What are you exactly?: The Bi-Racial Dilemma… or Superpower
by Melissa Wimbish
For the past few weeks, I have stayed awake wondering what to write about for Black History Month. What personal insight can I offer on one of the most sensitive and defining subjects of our generation? Will my insight seem lacking because of my skin color? “Maybe I’ll just wait until March and it will be less of an issue … ”
I’m half black, but nobody believes me half the time. I constantly have to convince or defend when the topic inevitably comes up within a day or two of meeting someone. Or within three minutes if I’m really lucky. And even when I sing “Summertime” at auditions.
My earliest memory of this racial identity crisis was when I was a wee thing still in daycare. I recall the perplexed looks from parents and fellow tots when my father came to pick me up at the end of the day. He is definitely black. Like Obama. The fact that we both had red hair, freckles, and very similar features wasn’t enough evidence for these people that he was my “for real” parent. A younger member of the staff asked me one day if I was adopted. Having no idea what the word “adopted” meant at that age, I excitedly shook my head up and down and said, “Yes!” (currently going back in time to do a facepalm). Often referred to as the little white girl who lived with black people during my time in suburban Connecticut, it was hard to muster any pride for a culture I couldn’t seem to exactly identify. And Multicultural Day at school was the absolute worst!
It wasn’t all bad, though and it didn’t take long before I learned how to work the system. White kids thought it was cool to have a white friend with nappy hair while Black kids were way nicer to me after they learned that I was “sort of one of them”. I used all this to my advantage. To some extent, I do the same thing now that I’m an adult except now, instead of using my incognito/daywalker superpower to be liked or accepted, I try to educate.
Here’s an example. I was singing with a dad rock band somewhere in podunk Maryland at a random private biker bar-shed-clubhouse thing. This dude (let’s call him Animal) decided he loved me and wanted to chat during the set break. He looked like a ringleader and I figured it would be a good idea to be nice in case I ever needed to ask him to kill someone for me. We’re having a conversation about motorcycles or tattoos or something like that, and he gestures to the young black man behind the bar for a drink. After the drink is delivered and the guy is out of earshot, Animal says something to the effect of, “Yeah, he’s half black, but we don’t hold that against him.”
Oh, Animal. It was kind of sick. I mean, the delight I took in telling him that I, too, was half black. And to see the whole process of the information going into his brain, not processing, then slowly … slowly … yup, there it is. The face of a fucking goon caught with his trunks down in the kiddy pool. Instead of storming off or throwing a drink in his face, I decided to ask him what he meant by that comment. He didn’t have an answer. So, I asked him three questions: “What do you dislike about black people?” “Have you ever had a black friend?” “Who is your favorite black singer?” It was terribly uncomfortable for the first minute, but turned into a productive discussion. One of the most memorable I’ve shared with someone I hardly knew. We exchanged a firm handshake and then I went on stage to sing “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman … Animal’s favorite.
Discrimination is in the dictionary. I don’t think it’s ever going away. In the meantime, I’m going to call it out when I can … and use my superpower for good. ___________________________________________________________________________
Melissa Wimbish is one of the founders and directors of Operagasm.com. You can learn more about Melissa under the ‘About Us’ tab on the top of the page. Melissa welcomes you to comment on her article or email her privately at firstname.lastname@example.org