The Black Sheep
When I was a kid I had no clue I was different from anyone in my family. I didn’t know that I was white and they were not. Obviously I wasn’t color blind, I could see that my complexion paled in comparison to my grandmother’s. Half Black, half Cuban, my grandmother had beautiful brown skin, smooth as butter. But of course she did, because if you didn’t know, black don’t crack. And of course, there I was, this little mixed girl, with hazel eyes, long dirty blonde hair, and skin that only tanned in the summer months.
At home this discrepancy in our skin was a never a thought or a concern, but out in public, that seemed to be all anyone could see.
See, my father is Puerto Rican on both sides and my mother is a mixture of Black, Cuban and Italian. Consequently, I have literally been referred to as a mutt my whole life. I’ve also been asked if I was adopted, asked who that black lady was, and asked if my grandmother was my nanny.
When you’re a mixed kid with white skin, you get to see how ignorant and stupid people really are.
When I was six years old, my great uncle Jimmy and I were stopped by the Greenwich police while walking home from the park. “Hey Tex,” one of the officers said. “Is that Tracy’s kid?” As luck would have it, my mother and uncles had gone to high school with the officers inquiring about me. So when Uncle Jimmy said that yes, I was Tracy’s daughter and questioned why they would want to know, they felt compelled to tell him that they had received a call from a woman saying that there was a black man walking down the street with a little white girl that he had stolen.
Growing up, kids in school would tell me I was a liar. I was too light to be black or Hispanic “You’re white,” they would say. “That’s not your grandma. She’s too dark.”
One day my grandma took her too-fair-skinned granddaughter to a barbeque. I couldn’t have been more than 7. I was so excited because it was one of those fairytale summer days, everything about it was perfect, the sky, the weather… We get to this party and they’ve got the 90’s hip-hop going, and all of the girls my age are playing double dutch and dancing. I walked over, excited to join in. There was a girl there, a little older than me. In a white tee and cut off denim shorts with white and silver beads that made noise on her head as she shook her head. She asked me, “Why are you here?” My face got hot as I turned 6 shades of red, I knew instantly what she meant. I looked around, yep, I was the only white girl in sight.
Flash forward 15 years. I was 22 and just started working in corporate America. I was standing in one of the back offices with a heavy set bald man, with little round glasses, sausage fingers and an inability to pick up on social cues. Mike was hard to put up with on a normal day, but on this day he had been wearing down on my very last nerve. He asked me what I had gotten my boyfriend for Valentine’s day and I told him that we went to get tattoos as our presents to one another. We wound up discussing how stupid and pointless Mike thought tattoos were, and by discussing I mean he made comments that I continually brushed off in hopes that he would take a hint and leave. Toward the end of the conversation Mike turned to me, with a look of complete and total disgust as he dragged his finger over his breast, and said, “The most disgusting are the girls with the tattoos on their breast. It must be a Hispanic thing.”
Had I not been at work and in a rose colored suit that I didn’t want to get blood all over, I would have smacked him in the face with the stapler I was holding. Who the hell did he think he was?
He thought he was a white man, who was speaking to a white woman. He felt that because we shared a color, he could say whatever it was that came to mind, no matter how ignorant it was.
Who should I blame for this man’s narrow mind and misguided judgements? Him? His parents? Society?
While working in customer service I once had a Hispanic business owner ignore my black co-worker who was offering him assistance. Instead, he walked right up to me and after satisfactory service, he leaned in close enough that his breath warmed my face and told me how he would rather deal with “my kind.”
I stood there, mouth open catching flies, baffled by his statement. Was there a sign around my neck that beckoned to people, “Announce Your Prejudices, Now Accepting Racist Comments.”?
As a child, I was forced to recognize color as it related to race by the ignorance of those outside of my home. The weird looks, rude stares, and remarks when out with family or by myself have stuck with me all this time, and I don’t think I can ever let them go.