Here’s an excerpt from Heidi Durrow’s original interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity, first published in 1994 (and now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):
“I believe you shouldn’t be defined by what people see in you. If someone treats you like a slave, that shouldn’t stop you. But we live in a world where you deal with people every day who define you by what they see in you, and oftentimes you cannot get around that. So what do you do? If you don’t accept their view and they have that view, there’s dissonance. I cannot stay sane in that world. I cannot. There’s just no way I can say, “I am this one thing and these people are seeing this other thing in me,” and not feel turmoil. In a politically correct world, no one would define you by how you look, and, sure, you shouldn’t have to accept that. But you do have to accept that, and, yes, it does create you in a way, how people treat you.
Let’s talk about attractiveness. When I was little, I wore an Afro and had big buckteeth with a big gap. I looked like a little boy. And people treated me like a little boy. So I got earrings. They didn’t treat me like a little boy anymore. But people never looked at me like I was an attractive person. And I never felt attractive. Then at some point, people started telling me that I was pretty, that I was attractive, that I even looked like Vanessa Williams. And I started to feel pretty and think of myself as pretty. And that has become part of who I am.
This reaction they have to the way I look, that’s what I’m talking about with this idea of race. That if people see me as black, they tell me I’m black, they experience me and deal with me and talk to me as if I’m black, then in some ways, I am.
I’m just as Danish as I am black. And I was raised more Danish than I was black, for sure. But beyond telling people that, I can’t do much else, except wear this sign on the front of me that says, ‘Excuse me, I’m a white Dane.’ There isn’t too much practical to do. But it’s sort of funny. I told my fiancé that I was going to do this a few weeks ago, and he laughed at me. And I said, ‘No, I’m really serious, I’m going to be white for a while.’
And he said, ‘Well, Heidi, that’s going to cause some troubles for you, because then you’ll be in an interracial relationship.’
I said, ‘Oh, shit.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t matter, we’re not having kids. I don’t want to have kids.'”
To read what Heidi Durrow has to say today, click here. (Spoiler alert: you might want to read her full interview before reading the update.)