Owning Your Narrative as A Biracial Person in America
Allen-Michael Lewis, MS, LMFT joined our staff in 2018 and has been working as a couple and family therapist since 2012. He has a specific passion for working with children, teens, and young adults as they attempt to navigate life transitions.
In the United States, we continue to see an increase in the reported number of interracial couples and marriages in the country. Interracial Marriage was made legal in all 50 states via Loving vs. Virginia in 1967. At that time, interracial marriages only made up approximately 3% of all marriages in the country. By 2015, approximately 17% of all marriages were interracial marriages, and in the same year, one in seven U.S infants born came from an interracial relationship.
Historically, interracial children have been used as a platform to outline the cons of allowing interracial marriages and relationships to occur. It was felt that these children would not know how to cope with being a mixture of two cultures and therefore it would be best that all races remain separate. In her book To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee touches on this argument through the eyes of the Finch children. Scout Finch sees biracial children walking in town and does not understand why her brother, Jem Finch, calls them “sad”. She asks him to explain what he means and he says, “They [biracial children] don’t belong anywhere. Colored folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half white; white folks won’t have ‘em ‘cause they’re colored, so they’re just in-betweens, don’t belong anywhere”.
The concept of “belonging” is one that all humans, no matter their race, understand and strive for. From childhood to adulthood, there is a common sense of wanting to belong. A majority of our life is spent attempting to understand who we are as people and navigate how we can retain that identity while engaging within society. The biracial individual experiences the same adventure with the added pressure of society wanting to fit you into one single category. Society creates the categories and their meanings, but who gets to decide what it means to be biracial–the individual or society? This becomes a problem when the person you are is contrary to what society thinks you should be. If your mother has light skin and blonde hair but you have tan skin and black hair, you may get the question,” That’s your mom? Why don’t you look alike?” You are expected to explain why you are contrary to what “should” be and in our society; one “should” look like their parents. Danzy Senna said, “when there is a gap–between your face and your race, between the baby and the mother, between your body and yourself–you are expected, everywhere you go, to explain the gap.” Despite the rise in prevalence of interracial relationships and biracial children, American society continues to maintain a stance of “must select one” rather than “check all that apply”.
This is where many people who identify as biracial lose their way because society does not want them to choose two “different” ways of being. It’s as if society is saying, “You cannot be both active and inactive, you cannot be both vegetarian and carnivorous, and you definitely cannot be both Black American and Caucasian.” Society will attempt to tell you what you are and will attempt to explain the gap for you. One key way of understanding self as a biracial individual is to continuously share who you are, and not focus on the gap, or who you aren’t. A gap identifies that you are falling short of what society says “should be.” Your narrative is all the parts of who you are that come together to make you. Owning your narrative comes from a place of acceptance.
But just because you’ve accepted your narrative does not mean society will stop attempting to categorize you. This is where your support system comes into play. These are people that help the biracial person navigate how to retain self within society. One key way of helping a biracial individual navigate our society is to be willing to have the hard talks. Parents and caregivers of biracial children may look at their child and they may only see their child. They do not see the color of their skin, the structure of their face, the style of their hair or the build of their body. But society may take note of those things. Parents/caregivers, it is important to have conversations with your children regarding racial profiling, racism, bigotry, and also to understand it for yourself. There is too much at risk by wanting to shelter your child from the evils of this world so you may avoid the hard conversations. Also be aware that your child’s experiences may not be the same as yours. They may experience things you have not, and may never experience the things you experienced. For all those in a biracial individual’s support system, continuing to be open about things you do not understand and asking questions rather than making assumptions is key. By being open, you are able to equip the biracial individual with tools that will support them as they strive to continue to own their narrative, stop feeling they have to explain the gaps, and prevent them from blindly believing that society will automatically accept them for who they are.
So where are you in this process? Have you owned your narrative or have you been attempting to explain the gap? Are there hard questions you need to begin to ask yourself in terms of your views on race and American culture? We are all at different points in our journey and I hope this blog post, which is by no means all encompassing, begins conversations about being biracial in American culture and how we can continue to make things better for future generations to come.
Are you currently trying to navigate who you are and what makes you you? Are there cultural or racial differences within your relationship with your partner that needs to be talked through? Are you a parent presently raising a child who is questioning their identify and you feel a disconnect? Have you experienced bigotry, racism or victimization? Reach out to me. I would love to walk alongside you as you navigate these tough questions.