Inspired by a True Story – Part 2

Check out Inspired by a True Story – Part 1 first.

For 30 years, I have felt the constant pressure to answer these questions, to push forward the truth that others want to hear to help appease them and allow them to attach a label to me. Often, I feel ashamed and saddened that I have defined myself, a complex individual, in a one-sentence personal tag-line that purports to represent me in my entirety. And although, I have always felt conflicted it has only been since, 9/11 that I have been thinking more and more about this “labeling,” this “identification” and I have been wondering, perhaps I am doing all a disservice by answering these questions. I have started spending more time reflecting on my life and the indulgence of these ‘ignorance lessons’ I have given over the years. My reflection has been growing more intense, as I consider the prospective of starting a family. The constant categorization that so seems to be a part of American culture, more so than other places has warped my mind. I am never quite at peace inside this shell. I flash to my earliest memory when I truly knew I was different but I wasn’t able yet to determine why. I recall coming home excited to tell mom that I had figured it out! I knew what I was…”Mommy,” my six-year old voice squeaked “I figured out what I am!”

My mother with the softest brown eyes, who awkwardly looked down at me says, “What do you mean, you’ve figured out what you are?”

“I’m an Indian!” I shout with enthusiasm. “I saw a picture in a book today that showed an Indian with a pilgrim and it looked just like me. The same color skin, the same braids. That’s what I am, an Indian.”

You see, I think I have it all sorted out. I am just beginning to understand the concept of God and the aspect that he creates all life. And the babies he creates come out as all kinds of colors with all kinds of looks. I know nothing about genetics, so this is how I compensate to help me fit in. At six I realize I need answers because the questions have started and up to this point I was just saying I was ‘brown” and assuming that was satisfactory.

“Your not an Indian,” her remarks shatter the excitement that was brewing in my chest.

And before I can ask her more she moves away dismissing this entire conversation and never revisits it again. She never applies labels or tries to categorize me but neither does she attempt to help me with understanding what I am or how I fit. Perhaps this is because of her divorce and my father’s absence throughout my childhood. Truthfully, I am not so sure she could answer the questions that live in me.

When I reminisce about this conversation, it has taken on a more humorous view as the years pass. It does epitomize my quest for answers. It accurately reflects the fact that I still don’t know who I am. I know I am an American but what is that given our need to label one another; African-American, Irish-American, Arab-American…what is it to be just American.

When I think about parenthood it with the eyes of a colored woman, in an interracial marriage. I think about how I will react if I drop them at school and everyone thinks I’m the nanny because we look nothing alike. I understand what it is like to be judged based on your surface appearance. I’ve been mistaken for so many different ethnic groups (Spanish, Brazilian, Indian, Native American, Lebanese…the list goes on) that I used to feel embarrassed and frustrated, now I find it flattering. That I, so resemble so many ethnic groups that for the most part are reaching out for a fellow countrymen, a connection. This camaraderie that seems to resonate with my looks makes me feel good but it doesn’t help to understand my place in America and America can be cruel and ignorant if you are different.

Inspired by a True Story – Part 1

The glass doors slide open and head outside, dragging my blue Samsonite suitcase behind me. Fuel fumes, burning oil and freshly laid mulch, flood the air and I nearly gag. I grasp the door handle to reveal well-worn tan seats. The cabbie’s head jerks to see if I need assistance with my bags. I smile and nod nonverbally indicating that ‘I’ve got it.’ Neither heavy nor light, the suitcase is unwieldy as I drag it into the car. As I slide across the leather seat, I tell the driver where I need to go. We pull away from the terminal and I see the sun cascading across the rim of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. The sky is brilliant, white cotton balls abound surrounded by a translucent blue sea. Denver International Airport is the largest airport in the world, located on a parcel of land twice the size of Manhattan. The road to and from the airport gives the impression that we are miles from a city or suburb with the treeless plains laid out in front of us. I love this airport, especially the trains that take you to and from your terminal, and the beautiful mountains that preside over your arrival or departure.

The driver begins navigating the familiar path and I settle into my seat with these images dancing in head. A quick flash to the front window and the center mirror quickly destroys any thought I might have of making the trip in quiet. The driver is dressed in a simple cotton shirt, with dark olive khakis. His skin is the color of dark red clay and his hair is silky black, but so short I can see his scalp. With his left arm folded long the open window and his right draped across the steering wheel, he asks me whether I am visiting. I nod.

“Have you been here before?” he says as his face gazes into the mirror.

“Yes, I use to live here?”

“Where are you from?”

“Washington, D.C.” At this he turns his head to make eye contact with me and then quickly returns his attention to the road. Still trying to ascertain what my looks refuse to divulge. “Is that where you were born?” his tone is more perplexed and he is not quite confident in his query.

“No, in Ohio.”

“O.” I have never played chess, but the pauses that come between this question and the next always give me the impression of strategic planning for the next move. “Where are your parents from?”

A chuckle almost leaps from my throat and a broad smile creases my face. Fortunately, I keep my composure. It is always fascinating to see the various ways the questions are introduced, the desire, need to know ‘What the HELL are you?’ I have been asked so many times that I feel like hanging a shingle around my neck, it has to be easier? “They are from the Midwest too.“

And before I have a moment to pause he asks, “So, what is your background? Ethnically?” The questions linger on the interrogator’s lips. It has taken many years for me to come to accept this brutish intrusion. I would never think to ask someone “what they are?’ upon first introductions, let alone in even less formal settings. But I am use to it now, and at my most creative I work my magic, I invent.

(For more background read: The Impostor post.)

Impostor

I recently read a very good blog post over at The After Party about perceptions surrounding race. Particularly how we can jump to conclusions about situations and how it isn’t always the people you expect to be making those assumptions. I could relate to much of what was written, I’ve had similar experiences. The post did get me to start thinking though about how sometimes I seem to feel as though I am an impostor. I have always struggled with fitting in and what that means and how that impacts my life. I am going to say something and I hope you the internet folks don’t hate me…sometimes I feel a fool for not having more of a black experience growing up.

Now before you start pouncing, let me try and explain. My mom the eldest of 9, grew up in the midwest. Her family was on and off welfare (a fact I didn’t know until I was in my 20’s), she attended catholic school from 1st-12th grade and went into the military when she turned 18. She is a stern, non-nonsense black woman. She doesn’t believe in ghetto slang (her words) doesn’t even understand where it came from because it wasn’t there when she grew up. (I’m sure the priests and nuns were keeping it real.) And my mom is not real talkative about her childhood I am left only with the impression that it was bad. Although, I spent a lot of time with my aunts, uncles and cousins I was very sheltered I believe from family drama. My mom had a falling out with her family when I was 8 so I was pretty much cut off from her side. My dad’s side was very involved in my pre-teen years and my grandmother was a constant support until her passing in my late 20’s. My schools (public) were in an upper middle class neighborhood that was predominantly all white. I didn’t really have a black friend until I was in junior high.

This was right around the time we moved to D.C. I was swiftly put into catholic school (my first private/religious school). The school was predominantly all black. This was a huge culture shock to me. The kids constantly asked me why I talked white, and it was the first time I felt racism I am embarrassed to admit. Constant taunts about my skin, speech and hair. I excelled academically and this certainly was cause for more conflict in a small 8th grade class. High school included a small D.C. private school and then boarding school. I had 1 or 2 black friends but they were in the minority. This continued until college…my best friend was a black gal from Newark. She and I stayed close for some years but drifted apart after I left school early to come home and work and go to school at night.

I get along with all sorts of folks, I am not a HATER but the few close friends I have are predominantly white. Just how it has worked out.

So what am I trying to say? I don’t always get the in jokes of things or the negative jokes either (I was accused being a racist because I laughed at an email joke involving rabbits, how the hell was I suppose to know that was code for black people?), I am not up on the latest music, this is genre irrelevant…I just don’t have the time and usually if the library don’t have it…well that means I am outta luck. It also means I feel a bit of an impostor trying to impose my comments on issues I haven’t experienced…don’t get me wrong, I generally have an opinion but I keep them to myself (being told you trying to be white and denying your black self has gotten so old for me).

I have a few posts I wrote a while back in an attempt to release some of my own frustrations and explain in a writing workshop my own personal experiences to some folks who were trying to pass judgments. I hope these give more insights into my personal experience as they relate to race and how it has played into shaping who I am. I will post them over the next few days. My experience isn’t the same as yours but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand and listen, frankly I don’t think there is just 1 experience anyway. After living across the U.S. and traveling internationally, I realized how unique we are our own microcosm of experiences and God I love that. And I hope you do too.

Prez Condi?

I keep reading and hearing buzz about Condi running in the next presidential race. There seems more talk about her as VP but I am sure nothing is set in stone. So, what are your thoughts about her? What about Mrs. New York? I hear she is putting her hat in the ring as the next leader as well.

I have to say I am quite inspired, not the candidates per se, but the idea that there may actually be a woman is these long male-led positions.

I am the first to admit that I am liberal and somewhat a bleeding heart. Yet, I am not registered with any particular party. I believe we need to focus more education, public health and humanitarian efforts. I would like to see a candidate who will offer real solutions to our internal problems. I don’t vote party lines, I vote for an individual whose idealogies are the same or close to my own.

At this moment, I know for sure I wouldn’t choose Condi. There is just something about her…I can’t get behind. I can’t even say I would vote for Hilary, I would need to know more about her goals. The last election I had hoped that McCain and Dean would hook-up. I know crazy! But they seem to portray honesty and realism, something that seems so lacking in this city. I always think how great it would be to have a mixed Pres & VP.

Do I feel guilty for not selecting the black or female candidate? No. Is having a female or minority candidate something that could influence my decision? Absolutely. I can never escape what I am…a woman, a minority and an American. Thank God I am afforded the freedom to exercise my choices.

Black/White Documentary

Saw this today. I would be interested in seeing this just to see how the experiences differ. I will try to remember about it in March…at least to check out the previews. It may turn out to be unwatchable before it even premieres. In all honesty though I don’t spend a lot of time imagining how others lives would be transformed if they stood in someone else’s shoes. I am more interested in listening directly to others experiences and keeping those fresh in my mind. Recognizing that everyone is different and that everyone has something that may expand my viewpoint.

Interesting Site on Race

I came across the following link the other day. Please check this out, particularly this. I did the sorting of the people and I sucked. I was able to accurately select less than half, in fact I only selected a third correctly. Just goes to prove that I am just as bad at labeling people based on how they look.

Trying to Understand

Last week we happened to be flicking as you do and paused for a moment on Primetime. I can’t recall now what made Bozoboy stop but as it happened the segment they were introducing was about 2 13-yr old twins, who sing songs with racial epitaphs and develop lyrics to recruit others for their white cause. The also play a video game where the sole objective is to kill blacks.

Looking back now, I am upset with myself that I even bothered to watch it. For some reason when these types of programs are on I am can’t seem to turn them off…I guess I am looking for the why? I have one friend who calls any programming like this propaganda and refuses to watch, even under the guess of a news program. I find all these shows upsetting of course, but this one was particularly disturbing. To see such young children embodying the asinine ideologies passed down by their parents. I can only guess that their exposure to a diversified society has been limited. One segment had the girls creating packages for the survivors of Katrina but to only be distributed to whites affected. As it turned out the packages were never distributed they ended up in a store that caters to people of similar persuasion because even the whites didn’t want to accept the packages simply because they were white.

I find it laughable that one of the main tenant’s for these people is to maintain their “white purity.” They are living under some massive delusion if they seriously believe that they are truly white and have NO mixed blood. These are what I like to call crazy thoughts.

Race is more on my mind these days, with the episodes and outcomes of Hurricane Katrina, William Bennett’s comments about aborting black babies to reduce crime, the beating of the man in New Orleans, and of late even celebrities get it wrong, the Joan Rivers/Darcus Howe spat.

To some extent, I do believe that some of us need to let the pain go and some of us need to stop inflicting the pain. Beyond just race, discrimination is something that should never be felt by another, whether it be religious, gender or sexual preference. I know that I am not a perfect …but I also, don’t go around judging others based solely on this surface information. And that is not say that I don’t pass judgment…I see families in the grocery store completely unable to control their wild children. I judge, under my breath, but I also give the benefit of the doubt and have never gone rushing up to the parents’ and say what horrible monsters you have, you suck as parents; because everyone has a bad day now and again. But I am not the type of person who would discriminate against someone.

I keep thinking about the future, my future and what that will mean when/if we have a baby. What will that child look like…how will the world view them…will they be accepted? Of course, these are normal questions to contemplate when thinking about parenthood, but I think of them with the eyes of a colored woman, in an interracial marriage. I think about how I will react if I drop them at school and everyone thinks I’m the nanny because we look nothing alike.

America is a cruel and ignorant place if you are a minority…the country is unforgiving, like a dog with a bone. This was never better demonstrated to me then after 9/11, with the enhanced racial profiling we had sunk too. The sad fact is that people mistake your outward appearance for something you may not even be. It is hard for minorities to fit in, to find our place, especially if we are strangers in a new country but even for those of us who have been here for generations. It’s funny that most of my racial encounter have been from other blacks…saying I am not black enough, the definition of which still eludes me. It is not easy trying to find your place, understand how you fit, it is hard work and in most ways I have given up. I don’t try to be something that I am not, particularly to satisfy someone who wasn’t interested in knowing the layers below my skin. Race is a dilemma that I know I will not solve. It is based often on the perceptions and preconceived ideas of others, their assumptions and the need to label or classify.

I find small consolation, when then I look around at other societies I had assumed were handling their issues of race better than us and realize that we are in some ways better off than other countries. Real Sports recently had a story about Europe’s struggle with discrimination of black soccer players. Some of the videos they showed of the fans throwing bananas and making monkey calls is hard for me to imagine. I would be astonished to ever see something like that here. These scenes brought back clips I had seen the initial sportsmen in this country who helped break the color barrier and the experiences they had. It is hard to imagine these barriers are still being broken in 2005, anywhere.

As time passes, I find myself thinking about a time far from now, when I am gone and my children and maybe even their children are gone. I think of the face, the face of what lies ahead? I think what will the world be like if we were the same racially? What if we all had medium tanned skin? Would we still hate so much? We would then covet or resent one another’s eye color, hair? What would be next? Ultimately, my fantasy loses it’s luster because I am forced to reconcile the daily acts of hatred I see and concede that it may never end and o how sad to admit that. So, for now I hold onto my little world. My own small fantasy where I feel a part of the diversification process…not just in changing the face of the world with children but with my daily interactions with people in my life and those I invite to be regardless of what’s on outside. I am anomaly. I don’t fit any molds and a label hasn’t been created yet to encapsulate everything I am.

And yet in the face of such doubt, I continue to hope and dream.

So, where are u from?

You know I recently read about (in 2 separate articles) a project that National Geographic is conducting. The project is called “Footsteps of my Ancestors.” The premise of the research study is to trace DNA to specific regional areas to help determine who your original ancestors were. Having a varied and mixed background this sounded so neat to me. I had visions of seeing my ancestors mapped out on the globe. Proudly looking on as I traced the generations before. My aspirations were dashed when I checked the price! $100! Come on, give a working girl a break, my purse only holds coins.

I am a frugal spender. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy buying stuff just like the next person. BUT I am an Actively Neurotic Analytical Lunatic. This means I like being in control of just about everything. I am a total planner. Spontaneity is not a part of my vocabulary. I will scour the net for the best deal, which includes me searching on 50+ websites searching for the best (insert any consumer product here) deal. I will even create spreadsheets to document where I found the deals (I know what you are thinking, just remember at least I know I’m Crazy).

Anyway, I don’t think of myself as cheap but I do take every purchase seriously. Spending $100 to participate in this test just seems excessive (picture whining and long face). I would love to find out how my genes ended up here but that goes on the “when we win the lotto” list.

I don’t know why this is annoying me. I suppose I just saw another home kit that allows you to have your mercury levels tested. That was only $25, that’s 1 dinner out, for 2! I bet your wondering though why this even caught my eye? Well I have been a vegetarian for about 15 years and about 5 years ago my doctor suggested I start eating fish again…so now I eat A LOT of fish. I spend a lot of effort trying to take care of myself…and as I move towards thoughts about having starting a family, I have been thinking more about the levels of mercury that could be swirling around in my blood.

So after pondering this for a bit, I think the best I can do for now is to send off for the mercury test. Who knows maybe I will decide that satisfaction of knowing more about my ancestors and how they have shaped who I am in even the smallest subtleties will mean more then the money I pay. I mean come on who am I kidding I can easily spend $100 in Whole Foods on tomatoes and nuts.

Hiya

Gosh, nothing more I like than dominating a conversation to thrust my thoughts on everyone else and yet, there is nothing I hate more then describing myself. Why? Because I don’t I fit any traditional labels. In the short, I am a biracial woman, married to a caring (and crazy) Englishman. We currently live in the Washington D.C. metro area. But I AM so much more then that! The long of the story is in fact that my mother is African-American with some Cree & Cherokee Indian and Irish mixed in. My father is German-American, with some English introduced by way of my grandmother.

O I bet you think this is all rather boring, I mean aren’t we all a little mixed up? Isn’t all of our DNA blended from the generations before. I agree completely (me nodding) but I wonder how many of you are stopped on the street, asked something in a strange language with the complete assumption that you speak said mother tongue? Only to have to say back that you are not culturally enlightened because you only speak English and haven’t a clue what they are saying (all the while smiling, painfully).

I am *EASILY* mistaken for so many different ethnic groups that I used to feel embarrassed and frustrated, now I find it flattering. I have been asked if I am:
Spanish
Aboriginal (although I think the guy was just trying to hit on me)
Black
Mexican
Brazilian
Indian
Native American
Middle Eastern (Iran, Libya)
French
Pilipino/Asian (another one I am suspect about)

I have just entered my 30’s and for some reason this has brought so much to my life. Stability, home ownership and thoughts about what’s next? Lately, I find my mind wondering towards thoughts of parenthood and if this doesn’t seem like a big deal, well it so is for us. After nearly 9 years of marriage this is a huge transition. BUT you will soon realize that I am not a rusher, I am a planner and just because we are talking about it doesn’t mean it will happen anytime soon. As a result, I decided to start this blog to express these and other constant ramblings in my head. I like discussing politics, even though I am terrible at it and my mother always said not too. Ditto for religion (but I am better at expressing my wacky thoughts on this topic (at least I think so). But I am most interested in people, particularly the relationships we develop, the connections we make and the opinions we form. I have spent a lot of time thinking about my background and what it means; to me, to others and so on. I have a large circle of ethnically and culturally rich friends. I suppose I look at the blog as a way for me to express the things I never seem to be able to say out loud. A way to connect with others whom I can learn from and I hope can learn from me. And to realize that underneath the skin, we really have so few differences.

If I do or say anything that you think is offensive (not just stupid, because I can say a lot of silly things), please bear in mind it is not my intention to offend you. All I can say is I make mistakes too. So, please be nice and I hope you enjoy this slice of my life.

So, let the sharing begin!