I don’t look like my mother. My mother is short, blonde, and very, very Irish. I am much taller and have a bigger frame, even from a young age. My hair is soft and curly and mousy brown. My hands are big, my feet are big, and my skin is not very Irish. Though I was raised single-handedly by my white mother, I have never considered myself white.
This is being biracial.
My father is a Black man — Black and Sicilian, if we’re getting specific. He is quite a bit older than my mom and was an afro-sporting, bell-bottom jean-wearing Black Panther in the ’70s. I knew him when I was young, but not for much of my life. Between 8 and 24, we didn’t speak to one another at all, not once. But even though he didn’t raise me, his lineage, his blood, our story was always there.
I have always identified as biracial, though it took me until recently to admit that I identify more with my “Black side.” In many different social situations growing up, I had to announce my Blackness. I have been in rooms with people who did not know I was Black, and I have heard how white people will talk to one another about things they do not know in the presence of someone with an ambiguous background. (No, not all white people.) I have always been uncomfortable in certain situations — around people who grew up conservatively or without knowing any people of color. At a very young age, I learned to ask, “Is it racist?” when someone asked me if I wanted to hear a joke. I do not look Black, but I have no problem prefacing a potentially upsetting situation with the fact of my Blackness.
Growing up, and sometimes even now, when people ask me “what I am,” I will say “part Black.” (Also, try not to ask someone what they are, thanks.) My entire life, I have had people correct me, or inquire further. “Oh, so you’re biracial.” “Oh, how Black are you? You aren’t very dark.” Pulling percentages out of thin air to please people is nothing I have ever been willing to do. “Are you sure you’re not Puerto Rican?”
These are all real things people have said to me. Not once or twice, just always.
When Twitter came about, as an open book of a “conversation” about everything from politics to identity to jokes about not wanting to go out on Friday nights, I discovered something else. There were people like me. Not just other biracial people, but people who understood people. It was on social media that I finally realized it was absolutely within my right to identify as Black. I did an episode of a podcast a year or two ago called Black Girls Talking. I met one of the hosts through HelloGiggles and Twitter, and as I spoke to these other two Black women, I felt comfortable sharing who I am.
After expressing my awareness about the privilege that being light-skinned brings me, one of the ladies interrupted me. She told me that I am Black and I should feel proud to speak about my experience, even if it is different than that of a darker-skinned woman.
She probably has no idea what that meant to me, then and now.
That was the moment I truly felt comfortable calling myself Black.
On Twitter, there are plenty of people who disagree to disagree, not to mention rampant harassment and abuse. But there are also people who have scooped me up and told me that it is okay to identify as I wish. I will always be biracial. There are many privileges that I am granted being a white-passing Black person. But I finally feel strong enough to not let white people tell me how I should identify.
Also, I give a lot of credit to Rashida Jones. As silly as some people think it is to idealize celebrities, Rashida is different. I read an interview with Rashida and Kidada Jones when I was in high school that shaped me as a person. It illuminated the differences in two sisters, their experiences growing up biracial. In the interview, Rashida spoke about exactly what I’ve experienced.
We all know that representation is important. Having Rashida Jones as a name I knew (shout-out to Boston Public) and watching her become a household name for being smart, funny, outspoken, and lovely? That has meant the world for me and my identification.
And I don’t mind when people tell me I look like her, either.
This essay is part of The Blend, a new HelloGiggles vertical all about the mixed experience. To learn more about The Blend (including how you can send us your pitches), check out our intro post.