Growing up in New Jersey, I never really experienced a whole lot of racism—at least not overt racism. The town I was born in was predominately white, but I moved to a very diverse one when I was about 7 years old. I went to a Catholic school until 3rd grade, and I was always curious as to why there were only two other girls of color, besides myself and my cousin, but I just shrugged it off.
The town that I moved to was full of people who looked just like me, and also those who didn’t. I never heard much talk of an “us vs them”, or a “black and white” divide. We were all friends, we all hung out, and that was life; and I was certainly never called a “nigger” while living there. As far as I was concerned, racism was probably just a thing of the past. I knew the older folks talked about it like it was alive and well, but from my small sphere of influence, it looked like the younger folks had it all figured out. We weren’t holding onto that stuff from the past that our parents and grandparents were.
Then I Moved To Florida…
I was 12 years old when my mother and I packed up and moved to what seemed like “the other side of the world”. To me, Florida was for vacations, Disney World, and visiting family…and funerals. Florida wasn’t a place you move to. I did not want to come here, not at all.
I was here only a short while before I was hit with the reality that this was not like home. This was not like the North. In school, we learned about slavery, the Civil War, racism, etc (what I would later realize was a whitewashed version of all these things). I heard stories of the South, and how different it looked for slaves than the North. That was years ago, though. It couldn’t be anything like that now. However, my first week of 7th grade taught me otherwise. Granted, I was no ones slave, but the mentality had not changed all that much.
We were sitting in a group, ready to start our project together, and the talk of race came up. I cannot remember why it came up, but I will never forget what the conversation taught me- to them, I’m just another nigger.
The conversation was pretty short, and afterwards, we all went back to our project like nothing happened. Well, they went back like nothing happened, but not me. I was rocked.
One of the young boys was wearing a camouflage T-shirt with a confederate flag on it. Many boys and girls wore those shirts at my new school, it was a common thing. There were constant complaints made about why black kids got in trouble for wearing Tupac shirts, but whites could wear confederate flags—we still never got a suitable answer to that question. When my race was brought into the conversation, I denied being black. I said “I’m not black, I’m Jamaican (I was trying to run from the very thing they were targeting).” The boy responded “you’re Spanish, too, right? What are you, Puerto Rican? (no, I am not), you’re nothing but a straight-haired nigger!”
That was the first time in my life that I was ever called that word, it wouldn’t be the last time, but it would be a turning point for me. From that moment on, I was determined to be as “black” as I could. I didn’t want anything to do with my Hispanic side. After all, I grew up with a single, Jamaican mother. I didn’t know my Costa Rican father well, and I certainly didn’t know anything about the culture. But I knew Caribbean culture, and I knew American black culture. I was black, and I was proud.
Everyone Kept Reminding Me That I Wasn’t Black, I Was “Other”
Remember when I said earlier that I never really experienced all of that racism talk growing up in New Jersey? Well, that was everywhere, except for in my own home.
The running “joke” when I was a kid was, “if you want to know what you look like white, just look at your daughter.” That’s what they would say to my mother. They thought it was a funny way of saying we looked so much alike, minus our skin color. Everyone thought it was hilarious, everyone but me. I would hear this joke time and time again and wondered why everyone else was allowed to “be black”, even my very light- skinned aunt, but I wasn’t. Why did my blackness come with an asterisk next to it? Then I learn, it was because I wasn’t just black, I was other. My uncles would tell me all the time “girl, you ain’t black. Look at your high yellow skin. You’re a little white girl.” One uncle would even call me “his favorite little white girl.”
My mom is black (mixed, also, but darker skinned) and my dad is Costa Rican, how did I become “a little white girl?” Why did I have to prove that I was black like the rest of the family. Why was the joke always on me.
White People Would Never Claim Me
The interesting part is, as much as my family clowned me for being “white”, white people would never claim me. That little boy in 7th grade didn’t claim me, that girl in 9th grade didn’t claim me. All of the white people in my adult life that have called me a “nigger” or a “thug”, they wouldn’t claim me. I would have still been a slave. I would have still been owned. My family thought it cute to add “but you would have been a house nigga, not in the fields like us.” As if being raped, forced to have children, and play house with people who hate me for my skin, is somehow better, because I’m in the “The Big House” and not in a field.
I grew angry. I was black, too! I knew this white world would not take me as I am, and apparently, neither would the black world.
Black Girls Didn’t Claim Me Either
So, I wasn’t “welcomed” in the white world, my family said I wasn’t one of them, and black girls made it KNOWN that I didn’t get a seat at the table.
I remember telling my older cousin how darker skinned black girls used to always want to fight me because I was lighter. They would make comments like “oh, she thinks she’s better than us because she has light skin and pretty hair. That (insert profane names)!” She thought I was lying, or “being dramatic”.
Then one day, I was visiting her at the high school she taught at. She was the “young teacher” so people always mistook her for a student. When we walked into the bathroom together, it was clear that no one knew she was a teacher—and sure as night follows day—these two black girls in the bathroom said “that b****, she swear she better than us. Light skin don’t mean nothing.” My cousin dropped her jaw. You could tell she was blown away. She looked at me, tears filling her eyes, and said “I’m so sorry, Jas. You were telling the truth.” That was my life. Unable to fit in anywhere. Not really black, not really white.
Hispanic People Loved Me, Until They Found Out I Couldn’t Speak Spanish
Hispanics seemed to be the only ones that really “claimed” me. I look like them. I AM one of them… but I don’t speak Spanish. It is a never ending thing, people coming up to me, speaking Spanish, asking for directions, and then being almost offended when I tell them “no hablo espanol” (I don’t speak Spanish). That automatically seemed to disqualify me. I can’t speak Spanish, and I know next to nothing about the culture. I wasn’t shunned, but I wasn’t accepted either. I didn’t belong in any of these groups, but technically, I was apart of them all.
I Am Not Other, I Am His
I struggled for a long time, trying to find my identity. The way that the Lord made me, wasn’t enough to be accepted by the ones He made me like, in many ways. I wasn’t “black enough”, wasn’t “white enough”, wasn’t “hispanic enough”. But I was ENOUGH. The Lord made me in His image, after His likeness—all Jamaican, Costa Rican, and Caucasian of me. My identity wasn’t found in my race or ethnicity, it was found in Him, in who He is, not what I am.
Mixed people are right there with every other People of Color. Feeling devalued in this world, especially this American world where “white is right.” We are often left out of the conversation because we aren’t getting pulled over and being told “you fit the description”, but the outcast is just the same. Trying to find my place in this world. Trying to understand why my blackness means nothing, because it is mixed with something else. Trying to understand why I have to pick sides, why I can’t be all that I am. Trying to live as a human, but constantly asked “what are you”, like I’m not human at all. All roads seem to lead to racism, and inadequacy. But there is one road that doesn’t. That road is Jesus!
Christ frees us from the need to fit in, and frees us to stand with and for those who are oppressed, marginalized, and made to believe that they are lesser. I am mixed, yes, and so is the church. Every nation, every tribe, every tongue will worship God together in heaven. May God use our mixed bodies to be voices to the culture, that we are all made in His image. Racism must stop. Justice must be fought for-and no matter what you look like—it is your duty to stand against oppression, no matter how big, how small, or who is being oppressed.
“… learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.”- Isaiah 1:17