In the spring of 2015, I had just finished writing my first book. Co-authored with a good friend of mine, Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide is an anthology of essays written by Biracial and Multiracial adults or the parents of mixed race kids. Bryony and I thought what made our book unique is that the authors were from around the world. Bryony is from England and although I grew up in New York City, I was born in Holland, lived in Lagos, Nigeria and I currently live on Puerto Rico. Having just finished writing the book, it was now with the publisher (the first one we had, I took over publishing six months after the first edition was released in September 2015), going through editing, cover design and layout & design.
Sitting on our hands during this process, Bryony and I set out to build relationships within the Multiracial Community. Bryony happened upon a blog she said reminded her of the way I spoke about my father—a White man, married to a Black and Japanese woman, raising three Multiracial kids. My father had all the time in the world for people who expressed genuine curiosity about things like the difficulties he and my mother had raising the three of us during a time of extreme racism. Although I can’t say things are great for interracial couples and Multiracial families nowadays but imagine falling in love during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and then you’ll know what difficulty means. My father had no patience for people’s bullshit, intolerance and ignorance.
Leaving aside that Alex Barnett is a standup comic (or can we??), his list of growing frustrations did remind me of my father’s list. A White Father’s Guide to Father’s Day in the Multiracial Family was Alex’s way of saying, “Yeah, I’m White and Jewish. I’m married to a Black woman. We even have a child who’s a mixture of the two of us. Believe it or not, we fell in love, had a baby and no, it’s not okay for you to dissect our relationship and ask stupid questions you’d never ask two White parents raising a White child.”
Maybe it was the obvious New York City sarcasm that brought me back to my childhood growing up (as it turns out) within a few miles of where Alex lives. I think that got me more than the fact that he was White and his wife was Black. I’m not sure but I reached out to him. Well, if you look at the comments on this blog, it looks like I stalked him. It took him over a week to reply to me. LOL
We corresponded and soon after Being Biracial was published, Alex interviewed Bryony and me about our book for his podcast. Unfortunately he didn’t think much of our looks because he replaced our photo with his logo of him, his wife and son. This was all feeling really good (minus Alex’s logo replacing our photo): a published book, an interview with a guy as sarcastic as my family members and me, followed by a series of other interviews. I was seriously feeling like an author of a book in a very cool space: the one inhabited by others just like me (um, not sarcastic New Yorkers, I meant Multiracial).
But here’s the weird thing. I have never really felt right self-identifying as Multiracial. Like Popeye, “I yam what I yam,” but my relationship with race is complicated. I am the lightest Black chick you’ve ever met. What to some may see as delusional, to me is just about the way I was raised. If you want to know more about this topic, you’ll have to read the essay I wrote for my book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Being Biracial. 50+ people thought enough of it to give it a 5-star review.
As whirlwinds go, this was a cool wave I was riding on. People started taking me seriously as some “expert” on race. That was definitely sarcasm. I don’t take myself that seriously. It’s a topic that was discussed all the time in my home when I was growing up. It’s a topic my husband and I talk about a lot and it’s also one that is raised frequently with friends and in social media. But I’m not unique. This is the way for all PoC. I’ve read a lot about it and the mere mention of it can take me from having a smile on my face to cursing in seconds. Like my father, I’ve never had any tolerance for bullshit, intolerance and ignorance.
I’m not sure if this was the foundation for Multiracial Media or something else, but the next thing I know, Alex and I are entering into a business relationship and creating a platform for those in the Multiracial Community. We opened our doors, so to speak, in April 2016. It’s evolved from its original intent (to be like Funny or Die but for the Multiracial Community) to what it is now: a Voice for the Multiracial Community (and no, despite how often I’ve used the words Multiracial Community, it’s not some SEO term because I wrote that blog already).
Blame It On The Rain…
This has all the trappings of a song from the 1980s “sung” by the lip synching “sensation” Milli Vanilli, but actually we’re talking the real thing here.
Things were going well between Alex and me. We had lots of content on the site, and although the work we were putting into it was eating into our personal lives, we loved what we were doing with Multiracial Media. Regarding our respective social lives: Alex has a 7-year-old child. His social life consists of birthday parties with other 7-year-old kids. This won’t change until his son is 8 years old and the parties will have other 8-year-old kids. My social life revolves around our farm animals. That wasn’t a joke. My husband and I own an organic farm. And anyway, I’m not funny. I’m sarcastic as shit but that’s not the same as funny … just ask Alex.
I live on Puerto Rico. Some people say “in” but since it’s an island, I prefer not to give people the impression I was interred on the island, but rather living “on” it. Like all islands in the Atlantic Ocean, we’re prone to hurricanes and earthquakes too but shhh! That’s a pretty well-kept secret.
In September 2017, two back-to-back hurricanes hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I swear I used to think prior to last year most people couldn’t find Puerto Rico on a map if it was pointed out to them, well except when it was time to plan their vacation to an all-inclusive resort. I held no illusions many even knew Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens or about its relationship with the United States. The coverage has been pretty extensive but thanks to outlets like Fox News, people know even less about Puerto Rico, or worse: they’ve been spoon-fed a bunch of lies and half-truths about us.
Maria knocked out power, cell service and Internet all over the island. I had to immediately step down from Multiracial Media, given the chaos. I couldn’t properly run my business without driving two hours each way to the San Juan metro area so I could hope for a cell service so I could hotspot. There was no way I could keep up with my daily posting on Multiracial Media. Four hours of driving each day would take a toll on anyone’s sense of humor.
By the time I returned four months ago as a contributor for Multiracial Media, although electricity, cell service and Internet had been restored, and I could operate my business, I was in a completely different headspace. It wasn’t about race any longer. I now had to advocate for Puerto Rico. Politicians were using Puerto Rico as a pawn in their chess game. My mixedness, if I self-identified as Black or whether others saw my ambiguous looks and placed labels on me, those aspects of my life I previously couldn’t escape, had to live in the background. I had a much bigger fight on my hands.
And I realize if I had continued living in the United States, race and racism would dominate who I am and probably most of what I talked about but I no longer live there. I live here on Puerto Rico: an island that needs my attention more. If I don’t fight for Puerto Rico, if I don’t join those who are already fighting for Puerto Rico, I can look forward to watching it go down in flames. It may still go down in flames, but I have to at least try.
You see, everyone knows what’s best for Puerto Rico: the United States Congress, president is in the White House at the moment and the governor who takes orders from the first two. Meanwhile we’ve been a colony for over 500 years: 1493-1898 owned by Spain and 1898-present day owned by the United States of America.
It’s ironic that the last line of each stanza of The Star Spangled Banner is, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” when Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands and six other regions are possessions of the U.S., and are anything but free.
Oh the irony.
Meanwhile, we lost 4,645 people both during Hurricane Maria and in her aftermath. There are tens of thousands without homes. 200,000+ people left the island in the hopes of finding a better future. There are sinkholes large enough for cars to fit in and I’ve never seen so many landslides in one area in my whole life. While the politicians play their political games, Puerto Rico is broken and not prepared for another hurricane. Why? Because despite the fact that our island is falling apart (Governor Rosselló estimates it will cost $139 billion to put us back together), Congress only approved and sent $15.8 billion.
Much as I want to continue talking and writing about race, I need to concentrate on advocating for Puerto Rico. I’ve written a book called Sarah’s Tips for Preparedness: Minimizing the Impact of a Natural Disaster, with 100% of the proceeds going to two non-profits on Puerto Rico. I’ve started writing for one of the local newspapers on the island.
The beautiful thing about being a human is that we get the opportunity to evolve. We have the capacity to grow and change and that’s what I’m doing. I do feel a bit like George Michael must have felt when he wrote the song Freedom. No, I don’t take believe I’m on the same level as George Michael, but I get the lyrics to the song.
I think there’s something you should know
I think it’s time I told you so
There’s something deep inside of me
There’s someone else I’ve got to be
Take back your picture in a frame
Take back your singing in the rain
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man
Okay, I doubt you have a picture of me in a frame. I hope not because that would be a little creepy.
Thank you, Nicholette Thomas, Lisa Williamson Rosenberg, TaRessa Stovall. Thank you to the two or three people who read my blogs. Most of all, thank you so much, Alex! It’s been an amazing ride. You’ll always be my first … to go into business with. You’re an awesome guy and the next time Paul and I are in New York City, we’ll catch your comedy act and actually meet your family and you in person.