“You Don’t Act Black” And Other Struggles of a Multiracial Woman
Laila Corbeau | On 06, Nov 2013
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m American.
I was born in the beautiful Pacific Northwest to American parents. My father was also born to American parents. My mother was born to an American mother and an immigrant father.
When you ask me what nationality I am, don’t scoff or laugh or roll your eyes when I answer, “American”. If you were familiar at all with the etymology of the word, you’d know that nationality has the word nation in it, and what nation do I hail from? America.
So before you speak to me in a different language, tell me to go back to my country, claim I’m taking jobs, or say I don’t belong here, realize that brown-skinned people are Americans, too.
I was raised in an upper-middle class town, where my high school’s minority population was less than one percent. There, I had a few racial slurs hurled at me, but for the most part, kids were okay. To them, flying confederate flags from the antennas of their jacked up trucks wasn’t really meant as an insult, it was more of a fad. Surrounding schools made fun of mine, calling us rednecks and saying we lived in the boondocks.
But in my school, I certainly stood out. I am black, white and Asian. My whole life, I’ve been questioned about my ethnic background.
“What are you?” A human being.
“You’re so exotic looking.” Okay, so I look foreign? Cool.
“You don’t act black.” My absolute favorite.
So, how do black people act?
Not like me, apparently. Not with my country music, my cowgirl boots and floral dresses. I’ve been fed reasons why I didn’t “act black” from most of the people who didn’t realize upon first meeting me that I was, in fact, half black. But not black enough, it seems. And when they listed all the reasons why I couldn’t possibly be black, their ignorance showed. I was embarrassed for them. Of course they didn’t think that they were being racist or stereotyping anyone; they sincerely believed that they were complimenting me for “acting like a white girl”.
And while my face may not hold all of the traditionally black features, I do not need to hear you point them out. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had someone say, “You know, you’re pretty cute, for a black girl.”
Black women have been shamed and made to think that they are less beautiful for a very long time. And as a college student looking to major in psychology, I can’t even being to describe the shame I felt when I heard that the magazine Psychology Today had the nerve to publish an article by an evolutionary psychologist titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”
But it isn’t just the black part of me that gets flak.
In customer service, I’ve had a wide array of languages spoken to me. When I reveal that sorry, I can’t speak Spanish, Arabic or Portuguese, I receive backlash for not knowing “the language of our people”. Our people? How do you know who my people are?
Filipinos from my church teased me because I couldn’t speak the language. They said I wasn’t a “real” Filipina and if I really cared about the culture, I would take the time to learn the language. They would sit around a snicker at me and talk in Tagalog because they knew I couldn’t understand. I was hurt. I thought that because I couldn’t speak the language, or because I had never been to the Philippines, that they were correct. There I was, being told I was not Filipina enough. I’ve had many argue with me about whether or not the Filipino part of me is Asian or Pacific Islander, and try to tell me which I am. The answer? Each Filipino is different with this. The Filipinos in my family have identified as either.
And while all this happened, these accusations of how I couldn’t possibly be black or Asian, I was told that while I acted white, I didn’t look white. So naturally, I also was not white enough for anyone, either.
This is something I deal with often when I talk about my racial makeup.
I remember one instance where I was sitting at work with my black, male coworker, who insisted that the only reason that we were hired for our minimum wage, customer service job was because we were minorities. My coworker and I argued this for a while, him also telling me that the reason I was a minority in an upper-middle class town was solely because my parents got lucky. No, my parents worked hard. Every successful person has had luck here and there, but don’t you dare say that minorities, especially my parents, can only become successful with luck.
My biggest problem with my conversation with him was that, yes, I understand privilege. Yes, I understand that some businesses want to look like they are celebrating diversity, so they hire minorities. I also understand that some go on to not hire minorities. But I’m tired of people saying I don’t get things because I am a minority, but that I do gain things because I am a minority as well. With this type of thinking, really, I cannot win either way.
I was raised in a very liberal part of the country, but my parents are from the south. And every time I go down there to visit my black father’s family, at least one person expresses their disappointment that I don’t “act black” and that I talk with a “polite northern accent”. Statements like these are insulting to themselves, as well as me, and just feed into stereotypes.
Race issues have always confused me. Most people can’t even figure out what my background is without several tries, so it shows how interesting the concept of race truly is. I mean, if race was something so definite, wouldn’t it be easier for people to not label me as many different types of races so much?
I’m proud to be mixed and to have the opportunity to be exposed to so many different cultures. I refuse to ever identify with just one part of me. I check the “other” option on forms that only let you select one race. I’m a multiracial woman. Please don’t call me a mutt, or a mixed bitch; I’m not a dog. The only language I know aside from English is high school French, so don’t make me feel bad for knowing the language of my country. I’m an American citizen, born and raised, so yes, I do belong here. And if you disagree? I just feel sorry for you.
Written by Laila Corbeau
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