By Vannae Savig
I am mixed, multiracial, mixed-race, or whatever the new PC term is now. I didn’t realize this until people throughout my life began to remind me of it.
I always wonder if I wouldn’t even think about being mixed as much as I do, if society didn’t remind me of it all the time. People are often curious, and ask me the dreaded question, “What are you?”
Human. I am human.
I know that’s not the answer they want. I know what they mean. Most of the time I comply, but every once in a while, I play dumb. I pretend for a second that they are looking at me for me, and not my skin or my facial features. I pretend for a moment that race isn’t the most important thing.
When I was 4, I was playing with my friend, Chrissy. She and I played a game we called “princesses.” The only problem was Chrissy kept telling me that I wasn’t allowed to be the princess, I had to be the maid. Of course I was upset, and reminded her that every girl is a princess, and that it was my house, my rules. “Well, it’s because you’re black. Everyone knows black people are slaves, or maids.” She replied with so much confidence, I believed her for a moment. I knew then that I was black.
In third grade there was a girl named Natalie. She forever called me names like “oreo” or “white.” She told me I thought I was better than everyone else. She said because I was mixed I couldn’t play with her and her friends, who were black. She threatened to beat me up often. Thank goodness they were empty threats. Finally, I asked her what her problem was with me. She simply replied, “You’re white. Not black.” I was shocked. I looked down at my brown skin, confused. I went home and told my parents. They told me that yes, I had European heritage. I knew then that I was white.
In elementary school we learned about Native Americans. I was so excited about this because I knew my great grandfather was from the Blackfeet tribe, and my grandmother was mixed with the Choctaw tribe. I quickly raised my hand and announced this to the class. For the rest of the day some classmates raised their hands up next to their faces and said, “HOWGH” to me. Then some of the boys even chased me around at recess calling me Pocahontas. I knew then that I was Native American.
In high school, I was a part of my church’s youth group. The kids in youth group often made fun of my Mexican heritage. One boy repeatedly said, “Vannae are you a MexiCAN or a MexiCANT?” I remember some kids asked if my grandfather “jumped the border.” Or asked me if I was a U.S citizen. I knew then that I was Mexican.
These stories are my reality. In America, race is important. In America, labels are important. Being able to put labels on people, being able to put people in boxes, is the American way. If a person doesn’t fit into the boxes that are created, then they have no place to fit in.
None of these labels make me who I am; I know that. But they are constant reminders of how people see me. They are a constant reminder that I belong everywhere and nowhere.
If I choose one of the things I’m mixed with, I feel like I’m forgetting the rest of me. Like I’m denying the truth. Like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not.
When I’ve answered the dreaded question of “What are you?” with “I am black,” people respond with, “Yes and what else?” People want the full story.
Or sometimes the opposite happens. Once people hear that I have African American heritage, that’s enough for them. It’s as if the “one drop” rule still exists. They only see my skin color. That’s all they see in me.
As a multiracial woman, I am slowly but surely becoming more proud of who I am. I am becoming more and more comfortable with not fitting in a box.
I am black and white.
I am mixed and multiracial.
I am Mexican and Native American.
I am human.
I am me.
Vannae is pastor and lives with her hubby and daughter in Colorado. She is passionate about justice and loves to help the voiceless find their voice. Vannae enjoys spending her time creating, and can often be found writing, or creating new recipes in her kitchen.
New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).
During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.