Black Sister, White Sister

I recently devoured Caucasia by Danzy Senna and all of its biracial glory. As best reviewed in Soul Mates by Elizabeth Schmidt (no reference to a previous post entitled Sole Mates and Soul Mates), the work is about the maturation of mulatto Birdie Lee and her ability to identify with herself and within familial relationships.

The book follows the young woman throughout childhood and into adolescence and with each turn of the page I see myself in her experiences. Her rare, rebellious, red-headed white mother is the dead on description of my birth mother. Her black father’s lifelong search for his personal connectedness is symbolic of my birth father. However, I am most intrigued by her relationship with her sister.

I am infatuated with the bond between sisters, a union of which I do not quite understand. It was not until three years ago that I even learned that I had a sister, a few sisters (but for the sake of this post I will focus on two). While Birdie Lee had a sister who was both black and white, I have a sister who is black and one who is white.

I smiled at the thought of writing that last sentence.

Let me tell you a bit about my sisters. One is a wife and super mom, in every sense of the phrase, and if ever a ‘S’ was tattooed on someone’s chest-it was hers. She is the full-time, stay home mother of four beautiful little people under six! She plants things that she actually cooks (!) and does yard work, hikes, and camps. She is dedicated to the lives of her children, but recognizes that she is a woman outside of being a mom. My sister is full of creative energy and intellectual conversation and she is the absolute life of the party.

The other has taken the professional track, finishing undergrad and graduate school and moving up the corporate ladder at her job. She is a member of a sorority and is a dancer (in a troop not a club). She is a huge supporter of the arts and enjoys frequent cultural travels. She is four months shy of her first anniversary and her only child walks on all fours and is of the canine persuasion. She has a plethora of food allergies and her husband teases that she should have come with a manual.

I fall somewhere between my sisters. I am juggling familial and professional careers. I am creative, a self-prescribed intellectual and often called on to start a party. I am currently in graduate school and I love all things artistically stimulating. I also am the owner of a Schnoodle (same breed as Grady, my neph-dog). With one sister I share a mother; with the other I share a father. We all share the inability to shop for brassieres in cutesy stores for the less blessed like Victoria’s Secret.

It’s been three years and while my relationship with my sisters isn’t strange (as in the Braxtons), they aren’t strong (as in the Mowrys) either. We’re working on building them and I’m working on my understanding of all their intricacies. If Birdie Lee fights through life and strife as a young, teenage woman to find her sister and chooses to live with her, surely the bond is worth building.

Just before posting, I had a thought…I wonder if you made any racial recognition to my sisters as they were described.  I realized I didn’t give any identification to them and I guess that is because the definitions could apply to either of them as easily as neither of them and quite honestly it doesn’t matter if the mom is black or the professional is white. What did you think?

Connoisseur of Peace for Happiness

I am a big fan of reading and writing (not so much of arithmetic) but I can calculate an additional 25% off a 40% off sales price in T minus 60 seconds while giving my eight year old the ‘you better not even think about it’ stare while talking on the phone and waiting in line for a dressing room vacancy during the Easter weekend rush at Belk’s. Some forms of math just come naturally.

By the way, the twenty-something, gum popper standing behind me learned a valuable lesson that day. Never question the focus ability of the ultimate multi-tasker, I see door number three opening and I see your size two, $200 skinny jeans trying to slide past me. “Excuse me sweetie, were you expecting to share this room?”

But I digress.

Reading and writing. My love of these has spilled into my décor over the past few years in the form of word art on canvas. My first piece was the definition of ‘connoisseur’ purchased on an end cap at Target for $9.98. It hangs in my kitchen, taunting my desire to become an authority on gourmet* cuisine and wine aficionado. When the weekend is extended to include Friday, the taunts shall be silenced.

My favorite canvas is a wordle of ‘peace’ in several different languages. This symbolizes my wish for multicultural harmony and if nowhere else it exists when I am curled up beneath the wall covering, wrapped in a zebra blanket, sipping Japanese matcha, eating Lebkuchen wafers and watching Frida.

While engaging in a bit of retail therapy this weekend, I ran across one of those pieces by which I am intrigued. Actually, I ran across two. One at half price had a slash in the middle of the canvas that was barely noticeable but visible nevertheless. The other, identical in every other way, was full price and flawless.

And so began the familiar debate with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, only there really was no right or wrong decision. After boredom set in amidst the myriad of household goods, my sons chimed in, “Save money. You can’t even see that little scratch.” “You’re worth the good one. Spend a little extra on yourself.” I considered the first word in the list, ‘happiness’. What would make me happy: getting the whole one at the price of the damaged one for sure. But with that option off the table (unless I wanted to consider an illegal activity) I had to choose between money and value.

In the end, the unblemished canvas found its way to the trunk of my car. After all, with two active sons, it won’t be long before we give it a scratch or two; but then, it will be ours.

Who wants to buy something someone else has already damaged? Damn. That’s an awfully loaded question.

*On the same day, at another Target, on another end cap, a girlfriend was purchasing the definition of ‘gourmet’. I have been trying to convince her to give me her hanging ever since we discovered our match. I am hopeful that this post will help.

“Check All That Apply”

The question and answer below are between Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky and NPR Interviewer, Michelle Norris for All Things Considered on March 2, 2010.

Norris: One last quick question for you. Are you okay with the term biracial, or is there something else that you would like to hear as a label or a description applied to you?

Durrow: I like biracial. I say I’m mixed. I say I’m half African American and half Danish. If I have to say that I’m just black or I’m just white, then I’m not telling the whole story of myself or my experience, and I’d really like to be whole in my conversations with others. The thing I like to say these days is, I’m a story. I think that would be the very best label of all, definitely.

Ever since setting a Google alert for ‘biracial’, I have read more than enough articles from people admonishing people of mixed race to claim one race to identify with. I have lost sleep over these articles in the last few weeks. I yell at the ignorance of the authors and question their ability to make claims for a group to which they do not belong. I can no more claim one heritage over the other than I can one son over his brother. I have started four or five posts debating the issue and arguing for my right to be both black and white. Today I realized, I do not have to fight for this right, it is already mine.

Some say that claiming both is a form of self hatred for one half, typically the black half. To this I say, self hatred is in claiming one color characteristic and denying the other. I spent many years as an ardent self-hater. Because I was not reared by my white mother or with any considerable representation of her race, I learned to despise it. We tend to despise what we fear, fear what we do not understand and misunderstand what we do not know. I did not understand what it meant to be white any more than I did what it meant to not be adopted. I feared being the enemy. I feared that one day everyone in my black world would hate me as much as they did my white ancestry.

I should probably use present tense in the previous sentence.

At an early age, I learned to dismiss with a wave or a shrug whenever a black person in my presence made a derogatory comment against a white person. And it was okay because I didn’t consider myself white, just light, as I was often reminded. For many years I claimed one or another Spanish-speaking lineage based on resemblance not existence. Today I cringe at the sound of someone black disrespecting my white self with an assumption of oppression like “you know they won’t give a black man that job” or “they only treated her like that cause she’s black”. However, I do not dismiss their experience based beliefs.

I can’t recall being in the presence of a white person and hearing such a statement reversed but then again, that could be because they identify me as black too. Oh and the worse is when someone of either race says someone is acting a certain color! Now I’m all about embracing some stereotypes because it’s so much easier than becoming enraged over them and many of them are rooted in a tad bit of truth. Black people love fried chicken, as evident by the Popeyes, Bojangles, KFC, and Church’s all on New Bern Avenue in Southeast Raleigh. White guys love the uniform (= khaki pants + blue oxford shirt and on occasion a navy blue blazer). On one day during my hour lunch, while sitting outside the Wake County courthouse, I counted seventeen uniforms!

Not a day goes by without the proverbial “What you mixed with?” A few days ago a student asked if I was a mulatto. A few weeks ago, I overheard two students heatedly arguing my Latina heritage. I recall being labeled Portugese, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Italian, Native American, Mediterranean and even Turkish. I have been described as light-skinned(ed), red-bone(d), high yellow, light bright, lite-brite-damn-near-white, oreo, zebra cake, white chocolate, mocha latte, and my personal favorite-crigga.

 I have been defined as black and labeled as white but I am neither and yet I am both.

I am biracial.