“Hey Elon! So are you gonna be White today? Or are you going to be Black today?” Sometimes, you hear things, and never forget them; that’s how I feel about that question. That question coming from a classmate that was darker than me—more obviously Black. That question quite perfectly sums up my growing up biracial.
I know that I am White. As. F*ck. I like to call myself Diet Black, Incognegro, or Lite Brite Skin. Just look at the picture below of my sister, Emma (left), and I.
So, yeah, it’s no mystery as to how people don’t exactly know I’m Black at first glance. Exchanges where people ask “What are you” usually go like this:
“So, what are you?”
“I’m half Black.”
“But you don’t—”
Up until about 8 years ago being Black was not a part of my ultimate identity. In 7th Grade, people found out I was half Black, and to my surprise, they didn’t believe me. Soon, everyone was calling me the “wannabe Black girl.” An awful time then, is what I now understand to be not only an essential part of my growing up, but an experience that a lot of biracial people have been through. I began to wonder though, with features that are of a Black woman, and passing as White, could my life be what people refer to today as “modern day blackface?” Is my life actually just me, half-ass-ing Black culture?
As I approach my 20’s, I’m more comfortable in my Blackness (and my “Whiteness,” if that’s even a thing). I have a solid group of Black friends that keep my self-esteem afloat by further confirming my race, regardless of my outward appearance. But now, more than ever, I am questioning my place in society as mixed. I’m a White-passing American, with a Black perspective. In the conversations revolving around being Black in America, police brutality, and Black Lives Matter, I am constantly admitting my White privilege, while still trying to engage in the dialogues. All the while understanding that race is a social construct, I can only hope that the way I look wouldn’t be a problem, yet somehow, it always is. Many mixed people will know what I mean when I say that I’m “too Black” for White people, and “too White” for Black people. I don’t know where I belong; I don’t expect to ever really know where I belong in these conversations. I also know that I’m most likely never going to be the voice for Black people in a white dominated conversation, but some White people will still ask for my perspective. I know that if you are not Black, you shouldn’t be criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, simply because you don’t know their struggle, but am I allowed to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement? Hell, am I even allowed to say nigga?
My lineage says that I am the oppressor, and the oppressed, so when talking about the struggles of Black people in America, I shy away from using “we,” rather I say “they” because I know that most of what I speak upon I will never experience. I cannot even consider myself oppressed because I have never faced any true form of oppression, and probably never will. White privilege is the “get out of jail free card” that I get to pull out whenever, and I can understand how those that have it, would never want to dismantle it. This sh*t is GREAT, but I also understand how it harms POC, and why it has to go. But where is my place in the movement? Should I be in the front with fellow White people, helping to create a human shield around Black protestors, or should I just sit back and not say anything? Because I know that at the end of the day this fight is not for me.
At this point in time, July of 2016 to be exact, Black people have worked tirelessly to march, protest, and stand up against injustices done upon them. Yet, they are still stuck between a rock and a hard place. To get to where we want to be in America, in terms of a happy place, free of racism and injustice, White and White passing people will really have to step up, since they are the ones benefitting the most. To explain it to a fifth-grader, the people at the top should work hard to help people at the bottom, so we can all eventually be on the same level. For now, I can use my White privilege to intrude dominantly White spaces, and provide perspective to White people about the greater Black experience. Benefiting from both colorism and light skin privilege, some people are going to be more receptive to my blue eyes, fair skin, and European features. I can use them almost as some sort of weapon in the fight for racial equality. I am learning about the perks that being incognegro can provide, especially while talking to close minded people. For now, the best I can do is just keep speaking up, while consistently recognizing the benefits I have in a still racist, post-slavery society.
All photos © Elon Gunning