We live in an era where people are constantly trying to define themselves, or rather they’re trying to define what they’re not. “I am not defined my weight,” “I am not my hair,” (great song BTW), “I am more than a number.” All powerful movements and statements surging through my social media feeds. Well, I’d like to add one to the list. I am not my race. As a halfie, my race is constantly a topic of discussion. Now sometimes, I bring this upon myself. I crack jokes, I refer to myself as a mutt for heaven’s sake! But sometimes people cross the line, especially complete strangers. Its got me thinking, who speaks for the halfies? Why do people think its OK to say some of the things they say to me? I try to beat out stereotypes for both minorities and women by living a life filled with success, service, style and hard work. But perhaps there should be a PR campaign based around PSA’s telling people how to appropriately approach people about their race.
Here are some of the more ridiculous things I have heard over the years:
1. So what are you anyways?
How does one even answer this question? What am I? Well, let me tell you, I am a human being, I am a hard worker, I am a loyal friend, I am an athlete, I am a weirdo…the list goes on and on. Though this statement seems harmless, lets put it into a corporate PR context. Imagine that Barack Obama was visiting a poor neighborhood in Tacoma, Wash. Imagine he is visiting a predominately Japanese neighborhood but he doesn’t know anything about the town accept that there is an Asian community there. Now imagine that President Obama asks a 14-year-old girl, “So what are you guys anyways?” The outrage and PR headaches that would cause would go on for weeks. I know for a fact, Fox News wouldn’t drop it for at least a month’s time. Although its easy for me to let this type of question role off my shoulders, its disturbing how many people have asked me this question, especially when I was a little girl.
2. I could tell you were half, because you don’t really act black.
Its hard for me to hold my tongue when people say this to me. I know they don’t mean it to be offensive, but its nothing but offensive. So because I study hard and get good grades I’m not black? Because I enjoy swimming I’m not black? My preference for Subarus over Cadillacs means I’m not black? You’d think because we have a black president now I’d stop hearing this sort of nonsense but I haven’t. ESPN commentator Rob Parker offended some when he made racist remarks about Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III after the quarterback said he didn’t want to be defined as an African-American quarterback.
“I want to find about him,” Parker said. “I don’t know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancee. Then there was all this talk about he’s a Republican, which there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue.”
The notion that having a white fiance is any sort of proof of not being a “brother,” as Parker is also sited as stating is ridiculous. Furthermore, since when did being a Republican mean you weren’t black? I was under the impression that America is a free country that encourages different opinions, discussions and beliefs. That’s part of what makes the country so strong. Parker later apologized to RG3 for the comments in a smart PR move.
3. So that’s why you’re athletic.
Now this has a a little merit because historically African-Americans excel in basketball and track, sports I have participated in. What makes this statement racist is the assumption that all black people are good at sports or are even interested in sports, which is simply not the case. People who think this should meet my cousins, some of the biggest nerds on the planet. Even funnier is that I excel in long distance running, something I most certainly inherited from my white side. The black side of my family are short, stocky and built more for power and speed. They look like sprinters. On the other hand, the white side of my family is longer, leaner and have a history of participating in endurance sports. Sorry to disappoint, but its fair to say that a good part of my athleticism comes from my white side.
4. Can I touch your hair?/Do you have back or white people hair? (Said while already playing w/ my hair)
First of all, don’t touch my hair. I don’t know you, so hands off. I understand why folks would be curious about my hair. But complete strangers approaching me and touching it is a little too far. Black people hair is a foreign animal to anyone who isn’t black. They don’t understand it, and most white people don’t realize how much fake hair is out there. Even more offensive is when people dare to tell me that I should be glad I don’t have “black people hair.” Excuse me, natural African hair is gorgeous. Although I am content with the hair I have now, I would love to rock some of the looks black women pull off. What’s more, is that folks don’t understand that not all black people have the same hair, just like they don’t all have the same skin color.
5. You’re only half anyway.
This is a confusing one, because sometimes people say this to me like its a good thing and sometimes they say it like a bad thing. I was talking with some close friends about how I sometimes feel like white guys aren’t as “into me” as boys of color and one (white male) responded with “you’re only half black though.” This person was trying to convince me that white guys think I am attractive, but the implication was that if I was full black they wouldn’t. In other cases, I have felt alienated from black people, and have been teased, even by my own family, for being the “white girl.” Its similar to the Tiger Woods complex. The joke being, when he is winning, he’s white. when hes losing, he’s black. You’d think being a halfie would mean I fit in with everyone but in reality, I often feel like an outsider in both categories.
Ultimately, I just want to be known as a good person, a kind person, a person you can trust. When RG3 said he didn’t want to be defined as an African-American quarterback I could relate. I did nothing to accomplish my race. This was the way I was born. Am I ashamed of my race? Hell no, and I wouldn’t ever want to change my genetic make-up. But I don’t want to be defined as my race, I want to be defined by my accomplishments, my triumphs and how I overcame failure. My race should be in the footnotes, not in the headline. As a future professional, I hope I can lead a life that changes the way at least some people see race, and gender! We’re all part of the human race and the PR campaign to convince people of that starts right now, with me.