Growing up a mixed kid has always been a source of pain, pride and inspiration for me. As I've said previously, my mother is from Puerto Rico and my father is a mixed black man.
I grew up closer to my mother's family and thus identified as a Puerto Rican for most of my life. I was (still am) very close to my cousins, my aunts and uncles. I occasionally hung out with some cousins from my dad's side of the family but my dad's family dynamic is... fractured, to put it mildly.
It took me a long time to come to terms with how I self-identify. Nowadays, I identify as a mixed black American woman. I thought perhaps Afro-Latina? But no, I'm not really that either. I'm not just black. I'm not just Puerto Rican. The only label I've ever felt fully comfortable with is "mixed." Identity politics can get tricky and messy, so I often try to stay out of it. Especially when I have my own shit I need to figure out.
Some people have their own thoughts on how black mixed or biracial or multiracial people identify. They believe that mixed folks who identify as such want to distance themselves from their black heritage. While I can't speak for other people, I will fully own up to that. I used to distance myself from my own blackness. Internalized racism is terrible but it's even worse when you realize you've been doing that to yourself your whole life. That kind of awakening is fucking brutal. For most of my life, I was rewarded for being "mixed with Puerto Rican" while simultaneously bullied for not being black enough.
One of those bullies was my father. He was never satisfied with my brother and I. We were never real enough, never black enough, never... good enough to be his kids. He just couldn't relate to us and our differences and he often punished us for that. He'd constantly give us shit for being "soft" kids and how we would never survive the Cleveland hoods he grew up in. Sometimes I wanted to scream, "WHY DID YOU RAISE US IN THE SUBURBS THEN?" But arguing with him was like yelling at a wall. Walls don't listen nor do they respond. And I think, in a subconscious response to this, I rebelled against whatever my dad wanted me to be, which was "blacker." But there is no right or wrong way to be black and I may have caused more damage to myself on top of the bullying I endured. I've spent the past few years working to heal that fracture within myself.
Something that has always stuck with me was my father's mother, who preferred my brother over me because of her own issues with colorism. My brother is a lot lighter than I am. So not only am I not black enough (according to my father), I'm not even light-skinned enough to please his mother. Everywhere I turned, I just wasn't good enough.
My mother is a wonderful mom. She loved us for who we were and tried to encourage us when she could even if she didn't fully understand everything we were going through. Looking back on my life, I realize some of my ignorance of my own blackness stems from not having a black mother. I still to this day struggle with terms to describe my hair or the types of products I should use on it. My mother never quite knew and therefore I didn't either. My mother tried her hardest to make sure we were loved and happy but raising mixed kids as a non-mixed person is probably like trying to cook in a kitchen with no oven. You just figure it out as you go along. I look at it as advanced training for me because one day I'll have little mixed babies (half white) and who the hell knows what their hair will look like?
Having a black best friend and working with black women has helped me educate myself on my own heritage and culture, specifically as a black woman. Not only with me finding where I feel I belong but also learning that I inadvertently benefit from colorism and being light-skinned. Proximity to whiteness has always historically been valued in oppressed, marginalized groups and knowing that I have benefited from that in the past has been a wake-up call for me, as I continue figure out everything else. There's a reason why I sometimes feel like I don't quite measure up, it's because I have never felt whole. I am and always will be half of something else.
As I've stated in previous blog posts, it took some very public deaths of black kids to wake me up to the reality of being black in America. This and other incidents (fighting with "friends" about Black Lives Matter for example) forced me to look inward at who I am and what I'm fighting for. I want equality and justice for not just black Americans but black women who are often invisible or erased completely in the endless march for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
To this day, I still don't feel like I fit in or belong when I'm surrounded by black people. Or white people. Or Puerto Ricans. I don't fit in anywhere. I don't belong anywhere. And that sometimes makes me really sad. But then I remember, this is why I created my own inner circle of friends and family that have never made me feel like I wasn't enough. They help me, guide me, gas me up and make sure that I am loved and cared about. Lately instead of getting upset about my own perceived inadequacies, I try to celebrate every little thing that makes me different from everyone else. I am the woman who everyone remembers meeting because I am always true to myself.