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.


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.

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)


  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.”


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 and @poetchelene.