Whatever’s On My Mind Wednesday- Racial identity

Growing up as a mixed child I recall often feeling left out. I didn’t really know where I fit in and racial identity was a big mystery to me. I grew up as an Air Force brat and was lucky to grow up in a very culturally diverse atmosphere until we stopped moving around when I was 14.

In my early years (before I was 9 or 10) I didn’t see people in color nor did I realize that people identified you by color. Obviously I knew that there were different skin tones but to me that is all that it was. All of that changed when we moved to the states for the first time after growing up overseas. Overseas I went to school on a military base and my class was sprinkled with all colors of the skin tone rainbow and my class mates’s parents were from all over the world. Then we moved to South Dakota…diversity wasn’t exactly the specialty.

It was at this point that I became very aware that I didn’t look like everyone else. My hair was dark and curly, my skin was caramel, my dad black and my mom European. I didn’t go to school on base but 90-95% of the students were children active duty or retired Air Force. While my class mates were born all over the world, the majority were fair skinned, blond hair, and blue eyed. I was shocked. I felt out of place at first. I adjusted but it made for some awkward years.

Every time my parents filled out a form- at the doctor’s office, to register me for school, sign me up for sports, there were a series of boxes to be checked. Race. I had never seen that before in my life. What did that matter? Would my medical exam be different? Was I going to get a different teacher? Would I be on a different team?  I’m not saying there had never been a form that asked for this, I’m sure at some point there was paperwork that asked this but I just was never aware of it until then because from that point on, pretty much every document that was filled out about me asked that a box be checked.

What is the point of it? Overseas documentation seldom requires more than your name, date of birth and ID number. Depending on what it is for you might need to specify if you are a European citizen or non-citizen but beyond that, race is never mentioned. Back to the point, I remember feeling out of place. I suddenly wanted to start straightening my hair, none of my friends had curly hair. I had mainly white friends at school and mainly black friends at church. I definitely wasn’t considered “black” but it was always hard for people to put their finger on it. People always thought I was Puerto Rican, Cuban, Venezuelan, they were close, obviously what they saw was the mixture of European and black. I just didn’t look like what they pictured a mixed race person to look like- black but with a lighter skin tone.

I got a lot of flack growing up (around the time I started high school I got a few comments behind my back about being the type of girl you have a good time with but don’t date- no don’t let your mind go there, I was still innocent back then) but mainly from the black community. I wasn’t black enough- not just skin tone but features and most of all hair. My hair is more Caucasian in texture, loose in curl, and long in length. Black girls hated me without knowing me, it almost always came down to having “good hair”.  By the time I started dating, I would get dirty looks, and snide comments about another brother dating a white girl. I always felt that I had something to prove or that I needed a card to validate that I  was part of the club.

I’m not sure when the shift came but I think it was once I met my husband and we started dating and eventually over the years it mattered less to me. My husband is of Mexican decent and being with him made the racial identity matter less. Of course at that point people assumed I was Mexican as well but it didn’t matter. Culturally we had a lot in common and Hispanic and Latinos come in many colors so I found myself operating a a world that was shades of brown instead of black and white. We spoke the same two languages, my skin tone and features were common and my hair was accepted and normal.

Growing up I found it difficult to feel accepted racially. These days I don’t give race much thought. It comes up in the news, and I know from experience that racial tension and racism is as prevalent as it has ever been but I don’t feel this need to be accepted by any group nor does my race identify me. Living in Europe I’m not filling out forms that ask me to check a box, specifying that I can only choose one or I’ll have to choose “other” by default. I identify myself as a person, a member of the human race and I don’t know what the point is of filling in the box because I am more than just the color of my skin or the region that my ancestors are from.

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