Ambiguous in America: What are you?

I am an edge person. My mom is transparently white due to her Germanic heritage and my dad has brown skin with red undertones due to his African American, Choctaw heritage. While I maintain an understanding of various groups, I do not maintain a solid identity with any given group. My racial ambiguity allows me to slip in and out of different races/ethnicities without consequences - whether I want to or not. My tan, light complexion, golden curly hair and light green eyes throw people for a loop everyday.

My sister Jade (in the pink) and me (in the orange), ambiguous and magic as ever.

My sister Jade (in the pink) and me (in the orange), ambiguous and magic as ever.

My racial and/or ethnic identity has always been something others bring up to me. Sometimes I receive the broad question, “What are you?,” like it truly matters that I'm classified. Sometimes people ask me about my nationality as a pathway into what my race is and I just say I’m American and wait for them to ask the right question (if they must know and have a lick of sense). As much as I confuse people, I do not share the projected perplexities of others about myself.

Somewhere in American circa 2000

Somewhere in American circa 2000

Racialization is America’s obsession. It has been since the time of colonization. As described in How Race Survived, “in the Middle Ages skin color would have provoked nothing more than mild curiosity.” However, this changed even though “African laborers sometimes worked for a term of service alongside similarly indentured Europeans”. Eventually, legislation was introduced to separate the poor Africans from the poor Europeans to diminish their chances of successfully rebelling against the wealthy. Few people know this reasoning propagated Maryland and Virginia outlawing interracial sex in the early 1660s. As mentioned in Race: The Power of an Illusion, the controlling majority has used racialization as a way to categorize others as naturally “indignant” in order to maintain societal power structures.

I’ve been called a mutt, a hybrid, or reminded that I would have been a house slave if I were born 150 years ago. (Yes, the last one is a jaw dropper. Did I mention that non-consensual rape was also a part of that picture?). People have told me I should be confused and like I said earlier…I’m not. I actually always thought being able to fill in three bubbles—like my parents taught me— before standardized tests was awesome. Why wouldn’t I want to be able to fill in more bubbles than anyone else?

Am I confused as to who I am? No. Am I conscious of the way others perceive me? Absolutely, because as noted above, I never know if someone is going to call me exotic, confused or a mutt next. I’m not your or anyone’s tragic mulatto. I’m a proud mixed woman with a pocket full of magic because I decide who I am.

Lena MadisonComment