Age 7: My realization about race probably comes later than many. I always thought people with brown/dark skin were black & people with light skin were white. I had only seen Hispanics & Asians sparingly around town, but I never gave much thought about these two groups since I never saw them at school. When I began 2nd grade, kids asked me if I was adopted. I knew I wasn’t, but when they asked me why my mom was brown & I was white, I didn’t know the answer. I asked my mom if I was adopted & she told me I wasn’t. She told me that I was black, but I was just light. I asked my paternal grandfather what my race was & he said “whatever you want it to be”. Probably not the best answer when a kid has no concept of race, so I told kids that I was white like my dad. They accepted it and we would go about our day. My dad and his grandfather are also light (my grandfather was often mistaken for a white man), so whenever they came to my school, the image seemed to match up. Random adults often told me “you look like the little girl from Eve’s Bayou (Jurnee Smollett)”.
Hello! My name is Briana Pipkin Âû and this is my Stages of Being Biracial.
Also age 7: One of my childhood friends was a black girl I grew up with. Her parents were very pro-black (her mom strongly dislike white people). She loved to play with dolls, so I would always bring my doll from the animated movie “Anastasia”. I had black & white Barbie dolls, but I hated them and was a complete tomboy. I intentionally broke the Barbie dolls & only cared for Disney dolls since I love the movies. My friend’s mom always felt the need to comment about why I shouldn’t have white dolls, I shouldn’t wear flip flops, listen to rock music (these were all white people things), have white friends, or like white boys because white people smelled like wet dogs. She would sometimes call me “Sarah Jane” (tragic mulatta character from Imitation of Life 1959 version). I didn’t see the movie until I was 12, but when I finally did, the comment pissed me off. I definitely developed personal issues when it came to color, but not to that extreme. My friend eventually picked up her mom’s views when it came to race, so I stopped going to her house as often. We still keep in touch because our families are close & we grew up thinking we were cousins.
11: “White bitch” became my nickname at a new school. This was the first school I attended that was predominately black & Mexican. Mexican kids didn’t like me because they knew I wasn’t Mexican. They also didn’t like 2 Cuban girls who were cousins. The black kids didn’t like me because they didn’t think I was black. They constantly called me “white bitch”, “stuck up”, pulled my hair, etc. I got into my first physical fight & surprisingly, I was the one who walked away without bruises & a black eye. It was my first time experiencing colorism. The only people I had to talk to were the 2 Cuban girls & the only white girl in our grade (possibly the school). I developed ideas about color superiority, which is why I’m very quick to tell people that this is not always taught at home. This lasted until I got into high school.
12: I started at a Catholic school for 7th grade. An 8th grade boy from New Orleans asked me if I was Creole like him. I didn’t know what that was, but he told me that I likely was because I looked like it. I asked my paternal grandfather if we were Creole & he said that we were. He taught me about our family history & it made sense why dishes like gumbo, Étouffée, crawfish cornbread, jambalaya, etc were common in the house, especially during Thanksgiving. I later became aware that there is not actually Creole “look”, but my dad’s family fits the physical stereotype that people think of: Light skin and “good” hair that isn’t tightly curled. Everyone except for me & my dad also have light colored eyes. The boy from my school definitely looked like he could have been my brother.
15: I was accepted into an Arts Magnet high school that’s considered one of the most diverse schools in the city. I was best friends with a mulatto girl and it was the first time I knew another mulatto person outside of my family. While there was a pretty close number between black & white students (only a handful of Hispanics & even fewer Asians), we still mostly kept separate racial groups when it came to hanging out. My main circle until graduation consisted of the biracial girl & 2 white girls, but I got along & spoke to many black or Hispanic schoolmates. Some white girls seemed to be fond of telling me how I wasn’t “really black” and that’s why they were friends with me, but not with “real” black people. In my ignorance, I took it as a compliment. I had just started going natural around this time, but transitioned with my hair flat ironed. Many of the kids & even teachers would initially take me as Hispanic or white. My mom & I would always laugh about teachers reactions when they saw her for the first time. I had a racist math teacher who seated us according to race with whites in the front & blacks in the back. I was on the very first row with one of my white friends & 2 other girls. My mom came to class to get me early one day & when I started to get up, the teacher told me to sit back down & she looked at the other students in the back to see who would get up. My mom said she was there for me & the teacher looked at me with her mouth wide open. As I was getting ready to leave, a girl who was on the row with me whispered “is that your mammy?” I thought it was her way of saying mom, so I said it was. Once I found out about a year later what she really asked, I wanted to slap her. I was about 98% accepting of the fact that I was mixed, but the other 2% still wanted to be white. Not because of viewing them as better or blacks as less, but I was frustrated when I would hear from white students, mostly girls, that I was “almost” white. What the hell was “almost”? I found out it was because I have a “black” nose & as what was meant to be good advice, if I got a nose job, I could be white. I also heard the “almost” white remarks from the white women at my mom’s job, but I don’t know what “almost” meant to them.
Also age 15 (maybe 16): My black aunt, whom I’m very close to, was a foster mother. She always had black or biracial kids (black/white), but at one point, she got a 3 or 4 year old white girl. She was very sweet & loving at first, but didn’t feel comfortable around men. The men in my family are black, so I’m not sure if it was a race thing or males in general, but she always screamed and cried whenever they tried to touch her. She was allowed visitation with her grandmother & in the weeks that followed, the girl’s behavior changed. Her mother later told my aunt that the grandmother was racist, so she had likely painted a bad image of black people that scared the girl. She started acting out, but was always very well behaved when I babysat her & she always wanted to be with me. While I was giving her a bath one night, she told me that she didn’t like black people. “I like you because you’re white like me” she told me. I didn’t want to crush her or make her scared, so I didn’t correct her. I still think about all the foster kids, especially her.
College: I attended university in southeast TX. On the positive side, there was a large mixed community, mostly of Creoles, and the culture was very present. Nobody stared at me or asked “what are you” unless it was a student who didn’t really know about the city. I bonded with an older Creole student & her family felt and looked like my dad’s. I spent a lot of time with them. On the downside, the mindset of many people were still stuck in the 1950’s. Not only with race, but the idea that women should take care of the house, men are dominant, etc. This was seen across race & age groups. One of my favorite sociology professors was Jewish & she talked about the death threats/harassment she would get for being Jewish & how it would increase during the semester when she talked about white privilege. I learned that people my age (late teens-early 20s) thought the word “colored” was an appropriate term. I took the time to educate them if I could tell in other ways that they weren’t intentionally trying to be rude. A student who was 22 hadn’t even met a black person until she came to college. My hair, when straightened, came down right to my chest, so I explained many times that my hair doesn’t grow long just because of white ancestry. Since my look was common there, it didn’t fool other races like it did at home. I spent my time at university hanging out with people of color with the exception of a Cajun woman in my major who was much more intelligent & open-minded. I also had my first experience with discrimination when I applied to school’s graduate program. I wasn’t accepted & when I questioned the department chair, I was told it was because I made a “C” in a class. One “C” the entire 3 years (I graduated early). I guess when you have blonde hair or your dad is a judge, you can make several C’s while being outwardly disrespectful to professors & still get into graduate school. At least that’s what I was shown. Grades & the fact that most of my professors, including the department chair, praised my intelligence in class didn’t really matter. I rarely ever come to the initial conclusion that race is a factor for when people are treated unfairly, but in this case, I couldn’t think of any other possible explanation especially after I retook the class again and made an “A” only to once again be denied.