I meant to add this yesterday. In poking around at the Census data, I found that I have my own subcategory!
I feel all properly raced, now that I have a category. Look at us! A decade ago our numbers were so low that they (statistically) rounded to 0. But now we are 0.1%!! Statistically significant! Congrats everybody!
When I was growing up, I didn’t have a nifty multiracial category. I’d have to pick one race. How do you pick one–especially with the social consequences that (still) loom over the choice? When I did pick one, I was often told I picked incorrectly. As ridiculous as it sounds, other people had different rationales as to which race I should pick. The one time I lived in Florida, the woman at the DMV offered to register me to vote as I was acquiring my Florida license. I agreed, and she told me I’d get my new voter card in the mail. When it arrived I found out I was white and Republican. Fascinating!
(I do pass for white. My category makes for a genetic cornucopia of skin tones, hair types, and eye colors, as my similarly-raced cousins can attest. Some of us pass for white, some don’t.)
On that note, my biggest “pick a race” time was when I went off to college. Stanford had clubs for minorities, and I was encouraged to join them. I did join SAIO–the Stanford American Indian Organization. At the time I was literally a card-carrying Narragansett Indian, so that felt like a reasonable choice (yes, “at the time” implies “but not now”–my tribe revoked my membership when they culled the tribal rolls so they wouldn’t have to split the nonexistent casino profits more ways). Even with documentation and the kindness of the SAIO community, I still felt uncomfortable, because I do look white. I have the choice to disclose my multiracial status–or not.
That is the reason that I never sought out the Black Community organizations at Stanford. While it’s likely the community members would have been kind–people generally are when you get to know them as individuals–I felt like I would have been an interloper. I still do. I won’t ever have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be Black in America. I can ask my dad and his side of our family, of course. And I will, and I want to. It’s my heritage, but because race in America is defined as “other,” it’s not my culture. I am not other.
But I’m not really the same, either. I have a couple of white friends who, when learning that I am considerably less white than I seem (I’m more or less half), have confided in me that they are scared of Black people. I never treat these confessions lightly. There is an undercurrent of shame and relief that is not being directly communicated during these conversations but I can feel both buzzing in the air. Of course I don’t know exactly what to say–my dad looks black and my mom looks white and I love them both. If I’m scared of someone, it’s because I feel threatened by their actions or words, not their skin color. Perhaps they think that I am wiser than I truly am, that because I come from many heritages that I somehow instinctively understand the nuances of all of them. The truth is that I don’t feel like I belong to any racial culture. The best I can do is take each individual for who they are and accept them for that.
In any case, I am feeling like now is the time for me to start exploring the Black side of my heritage. If I can make a difference in the effed up conversation about race, even for just a few people, then it will have been worth it.