I come from a multi-cultural background– with a Puerto Rican mother and a bi-racial father…so interactions between my family and community were seen from a somewhat unique perspective, in that nothing has ever been absolute in terms of race acceptance and understanding. A few months ago, I was at a comedy show and this black chick went up there and started ragging on mixed people (kind of unique comedic topic in my opinion). I thought it was funny until she said something that I still tread on daily – Mixed people need to recognize their privilege too. This was one of the first times I heard this idea outside of my own head, because I have always had a vague understanding of where I fall on the “black struggle” spectrum. My natural hair is constantly showered with compliments from almost every race, where black women often feel that their natural hair is not beautiful – nor so readily accepted. Just because my curls can be a lot of work (it requires 12 bottles of weekly conditioning and daily foot massages), it doesn’t mean I should cry louder than the women who have an almost subconscious belief via our cultural norms that their natural coils are “ugly”. I think people want so badly to be a part of things they aren’t really a part of a little too often. I mean, I get it- adversity breeds admirable characters with strength and wisdom, so we want people to hear about what we have “been through” and then correlate those experiences to issues that just aren’t quite in our bucket. I try my best to recognize my privilege, for being mixed and also a U.S. citizen. Without undermining the issue, I want to focus more on how my life has been favored and fortunate despite my perceived battles in the world. I am grateful for a place in society where I can only empathize deeply with those who struggle in ways I do not. I believe it is gratitude, not adversity or “struggle points” that turns what we have into enough after all.
“Like what percentage, isn’t it like half?” – I’ve heard some variation of this question countless times throughout my life. It’s not that I mind people’s curiosity about my background, it’s that I mind the pervasiveness of misinformation when it comes to race vs ethnicity vs nationality…I have also noticed how many times I’ve had to hear someone else answering the background question with the coveted, “I’m 1/4 Egyptian, 1/4 Italian, 1/12 Jewish, 1/19 Irish, 1/256 Greek”…One, no one cares that freaking much when they ask…and two…okay maybe it’s just me that doesn’t care that much? Just say you’re white and/or black etc and call it a day?
Alright, there’s actually a number of things that bug me about this topic actually, so here’s just a short list to correct some potential myths. They’re not even opinion based so hear me out!
1. You can’t know “what percentage” of any race you are based on what your parents are. Say your dad is black and white because he has a white mother and a black father. That does not automatically mean he is half and half, or that you’re a quarter of each. Genetics don’t work like that. You can absorb more or less of either side (i.e. 30% black, 60% white or vice versa). Same with your siblings. Your full-sister can be genetically “blacker” or “whiter” than you.
2. Your nationality/ethnicity is NOT your race. If I say I’m Puerto Rican, or American for that instance, that’s not telling you my race. If someone says they’re German, you probably automatically picture a white person – however, there are black Germans. There are black Puerto Ricans, white ones, and generally hella mixed ones. There are black Spaniards, there are white Africans…You get it.
3. Companies like 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage have a ways to go regarding accuracy of genealogy reporting. These companies simply compare your DNA to the DNA of other people with known ancestries. In doing so, they look for evidence that you have common ancestors with people in the specified reference group (Spanish people for example). The problem arises though, when we consider that every company uses a different reference group, and these reference groups are changing all the time. This means you could easily get a result from one company that says you’re 3x more Polish than the other company reports. What’s more is that the reference group information available for certain ethnicities is lacking, where it is mostly abundant in European/white data points. Over time, the hope is that the more people participate, the more accurate the reporting will become across all ethnic groups.
That’s my hope at least, since I successfully transcended through ALL 5 stages of grief after my 23andMe pegged me as 60% white (with a Rican mom and biracial dad). Until then, I’m making my first casserole and dry turkey this Thanksgiving. Trying to embrace this potential newfound identity.