“He’d be really dangerous if he wasn’t such a moron” my dad said through laughter while we were having a conversation about race and identity. I had asked him if he had any particular experiences with racism that came top-of-mind. Regardless of the context, this is hilarious and captures his wit, humour and fiery personality perfectly.
He was telling me about a time at work when a random man went on a tirade, yelling at him and towards others. My dad couldn’t remember what exactly about. But I’d hazard a guess that there was no [good] reason for it. Seldom is there “reason” involved in these things. Apparently the intelligence that this man could muster allowed him to come up with the very thought-provoking mixture of pejoratives: “And you! You n****r, or paki, or whatever the hell you are!”. Upsetting, but amusing. The shake your head ‘What can ya do?’ type of amusing, of course. I find this particularly interesting in terms of how it relates to the politics of being biracial or multiracial. The man couldn’t place my dad but that didn’t matter. He didn’t need to know what dad’s ethnicity was in order to decide what it was not, and that he was not for it. Funny how that works.
My dad was one of four children born to Marjorie and Kippy in Trinidad and Tobago—a true melting pot of a country. He has brown skin, one of the quickest minds I know and, most importantly, he can rock a pretty impressive afro (though, I’m afraid he’s left that look back in the Weston Road Flows days). His mom is black and his father was Indian. He identifies as black but respects, and would not want to omit, his Indian background. On this side of my family we have Spanish heritage, Chinese heritage, African heritage and more. Our family isn’t Pakistani but I can remember the term “paki” really hurting me when I was younger. A sort of instant hurt, a can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-why hurt. There was one time in my early teens where a couple of my acquaintances called me this (we will call them Lindsay and Erika for the purpose of this anecdote. Just kidding, those are their actual names. I guess they would have been dangerous too if they weren’t such … moving on!). Looking back to dissect that feeling a bit more—names like those hurt me because they were supposed to.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.” — Brené Brown
Racism is supposed to make you feel less you, less connected, more ‘other’. Some synonyms of “other” are: added, further, spare, supplementary. Some antonyms to “other” are: same, similar, included, related. It’s a power play that has taken lives and built schools and cities and governments; that has changed cultures, built hierarchies and strengthened systems that keep certain people oppressed and others on a platform more likely to succeed. Basically, with systemic racism, people of colour (POC) are kept as the ‘other’ and white [men] are kept largely in power. How handy (and hard to dismantle).
My mom is kind and wonderful and generous. She is one of five children born to Kathleen and Gregory, from Nova Scotia, Canada. She is white. So that means that I am biracial/multiracial (depending on your definition) like my dad, but with a bit more vanilla thrown in there. It also means I am often white-passing. The privilege I have due to this and other reasons does not escape me. I also hear a lot of “You’re so exotic looking”, “Where are you really from?”, “But you’re not really black”, “It’s okay, you’re basically white”, “Oh, so you’re half-black?” and other microaggressions. Some individuals, and society as a whole, seem to have a real problem when people don’t fit as nicely and neatly into the boxes they think they should fit into.
There’s not really a clean end to this piece or a moral of the story. Just that for some, self-identification is easy and maybe even obvious. For others it’s often a bit less black and white, literally. It has taken me well into my late twenties to be fully comfortable exploring my identity as a biracial or multiracial person. I mean, I’ve been living it for 27 years, but to have the political acuity and to truly understand the landscape of ‘race’ and where I fit in, is a different story. We all want, need and crave connection, and a huge connector is our identity. The community; the permission it gives you to be yourself; the “phew, so it’s not just me” moments.
Phew, so it’s not just me.
Originally published at muisemix.wordpress.com