For interracial Black and white families, honest discussions about racism need to be had in a white supremacist world.
By Savannah Lee-Thomas
While I recognize that we are all the same species, due to pigmentation and a white supremacist culture, some of us are treated differently than others, and some of us are treated unfairly. In the ninth grade, our class read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and I remember reading that the children of a mixed couple were considered nothings. Non existent.
As a mixed child, I had to stomach that that situation would have been a reality for me during that time. With a West Indian mother and a White father, I grew up knowing that I was mixed but never understanding.I didn’t understand why I was bullied for no reason or not liked by my teachers. I didn’t understand why dolls didn’t look like me or why I didn’t see myself on television.
And then, there was my family. I was brought up under the impression that we are all the same. I was never taught about Trinidadian culture or tradition and lived with a father who had spent his entire life in a small suburban town outside of the city. There was no access to my culture and I was never taught about it in school. Because of this, I had an extremely difficult time connecting with others and getting to know myself as an individual.
It wasn’t until I became an adult and moved to the city that I discovered how many things were wrong with the way I was raised. My mother likes to argue that she tried to teach me that everyone was equal and not to view people based on their race. But now as a grown woman who experiences and witnesses racism, fetishization, and judgements based on appearance, I am finding it harder to see how my parents could have possibly thought this was the right way to do things.
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Why wasn’t I taught about Trinidadian customs or how to cook roti? The few times that I have been lucky enough to be there, it has never felt familiar and the locals and family don’t seem to see me as a half Trini either. I feel like a tourist within my culture.
When families chose not to teach their children about their background, it can be incredibly damaging. I can’t speak the slang that my cousins use and I struggled to understand the shopkeepers and waiters while I was in the Islands. I also have younger sisters who seem to ignore their West Indian half and simply believe that they are white. There is a huge difference between being white and being white-passing. I am neither.
I suppose it could be worse. 28-year-old digital artist, Mana D. fled an abusive home environment at the age of 18. She is now trying to get in touch with her Japanese side. “Growing up my exposure to Japanese culture was very limited at best. I never had the chance to grow up with my father,” Mana said, explaining that her deceased Japanese Father wasn’t even on her birth certificate. “I never got the chance to know the Japanese side of my family, that of which I still feel unfairly hurt by.” She continued. Mana also explains that she feels like a novelty to her mother and that although she receives the odd “Japanese gift” here and there, it’s “material at best”.
Mana also explained that she has never felt that she fit in with her Asian peers and as she grew older she realized she wasn’t exactly the same as everyone else. “ I still feel deprived of the culture that I crave and it feels makes me empty and bitter.”
Although she is now taking it upon herself to learn Japanese, nothing can make up for the missed time, lessons or memories she could have received from her Japanese relatives.
At the end of the day, raising children to believe that they are not a certain race is diminishing. There were definitely a few years where I didn’t know how to identify. I now identify as a West Indian woman, and this has caused an uproar in the relationships with some of my relatives. They don’t agree with or understand my politics, especially when I go off on a tangent about white mediocrity and supremacism.
There is so much that I have willingly unlearned, and when I discuss these issues and topics at home I get belittled and sometimes shunned. It’s come to a point in my life where I feel the need to pick my family, as well as inform myself on the elements of my culture that I didn’t receive growing up. As a mixed person, it is easy to feel lost in translation. I never completely fit in with other people from the Caribbean and I have definitely never fit in with Caucasians. It’s easy to lose yourself and feel the need to identify with one or the other. But that’s not the case. It’s not important.
Author Bio: Savannah Lee-Thomas is a 24 year old writer and musician living in Toronto, Ontario. As a mixed lesbian living with mental illnesses, she has faced several layers of judgement and ridicule. After graduating from Sheridan’s print journalism program, she spent a year writing for a publication that discouraged writing on political issues. She is strong and independent and despite being raised by a family that chooses not to acknowledge race; she is eagerly learning about her and her partner’s cultures as well as beginning to share this journey out of the closet via her poems and personal essays.