On Being Ambiguous

Ambiguous

“Its nice that you are honoring her Korean roots so well. But you realize that there will come a day when all she’ll be in America is black.”

Those words were spoken to me when my daughter was not quite three. They were powerful words then and now I’m seeing those words come to life daily. When my daughter walks through a store, plays on the playground at recess, and meets and makes friends, these words dance before her like a prophecy come to fruition. But she’s not all black, she’s Korean and Caucasian too – and why does she feel forced by others to choose? She proudly says she’s multiracial and embraces all her cultures; thank you very much. But inclusion is a funny thing. Groups want her to be one or the other – in order to belong. Korean friends want her to favor her Korean heritage first (a requirement of which at times has included to not like her Japanese friends as much). Black friends want her to favor her Jamaican heritage in order to be ‘more’ black (a requirement of which at times has included to not like white friends as much), and White friends want her to identify with what they like and prefer (which at times has included to not like her non-white friends as much). None of which she is down with nor should be. She is all of the above and in the words of the poets below, “She didn’t realize she had to choose sides of herself.” Inclusion is a funny thing.

Part of why we chose our daughter’s school was the progressive way they celebrate and honor racial and cultural traditions. They even (and this floored us) had a box to check in the What is Your Race? section labeled Multiracial. Hallelujah! She checked it and felt empowered; recognized. But still we must negotiate this “others want me to be” or “I always have to give an explanation” or “I’m tired of explaining who I am.” And this is why I was overjoyed at Soledad O’Brien’s most recent piece on the In America series “Who is Black in America?” It first aired back in December but I caught it just this last week on CNN. Biracial adults and young people discuss what lines are drawn in terms of being black in America. What racial heritage, or experiences, or skin tone qualifies or disqualifies you from being black. I was riveted by their personal experiences and varying opinions.

Perhaps what I loved most was that they had involved biracial kids, high-schoolers, in asking and answering these difficult questions. I heard in their words the beginnings of what I am now hearing from my own daughter. It instructed me. It encouraged me. It is a difficult dialog but these girls used their voices and are paving a new way in race relations for those that come after them. This new road they are making is rocky and winding but I know my daughter will be grateful for their voices, their power, their strength. My daughter who is part of this rapidly growing biracial and multiracial generation in America that is already beleaguered by the requirement from single race others to explain who they are. They are more. They are many. And hearing it in their own words is powerful. So here are Becca Kahlil and Nayo Jones in their own words on Being Black and ‘Ambiguous’ in America.

Top photo by Kenan Malik

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