Blackness Behind White Skin

Professor: Now everyone stand up

Class: [shuffling around to stand up]

Professor: Take a look around at all the Black men standing around you.

Class:[Everyone begins looking around awkwardly]

Professor: Now, everyone sit down, but all the black men remain standing…

It is in this very moment I begin to panic. My mind starts to race at a 100mph and I begin to nervously look around as I see everyone sitting down, but all the black men standing tall. “Do I keep standing? Maybe I’m not black enough? Will I get the ultimate side eye from the class and from the black men standing up? Will my professor kindly remind me to sit down?” What my professor wanted to show to the class was that young black men are a presence on our college campus and that these young men should not be unjustly handled or killed for acting out their youth, just as a 17 year old Jordan Davis did as he was shot and killed for playing loud music with his friends back in 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. While this was indeed a tense, but important, moment in our class, I could not help but to question my own racial identity in those short moments of panic. In case you’re wondering, I ended up sitting down, and not standing tall with my fellow black men.

If you were to see me on the street you may not stop to look twice in wonderment of what or who I am. I am a mixed man but it’s an invisible mixedness, or blackness, whichever you prefer. I don’t look like your token mixed men like Colin Kaepernick, Drake, Michael Ealy, or even Barack Obama. I am such a “high yella” brotha that I actually look more like my father, who is a white man. The only time my blackness shines through is if i pick out my light brown hair into my cherished “mixed fro” or shave my head all the way down. When I do either I get comments such as, “oh, you actually look black with your hair like that” or “Oh my God! You weren’t lying, you are black!” With so many “white” features one can begin to guess why I couldn’t get myself to stand in class. I believed that it was wrong of me to stand up and proclaim myself as a black man who shares the lived experience of a fellow black man who can get stopped at any moment just for the complexion of his skin. I have never been stopped by a cop based off of my skin color, who am I to stand tall with my classmates? I believed in that moment that I was not black enough.

“You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself!” were the first words my mother spoke when I told her about my identity crisis in class. My mother, who I inherit my blackness from, was livid at my choice to sit down and choose not to take away from the experience of being a black man with darker skin. While I don’t have the lived experience of a darker skinned black man, my mother made it very clear to me that we should never deny who we are and we should always stand up for our family, our blackness. Following the discussion with my mother, I began thinking back to when men and women had to hide their blackness to great extents just so they could pass the racial color lines into a better life. These men and women were forced to deny a whole part of themselves because that part of them was looked at as dirty, unclean, not white. I can’t get back my decision to sit down in class that day. To live with my decision is to never forget the feeling I felt as I denied an entire part of myself, and all of my family that made it in America as a black man or a black woman. My blackness may be invisible behind my white skin, but the next time I am called to stand up for my blackness I will stand proudly. If not for me, for the men and women who were forced to deny their blackness, and for my ancestors who were brought over from the coasts of Africa. I am because they were.

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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.


Growing an Exotic Flower

I grew up in an entirely White neighborhood, in a predominantly White school system, and interacted mostly with my White family members. I watched decidedly Western TV (read: Hannah Montana) and read books with similarly homogenous characters (I still have all 58 of the Hardy Boys books). As I grew older and began my life-long obsession with historical fiction, I identified my history more with the stories of Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I than I did with those of Princess Chikako of Japan and Princess Jahanara of India. My second grade Ancestor Report described the immigration of my father’s grandmother from Germany to the United States; no mention of my mother’s family was made on that sky-blue poster board.

American and European history, however, do not represent the story of all my ancestors. Half of me is graced with my mother’s rich Filipino blood that incorporates heavy Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish influences, a far cry from the Irish and German traditions of my father.  Although I was blessed with multiple trips to the Philippines, frequent Tagalog between my mother and aunts, and monthly get-togethers with the local Filipino community, throughout childhood I continued to identify myself as an enthusiastic and whole-hearted Caucasian-American. For a while, I never felt torn between two cultures or thought that others separated me from my neighbors and their blonde hair, freckles, and fair skin.  In her essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde introduces the idea of a mythical norm, which in the United States is most often defined as “white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, and financially secure.” She claims that most people acknowledge in some part of themselves that they do not fit that norm – that they are an “other” who identifies differently than that unspoken norm. I did not feel that way. My mother’s heritage simply served more as an interesting accent to spice up my traditional, White, Midwestern upbringing than an inherent part of my own identity.

It was not until the fifth grade when my “otherness” from my own community became a truly salient factor in my own identification. Two young girls about four years my junior, one from Spain and the other from Nigeria, approached me as I waited impatiently in the lunch line for my coveted Thursday ravioli and asked me, with huge smiles on their faces, if I spoke another language. A little taken aback but nevertheless pleased to once again add a little sprinkle of Filipino to my Midwestern community, I replied the negative. Almost as an afterthought, I asked them why they chose to ask me – out of all the other kids in the line –such a question.

 

“Well – your eyes are a little different,” one replied before scampering off with her friend.

 

I ran off to my best friend and urgently asked her if she saw something different too. She awkwardly avoided eye contact and told me that “yea –  they’re a little smaller than usual.”

And so began my decade-long process of self-definition. Erik Erikson, a psychologist known for his theory on psychosocial development, described this process of identity formation as a “process of simultaneous reflection and observation” in which a person constantly judges herself with reference to how she thinks others judge her in comparison to themselves. That is, I was constantly deciding between which race I “felt on the inside” and how others viewed me. Before that moment, I never thought that I saw something different in my reflection than what my classmates and friends saw. But now I had to choose. Until high school (when “more than one race” finally became an option), I alternated between “Asian” and “White” on standardized tests. It was not an option to embrace both identities simultaneously. When in the United States, I was undoubtedly Asian, as my olive tone and eye structure quickly gave away. When in the Philippines, my towering 5’ 9” frame and fair skin (not to mention that I don’t speak Tagalog) revealed my Whiteness. It was simply a battle I could not win.

As I transitioned out of high school, I intentionally chose the University of Michigan to escape that battle. Beverly Tatum, a prominent psychologist and educator on racial identity, argues that individuals belonging to a “dominant” group do not truly know the experience of “subordinates” due to extensive social segregation in both communities themselves and the wider social sphere (e.g. TV shows, books, movies, etc…). At Michigan, I wouldn’t be in a small, Catholic, White-washed school. I could interact with people from all different heritages and begin to challenge the epistemic dominance prevalent in my own experiences. I immediately enrolled in the class “Growing up Latino/a” because I wanted to engage in a discussion between myself, a self-identified privileged White woman, and those who oftentimes do not benefit from that same privilege. As Audre Lorde argued often occurs with those from dominant communities, I did not want to make it the responsibility of the oppressed to teach me about my mistakes; I wanted to seek out my own role in the cycle of systematic oppression.

The class was a small seminar of about 20 students seated around a round table arranged to facilitate student engagement. Roughly half of the students were Latino or African-American; the other half were Caucasian. As I quickly learned transitioning between Caucasian-American and Filipino-American communities, those who belong to the majority group often do not realize they are the majority until they’re suddenly not. This was certainly evident as I stepped into the classroom for the first time. The unusually high ratio of minority to Caucasian students was immediately salient; the atmosphere was not the same vaguely-interested flavor common to many first days of class. Normal lackadaisical attitude was replaced by an inexplicable edginess. As we each expressed why we wanted to take the class, some students fidgeted uncomfortably. Others did not make eye contact with their peers. Few looked absolutely relaxed. Regardless of their demeanor, the resounding theme was that each one of us wanted to learn about a culture with which half of us had limited to no exposure. It was exciting! I was finally with people who all had different perspectives and were excited and willing to hear about other interpretations of the American experience.

 

By the next week, every single White student had dropped the class.

 

Again, I was faced with the dichotomous choice of my racial self-identification. I had identified myself as an “other” in that class, an individual who usually passes with White privilege. I was a White student who enrolled in that class to learn about different minority experiences. But I did not drop the class, as my White peers did. The African-American students did not drop the class, even though they too were delving into a Latino experience different from their own. Did that mean I was actually a minority student, because I did not feel uncomfortable enough to drop the class? Or was I a White student who just happened to be more open to the unusual racial distribution? Or was I actually teetering on the edge of White and non-White, because I was alert enough walking into the room to notice the high proportion of minority students, but not uncomfortable enough to drop the class? I could not go beyond that form of binary thinking. To which group did I belong? Whom did I represent?

As I finished my junior year of college, I finally felt like I had found a rhythm in my college experience. I had found close friends, a welcoming faith community, and a field that I felt passionate about. Never before had I felt so included and welcomed in the university setting. As I sat down with a White Ann Arbor mother in a local psychological clinic, she expressed concern that her young child wasn’t making any friends. That is, he was making friends – just not friends they would usually “find in their neighborhood.” I brushed her oblivious microaggression off, chalking it up to the overprotective tiger-mom persona she clearly conveyed to the psychologist and myself. She was only one mildly racist woman in the otherwise welcoming Ann Arbor. As soon as she left the room, the psychologist turned to me to express her dismay at such a blatantly racist comment. Especially, she said, when someone “not from her neighborhood” was sitting right in the room with her. I looked at her for a moment, confused. Who was she talking about in the room who wasn’t “from her neighborhood?”  Only the three of us had been present. Then I realized.

 

She was talking about me.

 

I was the person my supervisor (a lovely, kind, intelligent woman) considered “not from her neighborhood.” Never mind that I had grown up in the upper-middle class of Lansing, MI. Or have a two highly educated parents. Or only speak English. Again, my identity formation was challenged as I was forced to confront the difference between how others perceive me and how I perceive myself.  To many, I am an “other.” To myself, I was indistinguishable from my Caucasian peers. I believe I have a pretty hefty invisible knapsack that allows me to pass with unearned privileges that many are not privy to. But do I, really? I’ve been pulled over three times and never received a ticket… so yes? I’ve had people tell me to go back to China… so no? I’ve had strangers call me an “exotic flower” … so maybe?

Perhaps the answer, though, isn’t so easy. I am Filipina. It would be an insult to my mother and our family to deny the history that has been such a formative part of my mother’s life, and consequently, my upbringing. Yet I know without a doubt that I do live a privileged life. I’ve always assumed that neighbors will be pleasant to me. I feel comfortable wearing used clothing without people attributing that choice to my race. I’ve never had trouble finding makeup that fits my skin tone. So, perhaps, this dichotomous approach between White and non-White does not fully account for the identities that shape who I am. Maybe, after all, I am not either White or non-White. Maybe I can be an “other” in the communities in which I live, yet still experience White privilege because I am not only an “other.” And I am not only White. I am an entire being made of the intersection of experiences that have formed my world perspective, including experiences of privilege, marginalization, and some hazy in-betweens. These experiences cannot be so easily binned into two categories. Perhaps then, social expectations that so definitively categorize entire identities, including entire social movements, do not give justice to the depth of the populations they serve and their intersectionality. Maybe social justice itself, at least in part, is the process in which individuals acknowledge and engage in their intersecting identities, combine them with those of others, and use that more comprehensive viewpoint to instigate change and awareness in their communities.

Everyone has a variety of intersecting identities that shape the way he or she views the world and interacts with others. Gender, sexuality, race, and able-ness are only a few of the identities that people can claim to be their own and that can affect the way individuals interpret their world. Many people grow into adulthood fully aware of their many overlapping identities. I did not. I am continually adjusting my interpretation of myself in terms of both race, womanhood, social class, and education and reflecting on the ways different interpretations of these identities affect how I present myself to society and how society views me. And this, in a narrow lens, is the foundation of social justice. Social justice relies on both the process through which individuals and communities can reflect on and acknowledge themselves as a coalescence of many identities as well as the progress we’ve made to empower that coalescence. I have realized that I don’t need to neatly bin myself into White or non-White. That simply doesn’t do my person justice. I am a White, Filipina, educated young woman…and so much more.

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Andrea Maxwell was born in raised in the Lansing, MI area. Her mother grew up in Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines, and her father is originally from Indiana and is of Irish and German descent. Andrea is currently a senior at the University of Michigan studying Neuroscience and Psychology and is interested in the intersection of biology, psychology, and social justice. She hopes to serve as an advocate for human rights through both clinical and research involvement in the mental health field.

A Letter to Mom

Dear Mom,

Although it is always a good laugh remembering the stories you told us when people thought you were our nanny because we looked so different as children, we are so lucky to have you as our mother! Now that we are older, we want to say thank you! We will always appreciate the moments and lessons that have helped us find acceptance with ourselves.

You never relaxed our hair! We remember a few times as children when we asked to relax our hair. We thought that if we relaxed our hair it would always be straight and we could then look like the other girls in school. But, we are glad you did not agree and taught us there was no need for that because natural beauty is most important. You helped us learn to love and take care of our curls and that our curls were just another unique part of who we are.

You taught us that we are all one race, human. When faced with adversity in regards to race, you taught us how to we stand up for ourselves! It does not matter who you are, respect and love for all cultures/ethnicities is what brings us all together, a life and world world without boundaries.

You pushed us to challenge societal stereotypes of gender and race. You have always been an independent and powerful women for us to look up to. You didn’t let anyone hold you back from achieving your goals and you taught us the same. You taught us not put limits on what we can achieve  because of our race or gender and you have always been our biggest supporter.

You didn’t allow us just to rely on our looks, but you encouraged use to be intelligent beings too. We are not objects or exotic trophies and just because we are shades in the middle of white and black, it does not make us anything more or less than the others. When you received the compliment “Oh such pretty girls” you never failed to let people know we are not defined by our “prettiness” for we are intelligent too!

When you speak of our background, you remind us to proud of all of our ethnicities. We are proud  to have ancestors who came over on the Mayflower and a Polish last name. After an ancestry test and research we are proud to claim that we have origins from multiple regions in Africa and are of Native American descent. All of these fascinating stories are fun to learn and know that we are our own melting pot of amazing races!

We thank you mom for raising us and teaching us how to love every side of us. To be leaders so that we can inspire others and for holding us accountable to carrying ourselves as respectable young ladies in our community. We thank you for being that role model in our lives to alway look up and that we aspire to be. We love you and thank you mom!

 

Megan, Amanda, and Alexis <3

#tothemixedkid

www.ruleofthr3e.com

Check out more of our stories at www.ruleofthr3e.com

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Megan Rudnik received her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Spanish and her MBA from Winthrop University. Since graduating, Megan spent 2 years in the eace Corp, serving in Panama. She also recently completed 4 months in China teaching English.

Amanda Rudnik received her B.S. in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting from The Citadel. While at The Citadel, Amanda played all four years on the Citadel volleyball while serving in various leadership roles in the South Carolina Corp of Cadet. Amanda now currently works for a large company and pursues her dream of modeling.

Alexis Rudnik is currently a student at Winthrop University, studying Middle Level Education Math and Social Studies. Alexis was a member of the 2016 Winthrop Volleyball team and is currently coaching volleyball at the club level.

We all grew up in Minnesota for 10 years before moving to our current residence in South Carolina. Our mother is African American and Native American and from Alabama. Our father is Polish and German and originally from Minnesota.


Interracial Dating

Being the products of an interracial marriage, we never felt the need to limit ourselves to a certain race when dating. Being interracial meant just about any and all relationships we engaged in would be an interracial relationship, but this didn’t stop society from having a say in our dating lives.

Alexis’ Dating Story:
My friends always used to asked my why I never dated “white” guys, and my response was always “they’re just not into me”, and we’d end up laughing it off like it was nothing. But then one of my “white” friends told me that “they’re just intimidated by us”. So I always wondered am I really that intimidating? I’d always hear from others and my mom “don’t lower your standards, you can have any guy you want”, but I never really captured the whole essence to that advice that was given. It’s like in society, we put mixed kids in a category of “out of this world”, like we are “the catch” to have. I have had a friend tell me that he likes dating mixed girls because “we’re a challenge”. It is as if we’re unicorns among a herd of mustangs, standing out some way because our hair and skin color is just different. Our background is a little bit of both worlds so it’s follows the whole “get you a girl who can do both” as they say. I am currently dating an African American guy in relationship that isn’t seen as a challenge or a game, but a companionship where we help each other to improve, and grow to be the best versions of ourselves.

Amanda’s Dating Story:
Through high school and my first years of college it just so happened that I dated mainly African American (black) guys and even one guy that was interracial like myself. We never received any odd stares or comments about being together because of how we looked. It wasn’t until my Junior of college that I began dating my current boyfriend, who just so happens to be Caucasian (white). Things just clicked between us and we are happy to be together, but I have realized the perception of our relationship changes before and after they see us together. We get odd looks from time to time, and the occasional question, if our families approve of us being together, but neither of these were typical when I dated the African American guys. Friends have admitted that after meeting my boyfriend, or seeing him for the first time, they were expecting for him to be a black guy. After spending time with us, they understand better what brought us together; again, this is a companionship that we wish to grow and improve to be the best versions of ourselves, together. My boyfriend and I are blessed with family and friends that are so supportive of our relationship.

Megan’s Dating Story:
Interracial dating can be tricky! During my service with the Peace Corp I began dating my current boyfriend, a local Panamanian. Aside from the obvious language barrier, there was major cultural differences as well. He doesn’t understand the same racial references, the significance of “soul” food, or that I grew up in a time when I prefered to listen to Britney Spear and 90s pop songs over rap. He is more passive, while Americans, like myself, can be more aggressive because we have grown up in a society where have been taught to seize opportunities as they come. Interracial dating has helped for me to keep an open mind and to have patience. While I continue to grow in my relationship, I have learned new things about Panamanian culture while being able to share my mixed culture and how it has shaped me into who I am today.

Now, all three of us are dating someone along the race spectrum. Someone who’s Hispanic, Caucasian, and African American. To love and care for another should not be limited to only those that look and have similar skin tones like themselves. We all agree that relationships should be based on the respect we have for each other and the trust and genuine connection we share together. We truly feel when that happens you won’t see relationships as “interracial”, we will see them just as two people together by love. #lovewins

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Megan Rudnik received her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Spanish and her MBA from Winthrop University. Since graduating, Megan spent 2 years in the eace Corp, serving in Panama. She also recently completed 4 months in China teaching English.

Amanda Rudnik received her B.S. in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting from The Citadel. While at The Citadel, Amanda played all four years on the Citadel volleyball while serving in various leadership roles in the South Carolina Corp of Cadet. Amanda now currently works for a large company and pursues her dream of modeling.

Alexis Rudnik is currently a student at Winthrop University, studying Middle Level Education Math and Social Studies. Alexis was a member of the 2016 Winthrop Volleyball team and is currently coaching volleyball at the club level.

We all grew up in Minnesota for 10 years before moving to our current residence in South Carolina. Our mother is African American and Native American and from Alabama. Our father is Polish and German and originally from Minnesota.


Monkey in the Middle

Growing up we always got the “Oh! Such pretty girls you have!” compliment. Growing up it was fun knowing we were “pretty” and being told that everywhere we went. However, as we got older, we started to see what it really meant, or at least our perception started to shift on our meaning of that compliment. We knew we were very blessed and thankful for our skin color, and hair we were lucky to have, but we didn’t want to be just another “pretty” face in society, we wanted to make a difference. Some made it seem like we always had everything given to us because of how we looked. Yet, we could never quite fit in with the black kids or white kids because of our background. We were either too white, or too black, so it was as if we were the black girl when with the white kids in school or the white girl with the black kids and too “boujee”, like everything was just handed to us on a silver platter and we couldn’t understand what being black really meant. We were like a walking target of jokes, of “oh, you won’t get it, you’re not black enough”, or “it’s a white people thing, you won’t understand”. It seemed like no matter what we did, we could never get it right; and the fact that we’re all 3 years apart and still heard the same thing from our peers bothered us. It just really shows that no matter what age or generation we’re a part of, it’s like those mixed kids will get those comments. We’re forced to be only one side of ourselves to fit in, or if we don’t, then we don’t belong to either group. Just a monkey in the middle. As we continue to grow, we don’t want to be just pretty faces for we have goals and ambitions. We want to do something in our lives to not prove to not only others, but to ourselves as well, that we are somebody in this world, and we don’t have to pick a side to do it.

As sisters, we conquer in our own unique ways and in many different aspects of our lives. We don’t want to be just “pretty”, we want to be smart, intellectual, proactive, leaders, and role models. We are heavily involved in our community, giving back to our church, schools, and teams that we are a part of. Graduating high school and going to college, we each have our own niche.

Megan, the oldest, studied abroad which led her to more adventures in Panama. She completed 2 years of service in the Peace Corp and now speaks fluent Spanish. With that, she will now be going on a mission trip with our church to help translate.

Amanda, the second oldest, graduated from the military college of South Carolina, The Citadel, as a top student-athlete. She dominated on the court and academically, which led to her currently work for a large company while pursuing her dream of modeling.

Alexis, the youngest, is currently working on her degree in education to teach middle level math and social studies. However, in the meantime she has shown her presence by playing on the volleyball team and she continues to give back to her community, while balancing the job of student athlete, and coaching club volleyball.

All three of us work very hard to make an impact on each individual we encounter. We strive to do great things in life and follow our dreams, yet many think it comes easy for us, when in reality it doesn’t. We all have our stories, our own unique struggles and victories for we’re human just like everyone else. We want to start with the movement #Other. In society, we have all encountered numerous of times where we are asked to select our race and when we are only allowed to choose one race, we are once again forced to pick a side; shadowing half of who we are. We challenge everyone, whether white, black, hispanic, asian, biracial or multiracial to choose Other. We want to get rid of being labeled by skin tone, gender, or backgrounds and just see each other as human beings. We all live in this melting pot of different backgrounds, all connected by the love and respect we are to share with other beings. We hope to stop bullying no matter what race, gender, religion, or sexual preference. We want to challenge society to see people for who they truly are in their mind and soul and not their predetermined labels. We’re all just human.

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Megan Rudnik received her B.S. in International Business with a minor in Spanish and her MBA from Winthrop University. Since graduating, Megan spent 2 years in the eace Corp, serving in Panama. She also recently completed 4 months in China teaching English.

Amanda Rudnik received her B.S. in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting from The Citadel. While at The Citadel, Amanda played all four years on the Citadel volleyball while serving in various leadership roles in the South Carolina Corp of Cadet. Amanda now currently works for a large company and pursues her dream of modeling.

Alexis Rudnik is currently a student at Winthrop University, studying Middle Level Education Math and Social Studies. Alexis was a member of the 2016 Winthrop Volleyball team and is currently coaching volleyball at the club level.

We all grew up in Minnesota for 10 years before moving to our current residence in South Carolina. Our mother is African American and Native American and from Alabama. Our father is Polish and German and originally from Minnesota.


Call for Guest Bloggers, Holiday Edition

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As stressful as the holidays can be (especially after this election), they also give us the opportunity to reflect on our family traditions, which often represent important pieces of our cultural and ancestral roots.

We want to hear from you! How do you mix it up during the holidays? What traditions are important to you? What are some new traditions you’ve created? And what are some traditions that you’d like to share with our community—do you have any recipes, games, arts/crafts, or party theme suggestions that bring together different parts of your heritage?

Submit your ideas, stories, art, photos or videos by emailing us at mxrsblogger@gmail.com.

If you need inspiration, check out this post from Christmas past by Zena Itani, “Christmas without Ramadan” from 2015.


But You Don’t Look that Black

“But you don’t look…that Black”

What do comments like this mean to a mixed-race writer, woman, Canadian, artist, and creator? What would it look like to occupy a second body that is essentially her own, but in duplicate? Isn’t a first draft just trial and error? Theories are simply the beginnings of stories, and for that we should have the right to these fragments, just as I have the rights to the pieces that make up who I am. I have nothing to prove be it my blackness, or lack thereof.  This is an exhausting feat, but through the journey, the hard work, muscles form. Repeat a constant repetitive motion over and over. This creates strength. In creating a strength builds a confidence. In building a confidence comes trust. In trusting a writer’s words, theories become extremely plausible.

From theories, we form categories. More specific and refined. When we put writers into neatly organized and very strict boxes, we start caring more about meeting the requirements of that particular category, versus the quality and content of the writing. We stop listening to the author’s voice, words, message, and story. Instead we focus on whether or not they have the right to tell it.

When I am asked what it is like to be a woman of colour writer in Canada, I find that an overwhelming question to try to answer. Think of all the categories I fall into. Woman of colour. Writer. Canadian. Woman. Canadian. Canadian Woman of colour. Which category do I identify with?

 

I typed “Women of Colour” into google:

 

“Col-oured  (redirected from Women of colour)

            adj.

  1. Having color: colored tissue paper.
  2. also Colored Often Offensive
  3. Of or belonging to a racial group not categorized as white.
  4. Black or African-American.
  5. Of mixed racial descent.
  6. often Coloured South African Of or belonging to a population grouping made up of persons of mixed racial descent or of certain other nonwhite descent, especially as distinguished during apartheid from blacks, Asians, or whites.
  7. Distorted or biased, as by irrelevant or incorrect information.
  8. pl. colored or coloreds
  9. also Colored Offensive
  10. A person belonging to a racial group not categorized as white.
  11. A black person, especially an African American.
  12. A person of mixed racial descent.
  13. often Coloured South African A person belonging to the Coloured population grouping, especially during apartheid.
  14. coloreds Pieces of laundry that are not light in color.”

 

These definitions confuse me. Even definitions have trouble finding a place where they fit in, and make sense. Many Canadian mixed-race women struggle with finding a sense of belonging within themselves as well as within their own families and even communities.  I think when you come from two different cultures, and are denied one half, you spend the majority of your time questioning everything in your life, from parenting to education, careers to social groups, and even dating and marriage. In some pieces, I use a character’s voice as narrator, and even though a particular poem may not be about me, I’m always sure to remove my mask and question if this is where I’m supposed to be. I am writing the way I am supposed to be writing in this moment.

 

Had poetry not grabbed me by the throat, I seriously wonder if I would even be writing at all. Just like Amber Dawn said, “Poetry saved my life.”

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continuing studies shots of chelylene for brochure

Chelene Knight lives in Vancouver, BC and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio 2013 in the poetry cohort. Chelene is a Library Assistant at the Vancouver Public Library, and Managing Editor at Room. Previously, she worked as a Manuscript Consultant through SFU, and as a proofreader at Montecristo magazine along with other editor gigs with a poetry focus. She has been published in Amazing Canadian Fashion MagazineSassafras Literary MagazineemergeThe Raven Chronicles Literary Magazine, and in Room 37.4. She just finished her second manuscript, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of sonnets, prose poems, and letters which is forthcoming with BookThug in 2018. Chelene is now dabbling in short short SHORT fiction. Her first book, Braided Skin, was published by Mother Tongue Publishing in Spring 2015. Find out more about Chelene at cheleneknight.com and @poetchelene.


Can We Talk

Please check one of the following boxes:

Black

White

Asian

Indigenous

Métis

Other

 

In my younger days I remember filling out a job application and staring at that question about race for so long. Do I check the ‘Black” box? What the hell is “Other?” My hand hovered over the question for a long time …

The more I write about life as a mixed-race person, and what this means to me as a mother, woman, writer etc, the more the writing itself tends to be less about race and more about missing pieces, and figuring out the order of these pieces and how to put them together. And not only the pieces I’ve never had, but re-working and making do with the ones I do have.

My dad and I have never had a face to face conversation. We’ve written emails back and forth here and there over the course of 15 years. I’ve been struggling for a while now, stuck in the two parts of myself, wondering where I am supposed to fit. What stories are mine? What stories do I have the right to tell? I hold on tightly to fragments. I wonder if he knows the complexities of what I went through growing up. I wonder if he would have constructed a conversation with me as a young girl and given me advice on how to deal with questions about where I came from. I wonder how that conversation would have sounded.

 

From: Dad

To: Chelene

Sent: Sunday April 28, 2013 6:37 p.m.

Subject: Re: Uganda 1972: An Erasure Prose Poem draft

Oh my god, this is very good Chelene. How did you do this? It has some really good depth in how you constructed this. If anyone who reads both the articraft in your creation with the context of the true reality for those who were ousted as well as the dictatorship of what happened especially without changing the order of the words, tells a story almost in a biblical way.

 

From: Chelene

To: Dad

Sent: Sunday April 28, 2013 5:45 p.m.

Subject: Uganda 1972: An Erasure Prose Poem draft

Uganda—the pearl of Africa.  The beauty of a peaceful sun setting could not erase our growing feeling that the flavour of a once promising land was evaporating.  African kingdoms: The Bunyoro kingdom, the Buganda kingdom—it’s strength abolished and divided.  The people were divided, shaken by the expulsion, the elimination—Amin’s brutal reign of terror.  Carpenters, mechanics, shoemakers and tailors—the middlemen.  The sting of a privileged position?  Never.  The political winds transformed into a choice.  Minority eyes prevailed that day.  Identify yourself; breakthrough for Uganda.  The Asian presence of Kampala.  His palace.  His tombs were woven thatched roofs that swooped to a point high above the straw-laden floors below, lending a cathedral-like silence to the sacredness of the earth below where royal attendants continually watched over the remains of their dead kings.  Kampala—the arched and pillared windows were endless.  Nestled behind sundown, an Indian dialect of silks and cottons.  Our eyes lettered names like “Patel” and “Desai” “Bombay Emporium.”  The ashes of Uganda walked many miles and carried their heads.  It was tedious work.   It took years.  The image was small, this image.  It was the same image they left behind.  Why should we wait in line for justice?  Help us begin to drink the pain of Uganda.  The mountains appeared at sunset.  The hillsides of women flowed in the breeze.  The men brought comfort but their eyes told accounts of death.  In their minds, their birth.  Like precious jewels in a hairdo or turban, we heard stories of escape.  They looked back on the homes they built.  They looked back on the tiny store their grandfather established.  A mirror of minority alone in their difficult hours.  Uprooted.

*

I considered the pieces. I re-ordered the pieces. Using ONLY the pieces I had, I created a conversation between my father and I:

*

Uganda—the pearl of Africa.  The beauty of a peaceful sun setting could not erase our growing feeling that the flavour of a once promising land was evaporating.  African kingdoms: The Bunyoro kingdom, the Buganda kingdom—its strength abolished and divided.

“If anyone who reads both the articraft in your creation …”

A mirror of minority alone in their difficult hours.

The people were divided, shaken by the expulsion, the elimination—Amin’s brutal reign of terror.  Carpenters, mechanics, shoemakers and tailors—the middlemen.  The sting of a privileged position?  Never.

“With the context of the true reality for those who were ousted …”

Uprooted.

They looked back on the tiny store their grandfather established.

The political winds transformed into a choice.  Minority eyes prevailed that day.  Identify yourself; breakthrough for Uganda.  The Asian presence of Kampala.  His palace.

“The dictatorship of what happened …”

In their minds, their birth.  Like precious jewels in a hairdo or turban, we heard stories of escape.  They looked back on the homes they built.

His tombs were woven thatched roofs that swooped to a point high above the straw-laden floors below, lending a cathedral-like silence to the sacredness of the earth below where royal attendants continually watched over the remains of their dead kings.

It has some really good depth in how you constructed this.” 

The mountains appeared at sunset.  The hillsides of women flowed in the breeze.  The men brought comfort but their eyes told accounts of death.

Kampala—the arched and pillared windows were endless.  Nestled behind sundown, an Indian dialect of silks and cottons.  Our eyes lettered names like “Patel” and “Desai” “Bombay Emporium.”

The ashes of Uganda walked many miles and carried their heads.  It was tedious work.

“How did you do this?”

It took years.

The image was small, this image.  It was the same image they left behind.  Why should we wait in line for justice?

“… tells a story almost in a biblical way …”

Help us begin to drink the pain of Uganda.

especially without changing the order of the words.”

“Oh my god, this is very good Chelene.”

—Dad.

With these missing pieces, I answer my own questions: am I even “mixed race?” What is this and what does it mean? I remember thinking about the terminology used to define those who did not fit neatly into categories of race. Mixed, bi-racial, blends, etc. I wonder if we can do better. I’ve been picking sides all my life. Switching sides when it suited me best, and always wondering how to “construct” this conversation with myself. Do I have to self-identify? Do I have to check a box on a form? Who wants to check “other” box? I don’t.

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continuing studies shots of chelylene for brochure

Chelene Knight lives in Vancouver, BC and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio 2013 in the poetry cohort. Chelene is a Library Assistant at the Vancouver Public Library, and Managing Editor at Room. Previously, she worked as a Manuscript Consultant through SFU, and as a proofreader at Montecristo magazine along with other editor gigs with a poetry focus. She has been published in Amazing Canadian Fashion MagazineSassafras Literary MagazineemergeThe Raven Chronicles Literary Magazine, and in Room 37.4. She just finished her second manuscript, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of sonnets, prose poems, and letters which is forthcoming with BookThug in 2018. Chelene is now dabbling in short short SHORT fiction. Her first book, Braided Skin, was published by Mother Tongue Publishing in Spring 2015. Find out more about Chelene at cheleneknight.com and @poetchelene.


Braid My Hair on the Train

you are not your hair it’s all political

drama, an intricate poking of brush

on canvas, of paint, of ink, black and light

brown—your skin, your blend of ethnicities is shadow,

and cuticle, nail, and bone a harvest

of marrow, tunnel, suction, severing —

dismounting—easy. claiming sides—easier,

but a climb upside down—takes grip. no one

allowed to touch, characteristics will hinge

on back and forth, to claim, to choose, to pick

sides. what other defining features will

you feature to define these edges

will shrink like the slow burn of paper,

and a shifting of colour—I’ll get used to the rippling.

you promised to keep it simple. Remember:

hair is entirely public;

but my background is not they’d say this hair

is a separate entity from the rest of my body.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

continuing studies shots of chelylene for brochure

Chelene Knight lives in Vancouver, BC and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio 2013 in the poetry cohort. Chelene is a Library Assistant at the Vancouver Public Library, and Managing Editor at Room. Previously, she worked as a Manuscript Consultant through SFU, and as a proofreader at Montecristo magazine along with other editor gigs with a poetry focus. She has been published in Amazing Canadian Fashion MagazineSassafras Literary MagazineemergeThe Raven Chronicles Literary Magazine, and in Room 37.4. She just finished her second manuscript, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of sonnets, prose poems, and letters which is forthcoming with BookThug in 2018. Chelene is now dabbling in short short SHORT fiction. Her first book, Braided Skin, was published by Mother Tongue Publishing in Spring 2015. Find out more about Chelene at cheleneknight.com and @poetchelene.


Mouthing Along to the Words

…He turns the pages like this on purpose and it sounds like the loud screech of a crow’s claws sliding down a wall of freshly rained-on metal—that kind of sound that makes you want to cover your ears and slap someone all at the same time. He sits there reading “All the Light We Cannot See” while mouthing along to the words. His upper lip moving much slower than the bottom, he smiles at certain parts, clears his throat at others. Occasionally, he will stop to bite a piece of hanging skin by his nail, say “hmmm” then glance out the window and take a monstrous sip out of his giant mug of over-creamed coffee. He returns to his book, furrows his brows as if he doesn’t know what the words on the page are trying to tell him, but really, he’s probably just trying to look intense. Or maybe, it’s just a really good book. But what can be said about reading a book? There’s so much more to be seen that no one notices, but I notice. I notice the steady but slow rocking back and forth and the way he holds the spine of the book in his hands like one would cradle the neck of a new born baby and I wonder just then, what he’s thinking. I realize how beautiful he is and how the whiteness of his skin looks so soft from here and how I wish I was the spine of that book, that holds together all the pages that make him mouth along to the words.

The above is something I wrote while staring at my boyfriend while he read his book in bed with a morning coffee. I sat across this room from him, on the floor on a Saturday morning and simply watched him turn the pages. A simple act. A blink of the eye type moment. Something that would normally go unnoticed to most.

I have always struggled in relationships. There was always a fear planted, watered, and wedged deep in the back of my mind. This fear was like a hand-written sign, painted in blood-red ink that said: You’ll never be good enough, you’ll never fit the mold, you’ll never be what they’re looking for. Now whether or not race places a role here, I do not know for sure. What caused me to label myself as “not good enough”? Did this have anything to do with the confusion I felt growing up mixed-race? Again, I do not know for sure, but I did this in every relationship I have been in because I was never allowed to be myself… until now.

Something is different this time around. The things that I cannot answer, are wrapped in the comfort of my own understanding that for the very first time I am not worried about mixed-race relationships, or being in one because no matter who I decide to be with, it will always be a mixed-race relationship. I am not worried about how people see me, or what they may say about me, or us because something feels like it goes a bit deeper. For me to sit and write a description like the one above, to free myself from the clutter and blur, and see the details, from just glancing across the room, must mean something has changed in my life. Something must have clicked, or fell quietly in to place like a lost puzzle piece that was hidden under the bed for the longest time leaving that 10,000-piece puzzle incomplete for years. I feel like I found that piece, without ever realizing it was missing, or that I was looking for it.

Even though that description was written about him, I was only able to write it because I am seeing myself for the very first time, in all my entirety. I have all the pieces and I know exactly where they go.

I’ve judged myself and allowed others to judge me based purely on my exterior appearance for so long, that I began to paint—and even write—a distorted image of what I see every time I look in the mirror. I realize that what I see will always be different from what he sees, and different from what everyone sees, but he has helped me to de-blur and to look deeper. He has helped me to hug the details, cradle the spine, and shown me that I can turn the pages as loudly as I want and mouth along to the words—just as long as they are my words.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

continuing studies shots of chelylene for brochure

Chelene Knight lives in Vancouver, BC and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio 2013 in the poetry cohort. Chelene is a Library Assistant at the Vancouver Public Library, and Managing Editor at Room. Previously, she worked as a Manuscript Consultant through SFU, and as a proofreader at Montecristo magazine along with other editor gigs with a poetry focus. She has been published in Amazing Canadian Fashion MagazineSassafras Literary MagazineemergeThe Raven Chronicles Literary Magazine, and in Room 37.4. She just finished her second manuscript, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of sonnets, prose poems, and letters which is forthcoming with BookThug in 2018. Chelene is now dabbling in short short SHORT fiction. Her first book, Braided Skin, was published by Mother Tongue Publishing in Spring 2015. Find out more about Chelene at cheleneknight.com and @poetchelene.