My daughter was a teenager and biracial. I said was, because in 2013 she committed suicide at the age of 15 due to severe, inherited depression. When I was pregnant, I worried very little about the prejudice or bias she might encounter because she was half-black; it seemed to me in the 20th century, in America, she would simply be accepted by both whites or blacks, or at least embraced by one or the other. In my world-view, everybody has a place in America, regardless of their skin color or heritage. As I now reflect back to my somewhat naive, simplistic understanding of what it would mean for her to be biracial, I have to admit that my understanding was narrow and limited. Her experience as a biracial child was not simple, but complicated. And although she was not an “outcast” to either ethnic group, neither did she feel completely included or understood by either of them. Because of this, her self-esteem suffered. She was in the “midlands;” neither here, nor there. She was not included by either group; not identified completely with the whites, nor able to totally relate to the blacks. She was a unique amalgamation; a solitary individual. And sometimes, as she explained, it got very lonely.
When I’d ask her if she related to the black youth’s culture of hip-hop fashion, rap music and slang, she’d replied quietly, “Sort of.” When I asked if she “fit in” with the weight-obsessed, perfectionistic white girls, she admitted with down turned eyes and a sigh that she didn’t, with her wide nose and challenging black hair. Where does a teenager, who belongs to two ethnic groups, land? She admitted feeling misunderstood by both groups of kids. She repeated the statement a lot to me that she is “just me” and “unique.” I think she was trying to sell herself on the idea. She was different from even the minority kids. She was a minority within a minority, and she was already seriously struggling at 13 to accept herself. But I didn’t know how deep her doubts ran. What teenage girl isn’t feeling insecure about herself? Girls of this age typically struggle with poor self-image. They see themselves as too fat or too thin, too ugly or too curvy, too shy or too loud, too poor… but never too rich! Yet even the “rich girls” find something to object to about themselves, because they are all in a similar difficult metamorphosis called “maturing.” They are experiencing inner turmoil, just as the caterpillar struggling within the cocoon. They wrestle with themselves until they realize one day that being whoever they are is divinely perfect. Then they take wing, and fly away. But my biracial teenager had a doubly hard job of learning to fly, because she was defying all racial stereotypes by simply being who she was.
The one thing I knew to do as a parent was to reassure her that she was beautiful and perfect, and that it’s okay to be “different.” As a lesbian, I am a sexual minority, so I’ve experienced being bullied for my “differentness.” While I knew it would eventually make her a stronger person, I also knew it would be years and years before she was able to truly embrace and accept her individuality, and to express her love of it, if she ever could. The world can be a confusing and difficult place if you don’t “fit in” with mainstream white culture. In the final analysis, I hoped and believed these ethnic challenges would make her a stronger person. It is said: “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” (Neitzche). Unfortunately, being different contributed to her feelings of alienation, only widening the divide between her and the world as the years wore on.
In my book, being a different color in a white and black world only adds to the beauty; diversity never detracts. Different is often interesting and noteworthy-and someday, I hoped this is what she would grow to be, never imagining she would be noteworthy in a tragic way. There is beauty in being biracial, though society seldom acknowledges it.
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