American | African-American
I was born in the United States. My dad was born in Florida and is of African-American heritage, my mom was born in Kentucky. When people ask where I’m from, it’s difficult for me to interpret what kind of answer they want. Sometimes people may mean what area I live in, in others its where my family originate from.
I recently did my ancestry DNA, growing up I didn’t know where or what our origins were. It didn’t really affect me, at least I thought it didn’t affect me. When I moved to the UK is when I began to question my heritage. So, I did my ancestry DNA and I found my blood line. My dad’s side traces back to Ghana, Ivory Coast & Nigeria. On my mother’s side, it’s primarily Scandinavian and British.
I will say that when I told my parents what had come back from ancestry DNA, they were shocked because my mom didn’t know Scandinavian was even part of her makeup. My parents didn’t even know really where they were from. I was always told that I had a little bit of native American but in the end that’s not true.
My parents met in upstate New York and I was raised about an hour away from Canada. We call it kind of like a Midwestern bubble because we speak similarly to people in the Midwest of the United States, which is very flat. My parents are still together, still kicking it. You come across so many people that have parents that have spun out of course. That often changes how you are brought up, when you live with each of your parents your culture changes.
I grew up in Rochester which was a very interesting place for someone like me because it’s a predominantly Irish and Italian area. Rochester is one of the biggest cities in New York, but I grew up in the suburbs outside of it, a little town called Greece.
I was 10 years old when I realised my mixed ethnicity. As a kid I was very eccentric, I liked tension. I remember being in public and my dad saying “don’t make a scene, people are already staring at us”. That was something that really resonated with me. I know he was trying to protect us, but there were ramifications of saying something like that to a small child. You learn to diminish yourself at a young age. When someone tells you that when you’re a teenager you’ve got a little bit of a thicker skin. When your 10 years old your parents are the people that you look at as super heroes, they’re the ones that you learn everything from and when they say, don’t be yourself because people are already staring at us. People are staring at us. Don’t be you because we don’t want any more attention than we’re already getting. That line has been something that I have kind of grappled with over the years, especially being an actor. When you’re an actor you have to be able to lose yourself in another character, but you also have to be willing for people to stare. This was when I started therapy. I’ve always kind of been an actor and a singer and a dancer and so I think that they would never even assume that that would have been an issue for me. It probably wasn’t until my late twenties when I got to the place where I realized that if I wanted to do the things in life that I wanted to do, I was going to have to be willing to shed the kind of ideology that had been carrying around for so long. If I wanted this life, this great life that I've always wanted, then you’re going to have to go and take it. That was a very freeing time. I was able to find love and get married, have children. I now really understand the impact words have on children based on things that my dad may never remember even saying to me. But those are the things that stick and so you have to be very careful, not in a way of censoring yourself but examining yourself and where you’re at with your feelings. The more work that you do, the less kind of baggage you lay on your children.
I wouldn’t say that race, sexual orientation & religion play a part in who is a part of my friendship ground. I think being mixed growing up had an impact on my childhood friendships. I don’t think I ever had a core group of friends, it was something that I was always envious of people who had. I never had that. I don’t know if it was a way of me protecting myself from letting anyone too close.
My husband and I, we have some similarities. In terms of foundations of life, things that we wanted out of life. But we have many more differences and I can’t tell if I am a glutton for punishment. I’ve always liked that we were different. I felt like it was a bit more of a unit, a Yang kind of thing. I think I’ve always thought that the things I lack he has and the things that he lacks, I have. I think that kind of makes it work culturally. He’s French so our household is a big kind of mishmash. I feel like it doesn’t make us special, but it makes us unique. We are ourselves, I don’t think you can cut and paste us.
You have a lot of people to this day who are still dealing with White nationalists, people still trying to keep White people in power & no race mixing. I’m keep thinking to myself, it’s 2018. So unfortunately, I think that you have people out there that would have you deny any sense of emotion regarding another person and say ‘oh, you’re Black so I can’t be with you’.
To me, it just doesn’t make any sense. That mixed kids are some kind of anomaly, or some kind of experiment. Honestly, I think they’re pretty magical. My husband can speak about being French, I can speak about being American. But I can speak about being American as a Black man because of my appearance. We used a surrogate for our children, we have three-and-a-half-year-old twins. I am the biological father of my daughter. My husband is the biological father of our son. They have the same biological mother and were carried in the womb together. Their biological mother was also half Black and half White. My daughter is 50 percent Black, 50 percent White. My son is 75 percent White and 25 percent Black, their appearances are different. My daughter looks pretty much the spitting image of me. My son has light brown, blondish hair. No one would ever question he would be anything but White, which I think will be very interesting for him growing up because he will have a mixed father. He will be mixed, but he will be perceived as White. There’s going to be a lot of education. They need to be educated on what things are, what they’re like. Some people will try to put a blind eye to it, but the world is changing. I think many people can hide behind their idea of what Black is, what White is, what gay is, what straight is. I think we need to show the world what the world is it.
In the states, this whole idea of ‘let’s make America great again’. What does that even mean, what does great mean? We need to show the world as the world is today. It is not a linear Black and White conversation any longer. It’s mixing the colours, it doesn’t get more beautiful than that. The power in it is that people are embracing it.
When I was younger, it was very difficult. Especially in high school, kids can be cruel. I never really fit in with anyone. There’s nothing more stumping then for when a White person says, ‘I don’t even really think of you as Black’. They just questioned my entire existence. I would then question what does the term Black mean to you? That then leads me to the question, why is that your definition of what Black is? Is that what you’re fed on television? Is that what you’re fed via music?
We’re all individuals and we all should be true to ourselves. That may or may not be according to the definition that you’ve decided something is. I’ve had a lot of people meet me and ask, ‘what are you?’. When I tell them, I’m mixed they’ll turn to their friends, ‘mixed people are always the most beautiful people. That leaves you feeling unique. I’m no greater than anyone else and no less than anyone else. We need to stand up and own who we are. I think that’s kind of the point and the goal of everyone, especially for mixed people who probably at some point or another in their life have had many questions. You don’t have to pick one culture or one, just own all of it.
If I was to be born again I would like to be born with the knowledge that I have now.
It’s those trials and tribulations that you go through make you who you are. I’m good with who I am. And so, if I were to be born again, I would own that and stick with me.
I think mixed-race is going to take over the world. When the civil rights movement happened, and people of different colours started to fraternize it was very taboo. Then those people started having children and that’s through the civil rights movement of people just trying to get basic equal rights. Now you’ve got so many mixed people in the world using platforms like yours which are elevating their voices. I’m amplifying them for the world to see. I think what that does is, for lack of a better term, it normalises it. There are all these beautiful people out there with these beautiful stories. And I think the more that people see that happening, then it’s like ‘oh, well that’s normal’. It’s just openness, the more open we are as a culture, the more we thrive. I think our stories are going to be heard more. The more of us there are, the more stories there are to be told. The more stores there are to be told we’ll then in a way kind of create more of us.