I went to the skating rink on a night I don’t usually go, and found myself to be the only female of color there. It was unusual to me because on my regularly night, it’s a predominantly Black crowd. In this stage of my identity development, I’m very conscious of my racial surroundings when I am one of the few.
Today I identify primarily as Mixed, but also as Black. That has changed over the years as Mixed identities are inherently fluid… if we choose that route – static is another choice. I have been militantly Mixed, not White enough, begrudgingly Black. All of them had a certain frantic energy on them because I felt like they were dependent on outside validation. Today I feel more at peace with my chosen identity. Will it remain this way now that it feels peaceful? Maybe. But the fluidity could push me in a new direction sometime in the future.
The way I felt last night was new. It’s not like I haven’t spent most of my life surrounded by White people. My family that raised me was all White, I’ve gone to predominantly White schools, ran in primarily White social circles for most of my life. I knew how to be token in a way that pushed the tokenism out of my mind so it didn’t hurt my feelings too bad. I don’t even know how I did that now, looking back. But I have had a wonderfully creative knack for pushing ill feelings out of my mind for the sake of fitting in. It just doesn’t work for me anymore.
A significant piece of the change has been working with a Black agency for the past 2 years where most of my coworkers and clients are Black, and they’re all kinds of people. Stereotypes don’t hold for very long. And the nature of my work as a therapist allows me to get under the surface to understand why people have made the choices they have made. There’s no simple boxes to throw Black people in. I am more aware of the systematic racism, the adverse life experiences more common to African Americans, the effects of being unprivileged. It has broken down my own racism and fears and helped me to accept and be proud of my blackness.
In addition, I’ve had experiences of going out with groups of Black people, and seen the subtle and not-so-subtle racism in play. I’ve seen their reactions to what they know as a common experience. When you’re a Mixed girl out with White family and White friends, you’re shielded from the treatment you get as a group of Black people. My eyes have been opened to some ugliness that I chose not to acknowledge, that I was privileged not to have had to acknowledge before. And as I identify with and internalize my Black identity, it feels different now to be in a room full of White people. My radar is up a little higher, and I feel a little more self-protective about my heart.
At the same time, I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to walk out in the world with a closed and suspicious heart because I’m more aware of and feeling the reality of the Black experience of racism. It’s like in the past I used to feel like I had to acknowledge racism out of a sense of forced loyalty, and primarily from a White or Mixed perspective. It’s not that I never saw racism before, and I certainly had my own racism to work through. But I definitely saw it through the privilege of my mixedness. Though I understood that racism was alive and well and more subtle, I was also acutely aware that any kind of racial experience I had would be far different than a dark skinned Black woman who wasn’t socialized to talk like a White person. Not to mention the experience of Black men. But to walk with Black people is to have my eyes opened. And it’s something I can’t unlearn, nor do I want to. I want to live in reality. This is where I’m at in the fluidity.
So as I looked around the skating rink and noticed the cultural difference, I felt the static of being in my happy place while it was occupied by a different group of people. I recognized a few of the people who come on my regular night. And that was interesting because if this was their home base, they were doing some brave culture crossing when they come to the other night. I sat with that for a moment and imagined a friendlier vibe that might have sounded like, We come to your house and experience what you’re feeling now, welcome to our house… enjoy!
Was that really the sentiment? Did they notice that I was the only Mixed Black girl in the house? Did some of them wonder what I was doing there? Who knows. But sometimes you have to choose the more helpful thought. So I stood up, skated out onto the rink, and did my thing.