Zebras, Pandas and Me

When most people look at me, they think my ethnicity is ambiguous. I have very curly brown/blonde hair, brown eyes, light skin that tans easily, and facial features that don’t necessarily scream a certain race.

Let me give you a hint. What do zebras, pandas, and I have in common? We’re all black and white.

Well, I am black, white and Hispanic. My dad is black, Native American, and some white. My mom is white, Hispanic, and Native American. I was born on the cusp of when mixed couples and kids began to be a normal occurrence. I didn’t have to worry about getting into fights at school because of my skin like my sister did, but didn’t escape the questions that I’d get when my dad came to pick me up from school.

I didn’t think a lot about what race I was for a long time. I went to a minority-dominated elementary school, a predominantly black church, and my family is one of the best mixes of different races you’ll ever see. I knew the stereotypes, but I blissfully ignored them for a while.

It wasn’t until I got older that I started to feel the need to defend my place in the races I belonged in. Because of my racial ambiguity, light complexion, and style of language, I’ve faced rejection from both races I belong to. Whether it was the clique mentality that I felt or the numerous times that others have tried to fit me into one box or another, it was exhausting. I’d get accused of “pretending” if I talked a certain way, or told that I’m “not really black” or “so white” because of the way I spoke, dressed, or because of my complexion. For awhile, I vehemently defended my “blackness” and right to belong to everything that was in my blood. They didn’t know how it was with my family, where we watched Tyler Perry movies and laughed at stereotypical jokes until tears streamed down our faces. They didn’t know that my mother and aunt were lovingly joked about how they were “black on the inside” even though their skin was white. They didn’t really know me or my family, or where I came from. How could they tell me who I was? I’d spent a good portion of my life just assuming that racially, maybe culturally, I was black. The people around me didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t fit into their boxes.

I took an anthropology course in college. One day, the professor asked us to perform an exercise where we chose spots around the classroom and grouped up with the people we racially identified with. As people quickly scattered to their places, I stood in the middle for a moment, wondering what to do. I technically belonged to at least three of the groups, but my old fallback had always been “black”. So I went across the room to join the few black kids in my class. The looks on their faces when I joined them were ones that I recognize all the time. Their looks said, “What are you doing here? You’re not one of us.”

Recently, I expressed an opinion on a blog about the “blackface” Halloween scandals that happened this year, and it was a dissenting opinion from most of the readers. I received vitriol for it, with the reason that I couldn’t understand why it was so offensive because I am obviously White. You know, because my avatar shows my skin color. I spent time trying to reason, but after being told to learn my place and that I was a complete idiot, I stopped replying. It angered and saddened me to get that stab of rejection once again, even if it was from a hateful person in the blogging world.

In the past few years, as I’ve grown older and begun to focus on things that matter more, like my writing, my dear friends and family, and spending time reading and learning as much as I can about everything, I don’t really identify as a race anymore. I’m a blend of races and cultures that no one can quantify but me. I choose to remain outside the racial spectrum because I’ve been placed as an outsider all of my life. It’s actually freeing and empowering to have that experience. It gives me hope that someday our society will move past race as a definition of a person.

I like what music and entertainment I like. I do what I want to do, whether it be play video games, go hiking and swimming, or blast all types of music in my car while I drive. I spend time with people I like and enjoy the company of, which includes my ever-mixed and wonderful family and cherished friends. I hardly see color on people anymore, I don’t make assumptions about them because of their color, I simply admire their beauty and appreciate their kindness, strength, generosity, humor, and merit.

The fact is, no one can tell me who I am but me. I refuse to let them anymore. Race doesn’t play a factor. I’m me. I’m human. And I’m not cowering in anyone’s boxes anymore.

6 thoughts on “Zebras, Pandas and Me

  1. Aussa Lorens says:

    I hit “like” but I don’t like that this is even something you’ve had to deal with– and that people are so apt to categorize each other into recognizable little boxes. I’m glad you wrote about this and I’m glad you’ve taken hold of your identity in a way that isn’t contingent upon anyone else. Great post 🙂


    • Samantha says:

      I think a lot of people are reliant on stereotypes to navigate the world. It’s annoying, but at this point it’s nice to just ignore it for myself. Keeps me saner that way.

      Thank you!


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