Published on Teaching Tolerance Web Site January 4, 2007
I recently had the pleasure of attending the lecture by James McBride, having read his memoir a few years ago when I was at my most-heightened search for identity. Without retaining much of the details of his life story, what has remained with me is the knowledge that someone else had experiences similar to my own. To know that he too struggled with feelings of shame over his white mother—and questions over whether he, as a black child, had been adopted—brought down the wall of alienation I felt was between me and the rest of the world.
There is often a divide, as we know, between black and white. For those of us in the middle, we often feel that we must choose one side of this divide or the other, especially in our younger years. For me, growing up predominantly African-American in a white family gave me a sense that I was interminably an outsider. My family loved me unconditionally, but it was hard to love myself with the same unbiased eyes. I felt this most acutely during sixth grade when my mother and I moved to a more diverse, and more racially divided, part of town. African-American eighth graders teased me for being so light-skinned, while my best friend and I were forbidden to continue our friendship because her white parents disapproved of my dark skin and of my cousins’ Japanese ancestry.
A few years ago I was standing at a street corner, waiting for the walk signal, when a white woman and a black man came up beside me with their young daughter on her bicycle. In those moments before we continued on our separate paths, I felt a sense of completeness like I had never experienced before. Standing there at the corner, we looked like a family. It was the one moment in my life when I did not stand out from the crowd.
It seems that biracial children these days don’t have quite the sense of alienation that was felt by those of us born a generation before. As a child I could spot another biracial person from a mile away and felt an instant connection with the individual. But now biracial children don’t seem to see me for anything other than a human being, if they even notice my presence at all. I take this as a good sign. It shows that the children of the new generation have more biracial peers than we did twenty years ago. In addition, while race relations are no way at peak form, I think we can see a marked difference in attitudes between then and now.
My struggle for identity has pretty well ceased within the past few years. I am an individual of complex origin and am proud to be so. I find it fitting that my birthday falls on United Nations Day, because I think by default of identity, those of us who incorporate two opposing races do much to bring those two races together. As an American with African, German, English, Irish, and Scottish, and Mexican heritage, I am proud to participate in the melting pot that is America.