How to Be Black has a very relatable section where Thurnstone documents the responses to the question “Have you ever wanted to not be black?”
Reading through these short responses brought me to a a sad reality in my own life regarding my best friend, a biracial girl who is Indonesian, white and black, but identified commonly as just black. Her boyfriend is Vietnamese and his parents have openly expressed racist comments towards his black friends and how he should not be bringing them to the house. She explained to me that this is the reason she has never been introduced to his parents as his girlfriend, as she would receive even more hostility if she visited his home.
When my friend told me about this, my reaction was extremely negative, as I thought “You haven’t met your boyfriends parents because you’re black and their racist?” I thought it was nonsense and looked down upon my friend for staying in a relationship with someone who fell cowardly to his parents ideals, as they too belonged to a marginalized group as they are immigrants.
Cheryl Contee’s excerpt about not marrying a white man caused me to rethink my initial reaction to our conversation. County states in How to be Black: “There’s a young man who basically told me he wasn’t going to marry me because his family said ‘Just don’t marry a nigger.” The vulgarity of that quote resonated with me, for even though my friends boyfriend would never say something like that to her, his parents behind the scenes racism is just as bad. She is not accepted because of her skin and the underlying prejudices that come with it.
However, unlike Contee, my friend has shared with me before her wishes to be lighter skinned like me, since we are both biracial but I am many shades lighter than her. If Thurston posed the question to her, I cannot confidently say that she would respond no, which is a reality for many black, especially girls, in society today.
Contee describes this experience as dehumanizing, to know that a white woman who possesses the same qualities and lifestyle as her would be accepted, and her skin color was the barrier that distanced her from the love of her life. After reading How to Be Black I sympathize much more with my friend and regret making her feel worse about the situation, although she laughed it off. And as Contee says, I hope she is able to embrace herself despite the family that the guy she loves is apart of.