BY ZOE MILLS, STAFF WRITER
Being mixed at Wilson has its ups and downs. Although my identity as a person of mixed race shouldn’t change the way people think of me, it does. Racial tension isn’t uncommon at Wilson, or anywhere in the United States, and, for some people, finding out that I’m actually half black, despite my predominantly white features, means virtually nothing except that I’m maybe a little different.
For many, however, it opens the door to an opportunity of friendship. When fellow classmates learn this unlikely detail about me, I am suddenly a friend, or even a sister. Instead of being clumped into a blob of white kids, I become someone’s oldest friend, most trustworthy confidant, or the object of a game in which someone had been guessing about my race with a friend.
I often get the impression from this reaction that I was not thought highly of prior to becoming ‘the mixed girl’; that I was someone others had built up to be racist, evil, or maybe arrogant. It usually begins with polite indifference and some guessing about my race, especially on a day when my hair is curlier than usual or my baby hairs are loose.
I don’t mind when people ask me if I’m mixed: I am. I don’t mind comments along the lines of “It’s your hair” or “I could tell because of your eyebrows” (I’m still not sure what that one means), or “Why do you look so white?”, or even “I could tell because your hair’s a little nappy.”
After a while at Wilson, I learned the drill. I drone out the same answers to the same questions: “My mom is white and my dad is black,” “I don’t know how I got green eyes,” “No, that’s my dad…what do you mean does my mom look like him? No, she’s white,” “My mom is white,” and “I’m not adopted, I’m mixed.”
The most fascinating question for people to ask is whether I say the n-word or not, which I don’t. It’s uncomfortable and it’s never felt like a natural word to slip into a conversation.
Another topic of intrigue is the kind of music I listen to, which usually surprises people of all races, because my favorite genre is rap. Considering it is a predominantly black industry, my affinity for it and the paleness of my skin usually come off as a strange mix to people. I was once found listening to an NWA song, an 80s rap group consisting of names like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, and was met with a hysterical laugh and a little more respect from a black friend. To her, it was further evidence that I was mixed. I’ll admit that my white mother doesn’t like rap, that my black father is the one who raised me and my sisters with it, and that it’s also an interest that I mainly only share with friends of mine who happen to be black, but most people don’t realize that I can like whatever I want without it being a result of my mixed race.
There is no actual downside to being mixed. I have no problems accepting my race. The only thing that makes it uncomfortable is the way people respond to it. For whatever reason, the moment I become “the mixed girl” in the eyes of my peers, it becomes okay for them to slur things in my direction. In middle school, the first slurs I encountered were “zebra” and “slave child”, the first from a white boy in my class and the second from a boy with Hispanic heritage. It is easy to feel more offended by jokes like these if the antagonist is white, but they mean the same thing no matter who they come from. Race doesn’t lessen or heighten the insensitivity of slurs like these, but it is a persisting societal norm to accept them when coming from a person of color.
It was only upon coming to Wilson that I first heard “mutt” and “half-breed.” I knew those terms existed, but I’d never had them applied to me. They seemed awkward and forced, rather than words that you would actually hear coming out of a person’s mouth. Don’t get me wrong–these names are mostly used in good fun, and I’ll even admit to having laughed in response. However, there is a fine line between a joke and a slur. I often wonder why being mixed is so fascinating and odd to people. Is it not the 21st century?
Although the slurs are more direct, what is more unnerving is when peers discover my dual race and reply, “I wish I was mixed.” The comment is flattering, at best, but it makes me wonder if people actually wish they were mixed, or if they just feel the need to compensate for something that they think makes me insecure.
I have also been told that I’m not a minority because of the way I look. I think this is unfair. I know it may not be obvious that I’m mixed, but I should be able to define who I am.
When I tell people that I am mixed, I’m not asking for validation or compliments. I don’t want to be treated differently. My being mixed-race doesn’t warrant that kind of reaction. It also doesn’t give anyone else the right to define who I am. •