(photo by Karen Kirchman)
The color of IN
When I was about 12 years old, I watched a movie based on an Alex Haley novel called Queen. At that time, my racial identity was never a question. I never asked about how the color of one’s skin and made someone IN or OUT, majority or minority, popular or unpopular, or if you had to belong to a certain race. I grew up in a Californian multicultural neighborhood with a set of parents representing two different races. Being IN was being mixed. At school, and in our neighborhood, we kids all were. Isn’t that how the rest of the United States, this supposed melting pot was? That movie shattered my perfect racial kaleidoscope worldview in that I learned racism existed. I didn’t sleep well at night. I kept wondering what I was. Am I BLACK or am I WHITE? What does society think? What do my friends think? I have tan skin, light eyes, and curly hair. Where do I fit IN?
In high school, I was forced to start choosing. Groups of kids separated themselves into the White kids, the Black jocks, the Asian breakers, and the Mexican gangsters. I drifted from one group to another when I finally settled among the “smart kids” since we were all shapes and colors and inadvertently excluded from the popular crowds due to the fact that we made good grades and that wasn’t cool. When college applications and scholarships came, I had to put on paper what may race was. Check one box that describes your race/ethnic background. (So I checked two.) According to the old “one drop rule,” I was Black but I didn’t dress, talk, or “act” Black according to the other Black girls at school. They excluded me from their groups but not as an acquaintance. In several occasions in high school and college en route to my next class, I was cornered and asked why I spoke White, dressed White, hung out in White groups/sororities, or had a “White” college major.
This show has brought to surface many of my old emotional struggles with the desire to find inclusion while battling exclusion based on the fact that I don’t fit this perfect racial definition. I am saddened that after 150 years since the end of slavery, racial tension continues and those of use who are not 100% of one race struggle to find acceptance. I witnessed it when our nation’s president ran for office. I see it with older civil rights era Americans who want to hold onto the idea that we need to continue racial exclusion that is masked as racial inclusion. I see it in today’s youth. When will we all be IN no matter the color of our skin?