Residence: Conyers, Georgia
Occupation: Independent Contractor
I didn’t realize it had been twenty years until I received Lise’s text asking for a comment. I remember our meeting and all we discussed in anticipation of Black, White, Other. I have the book in front of me now and have actually re-read what I said. What was I thinking then? So much seemed garbled. But it brought back so many feelings.
As I said then, I still believe that there is a “tribe” of people who were once an important force in our society. A tribe in America unto itself, with a history of heroes and heroines. Mulattoes of history, now referred to by the clinical term, “bi-racial.” Children who are from their parents but not of them, being neither White nor Black.
The two most important women in my early life were my White grandmother, Lillian, and my Black grandmother, Elxzina. I learned from them their cultures, as a sponge absorbs liquid. I suffered with them as they tried to agree and find peace within the blended family my parents’ marriage created. I drew strength of will from each and compassion from both. They loved me unconditionally and I them. While I didn’t know it then, what a fortunate child I was to have the love of representatives of such vastly different experiences. I hardly noticed what I looked like until someone stared. I took a person for who they were and did not imply any presumptions as to how they would treat me. I expected integrity and for the most part experienced just that. I was brave because my Grams had my back.
When I discovered how much the gifts of my grandmothers’ examples had molded the adult I became, I began to reach out to others. Friendships bloomed and flourished just before Lise and I met, and for a couple of years I was absorbed with the idea that we were forming a new “tribe” from an old culture and we’d make sense over the divides in our country.
We could reach back and find what was fine in our history. We could teach our blended families and children about a new day in racial appreciation that was coming. Individually, we could satisfy ourselves as to what our racial mixtures meant with regard to health. What makes our tribe sick? Does the admixture of Black and White create a hybrid of better health? How much? Do we have a different psychological profile than either of our parent groups?
I remember a questionnaire I sent to a couple hundred of my new friends asking questions about their family and their health issues. None of the responses were remarkable, except in one area. I asked my group if they could opt to be White or Black rather than biracial would they, and 90% responded they would choose not to be biracial. That saddened me. Those were the days when I was a “Proud Mulatto.” But to the second part of the question, which race they would choose, everyone left the space blank.
I didn’t have the skill to translate that information beyond being understanding of my friends’ choices to go mute on the subject. But I knew therein lay the “tragedy” of our tribe. Still with us. Still rendering us impotent of purpose as a tribe.
I had done the research. I know the history that sent our numbers into silence, tamping down speech, and in self-preservation many crossing to a safe side. The terms are The Code Noir, Miscegenation, Segregation, Jim Crow laws, and particularly Eugenics (the monster, indeed). The Mulatto disappeared from the Census in 1920 and every effort to regenerate the numbers and flesh out the tribe has been thwarted by both cultures since. But there were no funding sources interested in my questions and dream of a national debate over our devastated people. So as I had children to tend, parents to caretake, and cars to repair, and days to just enjoy being. And without the funding, as a result, I confess I went silent, too.
What is the world of the biracial twenty years later? I don’t know for sure. Is attrition the answer to the tragic history of the tribe? Will the biracial one day hold the prominence of “majority” and call themselves what they choose? Maybe it’s just enough not to be put upon and asked the dreaded question I heard every day in my youth: “What are you?” I hope that children don’t hear that any more, but I’m not convinced.
My son just told me that he read on the Internet a White guy referred to our President, Barack Obama, as a “Halfrican American.” Better than biracial? I think not.
I wish Lise all of the best in the re-issuance of her book. It was an inspiration to many then and will be again.