True Story: I’m Bi-racial

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced amazing/challenging/unique things. This is the story of Lucas and his ethnic heritage.Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a 21 year old college student. I’ve lived in good old Massachusetts my whole life. I’m currently studying psychology at Clark University and getting ready to fry my brain at law school.

What is your ethnic background?
On my mother’s side, I’m French and Portuguese. On my father’s side, I’m Jamaican.

Do you look more like one ethnicity than the other?
I always get mixed responses. Some people tell me that they’d never guess that I’m half black–- some people outright deny it, actually. Others would tell me that it’s obvious that I’m black. I have black physical features: a wide nose, big lips, almond-shaped eyes, and wild kinky hair. I have very light skin, though– darker than most Caucasian people, but much lighter than most black people. Personally, I think that I LOOK mixed and that both races are clearly represented. If I had to choose, though, I’d say that I look more black, if only for the hair.

How frequently do people ask you about your ethnic background? How do you feel when they ask you about it?
I used to get asked about it all the time when I was a kid. People are less curious now. I’m flattered by those who are really interested. I used to like talking about it because people usually thought it was really cool that I was mixed and exotic. I still feel this way. I usually feel a little guilty that I don’t have more information or interesting stories to tell, though.

I think we’ve all read about bi-racial people who feel they don’t fit in with either culture (or race) that they’re from. Has that been true for you?
Oh yeah. Definitely. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in Massachusetts, so all of my friends were Caucasian. Even amongst my closest friends, there was still this “we-they” notion about them. I was accepted by them, but there was still the innate difference that they couldn’t get past (which is even more stupid when you remember that half of these people didn’t even realize I was black until I TOLD them I was). On the other side, when I started college, I joined the Black Student Union. Here I had the opposite problem. They were all extremely warm and welcoming, but I just felt that black pop culture was so lost on me (from growing up with white kids) that I was really distant and just couldn’t relate on a lot of things.

Your situation is a bit unique because you were adopted by a white family. Do you think that made things easier or harder for you?
I was adopted three days after I was born. Having white parents complicated a lot of things. They never really tried to promote the growth of our racial identities. Did I mention that I have an older brother? He’s adopted, too. Half Mexican, half Blackfoot Native American, all fabulous. My parents weren’t bad– I just don’t think they thought of how important teaching us about our ethnicity really was. It’s strange because it’s something that (I’m sure) my brother and I had to face in social interactions every day, but at home, it was almost never mentioned.

Many sociologists believe that race is a social construct. How do you feel about that? Have you made an active effort to connect to your Jamaican roots?
While I think that it’s plain as day that I look more like one group of people than another group of people, I think that the differences end there. Basically, my thought is that, sure we may be appear to be different, but we’re really more similar. I’d have to agree with the sociologists, because if you look at the qualitative and quantitative research, you’ll find that all of the things that make races “different” are artificial in some way or another. Educational differences, income differences, professional differences, dietary differences, and the list goes on. Sure, black people tend to be more lactose intolerant than white people, but are we going to really argue that there are fundamental biological and physiological differences between us that make us drastically different? I hope not.

Have I attempted to connect to my Jamaican roots? No. My parents don’t have any information pertaining to my birth father, and I feel like studying Jamaican history and culture, while enriching, wouldn’t really reflect my personal history.

What advice would you give to someone who’s bi- (or multi) racial who’s struggling with their identity?
Don’t waste time agonizing about who to identify with. You’re a mix. You’ll always be mixed. You can’t change it. But that’s what’s beautiful about you. You represent a blend of different cultures, and you blend so perfectly because it’s natural. You’re seamless. Also, don’t quantify the mix. It doesn’t matter if you’re 50% this or 75% that or 25% the other– EVERY component is crucial. You are the best of EACH world.

What’s your ethnic background? Do people ever ask you about it? How interested are you in your background? (I’m German/Swedish/Norwegian with sprinklings of French, Scottish and Ojibwa)

27 Comments

99

I'm half NZ European (my Dad is about third generation, I think – if you want to get technical on that side it goes back to French and Scottish roots) and half Cook Island Maori.

As a rule, people have zero idea what ethnicity I am – I'm too brown to be white, and too white to be brown.

I've been through phases of wanting to be more of an islander and trying to connect with my Raro roots but at the end of the day I was brought up in a predominantly white area and that's what I'll always probably be able to relate to more. It's sort of embarrassing that I don't know much about my cook island heritage, particularly when I meet other islanders (or even members of my extended family). Despite that, I'm 25 now, and my family is always going to be my family regardless of how 'white' or not I am, so I'm pretty lucky.

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yassmin

I'm born in Sudan, parents are Egyptian/Turkish/Moroccan, and I grew up in Australia, as a Muslim.

I agree with Lucas. It takes time, is a lot harder when you are a kid but when you get around to it, its kinda awesome being mixed. Though, its still hard getting used to the fact that you will never 100% be the same (ethnicity/culturally) as those around you. In Oz, I seen as the "ethnic", in Sudan (or even the Sudanese communities in Oz) I am seen as "the Australian/westerner".

Its a strange place to be, but I am starting to realise there are a lot out there who feel exactly the same.

PS This is my first comment on your blog…but I've been reading it for ages and <3 it! Keep up the good (good? I mean OFF THE HOOK AMAZING) work!

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Autumn

My ancestry is mostly Irish/Scottish/Dutch/German/English. I have never thought of my "ethnic background" to be important to who I am today. I always have thought of myself as "American" and that makes me equal to all other people living in America because we're not Irish, Scottish, or Egyptian anymore, we're American. It makes me no better (or worse) than anyone else because of where my ancestors are from.

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Anastasia

I'm irish, scottish and german. Alcoholism runs in my family, suprise!

My daughter's are half hispanic and when they get older and if they are concerned about being mixed I am telling them that exact advice. Thank you.

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Anonymous

FYI, race is a social construct. For quite a while — some say beginning in the 1970s — biologists have agreed that race has absolutely no biological basis (non-concordance, etc.).

An anthropologist explains non-concordance here: http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-01-07.htm

So these dangerous ideas, that black people are more athletic or asian people are more intelligent because of racial genetics is erroneous.

Does it mean that race doesn't exist? Biologically, yes. Socially, no. People still treat each other differently (many times hurtfully) because of those perceived differences.

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Anonymous

I'm part German and African American, with heaven knows what else in between. it's just so much more simple to just say I'm German/African American. It makes people less awkward if I act like I know where I came from.

Which is irritating, some what. "Where I came from" like I'm a mutt at a shelter. Like you, I grew up in a white community. My mother is white, and my father wasn't around. So I can't really relate to African Americans. They seem very loud and intimidating, which is probably why I envy them so much. They scream "This is who I am!"

I'm moving to a predominately black city soon, so I can get closer to those roots.

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Anonymous

To add to my other comment, all my friends just say I'm brown. I have them well trained. 🙂 It's how I introduce myself in awkward situations. "My name is… and I'm brown." and people warm up a lot.

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Heather

I am 15th generation Canadian on my mom's side and first generation on my dad's. Both of my parents' families were from England for 500+ years before moving to Canada.

I used to think that made me pretty boring but now I've realized how cool it is to have that heritage. I'm proud to say that my family literally built Canada and proud to be one of them!

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Steph

I'm white. I've always known that.
However, I have no idea where my family came from. I know we were here for the American Revolution, but I don't know before that.
and I've learned that if I try to just say I'm American, I get Native Americans being offended.

so even though I don't know what it's like to be multiracial, I can relate to the feeling of not knowing where you belong.

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Marie

I have 2 cousins who are American/Korean, and I imagine they have had many of the same issues growing up.

I generally tell people I am Irish, but I have some Welsh, Scottish, and English in me too. AND Ojibwa! So fun to meet another!

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Name: Shari

Love your blog 🙂

I'm half Japanese on my dad's side and Welsh/Scottish/Dutch/Russian on my mom's side. But I'm Canadian to the core, having been brought up in a typical Canadian household. I guess what bugs me the most is that people label me as "Japanese-Canadian" even though all my Grandparents were born here and ALL of my great-grandparents were born elsewhere. People always say "oh, you are half Canadian and half Japanese." At what point does someone who is part of the ethnic minority become fully Canadian?

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Kristie

I'm Italian and Swedish predominantly with a bit of English and Irish thrown in. I have white skin with an olive tinge, and blond hair and blue eyes. My great grandparents on both sides were immigrants from Sweden and Sicily, and I knew my Italian ones. I'm proud of my heritage and I love that I'm a descendant of such brave people.

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Rachael

I'm German, Polish & Cherokee (with a light sprinkling of what might be English). I am constantly asked what nationality I am because I don't have a set "look" to my features and my skin tone, while somewhat fair, is gold undertones and I tan easily. I always goofed on people and told them anything from "I'm Irish-Romanian" to "I'm an Italian Jew."
I identify with being a world citizen. I think being "white" is more psychological sometimes than it is an adjective to label ones ethnicity.

I'm more interested in figuring our how/when/why my families came to America – especially my paternal side since we've been able to trace as far back as the early 1800s.

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SP

I am Indian-American, first generation born in the US. I was born in Georgia and grew up in Alabama so throughout my lifetime I've had to deal with a lot of ignorance and ignorant questions about my ethnicity. I don't mind at all when people ask about my ethnicity out of curiosity. What I do HATE is when people ask vague questions and act like I should know what answer they are looking for. For example, asking me where I'm from, to me, means where I grew up, so I say Alabama. Then people simply ask again, where are you really from? A-L-A-B-A-M-A. Be specific. Ask what is your ethnicity. Asking where I'm from or where I was born doesn't tell you my ethnicity.

I would say I'm pretty close to my background, seeing as my parents grew up in India. I have at times, naturally, felt out of place in the US because I'm a minority. But the first time I felt like a girl-without-a-country was when I visited India. Seeing the locals view me as a foreigner was akin to some of the looks I get here at home in the US. But I've learned to embrace it, I don't have one culture… I have two!

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Michelle

hahaha @SP, I say the same thing! People ask where I'm from and I say, "New Jersey." Then they say, "No, where are your parents from?" I say, "NEW JERSEY!" Just ask what you are really wondering!

Not that my answer is very exciting: Spanish and Italian, but no one ever seems to guess that. Everyone thinks I am Indian or Persian/Middle Eastern. I always wonder why people think it's their right to ask. I have had complete strangers stop me in the mall or just walking down the street and ask me where I'm from. A part of me finds it offensive, like how is that your business? But I have just learned to laugh at it and play the "Where are you from?" game. :o) Ugh, and don't even get me started on guys using it as a pickup line! c'mon guys, get a little more creative! haha

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Vanessa

Not to brag, but this is my boyfriend. I actually hadn't read his answers before right now, but I'm super proud, just saying. Go, Luke!

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Lucas

lol strong Obama. I don't have political aspirations.

Last year I researched multiracial development for my psychology capstone, and one researcher who stuck with me (but not his name) theorized that multiracial people have 1 race in addition to their components: the mix.

For example, I'm Black, White, and Multiracial. Food for thought, I suppose.

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Maureen

I'm Italian and Irish and white, and my last name is Fernandez (husband). He's Spanish and Mexican and white. I'm excited for our kids who will undoubtedly be white and with the name Fernandez 🙂 I'm all about people eventually not asking what races they are – we're all American here, you know? Great post.

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Anonymous

Hey Luke, I grew up in Worcester! Great interview, and best wishes. Your answers are very relatable to me, even just as a person of color (who isn't mixed race).

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poseonpaper

I'm Irish/ Pakistani but raised in England. I think I've inherited an awful lot from both cultures and its made me intensely curious about other cultures. If anything being mixed has given me this awesome perspective and openness to everything. The funniest thing is when people ask me where I'm from and its got to the point where I ask them to guess as they never get it. But I can see in my looks an equal amount of each heritage I have dark curly hair, green eyes and olive skin mixed with a wicked sense of humour and an appreciation for good wine or beer and very creative. What I would ask is has anyone been brought up with more than one religion? and what are the experiences?

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Ulterior Banana

I'm a Russian Jew and spent 6 years of my childhood in Israel, so I consider myself Israeli as well. Calling yourself Israeli elicits strange looks when you're pale skinned, blonde, and blue-eyes. However, Israel is a new country and I believe that anybody who has lived there can claim identity as in Israeli— it has certainly formed me as a person, whether i look like the dark-skinned, curly-haired prototype or not.

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Kelsey

I'm Norwegian, Scottish, and Irish.

However, I'm marrying a full blooded Mexican. Hes pretty light skinned, but I'm still really interested how my children will handle being mixed. I don't ever want them to feel weird or not accepted by either group. My biggest worry is one my guy tries to assure me isn't a problem- I'm worried his family will treat our kids like less than perfect because they're not full Mexican. I'm probably scared because my (now late) father was a little bit racist, though he tried not to be. He once told me, to my disgust, that he has no issue with Mexican or black people, but he wanted me to marry a white person because he wanted white grandchildren.

It makes me really sad, but at least I know I can assure my children that they can love whomever they want- as long as they treat them right, I'll love them, too.

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Chelsea

grr, blogger just deleted my comment so, I won't write a new one as detailed as my last.

I'm half korean and half german (with a mix of scottish, and swiss, or is it swedish? anyways!) and both sides of my family are VERY different. My german side was quite racist, although I didn't know it growing up, and they aren't really as bad anymore. But my father's parents told him not to bring back someone from Korea when he went over. My Korean side loves me and my sibling, as we're the only grandchildren, but we were never quite Korean enough. My parents worked very hard to ensure we were cultured children, and knew our heritage and learned at least a little Korean. I still celebrate the Korean holidays and what not.

On the flip side, I grew up riding horses on a farm, regular visits to west virginia to run around in the woods and such. I am deeply fascinated with all cultures, I'm both an outdoorsy girl and a pretty well cultured girl. It kind of used to bother me that people always remembered me as "the only asian one" since my area has very few asians here, but I've come to love being a wonderful mix of both, I am me!

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Ms. Ten

I am black and white and I am CONSTANTLY asked about my race (and about my hair), and I find it really irritating. Hispanic people also tend to assume that I am Hispanic and will start speaking Spanish to me without even bothering to ask if I know the language (which I don't).

Also since I have moved to the south I have black men constantly trying to hit on me. It didn't happen that often in the north. I've never had people be attracted to me specifically because of my ethnic background and it makes me really uncomfortable.

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