This is a photo of me from the 5th grade. I was dressed to dance in a play that I had written for our school pageant. I often look at this picture and think, “Yep, even back then people were confused about my racial heritage.”
For the record, I’m a Black woman. I have always felt this explanation should be sufficient, but since I was a little girl I have gotten probing questions regularly where people want to hear MORE. Surely because my skin is a lighter tone there’s more to the story. Surely one of my parents is white. Everyone’s inner Nancy Drew takes a hold of them and I get probed, Clockwork Orange-style, on an almost-daily basis.
While some people could find this type of inquiry flattering, I find it really, REALLY irritating. If I give you an answer, that should be the end of it. I shouldn’t have to explain that, yes, there’s been some racial mixing back in the day, but that’s prior to my grandparents and great-grandparents. Because the one thing you can say to me to get me really riled up is, “Well, you can’t be ALL black.”
What does that even mean? If you look at my birth certificate, it surely says that. As a matter of fact, if you look at the birth certificates of both of my parents and both sets of grandparents, it would most certain state that by the laws of the United States, we are all most certainly considered black. The thing that I don’t think people understand is that it’s unsettling to have random strangers challenge your identity and looks out of mere curiosity. What starts as a mere fascination turns the situation into you ogling me like a sideshow circus act and me fighting at you from behind the bars of the carnival cage in which I suddenly find myself.
As we move on in history, there are a lot of little girls and boys who look like me, who should be able to answer this question without feeling that they have to give any further explanation. We are exactly who we say we are and honestly, what does it really matter? When it comes right down to it, a lot of African, Creole, German, Irish, Blackfoot Indian and Spanish folks met and on both sides of my family tree, did what they did, and – voila! – here I am today.
Even more, I’ve grown to like the way I look. I like my curly hair so much I’m letting it grow out. I like my skin tone so much I’m playing with more color in my makeup look. I love rock and roll, skinny jeans and more eyeliner and mascara than anyone can shake a stick at. We’re all just here, products of our history and beautiful – every single one of us.
So, I thought I would answer this question one final time. Hi, I’m Kristin. And you’re you. I am what I am, you are what you are…
…and we’re both beautiful, whatever we are.