My Whiteness And My Blackness Are Not Reconcilable.

by Amber Rambharose

Almost any given object can be split in half with each half making up 50% of whole.

I can only think of one exception.

When someone asks if I am half black or half white, I don’t want to give the comfortable response they are looking for. Any answer would imply that my Whiteness and Blackness are equal. Any answer would feel like a betrayal.

It’s a stupid question.

In my whole self and my brown skin and the whole history of my life, there is no equal or quantifiable percentage of white privilege and racial discrimination. Both exist. The recent conversations about race in America that are blowing up my Facebook newsfeed, the anger that is invisible to some and ever present in others, is in my head every day.

My Whiteness and my Blackness are not reconcilable – not now in 2015, not in 1991, when a deputy in Fredericksburg, Virginia asked my Caucasian grandmother if she wanted him to get rid of her coon baby, not in 2004 when my boyfriend’s grandmother told him she wouldn’t let a nigger girl in her house, not when I bleached my hair in high school and wore blue contacts, not when my schoolmates asked if I was adopted or when strangers, seeing me with two blonde-haired, blue-eyed sisters, asked me if I was the nanny, not when I say I’m biracial, not when friends expect me to apologize for my anger over the murders of Natasha McKennaTamir Rice, Sam Dubose, and Tanisha Anderson, not when the white girls laughed, not when the black girls laughed, not when someone asks, laughing, if I’m half-white or half-black, not when the Caucasian box feels like a lie and the African American box feels like a lie and the two or more races box feels like erasure, not when I’m told I’m not white enough or not black enough, not when my white boyfriend refused to hold my hand or introduce me to his parents.

I cannot reconcile these two halves of myself that aren’t really halves. I can taste rage in my mouth, but my white privilege keeps my voice in.

It should sting less when someone says I’m mixed. I shouldn’t feel like a spectator when the news makes me cry and feel wronged and wounded, but:

– Security asks to look in my purse when I shop somewhere expensive.
– A lost woman on the subway asks me for directions in Spanish and looks at me with anger when I can’t answer.
– I’m always patted down at the airport.

I should say with pride that I’m biracial. The duality should be a comfort. It should feel like an acknowledgement of two unequal halves, like a day pass that lets me live in one world or the other.

But it isn’t really a duality or a comfort or a day pass.

When the last of my summer darkness fades in the winter, when my almost-Blackness is replaced by almost-Whiteness, it feels like a loss.

When I say my father is Trinidadian and my mother is Irish-American, but that she grew up poor in a black neighborhood and knows how it feels to feel dirty, it feels like an excuse.

When I say I am a person of color and I lament the blindness of white folk, it feels like an excuse.

My Blackness feels like an excuse now in 2015 while I write this. My Whiteness feels like a deceit while I write this. I’m scared that I don’t have a language to express my Blackness and I bristle, imperceptibly and so quickly that no one else knows that I do it, when I hear a white friend mourning the death of another unarmed black man – the police brutality of another mentally ill black woman. I want to say, you don’t understand, even if you’re an ally and even if you’re outraged. You don’t understand.

I think I know this isn’t quite fair. I think, maybe, I know this isn’t quite true. I know that would mean half of me doesn’t have the right to be angry at the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray and Sam DuBose either because I’m not always scared to be in a white neighborhood and I’m not always scared for my life.

But I am sometimes.

I don’t have the right words to say that half of my life has been discrimination and less than half of my life has been privilege because it depends on the eyes of whoever is looking.

To say I don’t have the agency to tell them they are wrong or they are hurtful or they are erasing who I am feels like an excuse. Even now in 2015, in August when I’ve soaked myself in baby oil and baked in the sun and can say with pride that I’m West Indian because people can see it on the outside.

There’s no such thing as half-white or half-black. There’s no such thing as equality in America.

There’s blindness and denial, discrimination and excuses and I don’t have answer.

Amber Rambharose is an editor at xoJane and YesYes Books. Her poetry and nonfiction have been nominated for Best New Poets and the Pushcart Prize and appear Burntdistrict, PANK, Rattle, Whiskey Island and elsewhere.

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  1. Peace for your heart that bleeds red~neither black, nor white.

  2. There are so very many mixed race couples and their children in the small mid-west town where I live. They always seem content to me when I see them out and about shopping, going to school, and just living day to day. Your essay gives me a lot to think about now. The larger American society is what needs to change in its attitudes on race and, we all need to teach our children to accept people of all backgrounds. Thanks for sharing such a poignant story. I would like to follow you and your writings from now on to see if you find the inner peace that you need.

  3. Thank you for bravery. My mother is a black Panamanian immigrant and my father is mostly Irish-American and working class. This speaks to me in a way that nothing else I have read has before.

  4. It saddens me there are still conflicts such as this which occur on a community and social level and also on a very personal level. I am sorry for what you have experienced. I would like to say that I don’t know many people who are (truly) comfortable in their own skin regardless of the shade of said skin. Thank you for sharing your plight and expanding the view for others. I wish you well!

  5. Uh yeah, the white half of you has every FUCKING reason to be pissed off at the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and so many more… same as black people.

    So what if I fell in love with a black woman and loved her for 25 years, right? Because I’m white? It’s not her fault or mine we loved one another. Biracial is difficult… I can’t speak to that. You can and she can… and white supremacy is real and you’re not wrong, but you’re also not right. I can too care being a white woman, just as much, oh yes I can. I fucking can too be hurt by the same white supremacy. I can too be under the same white man…

    But I love you wrote about your heart and that you are honest and active in seeking truths. Hope this wasn’t too cuss wordy or insensitive to your experience. I’m sorry. Not trying to take over the pain or camp your ride. Just that it’s not black and white. BUT yes, black lives matter. Yes they do. YES THEY DO.

  6. So… then now what? What is the vision for the revolution? What is the new privilege? Black lives matter, biracial lives matter… but what does it mean to have the white privileged step back , really? Where do they belong?

    Do they belong Shamed? Paying money? In an inferior position? Enslaved? Imprisoned? Silent?

    People have been interbreeding for the sake of empire building since the dawn of civilization and I know colonialism fucked over the world, but… we aren’t separate… because history played out… There’s no equity, okay, but we are so intertwined and interconnected how does this challenge to systemic racism see the future? Is it just polarization picking sides and then war? Is it mostly about wealth compared to poor?

    I’m not debating your article or expecting you to explain or clarify… but I don’t know where the movement wants to go… and where the “white guilt” is supposed to end up…

    Are we seeking equity and if so is that by way of segregation again? And then do bi-racial people have to pick a side?

    Food for thought if nothing else. Thanks for your patience… because I am honestly unclear on the goals… and want to be sensitive to them and aware of them.

  7. I love this! Words from my own heart and mind. Thank you for sharing

  8. Thank you. I am a biracial woman who grew up in the 80s in an area where I was the token black kid. My experience is complicated by the fact that I look white. No one believes me when I claim my blackness, and I’m policed when I speak about race because, “I can’t really know what it’s like.” I’m accused of racism often because I speak frankly about race and ask hard questions. When I share my heritage, the accuser stops, stares, then has no where to go because I don’t look black. It’s clear they don’t believe me, that they think I’m claiming a culture to which I have no right (I’m compared to Rachel Dolezal). But this piece speaks to me on a deep level. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Practically moved to tears over hear. It’s a little comforting knowing I’m not doing this alone.

    “There’s no such thing as half-white or half-black. There’s no such thing as equality in America. There’s blindness and denial, discrimination and excuses and I don’t have answer.”

    I just so happened to have been going through a really heavy identity crisis. The truth I’ve always felt but needed to hear. Thanks for that.

  10. You should come to Oak Park, Ill. where many people of mix races live, in harmony.

    Or go to Louisiana, where I was born which abounds with people like me, Creole’s of mainly French, Spanish Black and Indian ancestry.

    Racism, yes, of course there is racism there but we a have a solid knowledge and pride of who we are and feel no shame, at all or need to apologize to any damn one for being the beautiful human beings God made us to be.

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