A few months ago, I not-so-subtly asserted myself as biracial while having dinner with a new coworker. “I’m a Capricorn,” she’d said. “Yeah…my mom’s black,” I responded (not verbatim, but the exchange was similar). Whoa. What? Immediately after I injected that part of my identity into the conversation, I had a come-to-Jesus moment. What was I doing? Did I always do this when I met new people?
The answer, if you’re wondering, is yes. (Although the timing and context are usually a bit more appropriate.) I’ve been coming out this way since I was a teenager. First, my friends would do it for me, whenever one of our peers said something racist in front of me (which was often). “Dude. Steph’s mom is black!” The requisite retort was always, “Oh, sorry, Steph. Are you half-offended?” (No, but I am wishing tired-ass jokes qualified as hate crimes.)
Here it is: My mother is black. My dad is white. Two of my siblings look like my mom, and two of us look like my dad. Of the two who favor my dad, only one is biracial — that’d be me, the pigmentally challenged Michael Jackson of our troupe. Are you confused yet? Good. Welcome to what it’s like to be biracial.
I grew up in a culturally diverse environment, which meant I missed the memo that it’s “not normal” to be mixed. In fact, I grew up believing the opposite — in my grammar school class of thirty kids, five were mixed race. Not a bad ratio.
So I didn’t discover my otherness through being teased by peers or by having after-school-special chats with my parents. I discovered it in other ways, like when strangers would mistake my mother for my nanny, would stare at a black woman holding a white child’s hand in the middle of a crowded flea market. Or when I finally figured out why Mom always stayed home whenever we visited Dad’s parents in Florida. I figured it out when I began obsessively clipping photos of Tyra Banks from my mother’s Victoria’s Secret catalogs and when I began hoarding pictures of my aunt, who I didn’t even like but thought was beautiful. I was collecting portraits of black beauty I couldn’t have for myself.
Because my exploration of race was largely internal, I spent much of my adolescence identifying as … well, whatever I wanted. Sometimes I’d simply call myself a mutt. Other times I’d list each nationality I owned, no matter…