I’m a 21 year old college student. I’ve lived in good old Massachusetts my whole life. I’m currently studying psychology at Clark University and getting ready to fry my brain at law school.What is your ethnic background?
On my mother’s side, I’m French and Portuguese. On my father’s side, I’m Jamaican.
Do you look more like one ethnicity than the other?
I always get mixed responses. Some people tell me that they’d never guess that I’m half black–- some people outright deny it, actually. Others would tell me that it’s obvious that I’m black. I have black physical features: a wide nose, big lips, almond-shaped eyes, and wild kinky hair. I have very light skin, though– darker than most Caucasian people, but much lighter than most black people. Personally, I think that I LOOK mixed and that both races are clearly represented. If I had to choose, though, I’d say that I look more black, if only for the hair.
How frequently do people ask you about your ethnic background? How do you feel when they ask you about it?
I used to get asked about it all the time when I was a kid. People are less curious now. I’m flattered by those who are really interested. I used to like talking about it because people usually thought it was really cool that I was mixed and exotic. I still feel this way. I usually feel a little guilty that I don’t have more information or interesting stories to tell, though.
I think we’ve all read about bi-racial people who feel they don’t fit in with either culture (or race) that they’re from. Has that been true for you?
Oh yeah. Definitely. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in Massachusetts, so all of my friends were Caucasian. Even amongst my closest friends, there was still this “we-they” notion about them. I was accepted by them, but there was still the innate difference that they couldn’t get past (which is even more stupid when you remember that half of these people didn’t even realize I was black until I TOLD them I was). On the other side, when I started college, I joined the Black Student Union. Here I had the opposite problem. They were all extremely warm and welcoming, but I just felt that black pop culture was so lost on me (from growing up with white kids) that I was really distant and just couldn’t relate on a lot of things.
Your situation is a bit unique because you were adopted by a white family. Do you think that made things easier or harder for you?
I was adopted three days after I was born. Having white parents complicated a lot of things. They never really tried to promote the growth of our racial identities. Did I mention that I have an older brother? He’s adopted, too. Half Mexican, half Blackfoot Native American, all fabulous. My parents weren’t bad– I just don’t think they thought of how important teaching us about our ethnicity really was. It’s strange because it’s something that (I’m sure) my brother and I had to face in social interactions every day, but at home, it was almost never mentioned.
Many sociologists believe that race is a social construct. How do you feel about that? Have you made an active effort to connect to your Jamaican roots?
While I think that it’s plain as day that I look more like one group of people than another group of people, I think that the differences end there. Basically, my thought is that, sure we may be appear to be different, but we’re really more similar. I’d have to agree with the sociologists, because if you look at the qualitative and quantitative research, you’ll find that all of the things that make races “different” are artificial in some way or another. Educational differences, income differences, professional differences, dietary differences, and the list goes on. Sure, black people tend to be more lactose intolerant than white people, but are we going to really argue that there are fundamental biological and physiological differences between us that make us drastically different? I hope not.
Have I attempted to connect to my Jamaican roots? No. My parents don’t have any information pertaining to my birth father, and I feel like studying Jamaican history and culture, while enriching, wouldn’t really reflect my personal history.
What advice would you give to someone who’s bi- (or multi) racial who’s struggling with their identity?
Don’t waste time agonizing about who to identify with. You’re a mix. You’ll always be mixed. You can’t change it. But that’s what’s beautiful about you. You represent a blend of different cultures, and you blend so perfectly because it’s natural. You’re seamless. Also, don’t quantify the mix. It doesn’t matter if you’re 50% this or 75% that or 25% the other– EVERY component is crucial. You are the best of EACH world.