Carnegie Mellon University

"Mixed Girl Problems" by Julianne Mercer

Honorable Mention for College Prose

“What do you say when people ask you what you are?”

“Uh…I say I’m Filipino.”

“Haha, no, honey. You say you’re black.”

There is a defaulted divide between black and white in society. My father told me that the first thing people will see, in terms of my ethnicity, is that I am black, not Filipino. The precedent of a white black divide has lead people to identify me as only being black.

“What are you?” is a question I have been asked almost a thousand times– people need a label. However, I love the question because it has two answers: a simple one and a complex one.

I was enrolled and educated for fourteen years in the Union Free School District in New York. All throughout those years, my peers have always been of similar faces. Their faces were similar in the sense that they were variations of a particular shade, “colored,” for lack of a modern term. All students in my district came from the same ten or so backgrounds that could easily be generalized into three: Black Americans, Black Caribbean Americans (Haitians, Jamaicans, and some Trinidadians), and Hispanic’s (El Salvadorians, Hondurans, Dominicans, and Mexicans). The student population of my school was not “predominantly” populated by minorities; it was entirely populated by minorities. I can say, wholeheartedly, that we all had a fair contribution and ultimately a fair share of what I’d like to call “a common culture.” We shared our Uniondale slang, slogans, sense of style, and social gestures. However, there is always some form of a distinction– human constructed– that manages to individualize people deemed relatively the same. I was a mixed-black girl to some of my peers and a fake black girl to others.

“You’re not really black though. I mean you’re black, but you’re fake black.”

When a group of worshipers in Charleston was murdered in a mass shooting, I was black. When Mike Brown was shot, I was black. When Eric Garner was killed for selling cigarettes, I was black. When Freddie Gray died mysteriously from a head injury, given that the police took undocumented stops, I was black. Yet years ago, a very good friend of mine placed me under the label of being “fake black.” She did so in such a fleeting manner; it still resonates with me.

This leads me to discuss my emotional connection with the black community. It is a fair share of both ascription and identification. During the demonstrations of police brutality cases mentioned previously, I was expected by those within the black community– my peers, my teachers, my neighbors, and others– to realize a duty as a person who is a part of that community, “my community.” My unspoken, yet understood, obligation was to stand up with my “brothers and sisters” during the fight to diminish police brutality on black people– however, stand up most urgently. It has been a great deal of pressure. It has left me confused. 

When I talk about my heritages, cultures, and backgrounds, I am just mixed. When a tragedy occurs and it wakes the entire black community, if I do not stand up with the utmost quickness, passion, and anger, I am neglecting the obligations of my identity. But, it is only considered neglecting to some; my identity as a black girl is nevertheless an identity some people within the black community would otherwise deny me. But truthfully, it ultimately boils down to my ability to exercise my right to choose. I choose reality. The dangers of the events that have been occurring are as real to me as it is to any other person who is seen as racially black. The reality of the equal danger is one of the many reasons why I choose to stand. The reality is that my experiences and the way I am viewed in society have influenced the way I identify myself. I am black too– no matter what. 

“You’re not really black though.” My friend did not intend to offend me; she was subconsciously displaying her offense. However, she did downplay my choice to identify as black. She attempted to place me in a special category: “fake black.” In her eyes, I was simply, genetically, and apparently, not entirely black and therefore not black enough. I could not “claim the culture.” It amazes me how even a very good friend of mine, a friend I still have to this day, was inadvertently expressing her offense. That is, the offense she took to someone like me, a person with half as much the “biological basis,” taking entitlement in my blackness. A cultural issue, not a racial one. 

“I’ll never understand why these light skin, silky haired girls always think they the sh*t.”

Very sporadically, I hear obnoxious remarks like that above. I recall hearing a girl, with a little more concentration of melanin in her skin tone and a shorter, tighter hair pattern, mumble this under her breath. I did not know anything about her. She did not know anything about me. And although we shared the same element of melanin, just because I had a little less, my mere appearance offset her. I did not fit in her definition of black and I could draw this from the simple phrase, “that light skin girl.” Part of me wanted to say, I’m just a lighter shade of you. But I’d like to insist that I did not feel bullied or victimized. In those instances, I was just aware that in the eyes of another black girl, I was a light skin girl with silky hair.

For a moment, I’d like to step back and address the divisions inflicted easily amongst mixed-black people by black people. For example, a good amount of black people have disputed whether Barack Obama is really “our first black president.” Obama is indubitably, both black and white. For that reason, there is dispute as to if he is “inherently” the first black president. Nonetheless, he has made it evident what he chooses to identify as racially, African-American (checked on his 2010 census questionnaire).  In turn, his choice translates to his generally accepted title as the first black president. He identifies himself with the African-American community. One reason being that he contrasts most with previous presidents simply because he is both black and white. Society often tries and succeeds to issue scripts of identity. However, Obama is an example of exercising the right to choose. He identifies himself as racially black, and this has been inevitably influenced by how he has been treated in his experience and viewed in society. 

It is safe to say that the president and I might have something in common: we both have struggled with the same ideas about multiculturalism. He has demonstrated his right to identify himself, regardless of the scripts, or outlines provided by the identity imposed by society. However, Obama and I have come to different conclusions. I too exercise my right to decide, but I decide to identify as both; I live within both cultures throughout my daily life. I practice each of the traditions introduced by my Filipina Nanay (mother in Tagalog) and my African very-American father. Sometimes I take out an hour on Sundays to bond with my rosary: which dates back to the specific times on Sundays in which I sat in my mom’s room and said my Hail Marys in unison with my many aunts, uncles, and cousins overseas who were a whole twelve hours ahead. On the other hand, I carry on the bits of slang, the gestures my friends and I make when we talk to each other, and the “Uniondale swag” or way in which we dress, all from where I grew up, a black community.

The people within the cultures of which I share “parts” seem unable to decide whether they’d like to welcome me in as one of them; that is, they cannot decide where the line should be drawn. However, that line is somewhat imaginary. It is drawn in a different position for everyone—or sometimes, not drawn at all. The line, when drawn, has a role in creating a division that determines a sufficient aspect, a considerable part that represents a whole culture (whether it be through appearance, practices, language, and etc.). But, I am multiracial and multicultural: Filipino and African-American. I am not half and half, but whole and whole. My identity is not mutually exclusive.

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