Many people feel the need to write about the “black experience” in America and how challenging that can be. The “white experience” is already touched upon in history textbooks and most all of pop culture. But an uncommon topic to hear about is the “biracial experience”. I want to focus on assumptions, or a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen; without proof. I feel that I am obligated to finally voice my story and my opinion so that other biracial children, like me, do not feel so alone in this world where almost everyone is able to check that one race box on standardized tests and various applications.
I grew up the second daughter of a Black mother and Jewish father. I have an older sister that looks a lot like me if you get past skin color. She has a beautiful olive complexion and dark hair, while I have very pale skin and freckles with red hair. When I was born, my paternal grandmother said to my mom, “Did you ever think you’d have a WHITE child?” not even taking into account that I had the same genetic makeup as my “darker”, apparently more “black” looking sister. Even the people that are supposed to be closest to you do not understand that their comments and two cents can be hurtful and potentially detrimental. When racist jokes are said in my presence or about me, I usually have to remind people that Black and Jewish jokes, no matter how funny they think they might be, are incredibly offensive. I prefer to not think of this world in black and white, but rather from every angle, keeping in mind how certain questions or comments may affect others.
Growing up, not looking like my sister or my mom was hard for me because I constantly wanted teachers to mistake me for my sister or at least refer to me as “Alexxa’s little sister” or know whose mom mine was at school open houses. No one ever believes we are related let alone biological sisters. She is the spitting image of my mom and I look like my dad. I grew up constantly being called “little Dan” when all I really wanted was for someone to tell me I looked like my mom, a woman I saw as the most beautiful woman in the world. I thought I was ugly and undesirable because I didn’t look like any of the women in my immediate family. I’ve come to accept myself as beautiful and the fact that my sister and I are uniquely different, yet extraordinarily similar. I was always told I was biracial. I knew my mother was Black and my father was White, but I didn’t know exactly what that made me. Before I understood what all this meant, I drew myself with a gray crayon because all I knew was black and white made gray. It was only until my mom bought be a pack of skin color crayons that I was faced with the reality that I had absolutely no idea what I was.
I never really had a problem growing up a biracial child, mainly because I never knew anything different. I knew I had a loving family that would do anything to keep me happy. I knew my sister and I came from a long line of strong women. I knew my parents only wanted what was best for us. I thought I was just like any other kid, but when I started school, things got a little sticky. I went to school with the same people for 8 years (and some through high school) in an upper middle class, mostly white school, and only had to explain my family “situation” in first grade. It later turned into my classmates telling the new kid every year I was half black like it was some sort of game. They enjoyed seeing their doubtful expressions and making me explain and show them my mom in carpool line. When I went to high school, the cycle began again with a new crop of people. When I point her out to people, I would either get, “You’re adopted?” or, “Oh, so is your family like the Brady Bunch?”. I would pull out my phone and show them family pictures like I had to prove myself to them. And I would have to explain “Yes, that’s my REAL mom”. The explanations began again in college, but I found people to be much more accepting because they were all from different walks of life and different backgrounds.
All my childhood and even to this day, when I go places with my mom, people assume she’s my nanny or friend. Just to get a rise out of people, I call my mom “Mommy” in public to see what they will do. I love the shocked faces I receive because it just validates for me that there are still some very unaccepting people in the world and I want to do everything in my power to change that. When I was a toddler, a woman in the grocery store accused my mother of kidnapping me because I was throwing a temper tantrum in the cereal aisle and went and got the store manager. People make assumptions based on the color of one’s skin without taking into account how the others involved might react. Beyond skin color, my mom and I look similar; I have some of her facial features and we definitely make the same facial expressions. A man working the register at a movie theater refused to sell my mother a ticket for me because he did not believe she was my biological mother. His response to her was, “Legal guardian does not count”. The most fulfilling and gratifying moment of my life was when my mom, sister, and I were in New York at a bookstore and the young man working behind the counter looked at me and said, “That is your mom and your sister, isn’t it?” This unexpected comment from a complete stranger brought me to tears because I felt like I was finally recognized as a part of the family God gave me.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to see the world through my mother’s eyes. I see the prejudice she has to face everyday just because of the color of her skin, even if it is just a look exchanged with someone. These people do not even know what a great woman she is. They make assumptions about her level of education, assuming she in uneducated and therefore uninformed. I’m sure her life and people judging is even harder having a “white looking” child. Sometimes I wish we could trade places so she would not have to deal with this prejudice. I realize this is not possible, so I choose to just support her and not draw attention to the people seeing us as outsiders and outcasts. This is hard for me though because I become really tense and I want to say something to them, but I know it would only make the situation worse. Needless to say, it is a lose-lose situation resulting only in inexplicable emotions and a heavy heart.
Although I’d like to think I have the world figured out and everything is peachy, I am struck everyday by just how little I actually know about life itself. I don’t understand why people have such staunch, hateful views about people outside of their race or comfort zone. I don’t understand why even people of my generation and my mother’s generation still have these backward views. I don’t understand why people think they can say anything they want without any repercussions. I don’t understand why people have a problem with people from two different races getting married and having children. We are all human after all, aren’t we? I don’t understand why people think racism is not a big deal and is not alive and well. If anything, by attempting to cover it up is only making the problem worse.
My mother always taught me, “You can think it, but you don’t have to say it.” It is only now that I understand she meant things that did not need to be said, like negative comments about someone. I now understand that she was NOT referring to my feelings of being an outsider or my feelings about backward-thinking individuals that weigh heavy on my heart. She would encourage me to speak my mind if it helped someone else now or in the future. So now is my time to THINK and SAY what I’m feeling! It is time for me to put down the gray crayon and face the fact that I am ME, no color needed.
By Ealoni Friedenthal