I don’t like being called biracial.
People are confused when I tell them that I’m black. They point to my mother and say “Isn’t this white woman your mother, as much as that black man is your father?” I respond, “She is. And yet, I am black, and I am not white.”
These interrogators (usually white people) are shocked. “How are you any less her? Don’t you love her? How can you throw her aside?” They see my rejection of whiteness as unnatural, and untrue. They think that in foregoing whiteness, I am denying myself.
What they don’t understand is that rejecting biracialism for blackness is the truest and most authentic thing I have ever done. After years of confusion and deep-seated existential angst, I feel that I have found myself.
Growing up, I was taught (by the individuals and institutions around me) that I was something different, that the fact that my mother was white and my father black changed some essential fact about who I was. I thought that I was neither fully my father nor fully my mother. Any child becomes conceptualized and formed as a fusion between two people, a “mix” of their parents. So I was taught that I had my father’s smile and my mother’s taste in music, his Jamaican aesthetics and her Italian palate. And I was taught that I had her whiteness, and his blackness.
This was never explicit, merely understood. I was pushed into a Twilight Zone. The two sides of the world both staked their claim on me. Kids at school asked me if I “could jump.” I told teachers that I wasn’t black. Adults asked my mother if I was adopted. I thought hip hop was “for other people.” I would spend hours in Caribbean hair salons getting my locs retwisted.
In the wake of these divergent experiences, I embraced biracialism, thinking it was the only identity that could sum up my fragmented experience. I refused to call myself black because, I reasoned, my life simply wasn’t black—or at least, not just black.
But as I grew up and into the world, I realized that my “dual citizenship” was missing something. Boys at school would make fun of my locs—my high school made me cut them off because “they didn’t fit dress code.” I heard teachers mock Trayvon Martin, and remind me that “I’m one of the good ones.” I watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and heard the comments of white people scared of shifting tides. “America is falling, because they—the same they that plagues our cities, that murders our children, and spoils our pristine culture—are winning.”
Then someone called me a n***er for the first time.
I learned that being black meant being a n***er, and this was a conception of my body and my space that carried with it massive existential weight. It wasn’t something that could be “mixed.” One can’t be a “half n***er.” One either experiences the weight of the world, or one does not. And I learned that I did.
How, in this world, can one occupy white space and black space in the same body? If I claimed biracialism, if I claimed that I could be one and the other, it seemed that I was denying a fundamental fact of what it is to exist as one or the other. I wanted to be of my mother and my father, but I realized that I could not be both. To live as white is, fundamentally, to live as not-black, and vice versa.
My identity crumbled beneath me. Biracialism was a nonstarter—it rejected the truth of my existence. But I knew I had to take a stand. I knew I couldn’t reside in nothingness, in a vacuum of identity. So I moved forward, into blackness.
My decision to claim blackness was thus personal and political. It is a personal relation and reaction to the political reality of wearing a black skin in this country. But this is not a helpless acceptance, because with trauma and pain come hope and redemption. I embrace blackness, hungrily and without compromise. I understand now that I can only hope to build myself up by resting on solid ground. My blackness is more than my body. It is my glory, it is my embrace of all that makes my community what it is—the generational trauma and the cultural beauty. I embrace blackness because I am nothing without it, for better or worse.
I do not mean by this to command all people identifying as biracial to abandon their identity; I simply mean to outline my own unique experience. And I do not mean to deny my own personal history. I do not abandon my mother and her influence on me by embracing blackness. I am my mother’s son, and I am beyond proud to be so. But we both know that I will never be her, and she will never be me. I will not run from that. I will embrace it. And thus I will move forward.
Nicholas P. Whittaker ’19 is a Philosophy concentrator living in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.