Race is a topic I think about constantly. I have to assume it’s because I was raised by parents who, because of their racial and ethnic differences, didn’t shy away from subjects many families have the luxury of glossing over.
As my brothers and I grew up, our parents ensured we saw things from every angle. So much so that now, as an adult, when a discussion gets going, I am incapable of taking a myopic view and of keeping my thoughts to myself.
This is an excerpt from the forthcoming anthology, Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide that I collaborated with Bryony Sutherland to write.
Says our publisher Hanne Moon, owner of Heritage Press Publications of the book, “…It’s edgy, it’s gritty, and it’s definitely not a read for the timid-hearted. My involvement in this project was an eye-opener on so very many levels. Sarah Ratliff and Bryony Sutherland… you ladies are to be commended for starting the discourse we so desperately need. Coming soon…”
What Does it Mean to Be Biracial?
I ponder this frequently. As long as people have had the ability to be mobile, curiosity about other ethnicities, customs, languages, food and culture have led to mixing things up. Most people in the world are raised to believe their culture, their customs, their country, food and language are the best. Call it patriotism, pride or simply a sense of belonging and identifying, it’s perfectly natural to see ourselves as being the best, the smartest, the nicest, the—fill in the blank with the superlative of your choice.
So what happens when a person from race/ethnicity A mixes things up with a person from race/ethnicity B? Where does the patriotism, love for food, culture, language and customs fall? Is it 50/50? Is it 25/75? Is it one ratio one day and another the next? And what happens with looks? If you took basic biology in school, you learned that brown eyes are dominant over blue, that red hair is the least common of all shades and that it’s truly a crapshoot how your kids will look.
Complexions, textures of hair, color of eyes, fullness of lips, bone structure and body shape can vary even when parents are of the same race, so of course when kids are all mixed up, who knows what they’ll look like?
And do these physical features inform our ability to identify with one race or the other when our parents come from different races?
Let’s throw a monkey wrench into this whole thing. What happens when you’ve got siblings who have à la carte features—as I like to call them—and were raised with one race, culture, customs more dominant than the other? For example: Child whose parents are Japanese and Black has full lips, textured hair, high cheek bones, is brown in complexion and has a single fold to the eyes; however Japanese is the dominant culture at home?
Looks are ambiguous (to say the least) and yet for all intents and purposes this child is being raised to be more Japanese than Black. Is this child Japanese? Is this child Black? Is this child Biracial? And who decides these things?
Let’s take this a step further…
The families of the two parents were less than excited about this union. The Japanese side had heard so much negativity about African Americans and made assumptions, which prejudiced their views about Black people.
The same thing happened with the Black side.
Then one day as this child, let’s call her Hiromi, is at school, some kid calls her a racial slur that is usually associated with African Americans and not Japanese people. She’s genuinely befuddled. Apart from her Asian-looking eyes, to the rest of the world Hiromi is Black. Hiromi believes she is Japanese or possibly both; she’s not sure. The point is, race is a complex issue that becomes further complicated when we mix things up and when other people are involved.
Unless we’re raised in bubbles and exist solely in our own homes where we are free to be who our parents raise us to be, once we step out those doors, our looks, how we’re raised and what we believe can all fly out the window as people’s own biases, assumptions and their “Truth” about other races, cultures and ethnicities surface and interfere.
Personalizing Being Biracial
All of these have—to one degree or another—an impact on how Biracial people see themselves. I can be light, bright and damn near glow in the dark, but inside I don’t feel that I am White, despite the fact that when the majority of people look at me, that’s what they see. I mean, yes, I am White, but I don’t identify this way.
Much of what makes up who I am, how I see myself—even if it’s in contrast to how others see me—is the point of the book Bryony and I penned and asked twenty-two authors from around the world to contribute to.
Race and ethnic identity are so complicated because it’s a combination of things: how we’re raised, how we look, how society sees us, as well as our own individual experiences. In fact, it can be so complex that three people raised by the same two parents can each identify differently.
This is what drove me to write this book. I am African American, Japanese and White. I identify Black and unless questioned, I rarely acknowledge the Japanese side because we weren’t raised with Japanese customs and culture. My brothers don’t own one race more than another. Same parents, raised the same way and yet we each identify differently from one another.
When I met Bryony, I saw a White woman living in England. I later learned she is married to a Black man and they have three Biracial sons. We connected and talked intensely about collaborating on a book about being Biracial.
The decision to ask contributors to submit essays was an easy one. The idea of allowing others to share their experiences on this complicated topic meant in total twenty-four people would get to make it abundantly clear that race is a very complex topic.
From Concept to Publication and Beyond
It’s difficult to believe that an idea that was raised fourteen months ago is now a book that will be published in five days. Writing this book with Bryony has somehow made its way into nearly every conversation I have had over the last year. It has dominated most of my waking, sleeping, dreaming and thinking moments.
In fact, it has influenced the direction I want to take my company. Prior to writing this book, we at Coquí Content Marketing wrote mostly about health, addiction and mental health. Since the book, I am now actively pursuing clients in the advocacy niche—race, gender, LGBTQIA, etc.
If there’s one thing Bryony and I hope to gain from this book is for people to talk openly. Mixing things up racially isn’t going anywhere and the sooner we get things out in the open—good, bad, ugly and illuminating—the sooner we will be able to advance as a society.
Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide will be published on September 15 in paperback and on Kindle.