Similarity is Not a Requirement for Compassion

I am whitish — a white-looking mixed person, specifically of Irish and Haitian descent, the Irish being more obvious than the Haitian. Black experiences aren’t my experiences. I am not denied job interviews because people see a typical sounding African American name and make false assumptions about my competency and intelligence. If a retail clerk approaches me, I don’t worry that it’s because they assume I’m shoplifting. If I’m stopped by the police, I assume it’s because of my speed and not because of the color of my skin.

In short, I pass.

I am a mixed person with white skin and white privilege. My white privilege gives me a lot, but being mixed shows me the world. It showed me that my mom and dad get treated differently at the same store, or that nobody believes that my cousins and I are related or that I’ll always have to answer the “what are you?” question, always accompanied by an uncomfortably quizzical look. It showed me that when we talk about experiences, we are almost always talking about The White Experience. POC pain is met with an insurmountable amount of skepticism by white people. Video after video of police brutality has been leaked and #bluelivesmatter remains as strong a rallying cry as ever.

I used to wonder if I would be as aware of racism if I were born to a strictly white family, but after a lot of painfully awkward conversations about race I no longer believe that. I believe if you want to learn about race you can start by asking yourself intelligent questions and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Next time a fellow human says that something is racially offensive to them, ask yourself why you get to decide what is hurtful to someone? Ask yourself why your opinion about their experience is more valid than their opinion about their experience?” Ask yourself why it’s easier to label someone as the “PC police” or a “social justice warrior (and for the record, I wear that badge with pride)” than it is to own your words and the mistakes you make with them? We’ve all said the wrong thing at the wrong time to someone before and someone has said the wrong thing to us at the wrong time before. It shouldn’t be so unfathomable to us that the same thing happens in racial discussions…a lot. Until we become as invested in fighting racism as we are defending it, we will remain a country bitterly divided.

Understanding America’s racial issues begin with compassion. A person shouldn’t need to be the same color or have the same experiences as you to be respected. Practice listening to the experience of women, LGBTQIA people and POC without defending, dismissing, distancing or denying their experiences. Read books that aren’t just written by white men. Elevate female and nonwhite voices by sharing and thoughtfully discuss an article on social media.

White people, it starts with us–it can be anything from gently challenging your friends’ prejudicial ideas to vehemently calling them out on their racist bullshit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had white people assume it was “safe” to start talkin’ racial smack only to be shut down by yours truly. It’s not just because racism is a family issue for me, but because I don’t want to let that shit slide anymore. I don’t want to create a safe space for your racism. All of us need to be challenged and take responsibility for our words, you know, like adults.

I want us to start having better collective conversations about so many things, especially race.

I want us to start with compassion.


Alexandra Shiels is a native New Yorker currently living in Austin, TX. By day, she works as a financial services marketer, by night she is a freelance writer, taking on such topics as race, feminism, immigration, and mental health awareness. Alex hopes to dispel some myths about being biracial and start uncomfortable conversations about race.

Dancing with My Roots

The music is loud, the music is good, the groove of the song is working its way to my soul, it’s only twenty minutes into this party and here I am, forcing myself to sit still and not sweat it out before the party even begins or before everyone has arrived. I can’t help it. My household growing up always had music playing, my mother encouraged my siblings and I to dance before we could even walk. Through movement and dancing, I was always comfortable. On the dance floor I felt like I could be all of me while celebrating where I inherited the gift of rhythm and using my body as an instrument to bring the music to life. Before I knew about the rich history of my family and who I descend from, before reading the mind expanding work of Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, W.E.B DuBois, Angela Davis and others, I was learning to connect to my roots through rhythm and movement.

The earliest memories I have of engaging with the complexity of race and my identity just so happened to occur at times where people witnessed my dancing style. These early memories in dance battles, performances, and cyphers, were never void of questions and astonishment related to my racial identity. With comments like “That white boy got soul!” to “He moves like a Black man”, and to questions such as “Do you have any Black in you?”, I can count on getting such reactions and questions following each time I dance in front of a new group of people. There are times where I relish in that moment of shock on peoples faces when they see me dance. It is almost as though they cannot understand how a man like myself, with how light I am, can catch the rhythm and beat to a song so well and mold it into his very own movement. My dancing was and is a way to show who I am. Although I do not mind the questions of my racial identity from someone simply trying to understand my movements further and why I move like I do, there is a fine line I draw with how much I let people in to see my talent nowadays.

As I danced my way through life, and into my identity, I began to be known as “The Dancer” around the parts I grew up in. I would dance in any and all events that were happening around my school and around my town. For a time it felt good to be recognized for the passion I had for dancing, but as I grew into my twenties I started to feel a sense of unease. I felt uncomfortable with groups of people telling me to dance for them. Uncomfortable being the only one dancing at a party, while others look to me to entertain them as they are plastered against a wall. When I’m called to dance in a party-particularly parties that resemble the racial makeup of Trump supporters- I start to feel like the dancing monkey. The feeling hits too close to what my ancestors went through when they were forced to be the entertainment for a slave masters party. I am not here to accuse Caucasian individuals for being racist for enjoying my dancing ability, but I am here to explain that the act of forcibly asking me to dance at your party for a group of white faces does not sit well with me and who I am, racially. Just as it’s not socially acceptable to walk up to someone and expect them to share their deepest passions and beliefs upon first meeting them, asking me to get up and dance for your enjoyment and curiosity is every bit as unacceptable. When and where I choose to share my art should solely be up to me. The way I dance, is the way I let people know who I am and where my family comes from, and that’s sacred. It is the connection I form with my ancestors and how I choose to celebrate the linage of my family. As Martha Graham once said, “Nothing is more revealing than movement.”


Kenneth Miks was born in Tracy, California, a small town right outside of the Bay Area. He is in his final year of his undergraduate studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Kenneth will be graduating with a major in sociology paired with a minor in African-American studies and will be continuing his intellectual journey into graduate school, with a focus on the social and cultural impact of the African diaspora that is felt globally.