So, you may have noticed the blogosphere exploding this last week over recent Bay area transplant and early 2000’s teen idol Raven Symone’s comments on Oprah’s OWN Network Where Are They Now special. If you haven’t seen the video, take a look:
All this talk of labels really got me thinking about some of things I had been stewing on as of late, and a lot of things I’ve personally been labeled in my short time on this planet.
My childhood to some often comes off as idyllic. I grew up in a 3 bedroom house on a cul de sac in sunny Southern California. I went to a school comprised of predominantly upper middle class Mormons. I got Starbucks, I said ‘like’ a lot, I even wore Uggs with shorts for a brief period of time because they were really comfortable and everyone else was doing it, and I still think they look kind of cute (the fashion gods haven’t smote me yet, so I’m just going to keep believing they were an alright trend).
By outside standards, I had what some might call a pretty privileged upbringing. But it wasn’t until I moved out and up to the Bay area that I realized that word meant something a little different.
A specific instance comes to mind; I was having a seemingly casual conversation about my upbringing and comparing stories with my circle of friends up here when someone said it. It was a term I’d used before in light jest but for some reason it struck a chord with me: someone called me… white.
It was such a foreign concept to me because back home I was the ethnic one. I was the one who was a little different from everyone else and no one ever let me forget it. Though I was still seen as a peer, I was never fully immersed in the same culture I suppose. Going to my friend’s house was often like an anthropological excursion. I remember when I first learned what “composting” was. Or the first time I saw a trash compactor, or a BluRay player, or a Keurig! These things to me were always labeled under “white people things”.
But white people things weren’t just a show of wealth, I soon learned, as they were also present in relationships, and mannerisms within the family dichotomy and in relation to other white people. Seeing the way families interacted with each other, the language they used was so foreign to me. I had learned to interact with my fellow students but that’s because I was polite, and observant and felt the need to adapt in order to fit in.
My home life was way different from that of most of my white classmates. I’m a triracial 3rd generation American. I’m Japanese, Mexican and what I can only ever label as “white” for lack of proper definition from my family (apparently my family’s brand of white comprises of a slew of European nationalities and some Native American, but for time’s sake I usually just go with white) I grew up in a bilingual household, my mother fluent in Spanish and my father (the more Hispanic looking of the two) only understanding enough to know when my mother was dissatisfied or overjoyed about something. I knew who my second cousins were, and what was going on in their lives despite them often being in different states or countries even. And there was always amazing food (I’m talking the best rice and beans you’ve ever had in your life and actual hand made sushi prepared by my amazing paternal grandmother).
On the contrasting end of the spectrum however, there were the other kids in school who didn’t seem to think that our lifestyles were that similar either. The 30% that did not identify as white, the Asian, Hispanic and black kids weren’t too keen on me being a true part of their circle either. And the feeling was almost mutual. When you’re told by both sides that you’re too much like the other to even warrant a label, it takes a toll, and you’re forced to pick one to try and please.
I’d consider myself a very amicable person; I can pretty easily get along with anyone. The fact that most of my best friends in high school happened to be pretty white girls is merely a matter of statistics in my opinion. Still I always felt stuck in between. I felt myself struggling to see both sides, and it often brought me to find some pretty big crosscultural similarities, but also proved to me the harsh realities of the world we live in. The gap between races is one that is filled with sand; it’s easy to tread but even more easily washed away.
This has been my entire life: an internalized struggle that’s even bigger than just me. It affects my very identity every day. My ethnicity gets undermined by the white people in my life, and my personality made a mockery and used against me to the people of color in my life.
This is what it’s like to be interracial in America. It’s hard to be proud, because I don’t know what to be proud of for fear of backlash; but I’m here to tell you I’m proud of everything that I am, including those parts of me that others have made me ashamed of.
There is one thing though that I have held on to about my interracial background, that has been affirmed time and again, even by those who have been less than understanding of my situation, and it’s that I am unique. It’s true. I have a perspective on the world unlike most people, in that I feel I have several to pick from. That feeling is almost liberating. I may not fit in or be considered “normal” but, the norm to me is vastly overrated no matter what your definition implies. I don’t need a label to be who I am, and I finally think I’m coming to terms with it.
As for the rest of the world, only time will tell. Maybe some day this won’t be the hardest question ever on every legal document I’ve ever had to sign:
But until then, be kind, be conscious and know who you are.