By Kyra-Lianne Samuels
While the most prominent attempts at dividing humans into racial categories in Europe started in the 18th century, most modern-day academics state that race is nothing more than a social construct (Goode 2020). Since that’s the case, no wonder we regularly experience race as such a cause of conflict. When it comes to racial identity, nothing is really clean-cut, so how do we go about putting ourselves in boxes that don’t quite fit?
As a child, race and ethnicity were issues far removed from my mind. It wasn’t until my teen years that I realized that having a white mother and a black father meant that I was right at the center of two different spheres racially, and because of their different cultural backgrounds, also ethnically.
I grew up on Aruba and I was completely raised in my mother’s Aruban culture, which meant that it became my own. While it helped that being multiethnic or multiracial was very common on the island, that didn’t quite comfort the conflicting feelings that I was experiencing. Everyone else around me seemed to have a much better grasp on their identity than I did. The way I saw it, it was always my Aruban background and culture versus my Jamaican heritage, and they were always at odds with each other. While my parents could both be secure in their racial and ethnic identities, I often found myself wondering: well, where does that leave me?
The older I got, the more I realized that the importance of race was more prominent than what I’d initially thought. Whenever I got asked “So, what are you?”, I felt the need to explain my ancestry and upbringing, as if to justify my own existence. Years later and I’m still not sure who I was trying to convince that I had a right to exist. I always felt as if I needed to pick a side when it came to my heritage, but I never quite fit the description of either side of it. I was never quite black enough for my Jamaican relatives, but I was also far removed enough that I wouldn’t ever consider myself to be white either. The problem arose when I realized I didn’t want to just identify as black, since that would’ve made feel like a fraud, even worse, it would’ve made me feel like I didn’t have a right to my Aruban roots.
My complexion is black, and so that’s how I’d always been automatically perceived, but I didn’t know what it meant to be black when I was so out of tune with that part of my heritage. As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough on its own, I now had one more thing to figure out.
Sometimes existing on that middle ground was really difficult. It often felt like being on the outside of an inside joke. Like if everyone around me received an instruction manual on racial identity, but mine got lost in the mail. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that just maybe I deserved to have control over how I identified this part of myself, and I didn’t have to continue to wait for permission.
I was intrigued by the label ‘biracial’ as soon as I’d found it. Seeing as the number of biracial children born each year had been going up considerably and an increasing amount of people were becoming comfortable with identifying as multiracial or multiethnic (Livingston 2017), I started coming across those terms more and more often. Since I finally found a label I felt could actually encompass how I felt about my identity, I found myself wanting to answer the question: what did it mean to be biracial to me?
Well, to me, being biracial meant that I finally had a way to describe and acknowledge both aspects of my racial heritage. Even if I felt connected to both in different ways, it didn’t mean that I had to put one over the other and it definitely didn’t mean that I had to give up one part of my racial heritage all together. Even if I had never learned the native language of my Jamaican family members and didn’t know the proper etiquette for the rare dinner I had with them, and even if I didn’t look like my Aruban relatives, who I had always been more comfortable with, that didn’t mean I was just one or the other. My heritage wasn’t perfectly balanced, but it still deserved recognition.
The term ‘biracial’ opened up a whole new window of opportunity for me when it came to my self-acceptance and it led me to realize that I wasn’t the only one struggling with this part of my identity.
Still, I really wish I had been told sooner that no matter how I chose to identify myself, it was not a betrayal to any part of my racial or ethnic heritage. Race is a social construct anyway, so I might as well construct my own however I see fit.
Kyra-Lianne Samuels is a student at Radboud University and a staff editor at Raffia Magazine.
- Goode, Joshua. (2020 Oct 6). Race and Racism: Europe. Encyclopedia.com https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/race-and-racism-europe
- Livingston, Gretchen. (2017 June 6). The rise of multiracial and multiethnic babies in the U.S. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/06/the-rise-of-multiracial-and-multiethnic-babies-in-the-u-s/