You can be both! (And not in the way you might be thinking)

Originally posted on: 2015/01/14

azure_2cfa5f3bb801e7444d781fc922861c0cDr. Maria P. Root’s “Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People” has greatly influenced how many mixed-race folks identify today. One of the things I learned from the Bill was that I had the right to identify however I wanted to, regardless of how my family, friends, society etc thought I should identify. On top of that, I had the right to change my identity as many times as I felt necessary throughout my life. To that point, I have identified as a lot of things during my 30 years on this earth. As a young child who understood nothing about race, growing up completely surrounded by white folks, I thought I was a mutated white person (*cringe*). Once I realized that I was in fact Black at around 8 years old, I was incredibly happy and immediately began to identify that way (or as “Jamaican” again in my limited understanding of race, conflating race & nationality). Named after my grandmother whom I loved dearly, I was so happy to find out that I was Black, just like her. Despite having a white mother, for years I avoided a mixed-race identity, because for the longest time it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel mixed. I felt Black.

In the more recent past, I started learning about folks who identified as both Black AND mixed. Being the very introverted, intentional thinker that I am, I mulled the idea around for a while, and eventually concluded that it was a good fit for me. This is because I still feel Black – but I also access an enormous amount of passing / light-skin privilege, and have almost complete access to white cultural capital in North America as a result of being raised in an almost exclusively white environment. I generally feel quite uncomfortable in white spaces – but I certainly know how to maneuver within them – which is a real privilege that is often overlooked within the mixed-race conversation. For me, my mixed identity acknowledges the fact that for the most part, I do not walk through the world as a woman who is racialized as Black, but instead as racially ambiguous and exotic but “safe”. My Black identity, on the other hand, acknowledges how I feel, as well as my political solidarity with Black identified folks around the world.

The thing that strikes me as odd about this whole thing is that it took almost 20 years for me to come to this identity, even though I “knew” I could choose my own racial identity. To me, choosing meant that I was “allowed” to identify as both Black and white. Black and mixed simply never occurred to me. I share this with you because I found it incredibly freeing to know that I didn’t have to choose between Black and mixed. Without stating the obvious, this means you don’t have to decide between Black and mixed either; or Indigenous and mixed; or Asian and mixed; or Indigenous, Black and mixed; or whichever identities feel right for you. I realize that this isn’t totally groundbreaking, but it is a reminder that even when our minds are open, our creativity around our identities can be stifled by social norms.

For what it’s worth, I don’t identify as white, which is in part why I avoided a mixed identity for so long. I do identify as having Irish-Celtic heritage, which is a national and ethnic identity, but not racially white. I will save the history of the construct of whiteness and how much damage it has caused in North America (and worldwide) for another post, however the brief point it want to make is that my identity as a woman of colour is a political one, and one that is in direct opposition to the construct of whiteness. I’ll leave you with a quote from “But don’t Call me White: Mixed Race Women Exposing Nuances of Privileges and Oppression Politics” by Silvia Cristina Bettez:

Our existence in not meant to annihilate. We simply exist. We should not be forced into a ‘closet’ about white or any other parentage, but we must recognize that our location is as women of colour.

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