Black and White

12 December 2018

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“Aunt Joan, my mommy is white, and my daddy is black. I don’t know what I am.” My Great aunt was taken aback because I was seven, and I had only met her that morning.

I stood in the living room of my father’s great cousin, Aunt Dee’s vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. I was surrounded by hundreds maybe thousands of glass picture frames containing the faces of my relatives. Many of them shared the same traits as me: tanned skin and a prominent cupid’s bow. As I studied their faces, I realized that my mother looked nothing like them. She has very pale skin, green eyes, and a round face. When I turned to look at my mom, I noticed that I had her facial structure. I even shared her family’s traits, eye shape, cheekbones, and hairline. The more I thought, the more I became confused and plagued with questions about my appearance.

I continued to stare at my mother as she read her book in silence. Events from the weeks before started to flood my mind. A young girl who I attended summer camp with asked me “why don’t you look like the rest of us?” The camp I was going to had mostly white children, and I was the only child who had darker skin. Hot tears burned my cheeks as I ran to sit down somewhere far away. I cried until a counselor found me and brought me back to the gym. She wiped my tears with her shirt, gave me a half smile and sent me on my way. I attempted to compose myself and continued to play until my parents came to pick me up, all while trying to answer this question on my own. “Why don’t I look like my friends?”

“Trin do you want some lunch?” I snapped out of my thoughts and ran to my father who had a sandwich stretched out towards me. When I finished my sandwich, I walked back to the living room to continue to study every detail of every face in those picture frames. My heart felt heavy, and I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I did not want to interrupt my mom or my dad. The next best option was my great Aunt Joan. She walked into her bedroom and started to unpack her luggage. I knocked on her door, and she quietly told me to come in. I fought back tears as I fell backward onto her bed. I sighed deeply and stared at the ceiling above me. “What’s wrong Trin?” I faced her and said, “Aunt Joan, my Mommy is white and my daddy is black. I don’t know what I am.” These were some of the first words I had ever spoken to my aunt. She opened her mouth and then closed it, chuckling to herself. “You are whatever you want to be. All I know is that you are a beautiful little girl who will grow into a respectable young lady one day.” I stood on her bed and hugged her as tightly as I could. In that moment, she did not segregate me. She did not call me a “beautiful little black girl” or a “beautiful little white girl.” She called me a “beautiful little girl” and gave me no color, no label, no anything. I was just another girl.

Now, whenever the subject of my race comes up it does not bother me because I know that I identify with both. Not everyone is aware of this and I am completely fine when people cannot label me or put me in a box. At work, I have had people come up to me and start speaking Spanish or French even Haitian. Today when I am asked about my background, I explain that my mother who is German was adopted by my Italian and French grandparents and my father is Native American and African American. My life is no longer black and white. It is whatever I want it to be.

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