Black Celebration...Sort Of

You ever catch one of your "mixed" friends having a bad day? You know, your friend, the kid with one black parent and one white parent, slumped on the floor, sobbing into the edge of the bedspread, "All the black kids tease me because I'm mixed and all the white kids hate me because I'm black! I have no friends!"

Even if you don't realize your half white/half black friends have done that, they have. You just may not have been privy to that particular sob-fest. They were probably just doing what I call "one drop rule" math...

black mom + white dad = black child

white mom + black dad = black child

If you genuinely don't have any "mixed" friends to talk with about this math, go find some. We're everywhere these days. In the meantime, I'll share a bit of my experience with you.

Yes, growing up the white kids called me nigger and told me I was ugly. The black kids, well, black people in this country are trained to love them some light skin (seen any darker women in hip-hop videos lately? Ever?) so they wouldn't call me ugly. But, the meaner ones would call me "oreo". I'm assuming you know why the white kids would call me what they did, but I realize you may not be privy to the whole oreo lexicon.

Observe the photo. An oreo is black on the outside...and white on the inside. How could I be white on the inside, you ask?

Well, unfortunately, black kids in this country are trained to believe that doing well in school and being whip smart is "acting white". I was a big nerd. Nerdy enough to skip a grade in school. Nerdy enough to take the SAT in 7th grade and get a 1320. Plus, there were almost never any black students in any of my classes. Schools have this culture where academics=whiteness. You think back to your own honors and AP classes. How many black students were there in there? Not too many and I hope you don't think that's because of some inherent lack of ability. If you do, feel free to come to work with me to see what I see every single day. I get to see how black students aren't put on the college bound, AP track in school. Believe me, they are put on the step-n-fetchit track...and it's now my job to make sure they are taken off it.

To enhance the "mixed-girl" nerdiness, my parents were also super strict and never let me out of the house. I'm not kidding. Once school let out, no one saw me all summer. I spent my summers pulling weeds in our backyard and reading 700 page novels in one sitting. The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I decided to read a book a day, just to see if I could. I read Dracula once a week for years. (Don't worry, I've toned it down to once a month now.) You've read Dracula before, sure. But 217 times? Yes, not only was I "mixed" but I was also pretty darn weird.

To foster my ascendancy from merely a "weird mixed girl" to an "ultra weird mixed girl", let's not forget the icing on the cake: house music and Depeche Mode. Every other black kid was drooling over Prince, New Edition, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson (before he tried to purposefully turn himself into the weird mixed kid) and Ready For The World. Not me. I was staying up all night listening to the Hot Mix 5 on WBMX and dreaming of marrying my favorite house DJ, Julian Jumpin' Perez.

I was busy scribbling Depeche Mode lyrics into my notebooks and was actually dumb enough to ask other black kids if they listened to them. "To who?" was the usual response. To give folks credit, 75% the white kids I knew only listened to hair metal bands like Def Leppard and didn't know who Depeche Mode was either. High school was tough. Like you, it wasn't till I left home for college, that I finally felt like I met people who were my friends despite all my weird quirks. Even though there were those who still called me an oreo every once in awhile, it was all good because I was having a whole lot of fun in life.

You'd think these issues of identity and feeling like the weird oreo mixed girl would evaporate now that I'm a grown woman, right? Yeah, I thought that too. But, last night, I had this dream where I decided to invite a black woman I like but who I don't know super well to my birthday party, happening next Friday. The conversation in the dream went something like this:

Liz: Yeah, I'm so excited about my party next Friday. I hope you can come.

Anonymous Black Woman: Oh. Where are you having it?

L: At my apartment. It's going to be a Depeche Mode themed party. I'm calling it "Black Celebration" after their fifth album.

ABW: Who?

L (oblivious to ABW's confusion and thinking she just can't hear me due to poor cell phone reception): Depeche Mode. So, everyone has to wear black but eyeliner on men is completely optional.
The response was silence.

Then, in the dream, all those feelings I thought I'd left behind came rushing to the forefront. I started to wonder if ABW was thinking, "Yep, Liz is a really still a weird mixed girl and I don't know if I want to be down with this." I started to explain that Depeche Mode's songwriter and sometime singer, Martin Gore, has a black father. "So, Depeche Mode, they're kinda black, you know." I start to elaborate on how I am working to close the education achievement gap. I remember saying, "Hey my husband is black and I have black kids." So please love me for being black, right?

None of it mattered. I still got called that name in the dream. ABW said it loudly, like it was on a world-wide intercom, "I knew it, you are an OREO!!! You aren't really black!"

Obviously, sticks and stones and all that. I know I'm not an oreo. I've always tried to avoid living my life ruled by our society's arbitrary meters of blackness or of whiteness. But I am left with a question. What does the dream mean and have I secretly been over-compensating in certain areas of my life for maybe not feeling quite black enough?


Unknown said…
Open and honest posts like these are always my favorite. Thank you for sharing. It just proves the point yet again that each of us has something about us that can and will cause others to discriminate against us. With this point in mind you'd think that people would be less willing to keep perpetrating the cycle but most people apparently are not intelligent enough to realize how this all ties together.
the last noel said…
You know, my God child is mixed. I'm glad I'm being educated.
velvet said…
This was a very thought provoking and honest post. It's a great thing that you're doing something to make a difference.

It makes me wonder about how my own kids are going to go through life being mixed race (I'm white and my husband is Asian). Which "check only one box" are they going to fill out under race?! I wish that it didn't even matter. Now I wonder how they're going to feel about it growing up.

I wish that humans didn't feel such a need to sort and compartmentalize everything, especially other humans. It's always something. I wish that we could evolve past that.

Oh, and by the way, Depeche Mode was awesome. ;)

That was an awesome post. Thanks for visiting my site and I will be back to yours.

PS..I dunno if I am at 217 but I have read Dracula at least twice a year and always for Halloween since I was 10. I love that book. Bram was beyond kinky!
Unknown said…
You've inspired this post -

Sundry said…
Thanks, Liz.

Sometimes it just amazes me that I get to read your blog for free.
Liz Dwyer said…
You are too generous to say my post inspired yours. Clearly those thoughts have been marinating inside you for awhile. I think it'll all change when we gain a true understanding of how interconnected we are, how we really are one human family.

I want to believe things have changed at least somewhat so that your Godchild won't have to experience much of what I did. And things are different in LA than in the midwest. But our society has not changed enough so your awareness and vigilance on his/her behalf is much needed.

Those boxes will be the topic of much scholarly interest in another 100 years. I used to tell people I was going to marry a 1/2 Iranian and 1/2 Mexican man so our kids wouldn't be able to fit into any boxes at all and then I could sue someone over it. For some reason, this also makes me think of my husband's grandma who could pass for white but chose to identify as black. But that's another post for another day.

Yes, 217...and counting. I have it downloaded to my computer so when I'm sitting in a boring meeting I can peruse the description of Lucy, "The lips were red, nay redder than before, and on the cheeks was a delicate bloom." Love it.

Aww, shucks! I'm blushing! :) Seriously, you are too kind.
The Counselor said…

You made a comment on my blog and I've been reading your entries all morning!! This is amazing...especially since I've diagnosed myself as having adult ADHD--I can't believe I haven't been distracted! :)

I'm not certain if this comforts you, but I am an African-American woman--and my first instinct wouldn't be to call you an "oreo". Children are cruel and(unfortunately) they grow up to be cruel adults. Don't carry the shame of being different--you've been blessed enough to have two different heritages.

Although I wasn't a "nerd" per se, I wasn't the cheerleader in school either. My mom and I would have reading contests over the summer and one of my favorite games was scrabble! *picture telling your friends that you couldn't go to the movies because you were in the middle of a game of scrabble with your mother*

Anyway, I'm a REAL counselor!! Wow. Sometimes, I can't even believe it. I am able to do exactly what I wanted to do in life...and all of the "cool" kids are working on Christmas Eve until 9pm. (Was that insensitive?)

We are all different. We just have to accept that difference and use it to our advantage to help people.

p.s. I loved New Edition, Ready for the World, Troop, and everyone else. At night, I used to sneak and listen to Techno..."Catch me I'm falling" was one of my favorites...shhhhh don't tell LOL

Maybe we all have more similarities than differences...
Chas said…
These posts are why I'm proud to count Liz as a friend. I wasn't lucky enough to find myself mixed, weird and nerdy growing up but 2 of out 3 ain't bad for making you question yourself as a black male. In some sense I was lucky that I went to a nearly all white private high school, so I still got to be the local measure of blackness if only by default. Too bad this didn't do me much good when I came home my black family, who encouraged my intellectual bent but still obviously found me strange. Its played itself out most recently when trying to find women to spend time with. I see those same beautiful black women you see alone at the Grove, but much like my family they find me and my interests a little strange. They like the upwardly mobile thing, they just aren't sure about the indie rock and love of showtunes.
Liz Dwyer said…
Glad you enjoyed your visit over here to my neck of the woods.

You are right, we do all have more similarities than differences, but we definitely love to pounce on those differences, don't we?

In LA, it seems like all the cool kids are the folks that are sitting in Starbucks at 10 am on a Tuesday, drinking a latte and yapping into their cell about whether or not to call the person they hooked up with on Saturday night. The cool kids don't ever have real jobs (like being a counselor) but somehow still manage to pay rent and dress in designer jeans. The folks working at Starbucks till 9pm, well those are probably the kids that were never quite cool enough.

Self diagnosed ADHD? I heard Richard Branson has ADHD. He attributes his success to it. ;)
Liz Dwyer said…

See, the 2 out of 3 must at least one reason why we're friends. Weird nerds of the world unite! And, let's not forget, you go to Depeche Mode parties with me and don't look completely bored.

In all seriousness though, I do think there are aspects of this that are harder for black men. According to our world, you can't be Chas because you're supposed to be Slim Thug's clone. Or else that annoying ass guy that sings, "Money in da bank, shawty what you drank?"

I can only imagine the conversations some sistahs might have over you, "But girl, he has a job and a degree! So what if you have to go to Coachella. Don't let him go!"
Anonymous said…
We cannot allow this inept system/society to tell us how to categorise ourselves. "They" try to control how we think and feel and come up with some strange concepts of identification. Who in there right mind would describe themselves via their choice of music, ethnicity = musical choice, wow thats a weird one, but oh so typical of this system. Furthermore, the terms black and white are totally wrong to use in the way "we" do and serve no purpose other than to seperate.
History is crystal clear about all of this yet the "controllers" try to mis- present it.
Colour, what the f+!k is colour and what difference does it make? Whats ethnicity? Whats indigenous? Whats patriotism! What does black mean? What does white mean?
How can you judge someone based on the colour of their skin? Scientific insanity. Check the books out properly and you will see for yourselves in black and white that the debate is futile and that it is all about the system putting up a smokescreen by trying to divide people for its own purpose.
Oh what a wonderful world!
Who were some of the greatest composers of classical music in the world? What's color got to do with it?
Where did we all come from originally, geographically? Who were the original people here (USA)?
I have got some great books on this mixed race/biracial debate which i will post for reference next time.
Essentially, we are all the same, beautiful, complex, yet simple little creatures, but we all have minds and depending on how we use our minds we see things in the way we want to see them, "state" sponsored or spiritually sponsored. The latter picks the bullshit out from the sense and discards it has trash!
Keep being discerning, keep diseminating, keep illuminating the wrongs and keep practising the art of enlightening normal folk!
Peace and love Dr D.
Liz Dwyer said…
Dr. D,

Ph.D., MD or both? ;)

My thoughts on this are too lengthy to include as a comment. You've inspired me to write a bit more on this. Je te remercie.
Liz, I totally feel you, girl.

Both of my parents are black, but I was lighter than a brown bag and just square enough to get labeled weird and stuck-up at my school. It sucked. There was even a rumor that my dad was white (if they only knew...he's a Que for Godssake!) I guess this was because I played field hockey and was in academic level classes?

For years, I thought my problems in school had to do with racist teachers and students (some did). It wasn't until my twenties that I came to the realization that my biggest problem were the black students who wanted to be "hard" (mind you, we lived in the 'burbs, but still). There was just something about being dissed by your own that hurt more.

Now, nearing mid-thirties, I've realized that more than black or whatever I was labeled, I was just my eccentric self (still am to some degree!). Artsy, nerdy, me. And that's okay, too.

Don't worry about the shallow sisters, there are plenty of us individualists to balance them out.

Great blog! :)
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