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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Check this box please, and deny half of your identity

When I was pregnant one of my biggest fears regarding becoming the mother of a Bi-racial child was the thought that she would identify with one half of her racial identity. I worried (for obvious reasons) that the half she identified with would not be mine, thus denying our mother/child bond.

I don't think this is an unfounded fear. In this country, if you look Black, you are Black. No matter if you are half, or one quarter, Black is Black. White is White. I'm White. As far as I know, the majority of my ancestry is British, with a little German, French and Irish, but most likely 100 percent European. Except that there was a suspicion amongst my mother's family that my great grandfather may or may not have been at least partially Native American. He was suspected of "passing." The only reason anyone thought that, though, was because he never grew facial hair. He didn't look the part and he didn't pass on any ethnic qualities to his children.

In addition to this country's history of dividing the races by color, even the Black community doesn't let Bi-racial folks get away with being a mixture of both.

It's pretty common to hear Black people make fun of Bi-racial folks, saying they aren't insert-other-half here, they're just Black. A couple of high profile Bi-racial men come to mind, our president, Barack Obama and golfer Tiger Woods.

Even though President Obama was raised by a White mother and his White grandparents, he enlisted his Black/African half while running for president.

Tiger Woods has been given a lot of shit by Black people for saying he's Cablinasian, (half Asian -- one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter Thai --, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch) thus standing up for his Bi-racial identity. Technically, he's more Asian than anything else.

I don't blame Obama for using his skin color to get votes. Hell, he was just playing the game. And he played it well. Even though Tiger Woods is no longer America's sweetheart because he turned out to be a flawed human being, I still give him props for insisting that he not deny his Asian roots.

Now that Annika is here, my old pregnancy fears have lessened because I have started thinking about how I will talk to her about her roots and her skin color.

I think the world is more tolerant now than it was when I was growing up. And I think as Annika ages, it will become even more so. Kids today are more tolerant and open-minded than my generation. Today we have people who refuse to identify with a gender identity, people who identify with both, people who look one way and feel another.

I see racial identity following the same trends as sexual identity heading toward more gray (or should I say, tan) areas. More and more people will refuse to pick one or the other. More and more people are refusing to say they are simply one thing.

Human beings are complex to the core. Using color to identify people, is, in my opinion, just as antiquated as defining life roles and fashion choices based on a person's genitalia.

Choosing a more complex racial identity is a common thought process amongst plenty of mothers of Bi-racial children.

I was browsing a Bi-racial mom forum recently, and the topic of choosing racial identity at school caught my attention. Will my daughter feel pressured to choose a racial identity that isn't consistent with who she really is?

One mom said when she signed her daughter up for school, instead of choosing one of the pre-filled racial identities, she chose Other and wrote in Bi-racial. She was told that she was not allowed to do that and must choose only one race.

Those boxes may seem insignificant, if you fit into one of them, but if you don't, they are not boxes anymore, they are fences.

Ever since Annika was born, I've thought a lot about a boy I knew in high school.

His name was Charles. He was a Bi-racial boy being raised by a single White mother, his father was Mexican. Charles' skin was as white as snow. He had thick black hair, straight as a board. He did not speak with an accent in class. But when surrounded by his Spanish friends, he laid it on thick, using Spanish slang and affecting an accent. Even back then, I knew this kid wasn't confused. He was ashamed. I could see it in his eyes. He was defensive about anyone calling him White. He was damn proud of being a Mexican and he did all he could to make sure everyone knew he was proud of his heritage.

The only problem was, it was only part of his heritage.

I used to wonder how it made his mother feel that he was so ashamed of his White half, especially since she was the one raising him, alone. He was forced to choose. For whatever reason, he felt that his Latin roots were the better choice.

I don't see why anyone has to choose. That's not a choice I want Annika to have to make. That's like asking someone to choose between an arm or a leg. It's like asking someone to choose air or water.

It's asking someone to choose, mother or father.

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