I never knew I was black until I came to college.
What can I say? I grew up in a white culture with white teachers, a white pastor, and parents who referred to their children as brown-skinned.
My mother is a white American with English and German heritage. My father was born to two Rwandan cousins, was raised in the Congo and was brought to Manhattan as a young boy.
The first thing I discovered about my racial identity in college was that being biracial didn’t mean I was bicultural.
Biracial – Literally African and American
Bicultural – Identifying oneself as part of two cultures
The second thing I discovered about my racial identity in college was that just because my skin was black didn’t mean I was truly black.
What does it mean to be truly black?
To my understanding it means you know the culture, history, and struggle, and it’s yours. Maybe it even means you’ve experienced discrimination. I don’t know. All I knew about being black as a child was the perspective my father brought to our dinner table in events of racial conflict.
So what am I saying happened in college?
College was the first place I had black friends, the first place I was invited to sit with black students in class and at lunch, where black guys asked me out. Before college, no one asked me to join a Black Student Union, or to pose in university promo pictures to represent diversity. So I believe I never knew what it really meant to be black before I went to college. Perhaps all along during my growing up years people saw me as black but never talked openly about it. But even in college calling myself a black woman was very new to me; I couldn’t tell a weave from extensions.
Me: “Your hair is so pretty”
Friend: “Girl, these are braids.”
Me: “hmm.” #embarrassing
The time I felt most uncomfortable as a black woman was MLK day, or as my sister and I call it, “The one day in the year where people remember we’re black.” I was suddenly asked to represent my people group in front of a class of white students. Need I remind you that this is a people group with whom I am still learning to relate myself, who’s language I don’t speak, who’s music is not my style, and who’s dance moves don’t come naturally. But alas, one cannot escape the fate of being a minority.
So where am I now in my racial identity? Check out my next post to hear how I have coped.