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On Being Biracial

October 16, 2009

You have likely heard the story about the justice of the peace in Louisiana refusing to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any biracial children the couple might have.  He didn’t want their innocent children to suffer because of their parents’ choice to procreate.  Yes, this happened this week.  In 2009.

I am biracial.  I had a Black father and a White mother.  I know what it is like to grow up biracial and I would like to tell this judge that I did not suffer because my parents gave me life.

30 or more years ago, there may have been some truth to the judge’s comment that biracial children are not fully accepted by either the Black community or the White community.  Today, there are so many biracial children running around that this statement is no longer true for most.  Even in the South, it isn’t as though biracial children are a rarity (did this judge miss school they day they talked about White slave owners having children with their Black slaves?).  I did feel as a child that myself and my siblings were the only biracial children people on the planet.  There was no Mariah Carey, no Halle Berry, no Tiger Woods, no Alicia Keys to look up to.  There were no books, no clubs, no box to check off on the US census that acknowledged our unique racial existence.  I did often feel that I didn’t fit in completely with the Black kids and I knew I wasn’t exactly like all of the White children.  But times have certainly changed.

Although my father lived in primarily Black neighborhood, I lived with my mother in a mixed-race neighborhood.  My mother’s social group was primarily white and I attended an all white elementary school.  No adults talked to me about my racial makeup.  I inherently knew I was not one race or the other, but both.  Yet I was constantly forced to choose one or the other each time I was faced with question on a piece of paper.  Sometimes I checked the “Black” box, sometimes I selected “White.”  I was asked “What are you?” by other children more times than I can count.  I got so sick of the question I started making up absurd answers like “Eskimo.”  I came to realize that when most people looked at me, with my cafe au lait skin and kinky hair, they most often thought of me as Black.  Yet I felt like a minority within this minority.  Most of the time, however, I was more concerned about whether or not I was going to get the latest Gloria Vanderbilt jeans or Bonne Bell lip gloss than I was about my racial makeup.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I was able to embrace my biracial-ness.  I learned more about Black history and grew proud of this part of my heritage.  I started seeing more and more biracial people around me and knew I was not alone.  Instead of checking the “Black” or the “White” box, I began checking them both (today, if the option of Multi or Biracial in not available on a form, I scold the person who is making me complete it and check “Other”).  There was more literature about being biracial: finally, my experience was being validated.  This is not to imply that all Black-White biracial people have the same experience.  Some reject the notion of calling themselves biracial and identify with one race only.  Some continue to struggle with the concept of racial identity even into adulthood.  Just like many people who are a racial minority in their country, finding acceptance of one’s racial identity may be a process.  But who is to say that this process is any more onerous than the one-race child who has to deal with his parents’ divorce?  Or her realization that she is gay?  Or his frustration that his family doesn’t have as much money as his friends’ families do?  Or her unhappiness with the fact that her military father makes them move every couple of months?  Or the fat kid who gets teased, the girl with big boobs, the kid with acne?  What child brought into this world does not have something over which they will struggle?

It’s true that without a proper context, some biracial children may experience confusion at some point about their racial makeup.  But with loving and informed parents, they can be supported and grow to celebrate their intersection of races.  I am so grateful for my unique racial experience and I would never choose to have been born one or the other.  Our society is surely more accepting than it used to be and can only continue to become more so.  The United States Supreme Court ruled that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional in 1967.  Justice of the peace Bardwell needs to check out who is in the White House and realize that many things have changed since then.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2009 10:42 pm

    I can’t believe a Justice of the peace Bardwell even exists in this day. Actually…I can believe it, something that makes me sad.
    I’m glad to find your blog and read more of your work.
    Best,
    Nancy

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 16, 2009 11:53 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment, Nancy. I agree with you 100%.

  2. October 17, 2009 1:32 am

    I wish you wouldn’t even pretend to address this judge’s behavior as if there was logic or reason behind his behavior worthy of debate.

    It’s just pure nutty. Whether or not some bigot wants to mistreat a biracial child (and in the south we’re all multiracial, especially so in Louisiana) is the bigot’s failure not the parents. It’s absolutely ludicrous that a judge would show that level of disrespect and ignorance.

    He should be removed from office immediately for an obvious lack of mental capacity. And, there shouldn’t be any debate about it.

    • sunnydelyte21 permalink
      October 23, 2009 4:29 pm

      Pretty Much…

  3. October 17, 2009 4:11 pm

    There’s so much I want to say on this topic (maybe I’ll come back to it when I don’t have to fat finger a phone), but where does a mixed neighborhood exist in Milwaukee!? Lol.

    In the mean time I sent a donation to the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU.

    we seriously need to meet IRL on this topic alone!

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 20, 2009 6:46 pm

      We lived on 35th and State. Our block was primarily white but just a couple of blocks up there were moe Black families. I agree with you that Milwaukee is terribly segregated: that was one of the things that made me know I could never live there as an adult. I love that you sent in a donation to the ACLU, Elliott, and we MUST meet IRL soon!

      • October 20, 2009 7:25 pm

        No way… Grew up on 24th & Juneau (across from HS of the Arts) until ~’93-ish then 29th & Vliet until I moved up here!

        This week sucks for me, but I would be down to do happy hour sometime next week :)

  4. October 19, 2009 10:59 pm

    I love you for your cafe au lait skin, Maija! Now, would that judge allow a white person and a biracial person to marry?

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 20, 2009 6:43 pm

      That’s a darned good question, spawner of Babito! I tried to call him to ask but he wasn’t taking calls. Pffft.

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