I Never Considered Myself Mixed Race
I never considered myself mixed race. I have always had people either guess or project their race onto me. I am familiar with my family telling me that I am so American and my skin is so white. I am familiar with other Americans telling me I should not consider myself mixed race because both my parents are Israeli. They say I am white because my mom is from Yemen which some consider a Caucasian country, yet her skin is browner than some people of African descent. When it comes to racial identity I get very confused and conflicted. Because my skin color is lighter than most of the family on my mom’s side I feel they invalidate many of my experiences. I often invalidate my own experiences and forget that I am even mixed race. So how do the perceptions of others, questions, and social influences affect one’s racial identity?
Like many individuals who come from mixed race homes, I am intimately familiar with the dreaded “where are you from?” “what’s your race?” questions. To many including myself, these questions are somewhat personal and can be a bit invasive. Surprisingly I don’t always want to talk about “where I’m from” particularly because most people who ask me these questions are never satisfied with the responses I give. Because I look racially ambiguous some just assume I am Caucasian and don’t bother to think twice. My older sister who has darker skin and curly black hair like my mom however, can’t escape the assumption that she is mixed race. Though questions about race may be frustrating at times, I still find myself questioning if I prefer being asked my ethnicity rather than have people assume I’m white. I feel guilty that my sister doesn’t have the privilege of being a chameleon and to have the ability to be treated as a white individuals acquiring white advantages.
When people ask questions like “what’s your ethnicity” I am reminded that my features look somewhat different from the well-known and always admired European features of white women. These were features that I had once aspired to attain. As I grew out of the phase of wanting to look like all my white, blonde friends I became more content with my big nose, lanky body, hairy arms and bushy eyebrows. As I grew older, people would tell me that I look exotic. Unsure what exactly it meant to be exotic, I chose to take the comment as a compliment. I may never be able to look like Cinderella but I can look like Jasmine and finally being recognized as mixed race I thought. Like the people who made such comments, I was ignorant and unaware that the term ‘exotic’ is a fetishizing term that says that my features are a fad that is liable to go out of fashion at any point. The term exotic implies an otherness and that being white and European is the default. So once again social interactions made me rethink where I stand and how I should identify.
Am I overly sensitive and feeling sorry for myself? Am I even deserving of calling myself mixed race? These questions circle my mind every time I think about my experiences when running into racial ignorance. When questions regarding my historical background are asked in the right way and the right time it can sometimes be enjoyable to discuss. Questions and comments about my race and ethnicity may have made me rethink how I should identify but is that always negative? Humans are curious beings that love to ask questions. So should I find questions about my race and ethnicity offensive or should embrace them?