Recently, my mother sent me an article by Brian Crooks that caught my eye because it was titled "What it's like to be black in Naperville, America". I grew up in the Plainfield, Illinois area, which is very close to Naperville.
Typically when my mom sends me these articles, I may skim through them or not even open them, but this one interested me because it is so close to home. In the article, Crooks talks about his experience of growing up in a place where there aren't a lot of black people and where you are judged for acting "too black" or "too white." I am a mixed female, so I feel I had it a lot easier then black males. But some of the stuff he talked about in his article applies to me as well.
My whole life, I grew up around people asking me what it's like being black, how my hair is so nice or if I am a "white" mixed person or a "black" mixed person (meaning do I act more white or black.) I understand that the majority of people meant no harm in asking me any of these questions and when I was little, I never really cared. If someone asked to feel my hair, or asked any questions that had to do with me being half black, I was fine with it. I didn't even care about the "funny" nicknames people had for me about my skin color, such as "Obama" or "halfrican." I never felt offended by these. But looking back on it, I wish I would have spoken up more and defended myself. Now all of these people who I allowed to do this to me will go on to another biracial person with the same words and hurt that person. At the time, I thought I was just being easy-going, but I was actually feeding in to the racism that blatantly exists in the suburb communities of Chicago.
Being a black person in America is clearly a struggle, and is a huge topic of conversation now especially with all of the #BlackLivesMatter advocates and protesters. However, being mixed is a parallel struggle to this, but has a few differences. For instance, I had an issue growing up with fitting in because I wasn't "white" enough to hangout with white people or "black" enough to fit in with black people. For this reason, I sort of formed two separate identities: One when I was with my white friends — where I allowed myself to be open-minded and accepting to all of there unintentionally racist comments, and one with my black friends — where I tried to fit in and be as stereotypically "black" as possible.
I do have benefits of being mixed and female, and I am grateful, yet saddened, at this fact. I haven't experienced situations that are circulating the news today. When I get pulled over, I don't ever get asked to step out of the car or have an officer keep his hand on his gun. I get let off easy, partially because of my paler complexion and partially because I am female. I also don't always get stared at or followed in stores when I am shopping all the time. It does occur on occasion, but definitely not as often as my dad, who is black, or my black friends. I am very fortunate to not have to worry for my life every time I step out of my house, but I still carry the stigmas from my childhood when I think about the innocent black men and women being killed by police and the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a whole.
I have not been to a protest or spoken out about any of these events because of how I grew up. I was the "cool," mixed person who never got offended by these events, and I don't like to cause drama at all. Deep down, I feel like if I speak out in support of #BlackLivesMatter it will cause issues with my white friends. And if I support how many of my white friends think, which is in support of #AllLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter, then I will be causing even more issues, especially with my family and black friends. My choice has been to stay quiet. But after reading Brian Crooks' article, I decided to speak up for once and hopefully make up for all the years that I didn't stand up for myself and my race.
Growing up in Plainfield, I don't think I realized my race until I was in middle school. That's around the time I received the nicknames associated with being bi-racial. I remember my parents sitting me down one night asking if it offended me when people called me these names, and I said "No it doesn't, because they are just joking." At the time, I didn't know why they were making such a big deal about it. Now, I realize that I should have listened to my parents and not let them call me those names because it was racist — whether I was OK with it or not. Even having people ask me all the time why my hair is more "white" because I can straighten it, or more "black" when I wear it curly. I should have said that my hair is mixed hair, I should have stuck up for myself more.
I remember going to my black friends house one day for a party with his whole family and they were joking around that I wasn't black because I dressed, talked,and looked more white. One of his uncles told me "Don't let them bother you like that. You're not white or black, you're mixed." Ever since he said that to me, I've used that anytime someone tries to throw a racist remark at me, even jokingly.
I am not fully black, so I will never fully understand what its like to be completely black, but I do understand and experience a lot more of the hardships black people go through than white people do.
I am also not fully white, but I do experience a small bit of white privilege in my life, such as not being targeted because of my pale complexion on a day to day basis. I also have the opportunity to grow up in a suburb of Chicago, away from the violence but close enough to learn about it and from it.
I could talk for days and give hundreds of examples of each way I am discriminated against/benefited from my situation, but instead I want to end on this note: Every life matters, and for those who are put down and punished for their skin color, we have to stand up for them and support them. Black lives do matter, that includes those with light skin, those with dark skin, mixed people and everyone in between. Racism exists in today's world, and ignoring it won't solve any of the problems it creates. Whether you're white, black, mixed, hispanic, whatever race or culture, we have to stick up for each other and not allow racism to be ignored. We have to stop allowing each other to joke about it. Killing each other isn't the answer either, but educating every race on the hardships black people face can only bring conversation to form a solution and end racism for good.