When President Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 as the first biracial president of the United States, a major topic of discussion was his race.
Obama is half White American and half African. The discussion on his identity emerged from both White and Black communities. Mind you, this individual was running for the most powerful position in the world, President of the United States of America, and because of his race, the public dissected him. This topic really stuck with me.
Some White pundits tolerated Obama’s mixed identity enough to give him their approval. Other White pundits fixated on his African side; President Obama’s father was an immigrant from Kenya, which made him that much more “un-American.” I won’t even step into the birther argument.
Then you had the Black community of America. Yes, President Obama symbolizes that a Black man can become president of the United States of America. But there was another argument.
There were many conversations, even among my circles that Obama wasn’t really Black or Black enough. He was educated at the best schools, spoke English sophisticatedly, and his mother was White.
I saw this; a fellow biracial individual could not catch a break. He was being assessed on his authenticity. Whether it was the White community or the Black community, he had to fit the racial construct that both races had built to approve.
If you are biracial like me, then you understand this tightrope you walk on. I applaud those who threw all fears to the wind and defined themselves early on. Others though, including me, don’t always face the judgment of our “people” with grace.
It’s irking when others are looking to categorize or authenticate us all the time.
I do not look like a white American, dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin. Yet I don’t look much like a Bangladeshi. Shit, I have been mistaken as Latino, Arab, Native American, and every other flavor of brown. Every now and then you have someone who is a little sharp and they ask if I have some Indian or Pakistani in me.
Whether it is the White or South Asian communities, I always feel an obligation to prove that I can hang.
With the White Americans, I have my “I’m American as apple pie” spiel. It goes like this, “I was born in Worcester Mass, my mothers a French Canadian Heinz 57 grew up in Gardener Mass, and I love the Red Sox!” That tends to get me by a bit, cause I have a little remnant of my Bostonian accent in speech and I really do love the Red Sox.
Yes, I have the ability to be authenticated, or have I? The brown skin does require a second glance.
I am not White.
In America when you meet someone for the first time, the first question you get is: How is the weather?
With my Bangladeshi counterparts it is works a little bit different. When you meet a Bangladeshi the first question that comes to mind is: “Where are you from?”
This is a deep question. So you always have a lot to talk about.
For me my answer goes like this, “Well my father, he is Bangladeshi, he is from Rajshahi, and well, my mother, she is White American.” Most of the time, I see a look of disappointment and confusion. Instantly, the second question arises, “Do you speak Bangla.” And I answer, “No.”
Eyebrows rise with disgust; I have not met their standards.
I am not Bangladeshi.
Since I was a child, I had people from both communities categorize my identity(s). Their answers are still consistent today in my adult life. I have had whites tell me to stick with “my kind” because of my dark skin. The Bangladeshis and South Asians say I act too white and that I should lean towards that side.
No one wants me.
Yet, there are the “compassionate” ones who want to fix this coconut (that is a person who looks brown on the outside but acts white on the inside). I’m also told I am an ABCD (American Born Confused Deshi).
Well okay, but now you dismissed that I am mixed.
It is complicated, or is it?
Before I move to Bangladesh at the beginning of this year, I had made not only an identity declaration, but also a spiritual declaration. I am not anything. I exist and I am human.
The world is fixated on race and ethnicity.
How can I search within myself for the attributes or characteristics, give them variables, organize them and then calculate a number that qualifies me into the two categories. Is it as black and white as 50% White American and 50% Bangladeshi?
Technically speaking my mother has a variety of European ancestry, hence the label a Heinz 57. My father is Bangladeshi, but there is Pathan (people of eastern Afghanistan) and Iraqi in his blood. There is no clear definition of their identity either.
I do not know the inner dialogue that takes place in President Obama’s mind. For the United States, he is the best of both worlds– a hybrid. Racism is still very alive, but he symbolizes so much more. He is evidence that two worlds can come together through love and produce life. He is a dream come true to minorities that the most powerful position in the world can be reached.
To me he authenticated himself in his own way.
From him I learned I really do not owe it to anybody to be anything. I owe it to myself to be me. That is authentic. You know what you get, 100% me.
I just BE.