by Joleen Brantle
I haven’t always been very racially aware. When I was a child Pokémon cards, cartoons, and school were of vastly greater importance to me. I was raised in a very diverse city with a strong Latino presence. I had friends of every race. Why would one’s skin color matter? It certainly didn’t to me.
That naivety ended abruptly in 5th grade. Two significant factors came to a head. I began attending an all-white conservative Church, and my African-American father died; which catalyzed my process of rejecting him to appease the pain he had caused me, the effects of which I’m still working to undo.
Consequently, I began to mold myself and my values in opposition to his. He was divorced, so I vowed I would never do such a thing. He was estranged from his family, so I tried to build bonds with mine. He was an angry and occasionally abusive man, so I fought to control my stronger emotions. He was a Brantley, so I wanted to take my mother’s maiden name. Most of all, he was Black, so I wouldn’t be.
Obviously, my rejection of my Black side and desperate clinging to my White side manifested itself in myriad ways. If someone ever referred to me as black, I immediately and vehemently informed them of my specific racial makeup, “I’m 5/8 white, I’m Mixed not Black”! I refused to listen to any music associated with the darker race, like hip hop or rap, for fear of people stereotyping me with “those other Black people”. I regularly made fun of gospel music, and I proudly told anyone who asked that I didn’t know a single Beyoncé song. Moreover, I routinely called African-Americans “ghetto”, as that was one of the worst insults imaginable to my mind.
Furthermore, I was attracted to boys from every ethnicity except African. I told my Caucasian best friend that if she had children with the fair-haired and fair-skinned guy she liked, they would have the perfect children: blond hair, blue eyes, and lily white skin. I worshipped at the altar of Eurocentric beauty ideals. I hated my curly hair and was embarrassed when my skin tanned to a deep coffee hue in the summer. When my peers told me “I talked white” I smiled at their ‘compliment’ and was proud. I fantasized about marrying a white guy and having children with lighter skin than me and eventually purging the despised Black out of my line. I hated, and was deeply ashamed of, my African-American heritage.
I cannot recall an exact moment when I first started on my journey to self-acceptance; a path upon which I still find myself treading. But if I had to pinpoint a time, it would be when I discovered Jennifer Beals (my story is yet another example of the importance of representation in media). When I found out that this brilliant, talented, enlightened actress was biracial like myself, it was like a lightbulb went off. Someone of African-American and Caucasian ancestry could succeed AND embrace their full identity! I never doubted my potential to achieve great things, but I always envisioned myself doing so in spite of my black half.
While I had prided myself for years on my expansive knowledge in comparison with my age, this discovery demonstrated to me that I was unforgivably ignorant in an area so key to who I am. And so, like I do, I studied. My eyes were opened to how the media subliminally affects our perception of what is and is not attractive. I found out how pivotal hair is to how one is viewed. I discovered how the War on Drugs had impacted Black men and how that in turn impacted the African-American family unit. I saw the unfair focus on European history in school, which fosters the current negative ideas about Africa. I learned of the prevalence of casual racism. I stumbled upon the fact that the KKK, and other similar organizations, are still in operation. I was astounded by schools, colleges, and organizations that fought integration, even to their detriment, and sometimes even into the 21st century. I realized where some of my self-hatred had originated. I began to research famous mixed people and their stories spoke to me.
I discovered the pivotal fact that in the conversation about Black and White relations, which all too often seems racially dichotomous, there is a word for me: Mulatto. And I know some people are offended by that term, but it meant so much to me to discover there was a word that described my unique ancestry. Millions of people are mixed, or blended, or biracial; but I, I am Mulatto.
Most of all, I came to see that I was a member of this vast, diverse, and truly beautiful community. One that has contributed immeasurably to society. One that has been on the right side of history and the wrong side. One that has struggled and overcome. One that I am immensely proud to be a part of.
Joleen is an aspiring writer, proud soldier, and soon to be college freshman. She has a passionate interest in advocating for the underdogs of society. She recently began contributing to Thought Catalog and she's excited to see what the future has to hold!