I read an interesting article recently on Halle Berry, one of my favorite actors by the way, where she talked a little about how she defines herself ethnically speaking. In the piece, she echoed something I heard Barack Obama, another Mixed – black and white – person, say once. She said she generally defines herself as black despite having a white mother because unless she wore a sign proclaiming her Mixed heritage, no one would see her as anything other than black. Again, I have heard this before, this notion that since people will see you, and treat you, as black, you are de facto black, so no point in proclaiming anything else. Now while I understand the logic, and agree that as far as my bi-ethnic kids are concerned, I would be remiss in not preparing them for what others will perceive them to be, I have for the most part, a huge disagreement with a concept that says you are only what others perceive.
Without a doubt, most people will judge bi-ethnic kids by what their predominant outer appearance is. But therein lies one problem. Bi-ethnic kids can look totally different so in essence we are saying forget their genetics and go by the darkness or lightness of skin, or the straightness or curliness of their hair, or the thickness or thinness of their nose, or by the way they carry themselves I suppose. So two bi-ethnic kids, say Asian and black, could, by this logic, be either black or Asian, depending upon whether their eyes were more Asian or American, or their skin darker or lighter. Unless of course you subscribe to the “one-drop rule” and simply say they are black regardless of how Asian they may look. And I have seen some blacks who “pass” for white or Latino. So by this logic are they white or Latino? See how silly this concept is?
But besides the silliness, my biggest problem with this notion of defining yourself based on what others perceive you to be is that it strips a person of all power to decide for themselves how they choose to identify. This is not to mention the danger of letting other, bigoted or ignorant, people tell you who you are when they know nothing about you but the exterior shell. The minute you let others dictate who you are, prepare yourself to be far less than your full self, and this goes for any and all of us, not just bi-ethnic people.
Now with that being said, being perceived as black or something else, should not be cause for alarm or shame. Indeed hopefully Halle, Barack, my kids, and all the other bi-ethnic children and people in the world, respond to this “you are what I perceive you to be” mentality with a pride in whichever ethnicity they are labelled as, and respond to it with a hearty “yes I am that and proud of it.” Because to say anything more to someone who tries to classify you like that, will only come across as defensive or ashamed of that side of who you are. And yet, in responding to such a classification that way, bi-ethnic people should also not let it cause them to forget that though others may only see one-half of who they are, that is that person’s problem, not theirs. And it is definitely too bad they cannot see ALL that you are because you are not half a person, even if others cannot visibly see that or have a hard time accepting or dealing with it. What other see walking down the street is all too often a matter of their hangups and history. How sad to let those people tell you who you are and what you should be.