Beyond Black and White

Claire - Ballwin, Missouri
Entered on April 30, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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Total strangers come up to me, sometimes, as I change clothes for cross country practice or stand in line to pay for my Twizzlers at Schnucks, and ask, “So, what are you?” It takes my brain a few seconds to register the attack. I’m thinking: I’m a girl, I’m a daughter, I’m a student, I’m a runner, I’m a babysitter, I’m a friend…

But I know the inevitable question they are intending to ask—

“I’m half black, half white.”

Sometimes there’ll be a pause and a follow-up question—“Is your mom black or is your dad?” I’ll give a slight nod inferring my mom and the stranger will stand there nodding as well and walk away; their curiosity finally satisfied. Other times, the stranger precedes their inquiries with “I don’t mean to be rude but…” and then continues to examine my origins.

It’s always the same. I’m randomly doing something, and out of nowhere, someone blindsides me with this question. I have no time to think of a witty response, no time to fully define and explain who I am.

I assume the question is just one of curiosity, but I wonder as the stranger turns to walk away, why they never asked my name.

And just as quickly as it begins, it’s over. In a flash I have been reviewed and defined: nameless girl, half-black, half-white. I’m left contemplating my physical features. Had the person been merely curious or judgmental? What did they think I was before I had labeled myself? Instead of answers I am left with only my beliefs. But, what are those beliefs?

I believe each individual should be free to define themselves however he or she wants. Each person’s identity is first created by parents and then formed by the individual themselves into a complex and multifaceted “definition”. A definition that takes more than five words to sum up, certainly, and a definition that is too intimate to share with random strangers. Each individual should have an identity based on who he or she is, rather than what someone wishes to define them as.

This I truly believe.