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Imagine being different than everyone else around you. Imagine spending your life trying to find the place where you belong in the world. Many people that are hybrid children of individuals from two different cultures or races have felt like this every day, all over the world, at every point in history after colonization has taken place. Currently 9 million adults in the U.S. (6.9%) identify as having more than one race in their family, whether it be their grandparents, parents, or that they themselves identify as more than one race, and along with that, in 2013, 10% of babies were born to parents of different races which means our multiracial population is on the rise. Sadly, 55% of the multiracial adults in our country also say they have felt discriminated or teased because of their multiracial identity (Suh). Throughout history in colonized and colonizing nations, hybridity has appeared in people and cultures, and as amazing as it can be to live in a melting pot of culture and race, such as the U.S., the colonized cultures are often lost and the races of people are inevitably mixed together.
I am personally one of the 6.9%. Being multiracial is something that has come up in my life in multiple situations, and caused an internal debate that I still have not found an answer to. In this world and country I am extremely privileged to get to walk the world appearing as a white female. However, each time I check the Caucasian box on a form, I feel like I am pushing away a huge part of my culture and disassociating myself with my African American family. I am what this country would have called, only a little over a century ago, a quadroon. With the one-drop rule, I would have been a slave a long with my ancestors. My parents probably would not have been in love; rather, my mom would have more than likely been raped by a white male to produce me, and because of my light skin I would have gotten the privilege to work inside of a house doing cooking and cleaning and inevitably would have had my own “mustee” (one eighth black) child. Then possibly my daughter would have a child with another white man which would be considered a “mustafina” (one sixteenth black) and only after my great grandchild would the blackness be lost enough to consider them pure and European enough to be considered white (Young). As white as I appear, it is insane for me to think that two more generations of my lineage could have still been treated as less than other white people. This was all a realization that was brought to my attention by Robert Young’s article, The Cultural Politics of Hybridity (Post-Colonial, 159).
Although I can easily push away my black lineage and live life as though it does not exist, it hurts me every time I get an advantage that my black family members would not get. It also hurts my black family when I do not acknowledge that I am part black. My identity struggle derives from the fact that I do look completely white and I sometimes feel bad trying to identify with the black culture that is historically oppressed when I do not live with the day-to-day consequences of that oppression. At the same time, for me to not acknowledging my blackness is disrespectful to my ancestors that put up with the horrible treatment and fought hard for their rights and makes it look like I am ashamed of the family I was born into. Even being as light skinned as I am, I have found that people who know about my multiracial background acknowledge it more than what is necessary with jokes about me being the black friend or asking me if a certain statement is racist since I am part black as if I can speak for those who are victims of racism. With my black family I am always the “white girl” and I remember people admiring my straight “beautiful” hair, and my black cousin saying, “you look like my porcelain doll” when I was younger. I was not blamed for being different, but it was always a weird position to be the one with the light skin and blonde hair that society considered better or prettier than the features of my black family. When it came to my white family, I “blended” in more easily but still felt a bit disconnected from not being culturally the same as my white cousins. I can only speak surely from my own experiences, and I know I have it a lot easier than people who appear more mixed today, but I know the identity struggle that has lingered in our culture, and I can only imagine how much worse it was for the first hybrids in each colonized or mixed culture.
In Leslie Silko’s Ceremony, Tayo lives with the struggle of being half white in the Pueblo Native American tribe. His aunt considers him less than her full native son, and he lives as a reminder of the disgrace his mother caused by sleeping with white men. Even with Tayo’s friends, the fact that he is part white comes up often. It is important to note Tayo never uses his whiteness as an advantage, and he never really brings it up, but often Emo says things like “He thinks he’s something all right. Because he’s part white. Don’t you half-breed?” (Silko, 57). Although this was said in a drunken fit, it proves there is a cultural difference, where Tayo can never be accepted completely by his own people because he is part of a superior race in the country, and surely if he tried to fit in with the white men, they would just see him as Indian. When Rocky and Tayo go to enlist in the army, the recruiter says, “’Anyone can fight for America… even you boys’… ‘Now I know you boys love America as much as we do, but this is your big chance to show it” (Silko, 64). The way he addresses them shows that he does not consider Tayo white and expects them to be in love with a country that has hurt their people immensely. Even if Tayo does not hold the beliefs of the white people, he is still often seen as part of that group that damaged the Native American culture so much. When someone is a hybrid they often struggle to fit in to groups with which they identify. This is often because the fact that they are different is prominent in how they look and what they believe, and it is something they cannot change.
In an article titled “17 Struggles of Being Mixed-Race,” an anonymous author shares her life long struggle with being a modern day mixed race woman. The two things that stood out more than anything in the article were the author saying, “I don’t wish I could be more black, white, or Latina; it’d just be nice to be fully accepted simply as I am into black, white, and Latino circles” and “when people do discover your ethnic makeup, they somehow find it disagreeable. You’re too this and too that for some people, who will also become angry if you don’t “choose” one side or another.” The hardest part of hybridity is finding a place to fit in and be accepted. It is human nature to form groups with people you are similar to, and maybe that is a little easier in this day and age than it was for the original hybrid children of colonization, but there is still a struggle of not feeling like you can pick one of your races to identify with because you are not fully qualified to be in one or the other. It’s not that people should have to pick one race, but it is nice to feel like you belong to some sort of title society has created and you are not just some weird glitch that does not have a place. I remember so clearly hearing about how my mom as a mixed race black and white child would stand in front of the restrooms in segregated America and not know if she should walk into the colored or white restroom. In moments like that she felt like she did not have a place in this country and throughout history the identity crisis has been a huge struggle for mixed-race individuals. Along with the crisis of discovering how you want or get to identify in this world, comes the struggle of not feeling like you have a culture that you can call your own.
When countries are colonized, a huge part of the colonization process is destroying the present culture and replacing it with the culture of the colonizers. Of course, this usually does not perfectly erase one culture, and that is where hybrid cultures appear. The only reason culture is preserved is because there a few people who a determined to not let it go. In his article National Culture, Frantz Fanon says, “Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brains of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it” (Post-Colonial, 120). The goal of the colonizers is to change everything the culture once accepted as truth and cause them to question and change their beliefs. In Ceremony we see this with the presence of Christianity in the Native American culture;
The fifth world had become entangled with European names: the names of the rivers, the hills, the names of the animals and the plants- all creation suddenly had two names: an Indian name and a white name. Christianity separated the people from themselves; it tried to crush the single clan name, encouraging each person to stand alone, because Jesus Christ would save only the individual soul (Silko, 68)
This quote shows that the goal of the colonizers was to change a collective culture into an individualistic culture in which people do not have the same community values and creates a community where the method of survival is more every man for himself. Christianity itself is an individualistic culture and when trying to colonize a group of people it can help to take away an aspect of community so they do not try to fight as a collective. However, Fanon emphasizes the fact that some community members make it their duty to preserve their original culture no matter what it takes.
In the Heights of Macchu Picchu it seems as though Neruda is on a search for a lost culture. Macchu Picchu was “believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century”(history.com). The poem peaks when the narrator reaches the site of Macchu Picchu and has an overwhelming connection with the men that once stood where he did. Neruda writes speaking to the Incas that built Macchu Picchu and were murdered by the colonizers, “show me your blood and your furrow…point out to me the wood they used to crucify your body… light up the whips glued to your wounds throughout the centuries and light the axes gleaming with your blood, I come to speak for your dead mouths” (Neruda, 67-69). This poem explores the past of the Latin American natives and allows their history to live on so no one forgets. Because of writers like Neruda, the original cultures never die and are never forgotten. This is what leads to hybrid cultures. It is often impossible to completely eliminate the original culture no matter how hard a colonizers try and thus you get a mixture of the conformity and the fight against the conformity in the modern cultures.
There is a lot of beauty in cultures that were born from two other cultures; however, there is a lot of horror in the process of formation. This is where people like me, Tayo, and every other mixed race person have a lot of trouble with identity. This is where hybridity becomes guilt. For Tayo, he is part of a group of people whose culture has been damaged, whose people were killed, who were victims to genocide and tragedy simply for being on land white people wanted, and then he is also part of the white race who committed the atrocity. For myself I am part of a group of people who were kidnapped from their home, sold as property, enslaved, oppressed, discriminated against and killed; yet, I look like and am also a part of the white race that committed this atrocity. It is such a confusing and at times horrible feeling when the two parts of your identity are not meant to be cohesive in history. Its like having friends fighting in both sides of a war and not being able to choose one to root for. For myself, I have fallen in to my white culture much more than my black culture simply because of how I look, and it makes me sad that I have lost a lot of my identity in that process.
Hybridity is beautiful but so hard when it comes to being caught in the middle. Hybrid cultures are incredible creations, but it is hard to not think about what was lost in the making of the new culture. Hybrid humans are amazing and incredible people and inevitably increasing in the population, but it is hard to not think about the history of your two or more cultures as a hybrid. It is possible that it will become easier for people of multiple races to feel a part of a group when there are more of us, but for now we are part of a minority that does not fully fit in anywhere in society’s labels. As the world evolves we will inevitably all be some sort of hybrids in the future, but for now we are still a world that values purity and labeling people more than we would like to admit.
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