“What are you?” As weird as this question may sound, not to mention politically incorrect, it is one that unfortunately follows me wherever I go. Being the smart aleck that I am, my answer usually tends to range from “a human being just like you” or “a very beautiful woman” (my favorite of the two, naturally). Now, of course, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t even have to answer this question, ever. If it were up to me, the question would be asked properly the first go ‘round: “what is your ethnicity?” Then- and only then- I would give a proper response. Apologies if this comes off as snobbish, but after some 20 odd years of hearing and answering this bothersome question, it has become a tad bit exhaustive.
I’m sure you are wondering by now, well, what is she? I am proudly and most blithely of bi-racial descent; 50 percent African American and 50 percent Caucasian. I have big, curly brown hair, caramel skin, and hazel eyes. I have tattoos all over and gauges in my ears. I like to wear combat boots and band t-shirts, and listen to rock music. “You’re so white, Julia,” or “you’re not black, Julia,” others continuously whisper to me. “Black people don’t have gauges and listen to rock.” “How did you end up being so white?”
Ever since I can remember, I looked different than everybody else- my hair was always bushier, my skin always darker, and my body wider. Growing up in the suburbia bubble that is Chesapeake, Virginia, I was constantly surrounded by other girls- white girls. Blonde, skinny and pale. I stood out. I looked different. I felt different. My mother even told me that one year in school, I wasn’t invited to a birthday party because the other girl’s parents “didn’t agree with my parent’s choices.” In other words, they didn’t like the mixing of two races. I was much too young to remember this exact instance, but it has forever stuck with me. For the first time, I realized that people are different colors- and consequently treated as such. It has taken me almost the majority of my time here on Earth to realize that we are all different- and that is okay. We are all beautiful regardless of color, and so am I. I am beautiful just the way I am, not only on the inside, but also on the outside. So why, as a bi-racial woman in America, am I constantly ridiculed because of my identity? Why does it even matter?
Identity is important because that’s how we understand and relate to the world. Even more so, it is how others understand and relate to us. Think about it. How much information can you gather from strictly looking at someone- the way they walk, the way they dress? What about hearing someone speak? Whether or not we like to admit it, we all do it- it’s simply just human nature. We gather information and make assumptions based off of that information. But that’s exactly the issue- they are assumptions. What happens when those assumptions are wrong, biased or skewed? Sure, maybe to others I look like a Latina. I am okay with that realization. In fact, I take it as a compliment. The problem arises when people assume I am supposed to like certain things, speak a certain way, or dress a certain way because of not only my appearance, but my ethnicity. Time and time again, I am referred to as “white” because of certain aspects of my identity. Now, let me make an important point here. There is nothing wrong with being white, nothing wrong with being black, nothing wrong with being polka-dot and purple. I simply aim to claim that we cannot put each other into categories based off of assumptions. If that were the case, every race would walk the same, talk the same and dress the same. I’m not sure about you, but that sounds quite boring to me.
In the end, we are all just products of the environment that we were raised in. I love listening to some good ol’ rock music, like the Beatles or Nirvana. That doesn’t make me anymore “white” or any less “black.” I can’t simply be put into one box or one category. I am a complex human being with a complex racial identity. And guess what? It’s awesome. I feel like I have two cultures that I can call relate to and call home. Nothing makes me more proud than to say that I’m half-white and half-black. As the saying goes, I truly get the best of both worlds. My hope is that society will one day not only accept those of mixed race, but celebrate the beauty that is the unification of multiples races and multiple cultures.
By: Julia Robinson
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