chantal stone photography: the blog

February 20, 2006

In Between Worlds

Filed under: News — chantal @ 1:48 pm

I am not black. I am not white. I’m biracial….caught between two worlds. And after 33 years, I’m still not sure exactly where I fit in. My entire life, I have always been asked “What are you?” I always thought that was a peculiar question, rude, even. I would never dream of just walking up to a complete stranger (yes, this has happened to me, several times) and seriously ask “what are you?” my usual response: “I’m human”.

We live in a society that loves labels. We’re only comfortable when we can label someone, or something, to make it familiar and definitive. We have to choose: either we’re white or black, republican or democrat, gay or straight. But there are some of us who do not fit into those categories. Some of us are living on the fringe. On the 2000 US Census (http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/c2kbr01-6.pdf), approximately 2.4 % of Americans claim to be of 2 or more races. That’s almost 6.5 million people. And somehow, I still feel alone.

Throughout my life, I have been made to feel that I am either “too black” or “too white”. Or not enough of something. As a child I can remember the loneliness of feeling different, of knowing that I wasn’t going to fit in, of knowing that I stood out in the predominantly white school. I was the only black face. Later in life I found myself among mostly black people, and again, I was left feeling out of place…often, the only white face.

What I learned was that how I perceive myself isn’t always the way the people perceived me. I grew up in a mostly white environment, and although I knew I looked different, and I certainly felt like I was different, I never understood why I was different until someone made a joke about black people, and turned to me and said “no offense”. Was I supposed to be offended? Oohhh, I’m black. That’s when I began to perceive myself as black. I was about 12 years old.

Then, when I was about 23, I was having a conversation with a black woman, and she made a negative comment about white people. She then turned to me and said “no offense”. Again, was I supposed to be offended? That’s when I realized that many black people perceived me as white, or at least, not quite like them.

After that I became much more self-aware. What was I? Where did I fit in? Where should I fit in? I was married to a black man, had black (perceived black) children but I didn’t feel black. But how does black feel anyway? I would ask myself these questions over and over again.

Finding oneself is a process. Some people are fortunate enough to grow up understanding who they are and always feel secure and confident with their identity, and their place in this world. Some of us are not so fortunate, and we must spend our lives navigating, searching and learning who we are. I often ask myself why this is still such a process for me. At my age, I should know who I am. I should feel comfortable in my own skin. And I do, for the most part, feel comfortable in my skin. The skin isn’t the problem, it’s the perception of what I feel I’m supposed to be.

Our experiences in life help to define who we are. And I have experienced racism and prejudice from both sides of black and white. It has left me feeling alienated, but has also made me stronger. I know I’m not alone…there are about 6.5 million people out there who, at one point or another, must have asked themselves the same questions. But I still feel alone sometimes. Those childhood feelings of isolation never quite go away, and it’s something that I have learned to live with, it has become my normal.

I wonder about those other 6.5 million people out there. Some of them are within my family, and for some strange reason, we never talk about these things. I wonder do they feel alone like I do sometimes. Have the questioned they’re own identities? Do they feel a part of 2 different worlds, yet not belonging to any?

It’s not all bad. Society has evolved some in the past 20 or so years. And I live in a much larger city compared to the small town I grew up in, so I see many more interracial families. It’s nice. There are little boy and girls who look like my brothers and I when we were kids. It’s comforting to see that kind of familiarity. And it’s reassuring to know that my children will grow up with other kids who like them, and also other children who will accept them, no matter how they look. I wasn’t so lucky then, but I am now.

We have come a long way.

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