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Reading about Morgan’s experience as a multiracial woman taught me a lot that I didn't know, and set me straight on a few things that I thought I did. As I read, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by Morgan’s power -- a power that she derives from her unique and complicated identity. Though she openly describes the challenges she has faced both internally and externally, she weaves into her story a much bigger sentiment: the idea that we can choose our own paths, that we are all inimitable and individual, that there is beauty in being our authentic selves just as there is in finding commonalities.
There is no one way to be black, white, brown, or multiracial.
There is no one way to be straight or queer, old or young, woman, man, or non-binary.
There is no one way to be human.
In a few brief paragraphs, Morgan shows us that we don’t have to fit a stereotype to fit into a community. We don’t have to share the same skin color to enjoy the same interests, and we don’t have to enjoy the same interests to share the same skin color.
Take a moment to read and appreciate her story; then, take a moment to appreciate yourself.
MIXED FEELINGS - Morgan Rouse
“What are you?”
“Can I touch your hair?”
“No you’re not, prove it.”
“You don’t act like it.”
As a mixed race individual, I have heard remarks like these my entire life. Too often the expectations of how I should act or feel are prescribed by others based on how I look. As a woman of black and white descent, I feel as though I’ve spent substantial periods of my life figuring out who I should be. I mean beyond the typical angst associated with navigating the teenage years or developing a career path. I mean: who I should be, fundamentally? I’ve come to realize that defining oneself outside societal stereotypes takes time and courage; I am influenced by two standards of “normal” and despite the pressures, I am the only one who can determine how I engage with this duality.
Growing up, I often found it easier to associate with the half that I most visibly portrayed: white. It wasn’t a perfect fit and while I shared some experiences with my white counterparts, the experiences which had been paramount in my life were not like theirs. I felt as though I was hiding part of myself. I grew up in a black church, attending cookouts with my black family, and supporting the black community as a whole. In the back of my mind, I also knew I didn’t want to be seen as the “token white girl”, as someone vying to fit into a culture I was not born into. I wanted to be acknowledged as the black, or at least half black, woman that I truly am.
As I grew up, the expectation of how a black girl or a white girl is supposed to act weighed heavily on me. Stereotypes of what each race does and doesn’t do are constantly portrayed in the media. So I meditated on how I was supposed to dress, what my hair should look like, and what interests I should have. In every aspect, I truly felt that I was somewhere in between; I was performing an internal balancing act. Authenticity has always been one of the qualities I cherish most in others and I struggled with moments of internal crisis. In the times when I acted more “white” or more “black,” was I even being my own authentic self?
My insecurities largely stemmed from my desire to fit in and feel like I was part of a community. I had a constant sense of trying to prove myself to the people around me. I distinctly remember many times as a child when I had to provide photographic evidence of my parents for others to accept my mixed identity. I remember people playing with my hair as if I were a part of a petting zoo. The demands and curiosities of others only reinforced my need to prove myself; by trying to fit in, I became complicit in my own otherizing.
In settings where the scrutiny was less blatant, it was still natural for me to accentuate certain aspects of myself based on the immediate environment. Though these facets of myself were never invented, they were certainly amplified. Ultimately, I wanted to be relatable and feel a sense of belonging. Though it wasn’t always explicitly expressed, I knew certain segments of the black community refused to accept me, or mixed individuals more generally, as being black. At the same time, being the child of a black parent, I’ve recognized many white individuals who refused to view me as anything other than black.
While I have questioned my identity throughout my entire life, I also recognize my privilege as a fair-skinned individual. I am treated differently than my mother or my siblings with darker skin. To some extent, I will never truly know what it’s like to be black in America. The discrimination and hate that many African-Americans face today is something I can not credibly speak to. Given my privilege, it would be ignorant for me to suggest otherwise. However, I can address the prevalence and damaging effects of racism through some of my own experiences.
My racial ambiguity has given me the opportunity to see the veiled racism of others bubble to the surface. I can’t count the number of instances I’ve gone shopping with my mother or grandmother and the store workers have asked, “Are you together? ” Other times I walk into a store first and am greeted by a smiling worker at the front. Not too long after, my mother walks in to find that same employee silent and disinterested. It happens more frequently than you’d think and you never get used to it. I’m lucky to have a mother that is not afraid to call it out every time it happens, because it’s important for everyone to have their biases checked. Racism is still racism, however hard people try to mask or normalize it.
Other times, I’m able to see blatant racism from people who don’t realize I’m black, whether it’s use of derogatory racial slurs towards another black person, or towards black culture as a whole. In particular, references to animals, laziness, or “those people” are incredibly disrespectful and unsettling, albeit not uncommon. In situations such as this, revealing my heritage always results in great shock and dismay from the formerly undercover racists. It usually doesn’t take more than one sentence to unravel their shameless disposition. “I’m half black, by the way.” The look on their faces is unforgettable, though it is rarely accompanied by an admission of guilt. While most clam up, others have - completely without irony - blamed me for not telling them sooner. But how was I to know that they were racist?
To those that try to trivialize my experience, I challenge you to consider different viewpoints of racial identity. As time goes on, there will be even more multiracial people like myself. It is important to think about their experiences and attempt to dismantle the polarized stereotypes of individual races and ethnicities. The rigidity of these stereotypes contributes to internal conflicts like those I have experienced and complicates the formation of identity.
There is not one mixed race experience and everyone participates in their culture, or cultures, differently. Mixed race individuals do not all look the same or share the same experiences; our perspectives cannot be simplified or generalized. I’ve grown to appreciate my mixed roots for the unique perspective it has given me and the internal dialogue it continues to spark. Over the last few years, I have developed so much more confidence in my identity and now view it as an asset rather than a burden. My identity affords me the opportunity to experience what American society often depicts as polar opposites. I share some unique experiences with each half of my family but I also like to think about the similarities between them. Both sides of my family come from rural North Carolina and each carry several generations of farmers. With strong spiritual backgrounds, they both share important core values regarding life and family.
Finding commonalities like those I’ve identified in my personal life is necessary to relieve tensions in our country caused by our individual identities. The impact of identity on a person’s psyche should not be underestimated. Identity is fundamental. Identity is not static. However diverse our experiences may be, whether we are mixed race or not, we are all human and have common ties that hold us together. In anticipation of an increasingly diversified future, building a better understanding of the implications of race on identity is crucial. Though it won’t be a simple process, finding common ground is a start.
Artwork by Amanda Sin. @amandazsin
MORE TO THE STORY
"Living at the intersection of different identities and cultures [was like] stumbling around in a forest in the dark." Click here to check out NPR's brief segment on racial imposter syndrome, originally aired on their popular podcast "Code Switch."
"In America, the number of interracial couples, multi-racial individuals, and multiracial families is expected to grow 180% by 2050." Dr. Theresa LaBarrie discusses the many influences forming multiracial identity, and it's treatment throughout American history. Click here to read her short report.