Imagine looking at the current events as though you are looking through a glass dome. Imagine trying to speak and everyone looks at you as if you are talking in someone else’s voice. To simultaneously speak for both sides and yet be voiceless; this is what it feels like to be a white-passing Black person.
I’m Andrew Daly, and without knowing my ancestry, one would assume I am a white kid with a darker complexion. Think “tanned Italian”. I don’t blame people for assuming the way they do; my name is white as can be, and my hometown even whiter. Around 75% of the time, my race is something I don’t even consider. It is a privilege granted by my pseudo-whiteness.
It’s the other 25% of the time where the stinging numbness of reality hits me. It makes me grit my teeth and lower my gaze. It hits me in those times when classmates who claim to be “woke” question if I am lying about being Black; those times when classmates I know aren’t “woke” forget that I’m Black and make a racist joke when I’m in the room. Even the small things, like when I have to check a box for my ethnicity in an online survey and am forced to choose whether I am Black or white, sting as hard as anything.
I’m not here to complain about my life. It’s just strange to live with two cultural backgrounds because you feel like you don’t really belong to either one. People carry their own perceptions of what a black man looks like, what a white man looks like, and what a mixed man looks like. I look like none of them, so I am treated as none of them.
There’s also this funny idea that mixed-race identity is a fairly new concept. In truth, African-Americans have up to 24 percent European ancestry on average. There was so much generational intermixing that by slavery’s end in 1861, there were descendants of slaves who looked 100% European. So there really isn’t any reason why race should be looked at as something to divide us.
What we have to come to realize as a society is that race is a spectrum. We really are one people with more in common than we realize. When we group people by color or ancestry, we are damaging people who identify with more than one group and people who identify with no group at all.
I won’t promote colorblindness; everyone should be aware of each other’s differences and embrace them. A few years back there was a childish middle school joke where people would say “Don’t assume my gender!”; I’d like to encourage people not to assume race. When we walk around with a preconceived notion of any part of a person’s identity, we are unknowingly allowing ourselves to fall into the trap of prejudice.
When we judge a book by it’s cover, we make assumptions which can harm already disenfranchised groups. Race may be a social construct, but it is still part of a person’s identity. The problem begins when someone is looked at as their skin color rather than being looked at as an individual person. Understanding our differences and avoiding harmful assumptions can make our society a more welcoming place.
I believe I speak for all mixed-race individuals when I say that we want the opportunity to define ourselves. Putting us in a position where we have to choose between parts of our identity is something that isn’t fair to us or to our society as a whole.