked his dad if they could leave. I love my black community and my black culture, but how can I show solidarity and support when I and my family are pushed away?
I’ve been hurt by the way I’ve been sidelined by some black people in my life. I’ve been treated like I’m a threat, like I’m a disgrace, like I’m a joke, and like I’m an outsider. But in the end, I will never turn my back on my own blackness or on black people. We have been through too much, and we continue to suffer racism, discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis.
I know that there are some that are against race mixing. I believe that anti-race mixing sentiments stem from hate, not love. I strive for love, to grow in love for myself and for others. Let’s face it, people fall in love with who they love, regardless of race or societal pressure. So, there will always be mixed race people. Look
at Romeo and Juliet or Richard and Mildred Loving. Why do we let our fears and prejudice keep us from loving and accepting others? I guess what I’m hoping for is a world where we can love and accept all people regardless of their race — where we can make judgments about people based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
I also realize that I need to be more willing to give love and acceptance even when I feel it may not be deserved. That doesn’t mean I’ll accept injustice. No, in fact I will fight against it! But, it does mean I choose to accept the person as a human being who is just as in need of love and forgiveness as I am. That is my goal.