I Am Black. I Am Also White. And I Am Done Not Talking About It.
I can’t stop crying. The outcry of Black America over the last several days has set my emotions ablaze. That fire has forced me into an internal dialogue that is not new to me but is certainly more acute with clarity than it has ever been before. I feel an urgent need to share the complex emotional dynamic that comes with being a mixed-race woman amidst what I hope will be a tipping point in America: the plight of the Black community has reached yet another apex — one of many over the last four centuries — and it is vital that I activate my power to engage in the movement for racial justice on behalf of my Black ancestors that paved the way for me to have such an opportunity. I am devastated. I am exhausted. I am outraged. I have both Irish and African roots, and I feel compelled to explain how this fact does not invalidate my pain.
The mixed-race paradigm is, of course, greatly varied across individuals depending on upbringing, exposure and, perhaps most importantly, the incredibly complex question of identity. For the record, I identify as a Black woman. But the mixed-race emotional architecture is also informed by how others perceive you. I, like many mixed-race individuals, have experienced the feeling of “not being Black enough” amongst my Black community. Simultaneously, it is impossible not to feel “othered” as the “token Black girl” amongst my White friends. The array of emotions that present as a result of these contradictory realities is vast. It includes confusion. Confusion about what I am allowed to feel and why I feel what I do. It includes guilt. Guilt for feeling confused about what I am feeling. It includes loneliness. Loneliness that manifests from not quite fitting perfectly with one group or the other. And it includes pride. Pride in the fact that, in many ways, I am the product of an act that is profoundly anti-racist: the union of a Black and a White person in love and harmony.
But my identity as a Black woman ultimately trumps all those conflicting emotions. Maintaining this identity throughout my existence on this earth — through social relationships and higher education and workforce navigation — has given me a firm grip on the reality that is racism in America. This country was birthed out of White colonialism on the backs of stolen Black people by way of their stolen labor. Over time we have slowly chipped away at the imperialist hegemony that is White supremacy. Exceptional Black leadership has guided us to this current moment, and while extraordinary progress has been made, unimaginable volumes of Black blood has been spilt along the way and the White majority has proven unrelenting in its quest to oppress us. Today, the societal institutions that we interact with every day (that are still operated by the White ruling class) have found ways to circumvent the legality of our civil rights. The killing of Black people at the hands of police is simply a microcosm of what occurs on a larger but less overtly violent scale in all other societal structures: systematic denial of resources and opportunity that results in our continued disenfranchisement. The criminalization of being Black is at play in every single American institution, and we continue allow the police to enforce that criminalization in the mostly brazenly violent way: murder.
The deaths of Tony McDade, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are of course only the most recent in a string state-sanctioned violent acts against Black people. Violent policing is not the sole reason for this week’s Black uprising — it is the catalyst. Those of us who work in public health are acutely aware of it: racial differences in mortality rates are evidence that Black lives truly do not matter in America. A Black woman is 352 percent more likely to die from hypertension than her White counterpart. She is 2.5 times more likely to see her son shot down by the police. In New York City, she is as much as 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes. And now she can add COVID-19 to her list of risks more threatening to her family than to the White family across town. Blacks are dying from COVID-19 at more than 3.5 times the rate of White people. The biological “weathering” effects of high-effort coping that results from a lifetime of societal oppression and discrimination is illuminated over and over again. Anyone who argues that racism is not a public health issue is revealing themselves to have internalized racist notions. Ignorance is not an excuse. It is in itself a form of racism in that it is a blatant lack of awareness and responsibility that we are all bound to as members of this society.
And it is both ignorance and overt racism that I vow to dismantle as a member of both the White and Black communities. I am proud of my Irish roots and will never shy away from that. But I fucking love being Black. My identity as a Black woman is chiefly important in the current moment when the Black community needs all hands on deck. Now is the time to organize. Strategize. Mobilize. It is essential to emphasize the fact that any mixed-race person who identifies more strongly with their White heritage is not exempt from the responsibility of supporting their Black siblings, today and every day. And as someone whose prevailing identity is that of my Black ethnicity, I am wary of the self-scrutiny that consistently arises out of the reality of being mixed-race. Constant criticism and questioning of your role in the anti-racism movement as a mixed-race individual is a hinderance to efficient and meaningful progress.
“Progress” is a funny thing in America. Historically, progress has only come with excess Black trauma and death. But if there is one thing the Black community knows how to do better than anyone else, it is to keep going. Black liberation has been systematically denied for centuries, and yet we continue to fight. The value of a Black life continues to be diminished in the eyes of a White capitalist society, and yet we persist. The solidarity that is felt in Black communities across the country in times of crisis is unparalleled. The collective will to live the lives we deserve cannot be eliminated. Because we know our worth. And enough is enough.