Italian | African-American
I identify as a straight Black identified bi-racial or mixed-race Christian/Buddhist. My Mother was born in the United States but hailed from Southern Italy (Maschito, Potenza Province). My Father was African American from the South (North Carolina). I grew up in New York City. My parents met on Staten Island (one of the five boroughs); and we lived in Brooklyn until they divorced at which time my mother moved back to Staten Island to be near her parents.
I recognized I was mixed-race at about 7 or 8. Before then, when I saw my parents, I simply saw Mom and Dad. When my mother moved back to her Italian roots, things began to change, and I began noticing the difference in the way the world treated me, versus my mother versus my father. Early on, I don't remember my cultures being spoken about. My Mother however, had a bright mind and an activist’s nature. If she saw something racially out of line she would speak up. Her blind side however was her thought that as ‘her child’, the world was treating me the same way it did her. My Father was the quiet fighter. He chose to handle racial issues by becoming highly accomplished, to be irrefutable. He worked hard to make sure we knew our worth. I’ve always considered this a huge blessing.
I grew up in the in the United States at the tail end of the civil rights era; a difficult time when some White folks were not at all happy with the legally mandated changes. My mother’s family was out and out racist unfortunately.
I was called the N word as a regular event and wasn't seen as either Black or White, although accepted more by Blacks than Whites. A girl asked me once if, "when I washed my hair it got wet?”. In high school homeroom kids would throw food in my hair for a good laugh. On the way to school there were race riots. Our bus actually got ‘stoned’ (rocks thrown at the bus), because some folks did not want a small group of us to go to the better high school on the other side of the Island. You would have thought that this was the South, but nope, New York City. Twenty minutes from Manhattan. Crazy times.
I think where you live, who your friends are and who you interact with make all the difference in how you see yourself. I am long married to a mixed-race man who had always had a strong sense of himself. That helped me learn to be proud of who I am. I pick my friends very carefully. They come in all shapes and sizes. It’s the mindset that has to be compatible.
I think ignorance is the major problem. Fear of change, fear of ‘different’, or of the unknown keeps some people small minded which can be dangerous. To try and demean a person on the notion that somehow being mixed is not ‘whole’ or ‘pure’ is ridiculous. We are all wholly human after all. I happen to think power has a lot to do with it.
I consider myself Black. I get my strength from that. When I think about the every day struggle Black folks deal with here and around the world, what my father dealt with, my husband, and the grace and intelligence with which they and many men and women even today handle racism. It makes me nothing but proud. I can relate to this, fighting what I call ‘the good fight’.
I’ve learned I have my mother’s fight too however. I lost her young. She was just 45 when she died. As such, I have enjoyed learning more about her roots through ancestry etc. And while I find it fascinating (I’ve even met some great new relatives; I’m certain she would understand the path I took.
When asked where I’m from at this point as long as it’s not asked in a condescending way, I pretty much answer what they’re really asking. I’ll generally start with the question “Oh, do you mean..” and then where my mother & father are from, I’m no longer offended. I acknowledge it can be a bit of a drag, but I think if some of these folks are genuinely wanting to learn then good. More and more people are going to look like me. It’s inevitable.
I think all the experiences of my past made me who I am right now. I don’t look at it as positive or negative. I actually do get a kick out of people trying to figure me out. I find it amusing. Why are you so curious? I don’t care what YOU are.
I think being mixed-race now is much better than in my youth. I wouldn’t wish those experiences on anyone. I’m pleased that the younger generation can self identify as they please with less consequence. Through my life I have literally witnessed the progress. I watch, I listen, I read and I learn. It makes me happy to see the changes. Seems like it’s now an ‘in thing’. Not so in my day.
My main goals have been to not be such that I’d feel I would need a ‘do over’. I’m good. Challenges make you grateful and humble. Namaste