A Lifestyle blog based in Sonoma County, in the heart of Wine Country. Amber is an outspoken voice for local activism, local wine tourism, and more.

An Essay on Being Black Bi-racial

Today is Juneteenth. Up until a couple of years ago, I had never heard the word, or known of the holiday, let alone what the historical significance of it was. Because of recent events, I have been learning more and more, and more...And I had no idea how much I simply didn't know. That’s the thing about ignorance; you’re not aware of it. And now I am questioning how much of my ignorance was a coping mechanism to simply survive the world around me. Perhaps I was willfully ignorant. I have no clue. I am now doing what I can to both pace, and educate myself as much as possible. I do not know how else to phrase this personal era other than, I am "learning how to step into my Blackness". And y'all, it is really fucking overwhelming.

The Black Lives Matter movement isn't just black or white - because if it is where do I, and my fellow bi-racial people, stand? In every past relationship I have, regardless of my partners race, been told how to identify. With every boyfriend of my past I have had to push back on their attempt to tell me how I should define my existence and how I should see myself in society, and what my role within it is. "You’re black" they tell me.

My father is Haitian. He is a first generation university graduate, who continued on to medical school, and is at the top of his professional field. He once scolded me, harshly, for referencing to myself as African-American. “You’re Haitian” he told me, low and stern. So, to avoid further reprimands I began to jokingly refer to myself as an “island girl through and through”: Haiti, Denmark, and Hawai’i (where I grew up) are all islands; therefore, I was an island girl.

My mother doesn’t like it when I simplify my heritage as ‘Haitian and Danish’. She would want for me to tell you that I am a multitude of heritages – but, I can barely wrap my mind around what it means to me to simultaneously be these two identities as it is. And while my father is a praised physician, he wasn’t the best dad; it was my mostly mother who raised my sister and I. However to both their credit, my parents sheltered me to a great extent from racial inequality – and I believe that being raised on the Big Island of Hawai’i – an incredibly diverse society, played a huge part in that.

My sheltering doesn’t mean that I was able to avoid ignorant, hurtful, and racist acts. Before moving to Hawai’i, I attended Ormondale Elementary, in Portola Valley, CA. I was the only POC in my second grade classroom. Several of my classmates, including myself were being considered as models for a new hair-braiding book by Anne Akers Johnson: I was the only one not chosen for publication. My second grade teacher at the school continuously tried to fail me in class for “raising my hand too many times” during the lessons, and when pressed for answers by my mother she responded with “She’s already been granted access to the school – why can’t she allow other students a chance to learn?”. 

In Hawai’i in sixth grade, while my friends and I were exchanging locks of hair (random school trends, am I right?), a girl tossed my lock of curls away from the desk and laughed: “Eew it looks like pubes!” she cried. Everyone laughed. Whenever teachers and classmates saw my mother, they would ask if my sister and I had been adopted, and would ask – “do you both have the same parents?”.

In college I was told I wasn’t “black enough” to belong to the Black Student Association, even though there were white members too. And, perhaps in the most blatant occurrence, in 2017 I found out that an (ex)best friend of mine – a woman who was also my roommate and past coworker, had been rating my attractiveness as a black female among her white male friends: “they all agree that you’re beautiful – but it’s not an instant beauty…it’s something that becomes stronger the longer they look at you.” She would also ask questions like “how does it feel to have your hair be in style?”.

In my dating life I have struggled with the "exotic" factor: one of my very first relationships was a white man's rebellion against his family: they didn't approve of him dating me, a POC, and he wanted to prove a point. In my last relationship I watched in frustration and disgust as my white, abusive ex adapted his hair styling into "waves" and wearing durags to bed (he has since stopped now that the relationship is over). And recently, I have had to struggle with the resentment I have for the exploitation of the black, and BIPOC repression and abuse: so much of it is being presented in a sensationalist way when these are acts of murder and inhumanity - and they are being reduced to a twitter rant, or a Facebook Group of constant bitching by well-meaning allies who show nothing but problems without solutions. 

In the past, I have tried to brush aside the tone-deaf or blatantly racist comments I have received as something I had misunderstood, or taken too personally. I have had to break down my own understanding of the world to come to the uncomfortable realization that it’s not true: the racism that I have experienced isn’t my fault for “being too sensitive”.  Just a few days ago an Instagram follower DM’d me and shared that her defense to these types of situations was to try and deflect the comments before they ever happened by “being cute” in her interactions: that hit home for me, because that is exactly how I have tried to deflect these types of situations as well. I have created an entire persona of being “cute” in efforts to evade ever being considered as threatening, and/or to avoid possible racist interactions – and also perhaps, in an effort to control how others perceive me. I have lived my life in a form of disassociation simply to preserve my sanity.

I struggle with understanding where I, a bi-racial woman, fit into the BLM narrative. And the reason I struggle with it is because yes I am black; but I am not always sure what this means. If someone were to say to me “Amber you are black” I would agree. I would also respond with “Yes, I am bi-racial black” because being black is not my only identity. I am also white, because my mother is Danish. All my life there have been others who have been the gatekeepers of my identity: as a little girl when I would fill out forms and I had to select my ethnicity box, I would always select “other”. I didn’t fit in anywhere on paper – and I often feel this way in society too. 


And so, perhaps for the first time in my writing, I leave you with no questions. I leave you with no conclusions, or answers. This is exactly where I am at: I am floating, but not without direction. I am full of questions, but not sure how to effectively formulate them. I hope that if you have taken the time to read this, you will understand that you aren’t alone. That regardless of your heritage, skin color, sexual orientation, faith, or sexual identity, your life matters. Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. BIPOC life matters! And I will continue on this new path – I will continue to march, to protest, to fight for you; for us. I will continue this fight in having the uncomfortable conversations, I will make sure my dollars support black owned businesses, and I will continue to search for ways to support my BIPOC community. I hope that you, allies, and others will join me. Because I, we, cannot do this alone.

Thank you to Malia Anderson, of Style By Malia, for organizing this photoshoot. This was her vision, and I am so proud to be a part of it. I am so proud to be standing among such amazing, strong, proud Black women. I will not forget this day - ever.

© A•Mused

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A Mused Blog | A Northern California Sonoma County Blog