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The United States bombards its constituents with stories surrounding the division between white and Black culture, livelihoods, experiences, politics, social class and economic hierarchy. Being biracial in a world that starkly contrasts the division of white and Black means being at war with oneself, never truly feeling that you belong to either group. Rather, the biracial condition can leave a person stranded in a gray continuum, a place where only those who are neither accepted or rejected are subject to ridicule, pity, envy and hate — both for their mixed color but “tainted” soul. They struggle with the weight of white privilege and systemic racism, among a continuing list of complex identities that complicate the ways in which they aim to fit into the box society constructs for stereotypical racial roles.
The condition of a Black-white biracial life is one of immense alienation.
This country was built upon principles of racism during the 18th and 19th centuries where slavery intensified and brought racism and colorism into a whole new, ugly light. That was where colorism in the U.S. made its debut, when white slave owners raped Black women, and the children beared afterward were “privileged” in the fact that they performed less grueling work and often got to work in the house instead of the fields because of their lighter skin colors and ties to white ancestry. That colorism didn’t end with the Civil War, instead it lives on, ingrained into all of us since the beginning with the most famed Black people in the U.S. media being “light-skinned.”
It is no lie that Black-white biracial individuals experience a sort of privilege in the economy, relationships or intimate desirability, and imprisonment. An analysis by Harvard sociology professor Ellis Monk in 2018 showed the dark-skinned African Americans have 103 percent higher odds of having been incarcerated compared to the light-skinned African Americans. Prejudice in job selection exists without a doubt — a doctor and a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia conducted a study and found “skin tone plays a considerable role in the favorability of a Black applicant; indicating that skin color is more salient and regarded more highly than one’s educational background and prior work experience.”
However, it is also true that Black-white biracial individuals are discriminated against by both whites and “dark-skinned” Blacks. To some, we are Black, and therefore still belong to that group of “lazy coons” that have existed since 1865. To others, we are privileged and don’t understand the true effects of racism, referring to us as “high yellows” or “redbones” (Huffington Post). I’ve been told I’m not Black by many of my Black peers in high school, because I don’t abide by the stereotypical view and behaviors of Black culture (see: “You don’t act Black” trend via TikTok). Many of my white “friends” were fascinated by my hair and ostracized me for my differences, always reminding me of my difference from them in appearance and race.
Speaking with a fellow biracial friend who, like me, was ambiguously mixed Black and white cut deep when he mentioned the true nature of what living with a biracial identity really meant. It meant living with a guilt we could never escape from and a frustration that would all but consume us. He said, “I will never experience the same struggle of my Black brothers and sisters, and I am ashamed to say that I’m Black because of that — because I’ll never experience that same suffering.”
Both our identities are racially invalidated every day when we don’t fulfill certain behavioral mainstream cultural stereotypes.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org