Am I Black, or Am I Not?

Tuesday, 04 January 2011 17:19 Written by  Administrator
By Vanessa Reyes

What does being “black” even mean? Is it the way people act? The way people talk? Walk? Look? Is it really the color of our skin that defines who we are? If it really and truly is the color of our skin that defines us then yes, I am a bit black. But what people fail to recognize is that only a small portion of my background is comprised of the people, culture and experience society calls being “black.” It turns out that this is another example of a simple label applied to a complex person, such as myself.hb

On my father’s side I am black, but I am also Light-foot Indian. On my mother’s side, I am Filipino, Mexican, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Portuguese, German and French. I am a whole mix of different ethnicities, but people fail to ever see this other side of me. It frustrates me; it hurts my feelings because I feel like there’s a completely different person inside of me that no one even wants to know.

There have been many people who categorized me as black, and at first I did not know how to interpret it, especially coming to a school where “black” people were scarce. In sixth grade, I was the only person in my class who was not white. Of course, nothing like that had ever been a problem for me in the neighborhood I lived in, and I hadn’t even paid any attention to it. But a boy in the class at that time said out loud; in front of everyone: “There’s only one black kid in our class.” My first instinct was to look around with the other kids, but then I realized that he was talking about me. Ever since then, I’ve been really conscious of my ethnicity, and I have this ongoing, never-ending feeling of embarrassment—like there is always unspoken tension in the air, like people are always skeptical of what my dark skin means.

At first, I was ashamed to be labeled as a black girl. Growing up with my mother’s family, who are mainly light-skinned, was normal. To my family, I was just Nessa. No labels, no categories. The only thing was that people always noticed that my sister and I were black. With my dad’s family, we were all around the same color. So there was not really a difference other than the fact that I am not close to my dad’s side of the family at all. In actuality, even though I wasn’t raised around them, I feel more comfortable with them because I know they’re not looking at the color of my skin as anything more than my skin. I’m not saying that I don’t feel comfortable with my mom’s side, but it is an issue for me to be a little more concerned with the fact that I am darker.

It seems as if people are either scared to talk about race in front of me, or I’m the butt of everyone’s jokes. I feel like every racial joke is directed at me when I’m with the person who’s delivering the joke. When people bring up the term “African American,” and I look at them, they instantly feel bad, like I’m judging them. They apologize, like they’ve done something wrong just for making a racy joke. It’s not my fault that you’re talking about black people. It’s not my fault you have this unspoken guilt for your race. Don’t put that on me! By no means am I making myself out to be the victim, but there’s a fine line between being funny and taking it too far.

When people say the N word, I get offended. When people talk about the KKK, I get worried. I can’t watch movies where black people are ill-treated; I can hardly watch movies where black people are slaves, and I can’t stand it when people are judgmental of things such as interracial relationships. As a girl I am attracted to boys, all boys. My track record is that I’m usually attracted to lighter skinned boys, but boys are boys. I am the product of a mixed race relationship. What kind of society do we live in when it’s weird when a white boy is with a black girl? To me, it seems like that is the only type of relationship that is taboo and not acceptable. I actually find myself happy when I see a black girl and a white boy together. It’s like a new sense of freedom, of accomplishment. But what is the label there? I see it as enriching, but others see it as weird.

My only wish is that I don’t have to be self-conscious about my black heritage—that others will see past the labels, past the color, past everything and just see me for me. I’m not sure I will ever be fully comfortable in my skin or with being treated weirdly because people don’t understand. It really is an ongoing struggle that affects me every day; I don’t have any control over it.


Vanessa Reyes is a honors student at High Tech High in San Diego, Ca. She can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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