Updated: Aug 24
"But she's not Black!"
I overheard my White adopted mother proclaim to my White stepfather after a visit from "concerned' neighbors because they saw a Black kid running around the neighborhood.
"But she is."
My White stepfather responded solidly.
I have been examining this childhood memory like a jeweler does gemstones with their loupe. In quiet rooms, I sit alone with the memory, turning it around in the light. I imagine what it looks like from my adopted mom's perspective, then from my stepfather's, then from my siblings, then from my neighbors, and finally from their children's. The value of this memory changes with each turn, showing spots, imperfections, and outright damage. But for me, finally holding the power of choice, the most valuable part is knowing the value of what I'm holding and deciding what to do next.
I could put it in a box in the back room, only to be seen when someone asks for it specifically. "You're not really Black." they may say.
I could donate it to a museum for others to visit and then discuss and analyze. "I read the news and everything just seems to be about race. We are one race, the human race." they may say.
I could proudly display it with other gems, on a polished glass shelf with lighting from all angles. "You are so brave." they may say.
I could and have done all of those things at different times, in different spaces, with different people, unintentionally. All the while my focus was on others and their reactions. I wanted them to tell me what to make of it. They didn't help. I had to decide for myself what it meant to me. I was the expert who both paid and set the price.
This isn't an unfamiliar feeling for transracial adoptees or for Black bi-racial people, or any other identity maybe. As a child, most of your existence is identified by the reactions of those around you. As an adult, it's in your best interest to choose who you believe, them or you.
There's a common phrase you hear bi-racial people say. "Not Black enough for the Black people and not White enough for the White people." Most biracial and multiracial people have felt this way. As Miguel sings in "What's Normal Anyway" - "Too proper for the Black kids, too Black for the Mexicans... What's normal anyway?". A good White friend proclaims "Normal only exists as a setting on washing machines," She's not wrong, but most don't agree and spend their whole lives outlining what normal means to them and judging others by that criteria.
We live in a world that has a lot of constructed ideas and values; money, time, and race. There's a balance to understanding these were things that started as figments of our imagination. A way to divvy up and place them in another imaginary hierarchy of virtue. Good people have money and bad people don't. Good people are on time and bad people are late. White people decide what's good other people do not.
That thinking is why a group of White people, who I am confident go to bed at night peacefully certain they are "good people", showed up at my door concerned a Black family had moved into their neighborhood. All due to a made-up belief of what is normal.
Made up or not, it is real to them.
What's real to me is my ability to stand outside of normal. To continually be chafed by expectations put upon me while simultaneously soothing myself with a balm of love. I am not some victim or some hybrid version of a human existing only to be judged. I simply exist and your reaction to me is but a mirrored reflection of your own insecurities. You might want to get that checked out. In a quiet room with a jeweler's loupe, turn it around in your hand.
That day, as an elementary school kid, I received a very grown-up lesson it has taken many years to reconcile. Now, I can confidently say I am Black, and I am not depending on who is looking at me. And I am aware of what those reactions take away from me or afford me. When I look at myself, I see all those experiences imprinted on my skin. I hold the weight of the universal struggle to be human on my shoulders. My eyes continue attempts to see beyond the imaginary.
I am an array of gemstones making a piece of jewelry that is invaluable.