By: Simone Ritchie
Do not panic when you show up to your first day of school and no one looks like you. You will be swallowed up in the sea of light hair and fair skin and be lost in a crowd of people that look like Disney princesses. You will take honors courses and become a part of the handful of fellow dark-skinned students who “don’t belong.” One day, you will take a non-honors course with one of your white friends. On the first day of class, he’ll turn to you and say, “We’re the only white people in this class.” You’ll laugh because this obviously isn’t true, but you won’t say anything because deep down, this anchors you, no matter how hard you try to fight it.
You will notice that people are unable to accept that you are indeed your mother’s child. Your mother – white skin, green eyes, brown hair, will tape your school performances for your father to watch when he gets home from work, or pick you up from a play-date, and will inevitably be asked the question, “where did you adopt your daughter from?” Each question is met with a tight-lipped smile and pre-baked explanation as to why you don’t look like her. The one time that someone truly believes that you are your mother’s daughter is at the grocery store. The woman working the deli counter asks your mother what nationality her husband is, and it causes your mother to cry. She will go on to carry this story in her pocket like a souvenir.
People will forever compliment you for your “white girl hair.” Despite being thin and flyaway-prone (wind is not to be underestimated), you are taught from a young age that it is superior to the hair that you are “supposed” to have. Your black girlfriends envy the fact that you don’t wrap a scarf around your head at night, and that people don’t ask to touch your hair constantly. You tell them that you think their hair is beautiful.
You will have to adjust to people sexualizing your “exotic” features, as if having brown skin and Caucasian facial features somehow makes you more attractive than your darker girlfriends. You are not pretty, you are different. You will never be beautiful, just unfamiliar.
There will be few women you will identify with in the media. You won’t have the blonde haired, blue eyed counterparts to look up to in action movies, or the freckled girl-next-door in frothy rom-coms to point at and say, “that’s me!” You will struggle with which side of your ethnicity you want to identify as and when you finally decide on “multi-ethnic” or “biracial,” you will realize that the pool of women you identify with has dried up. There are only so many Halle Berrys and Rashida Jones’ to go around.
When you are five, all of your self-portraits will be of a girl with blonde hair. You so desperately want to look like your white friends with blonde hair that are called beautiful. For your classroom Halloween party, you beg your mom to let you go as Sleeping Beauty. She makes you a beautiful blue dress but is reluctant to buy you the blonde wig. You tell her that the costume won’t be complete without it. You will look back on these pictures of you with banana yellow hair and a part of your heart will always hurt for that little girl looking back at you.
Trying to guess “what you are” will turn into a party game. People will dare to ask the dreaded “what are you?” when you’re finished filling out forms, or introducing yourself. You will want to shake them by the shoulders and yell, “HUMAN,” but instead you will begin to list countries off like it’s a part of your introduction. You will be required to do this with every new person you meet.
One nice summer day when you are an adult, a white woman will tell you that you’ve got a “great spray tan.” You’ll bite your tongue until you can taste the copper in your mouth and when she asks you if you can recommend to her the salon where you had gotten it done, you come out with it and say simply, “I’m not white.” She will slide you your change and try to hide her flushed face and you will walk away not knowing how to feel about your latest mislabeling.
Above all else, you need to remember that you are a catalyst. You are a special blend of your mother’s soft hair and your father’s full lips and that is nothing less than magic. Slowly but surely, more and more people will begin to look like you. You are the “browning of America.” You are our future.
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