On Being Black And White Essay, Research Paper
I was late for school, and my father had to walk me in to class so that my teacher would know the reason for my tardiness. My dad opened the door to my classroom, and there was a hush of silence. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on my father and me. He told the teacher why I was late, gave me a kiss goodbye and left for work. As I sat down at my seat, all of my so-called friends called me names and teased me. The students teased me not because I was late, but because my father was black. They were too young to understand. All of this time, they thought that I was white, because I had fare skin like them, therefore I had to be white. Growing up having a white mother and a black father was tough. To some people, being black and white is a contradiction in itself. People thought that I had to be one or the other, but not both. I thought that I was fine the way I was. But like myself, Shelby Steele was stuck in between two opposite forces of his double bind. He was black and middle class, both having significant roles in his life. “Race, he insisted, blurred class distinctions among blacks. If you were black, you were just black and that was that” (Steele 211).
Since Altoona is a primarily white city, I grew up being around white people 90% of the time. The only time I really spent being around blacks was with my father everyday, and with family members on my father’s side. So of course I consider myself as being whiter because of the fact that I was raised mostly around white people. I know I don’t look like the average white person, or the average black person, but who’s to say what blacks and whites are suppose to look like. I have my own unique color. It is what my biracial friends and I call the “yellow race”.
When I was younger, even though at home I felt nothing to be wrong, in public, I tried to hide the fact that I was biracial. I was ashamed to be black and white. Since I have very fair skin, I tended to lean towards the white side. If people didn’t know about my father, I wouldn’t tell them because I didn’t know how they would have reacted. I guess this was just because I didn’t want to be different from my friends and they also didn’t want me to be different from what they were. It’s like they were pulling me into their own world, and didn’t want to see what I actually was. They insisted that being both was just not acceptable. This was the way I lived my life, seeing myself as only white because that’s the only way my friends would see me. When Steele was younger, he saw himself as black and didn’t fret about his class. He said, “race took on an almost religious significance” (Steel 211). But when he got older and after hearing his friend’s comment, his “faith was weak” (Steele 212). He started to realize that he was both black and middle class. And as I became older, I began to realize that I didn’t have to hide the fact that I was both white and black.
When I came to the campus, I wasn’t sure how people would react to me. I wasn’t sure how I should “act”. Would people look at me differently if they knew I was biracial? I mean I couldn’t just decide to be white one day and black the next. Some people think it is like waking up and deciding what to wear, “Hmm, should I wear the red or blue shirt today?” “Hmm, should I be black or white today?”
My first dealing with my double bind here at school happened on the very first day of class. Several people asked me what nationality I was. I answered with “mixed.” I said, “my father is black and my mother is white.” They looked at me as if I was speaking different language? They couldn’t understand what I had just told them. Their first impression of me was that I was something else. “No I’m not Jamaican, and no I’m not Hispanic, I’m simply just half-black and half-white.” Why couldn’t they except the fact that I was biracial, African American and Caucasian? Why did I have to be a different nationality, like being biracial wasn’t good enough for them? I love to answer that question when I am asked, however I was not expecting that type of reaction from them. It was hard for them to comprehend that a person could actually be both black and white, and that they did not have to choose between one or the other. My first friend I made here was black. She told me that I am who I am, and there is nothing I can do to change where I came from. God chose me to be a biracial child for a reason. And because of that, I am now a stronger person. I am no longer ashamed that I am both, black and white.
I was talking to an older black friend the other day, who I was introduced to my senior year of high school, and he told me what his first impressions were of me. He said that when he first saw me on campus, he thought I was just going to be another one of those “lost” biracial kids that just forgot about the black half, and only “acted” white. Especially since I had straight, red hair with freckles, and I showed no signs of dressing like a black person. He said he thought this all along until he found out and was amazed by the fact that I was on the STEP (Strength, Teamwork, Ethnicity, and Power) dance team, and that I actually recognized that I was black. He said he was also shocked because of how many black friends I have made here. I was really offended by this, knowing that a friend of mine had made a judgement of me like that. He assumed that being raised in Altoona made me completely forget about half of my true identity. But I guess that he had the right to his own opinion considering I did come to school here spending most of my life around whites.
To me it seems like most blacks tend to have more of an understanding of where I am coming from. Whites see me as black and want me to be whiter like them, while blacks see me more as white. But the difference is that blacks aren’t trying to make me to be black. They just want to make sure that I don’t forget about that side of me.
Steele expresses, “What becomes clear to me is that people like myself, my friend, and middle-class blacks generally are caught in a very specific double bind that keeps two equally powerful elements of our identity at odds with each other” (Steele 212) But as long as you, yourself, are ok with your double bind, it shouldn’t matter what other people think. You can’t help what you were born into.
I’ve learned a lot from being black and white. It has made me much stronger of a person. If I ever had a chance to choose between one or the other so that I wouldn’t be stuck in this double bind, I wouldn’t. I’m not just white. And I’m not just black. I am both. I am biracial. And the way I see it is that I have the best of both worlds.