Am I Black or White? Why Can’t I Just Be Me?
I was sitting down for dinner with a group of girlfriends at a local restaurant recently and we were discussing the article about the Halle Berry interview and her statements about “One Drop” and her daughter in a recent Ebony Magazine issue in a light mood, to be honest, the only reason I was able to follow the discussion was for the simple fact that I had spent two hours sitting in the doctor’s office and the magazine was there. With nothing else to do, I began reading the article and found myself asking the some of the same questions that the interviewer asked Ms. Berry. As we sat there drinking and talking a friend of one of my friends turned and looked at me – this is never good – and the question was posed to me, “Apple, do you consider yourself black or white?” “Uh?” Looking at her with disbelief I couldn’t believe an educated woman would ask me this. I’ve probably met this woman three times in nine years and everytime I was in close proximity with her, I wanted to pull out what hair I had left and gouge out my eyes with a spoon – because if I’m going to hurt as bad as I do having a conversation with her I would rather do it to myself . She irritated me like no one has ever irritated me and I just couldn’t explain it. There was immediate silence at the table and I realized all eyes were on me, patiently or eagerly waiting for my response. I didn’t know how to respond to this question. A question I’ve been asked repeatedly since a kid and it was becoming quite tiresome.
As I continued to look at her, I wondered… Do I say black (because I live in a society that says I’m black because of “One Drop” just like Ms. Berry declared to her interviewer) and therefore disregard the race of my (white) mother who has stood by me through thick and thin, highpoints and lowpoints, the one person who made sure that I had a roof over my head, food on the table, clothes on my back, expensive private school education, who sometimes had to swallow her pride to make sure that I had and never went without. When my (black) father who walked out of my life when I was two years old, left me with a neighbour, said he was going to the store for milk, moved to America and never laid eyes on me until I showed up at his door twenty years later for an explanation and turned his back on me again, because his wife refused to look at me or let me set foot in their house, because of my (white) mother. How dare she ask me this question here, now? I was infuriated. What was I supposed to say? I’ve always been on the outside looking in. As a kid growing up, I was never white enough for the white kids and most definitely not black enough for the black kids, I’ve had people, I thought were friends stop talking to me when they realized that my mother was white. A kid who never seemed able to find a place, until now as an adult, because, of scratching and clawing to have my tiny place in this world.
I really didn’t know how to respond, but, since this is all about honesty and being true to myself, I honestly don’t identify as black – do I think that all men and women are created equally? Hell YES! Do I think that black people in America have to work a hundred times harder to prove themselves – another RESOUNDING Hell YES! But, I didn’t grow up like that, I didn’t grow up looking at people because of the colour of their skin (Thank you Momma!), although I can’t say the same about some members of my family, I grew up seeing people for who they were. Now, because I don’t identify as black – Is that my fault or is it my mother’s fault, is it my father’s fault? Do I have crisis of what my identity is or what I am told my identity should be. I don’t think so! But still…I grew up in a predominantly white family, there was never rap music played, the closest I got to reggae music was Bob Marley. I knew every Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond song growing up. I could recite the entire movie dialogue of Oklahoma!, Hello Dolly, The Gambler and don’t get me started on Yentl.
My grandmother had eleven kids and and adopted 2 more, so there weren’t a lot of me-s running around. In my entire family there is maybe 2% of us that are bi-racial and I am the oldest, the pioneer if you will, so what was I supposed to tell her, then I realized that I was still staring at her and hadn’t answered the question she had posed to me. Calming my thoughts, I looked at her and stated that I was ME. “That’s a cowards answer.” She promptly responded. I don’t know if she was trying to goad me, but my friend turned and looked at her as if she grew three heads and sprouted warts.
How is that a cowards answer? You asked me a question and I answered. “I bet you only date white men” was her next statement. At this point the blood was boiling in my ears. Not, that it’s any of your business (I grounded out), but, I date whomever my heart desires. I don’t date based on race, I don’t date based on who society thinks I should date, most importantly I don’t date who you think I should date. I date who is bold enough to make me laugh, live life, love and learn. Then, the tirade of my being let loose in a scary calm a calm that surprised me. I squared-off in my chair, straightened my back as I leaned closer to her across the table and looked directly at this woman. So, I guess you think that because I don’t identify as black that I am somehow betraying a part of my heritage. I could care less what you think about me, I could care less what anyone thinks of me. I’ve never experienced racism the way I have by blacks until I moved to this country and Baltimore in particular. The level of racial tension in this city is insane. In my world – even if it exists in my head alone, I think the only thing that should matter is how I treat people in my life and who I come in contact with – that’s why I haven’t railed on you, I should be judged solely on the way I live my life, by trying to be a good and decent person, helping others and those less fortunate, not by the colour of my skin, who I’m sleeping with or who I’m involved with. I don’t see colour, I see people, I see the way I am treated. I believe that no colour is better than the other, I believe we should live our lives based on peace and love, that’s not to say that certain cultures, races or people don’t drive me completely bonkers – case in point.
However, with you sitting at this table, I understand this is impossible, when in a setting like this, the question of race still comes up. But if you want an un-cowardly answer, here goes: I see myself as the person who was raised by a single white mother, who struggled to make sure I was loved. I see myself as her daughter, I see myself as the sister and aunt to the most amazing women and man I have ever known. I see myself as a person who stands proudly after twenty plus – years of wondering who I was and where I belonged next to my white mother, (adopted) half chinese/half black sister, half greek sister and a brother who looks just like me with his white wife – with a beautiful rainbow of nieces and a nephew, who love me for me, NOT because of the colour of my skin. I don’t consider myself black or white. I consider myself a human, I am not African-American, I’ve never been to Africa and have no plans of going, I am a Bahamian and therefore I am my mother’s child, I give of myself freely, unconditionally with no question of return. So if you have a problem with my answer, then you are more than welcomed to leave. Besides, in this day and age of the 21st Century, I believe that we have more important issues to worry about than my race or what I identify as. By the way, I am in a wonderful relationship with a black person, beautiful, intelligent and sexy as hell, before this relationship I dated a Vietnamese person, and before that I dated a white person and I was married to an African-American man for more than eight years. Maybe you should worry about why the question of race is so important for you to ask me?’, ‘am I black or white? why can’t I just be me?