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My skin. Something biologically insignificant, yet socially so powerful. According to The Scientist magazine on February 18, 2002, those visible traits that humans use to define “race” make up only .01% of our genes. Race, biologically speaking, doesn’t exist. But in social terms, race can mean everything.
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I suppose if I am to explain my multiracial heritage I should start with my parents. My mom was from upstate New York, where there were only white people. Not that the town had hated people of other races, but it was just a small, isolated town up in the Adirondacks. My dad was from Ohio. He came from a family that was Black, Irish, and Native American. When my parents were married in South Carolina, the justice of the peace gave my mom one last chance to change her mind before she married a Negro.
Growing up I didn’t really understand my race. Friends and teachers would ask me, “Bailey, what are you?” I had to explain to them my racial background and then immediately defend my race, because most of the time people did not believe me. I was hurt that people would question my own identity. People would ask if I thought of myself as black or white. I always answered these questions in terms of race, and looking back, I wish I had answered differently. I could have told them anything about me, but instead I let my identity always focus on race.
In elementary school, whenever we drew self portraits the black kids had dark crayons to color in their faces. The white kids had light crayons to color in their faces. I attempted to use the two crayons together one time, and I ended up with a blotchy looking face. There was no “Bailey” colored crayon for me. Whenever I registered at a school or took a standardized test, there was always the question that asked for a specific race. You were only allowed to fill in one bubble, and it upset me that I had to choose.
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I could not find myself in my race, for I was really nothing. In my freshman year of school I dated a young man who was Guamanian. I was fascinated by his culture. It seemed to define him so well: he could speak Chamorru, his native tongue. His mom would make traditional Guamanian dishes when I came over for dinner. He would tell me stories about when he went back to visit his family on the island. I was so impressed that he had a whole culture to define him. There was no mistaking who he was and where he came from. But what about me?
I have a hard time connecting with my ethnic roots. It seems like there are about 3 black people in all of Arizona, excluding my family. I have tried listening to R. Kelly and Nas. I have tried watching BET and movies like Undercover Brother. But it just isn’t me. I can’t “get jiggy wit it”. My family has helped connect to my roots though. I often go with my grandfather when he plays piano at jazz sessions. I receive books every year from family members about famous black people in history.
Today, I have not figured out everything about myself. I still have a hard time with my racial ambiguity. But I do know that the color of my skin is not an all encompassing characteristic. I am creating my own identity around what I’ve done, my plans for my future, and my family. I hope that someday I will stop letting my race limit myself, and that someday society won’t let race limit me either.
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