“All of the Above”

Written by on November 16th, 2011 // Filed under Journal

 


by Tatyanna Wilkinson

I am a whole person, not just that half that makes you comfortable.

In college, I was one of three women co-coordinators of the African American Cultural Society. The other two women both had two black parents, yet there was NO line between us. We did good works and had a fantastic time. I never heard any whispers about why I was in that position.

One day, a German/Irish woman in my Honors Latina Writers class told me that by calling myself “multiracial,” I was a traitor to my white parent. She asked me if it bothered my mother that I identified as “multiracial” as it seemed like I was betraying my white heritage to do so. She told me that the fact that I was coordinator of the African American student group showed I hated my whiteness.

She said: “You have blue eyes. You look white to me and everyone else. Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if you would just stop feeling the need to tell everyone you are mixed and just pass? It seems selfish.”

What stuck with me from the whole discussion was the plea for me to “just pass”.

I have never, would never and will never pass. In fact, at first meeting me, if you talk to me for long I will tell you my heritage. I do so to preempt some of the judgment people put on me. My blackness shows through the blue eyes, from deep inside.

That experience in college was not the first, nor the last time I was either told to pass or told I was lying about having a Black father. Since I grew up living with my Irish mother, people assumed I was white, so some kids were cruel to me when I inevitably told them about my father. They called me “zebra” or “oreo”. I never thought for one second about keeping my father’s race to myself. My mother encouraged me to be myself 100% of the time in all aspects of life whether racially, spiritually or otherwise. I credit her with teaching me to explore and fully express my ethnic heritage.

My whole life my mother went out of her way to immerse me in diverse environments so that I grew up a well-rounded person. The effect of this was that I gravitated toward my Blackness almost like a magnet. I still feel most strongly identified with my Blackness. It informs how I experience the world. It has made me an activist, it has made me an advocate for people of color, it has made me a strong, confident woman with deep roots in the community. I have primarily ended up in jobs where I work in communities of color. Did I seek this out or did it find me? Good question.

Truthfully, the bigger issue for me has been finding ways to participate in my white heritage. One would think that a blue-eyed girl like me would just fit right in at an Irish cultural event, but I always feel like a bit of an outsider. I know that this experience is coming from inside of me and not some blinking sign that says “mixed chick” above my head. This is something I have to step back and look at for myself, as my blue eyes and light skin afford me a good deal of “privilege” and this is something which I have always been acutely aware of.

As for the Powhatan slice of the pie…well, that is a bit more ambiguous. Due to the fact that the Powhatan Nation was systematically slaughtered and dispersed, it has been a journey for me to find bits and pieces of Powhatan culture to fold into the mix. Indigenous culture has become an integral part of who I am ever since I was exposed to the sacred Indigenous ceremony of Sweat Lodge. I am now a Board Member of an Indigenous Women’s organization called the Morningstar Foundation and part of the volunteer web team of One Spirit an organization that does work with the Lakota Sioux Nation.

With all of the rich cultural experiences I have had in my life, the idea that I would “pass” for white because of my blue eyes and skin color tears at my inner fabric. How do I choose one category to define me? I am a patchwork quilt of all of the above and the only reason for passing would be to make others comfortable. What’s most important is that I am comfortable with all of me.

*****

Tatyanna Wilkinson identifies as a multi-ethnic woman of Black, Irish, Powhatan Indian descent and many other “drops” mixed in. She is a “Jane of all Trades” – an independent web design consultant who works in non-profit management and also teaches cooking classes for kids.

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14 Responses to ““All of the Above””

  1. I have truly enjoyed your story Sis Tatyanna…….I respect and love the statement you made “I am a patchwork quilt of all of the above and the only reason for passing would be to make others comfortable. What’s most important is that I am comfortable with all of me.”…..It is beautiful, in itself……we spend so much of our lives trying to define ourselves for the likes of others and wander as lost leaves in the fall….I’m so inspired by your courage and inner determination to be “you” just as you were created…..Unique.
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    ~Urth

    Posted by UrthEagle TishaReply
  2. Hi Urth. Just saw this comment. Thank you so much. It was a blessing to be able to share my story here. I am glad you found it enjoyable. I have enjoyed being me. :)

    Posted by TatyannaReply
  3. Wonderful testimony and inspiring. I love you for all of your cultural background.

    Posted by candace slade-carterReply
  4. Thanks Candice. :) Love to you.

    Posted by TatyannaReply
  5. Greetings Tatyanna,

    Remember, what you think of yourself determines your destiny. Be wise. Be well. Be wonderful.

    The woman who suggested that you pass and that it would be easier . . . it seems selfish. I’ll bet you 2 to 1 that she was either passing herself or knew of someone (perhaps her own daughter) who she encouraged to pass (besides you).

    The next time someone suggests that tell them “I think I’ll just pass for human.”

    All the best.

    Posted by FátimahReply
    • hello Fatima,

      “I think I’ll just pass for human.” I juts might use that one. :) Blessings to you.

      Posted by TatyannaReply
  6. This is fine and a great story. My concern is that those in your position continually not allowing mixed or mostly white people to BE white beacuse that is simply WHO THEY ARE. Your writing seems to imply that everyone should follow your path to embracing Blackness. This is 2012 and not everyone with Black ancestry wants to embrace being Black not because the “hate their blackness” because that is not who they are, who they identify with or what they want to be. To force someone to is like forcing a Blacks person to ONLY embrace being part European. When people of color enforce the one drop and continue to vet whites whom they think might be “part them” they defer to white supremacy-the white supremacy of South Africa’s Apartheid and of the US slave trade. White supremacists created the one drop rule and now many Blacks seem to live by it which is their right but this academic movement and the author of this book need to be comfortable with uncloseted multi-racial whites and “almost” whites and darker Europeans to be THEMSELVES just as you want to be yourself. At any rate mufti-racial whiteness is the next big movement in race and thankfully it can’t be stopped by this one drop white supremacy anymore. :)

    Posted by Mother Africa BSReply
    • Hi there… Thank you for your comment. I appreciate all viewpoints. To clarify: “Your writing seems to imply that everyone should follow your path to embracing Blackness.” I don’t quite understand how you could come to this conclusion. I have written about my personal choice and my right to express and talk about my personal ethnic and cultural identity. I have not said what anyone else choice should be.

      I don’t express my identity as I do because of the One Drop rule. In fact, this blog, book and exhibit does not “support” the One Drop Rule, but brings up the discussion of multi-racial person’s diverse skin color and viewpoints about race.

      Individual identity, as a right, no matter one’s ethic background, is imperative to our contentedness as people. I personally would never force my son, who is my mis plus Puerto Rican and his child (to be born Jan. ’2013) who will add to the mix Surinamese, Dutch and even more Indigenous American genes, to choose a particular identity. If I did, how would that make me any different than the woman in my literature class so many years ago?

      Thank you for the continued discussion. I am only myself and do not represent “those in my position” in any way, shape or form. Blessings.

      Posted by TatyannaReply
  7. Honor Tatyanna, As a mixed race woman, I too have had many of the same feelings and experiences. I was the lightest child of a Southern Italian family that included people from black, brown and all colors in between. My mother was half Canadian French and half Native American (we think Manitoba, but not sure). I was always the odd man out — not a true Italian, not a pure Canadian, but not exactly what anyone thought I was. It’s become hard to claim myself “White” when I don’t feel white. My exploration of my race took me all the way to Haiti where I initiated as a Mambo Asogwe. In Haiti no one saw me as “white” – they saw me as one of them. One of the rare times I felt included.
    Thank you for writing this story. I feel that there are many of us who identify as Black but who get a very raw dela from the white folks for abandoning our race. I don’t feel I’ve abandoned anything — I never felt a part of it in the first place!
    Respect,
    Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo (Patricia Diorio Scheu)

    Posted by Patricia ScheuReply
    • Greetings Patricia. Thank you for sharing about your experience. The path that identity exploration brought you on is fascinating. Many blessings. ~Tatyanna

      Posted by TatyannaReply
  8. What’s wrong with being a multiracial or mixed-race white person? There is no “passing” if you look white. Tatyanna assumes that whiteness equals racial purity.

    Posted by AD PowellReply
    • Hi AD Powell,

      Thank you for your comment and opinion. It is always interesting to read people’s reactions to my story.

      I am not sure how you got ‘assumes that whiteness equals racial purity’ from what I wrote. Your assumption about what I ‘assume” could not be farther from my truth. It also sounds like you may *want* me to choose to identify as “mixed race white”? I’m not sure and would not want to project that on you.

      In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with an individual choosing to consider themselves a “mixed race white person”. I would applaud anyone who has been able to reconcile who they are and come to some level of comfort in their personal identity.

      Your assertion that there is no ‘passing’ if you look white is confusing to me. I could very well pass if I chose to. How does my light shade preclude that from being a choice one might make?

      My son could ‘pass’ for white but he chooses to be proud of being Puerto Rican, along with my mix. My 9 months old grandson looks white as of today, but his matralineal Surinamese and Salvadorian ancestry will always be part of who he is. We could all choose to be quiet about our ancestry, but we won’t.

      My story explains why I do not choose to pass. That coupled with my lifestyle, friends and cultural foundation, make up who I am. Un-pologetically.

      Peace…

      ~Tatyanna

      P.S. I am heading over to read your blog. I value diverse opinion.

      Posted by TatyannaReply

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