Neisha Wright

Age: 49
Residence: Asheville, NC
Occupation: PE Teacher, Gymnastics Coach, Actor

What is it like to look back on the comments you made 20 years ago?
Very strange. Some things still hold true, but so much has changed, or I see things so differently now. In some ways, it’s almost like reading a stranger’s story. For example, I later found out my grandmother never cooked chitlins, but it was collard greens she taught me to cook. There are other incidents which, once I explored them, I remembered them much differently than they actually happened. I was a child, and I recalled much from a child’s perspective. As I got older, I also came to understand that there are so many ways to express one’s racial pride and identity and how very proud of his racial identity my father is and has always been…something I didn’t really understand when I did the original interviews. Now, my father is the person to whom I most connect with around issues of race and racial identity. He is who I have my most important discussions with; he is my best friend.

What has changed, in terms of your personal connections to race and identity, and then in terms of our country?
I no longer feel my sexual orientation to have much bearing on my identity at all anymore. I believe what determines one’s character is more how you love than who you love. I am certainly more comfortable with my racial identity than I have ever been. I have been married and divorced twice, once to a woman, once to a man, and am currently quite happily single. In 2006, I gave birth to a beautiful daughter. Her mere existence has done wonders in helping me understand love, identity, family and what is really important in life.

I moved from New England to North Carolina in 2011 so that I could be around more people of color, and so that my daughter could grow up in a racially diverse area, which central Massachusetts was not. I sometimes worry that she may be somewhat confused about her own racial identity given that what we (her family) tell her about her racial heritage conflicts with what she sees in the mirror. Here in North Carolina, she is both surrounded by many people like herself, and at the same time made to be aware of race on a regular basis. Still, I believe I made the right choice. I really like it here, the weather is perfect, the people are, for the most part, open, forward thinking and most certainly diverse.

As a country, I see us having become more polarized over racial issues than we have been possibly since the 60’s. Perhaps President Obama’s election has been somewhat of a catalyst, I really don’t know. As Ms. Jane Elliott—the lecturer who is known for the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise”—said, “Things are better than when I was 13, and worse than when I was 50.” She is 80 years old now, and I believe she is correct.

What was it like to participate in this book project, to be in this book?
It was a wonderful experience. I am so glad to be able to do this update and to read where others are in their lives now. I consider my participation in this book, like my mixed-up racial background, to be a gift I was given, and one of my life’s greatest blessings.

A little bonus: Here’s Neisha singing Charlie Chaplin’s Smile.