Throughout my life, relationships have been transient. I had little to no connection with my extended family. The friends I made in elementary school were forgotten by the time I started middle school. I had close friends in high school that I never spoke to again after graduation. I conditioned myself to enjoy relationships when I had them, and if they went, they went. It was like reading a book and burning each chapter as I completed it, remembering but not integrating it with the chapter to come.
The inability to connect to people around me stemmed, in large part, from my inability to connect to my own identity. You can’t be present in the moment with others if you are not comfortable with who you are as a person. As a biracial child, I tried for years to define myself via race, but I didn’t know which one I was. From childhood through college, I viewed the world from lower-middle class, black eyes — the eyes of my father. I used black vernacular, and I didn’t trust white people. After I graduated college in May of 1991, I went into the witness protection program, so to speak, about my racial makeup. I have been there until now.
In some ways, maintaining secrecy about my background has been like spying. With the light skin, “good” hair, and green eyes of my mother, I’ve felt like a CIA agent in hostile territory — cooperating, collaborating, and cohabitating with folks who don’t know my background. One reason I’ve kept quiet is silent protest: why should I have to tell people I was mixed? Why did race have to enter the equation at all? Was I supposed to carry around an index card with my DNA on it and share it with everyone I met?
At this point in my life, I’m tired of the secrecy, tired of pretending, tired of playing the social chameleon. If people don’t know who you are, you can’t let your guard down and establish an authentic connection. It’s a new thing for me, opening up to people around me and reaching out to those who drifted from my life years ago. If the racial divide I’ve struggled to overcome in myself echoes the larger conversation of race in this country, it is an impediment to moving forward.
As a society, we have become so PC that most people are afraid to broach the race topic, even when the intent may be a better mutual understanding. Someone has to make the first move, let down the guard, open up. I’m finally willing to do that.
Despite my parents’ flaws, they were my greatest believers. From my dad founding a neighborhood baseball team to my mom advocating for me in school, they taught me that anything imaginable was within my reach, that their mistakes needn’t be my choices, and that my destiny was for a higher purpose. I want my legacy to be an impetus for change.
My hope is that my (story) book, Contrast: A Biracial Man’s Journey to Desegregate His Past, isn’t the kind of book you read once and put away. I hope you reach for it when you need motivation to connect with your identity or a reason to ignite a conversation with others in your life who feel unsure, ambiguous, or disconnected. I hope my story encourages you to move forward . . . while not completely discarding what you leave behind.