Regardless of my mixed race heritage, I was raised by my parents to represent myself as a proud black man. When people see a person and surmise that they are ‘mixed’, they will generally assume one black parent and one white parent. If my heritage proves anything, it shows the impossibility of generalizing this idea of a ‘mixed person’.
Both of my parents grew up in South Africa during The Apartheid Regime. They managed to escape the situation through academic achievement. My father was able to gain a scholarship to Milton Academy for his senior year, and then managed to stay in America through attending Amherst College. My mom left by getting a scholarship to Smith College. They met here, in the Five-College system.
The greatest fear of the white minority-run government of South Africa stemmed from the idea that, if left unchecked, the black majority could stage a violent uprising through their relatively massive number. Both of my parents represented the manifestation of The Apartheid Regime’s second greatest fear: ‘miscegenation’ or ‘race-mixing’. In South Africa, that meant that they were both defined as ‘Coloured’.
To be ‘Coloured’ does not tell you much aside from the fact that you have white and black in you. In the case of my father, we know he probably has Khoikhoi (black), white, and Malaysian in him. My mother has Zulu, Xhosa, white, and Indian. For both, it is impossible to find a single white or black ancestor, not that we have tried. The heritage of these two, and thus myself, shows how any generalized term cannot aptly apply to any one of us. So why did my parents choose to raise their children as black Americans?
Well I will not speak for my parents, but I can only assume that because they faced the same oppression as black South Africans, and were both very active in the anti-Apartheid movement, they could only see themselves as black South Africans. They have never once expressed any confusion about their racial identity… but I have.
When I visited South Africa for the third time, I lived and attended school in Pretoria for about eight months. In that time, after my peers learned of my South African heritage, they immediately told me that I was ‘Coloured’, not black. When I tried to tell them that I was taught the term represented an outdated evil from The Apartheid Regime, the one other ‘Coloured’ student in my section asked me why I would not be proud of my race. Imagine my confusion when I tried to explain that I was proud, in fact very proud, of my blackness.
The summer of 2014 was my most recent visit, and I was finally old enough to participate at ‘the grown up table’. While eating, my uncle lamented about the employment opportunities available to ‘Coloureds’ because the economic empowerment system in place in South Africa prioritized black people. Without examining the validity of this statement, for the first time in my life a family member openly spoke about an issue from the perspective of a different racial group. The confusion of having two racial identities based on my location was brought up once again. It was my turn to lament. I thought to myself “did I get so lucky as to not have a single nation on earth where I am not marginalized due to my race?”.
I have reconciled myself with this idea, and instead chose, consciously and unconsciously, to continue to stand tall as a proud black American , as that is the only life I know. The predominant race in my blood is black; at least if I adhere to the ridiculous notions of racial blood, the absurdity of which we have already examined at length in this class… If there is one good that comes out of the overt and implicit racism I have faced throughout my life, it is its role as evidence of my blackness.
The funny thing about race is that everyone around the world sees it differently. I can take solace in the fact that my many drops of ‘black blood’ far surpass the requirement for blackness in America.
The very same uncle that brought confusion to me, dispelled it a couple weeks later when Michael Brown’s tragic death, and the ensuing demonstrations, headlined the South African news. In his dark humor, he joked to me, “Don’t worry Kyle, our cops won’t kill you cause you’re black. They’ll kill anyone!”. He may not know it, but with that tragic joke he calmed my soul. I am, and will continue to be, a proud black man.