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By Ashley Millner
The hardest part about being African American in a cruel, ignorant world is that many of my peers are unaware that I am. I have been subjected to so much racism and bigotry because people freely talk in front of me, saying things they would never say in front of a person with darker skin than myself. I almost feel like it’s harder to be “half” Black rather than “full” in this society because there is constant pressure to be “more Black” from my Black peers and “more white” from my White peers. There have been moments that have led me to let go of many people whom I thought cared for me.
Silence. I sat there in complete silence. My hands were clenched so tight that I could feel my fingernails scratching into my skin. Avoiding looking at my two aggressors in the eye, I saw myself in the rearview mirror. I could see the veins thrusting out of my forehead while my face turned bright red. All I could hear was my heart beating in my chest, causing me to shake with every pulse.
“You’re not Black. I think I’m Blacker than you are. Look at your skin.”
I was shocked that my friend of over five years was saying this to me.
“Mom, could you tell that Ashley is Black if you didn’t know her father?”
“No, I wouldn’t even say her father is Black because his skin is so light.”
“I mean I feel like I’m more Black than you because I say ‘nigga’ all the time and you don’t. You don’t have a big ass like I do and the only time you’re tan is in the summer,” my friend said.
“So because I am articulate, I lack the right curves, and I have light skin, it means I’m not Black?” I argued.
“No, but you don’t act like you are. You don’t have kinky hair. I just think it’s weird that everyone thinks you’re so different for being mixed, yet I don’t see it,” she said.
I remember feeling numb and shocked. Then, pure rage hit me. I wanted to scream at them for thinking that just because I didn’t act like a stereotype, it meant that I didn’t have African American genes. Why did I need to prove myself to every White person who questioned my ethnicity? Why did I constantly feel the need to fulfill a White role when I was with my White friends and a Black role when I was with my Black friends? Silence. I’ve been silenced for too long. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first time I had to defend my ethnicity. I have spent years defending my skin color, the way that I spoke, and my choice to refrain from saying the “N” word. However, I wasn’t prepared for my next memory.
It was my senior year of high school. My family and I were at the Rome Art and Community Center to support the NAACP scholarship winners. I looked around the room and only a handful of people weren’t a minority. The last award is introduced with a speech about how this scholarship winner has made the African American community proud based on the excellence shown in the classroom. The announcer called my name. I looked around and was shocked. I didn’t know I was receiving any award. Still in my seat, I looked to my dad who gestured for me to go up there. As I looked into the audience, I saw a mixture of expressions across their faces. Some looked angry and upset while others seemed shocked. My family was the only one with joy in their eyes. “Congratulations on your achievements, Ashley, keep up the good work!” the announcer said.
Most of the crowd stood and applauded me. I looked out onto the predominately African American audience and said thank you. As I stepped down from the stage, a reporter from the Daily Sentinel rushes towards me with a tape recorder. “So, Ashley, how does it feel to be the first bi-racial female to receive the NAACP award in the Rome Art and Community Center?” she stuttered.
Taken back, I tried to gather my thoughts and say something smart. “I guess it feels great to be recognized for my achievements and to be a role model for other minorities,” I explain.
As I walked over to my family, I heard a girl say, “I deserved it more than her. She is only half Black and she only beat me by a point.”
I ignored it and continued walking. A feeling of embarrassment and shame came over me. My eyes started to fill with tears and I could barely see when my dad embraced me and said, “Congratulations, kiddo. Daddy loves you.” I forced a smile.
My boyfriend and his mother approached me with looks of disappointment and envy. “How do you get an award that you don’t even deserve?” he said to me as he shook his head and hugged me. His hug felt fake and forced like when people don’t want to hug you but they do anyway and pat you on the back. “It’s okay, I still love you. Congratulations.”
I felt conflicted. Why was everyone so upset with me as if I had demanded to receive this award? Why wouldn’t they support me? I am African American, but because I am only “half” I shouldn’t receive an award for African Americans.
These are my friends, my boyfriend even. Him and I were together for seven years and over the course of our relationship, both he and his mother gave me hell. His mom would always say that she wanted her son to be with a short, skinny, Black woman. I was tall, curvy, and half Black. She hated this. She hated me. I could never be enough for her son because in her eyes I was the product of an interracial relationship in which she doesn’t condone.
As our sticky bodies moved beneath the sheets, I looked into his deep green eyes and felt my need for him consume me. As we both reached a climax, I clenched my finger nails into his broad shoulders and fell asleep on his chest. I awoke to the sun shining through the cracks of my blinds onto my face. He was sleeping peacefully as I laid a kiss on the tip of his nose. He shook but didn’t open his eyes. I did it again.
“Good morning,” he laughed.
“Morning handsome, want coffee?” I said.
“Ugh, yes please,” he sighed.
I wrapped the blanket around my body, combed my fingers through my blonde hair and darted for the kitchen. When I came back I found him looking at the pictures on my desk.
“Who is this?” he asked as he pointed to the interracial couple in the picture on my night stand.
“My parents,” I said.
“Are you adopted?” he asked.
“No,” I laughed.
“Wait…what? You’re Black!?” He seemed upset.
He searched my face for answers, as he quickly got dressed. He darted around my room looking for his belongings one by one. When he reached my doorway he turned around and said, “If I knew you were Black, then this would’ve never happened. Don’t call me.”
The door slammed shut and the feeling from my legs left my body. I fell to the floor. I didn’t cry. I didn’t move. I was just numb. I never spoke of this incident, nor my relationship with this man until now.
I have developed a coping mechanism where my brain unconsciously deletes memories that are unbearable for me to experience again. The struggle to live day to day with this on my shoulders can feel unbearable at times. Most of my family and close friends do not even know of these events. While my life has been filled with many negative memories of covert racism, I have learned from these experiences and have become more aware. I share these moments in an effort to support others to be strong against ignorant people and to make a difference in our society.
My mission in life will never be over until I help to change how people interact with others different from themselves. I believe that the differences in our ethnicities and culture make us such beautiful human beings. It’s recognizing the differences between people and embracing these differences that can bring about change. For some of us, we have to live with being oppressed every single day of our lives. I used to resent this because I assumed that there must be something wrong with me. I questioned why God would make us all unequal if we were perfectly made—if I was perfectly made?
In one of my classes, my professor asked, “What would be your defining curse? If you could take a pill to get rid of it, would you?” My defining curse is that I am a multi-racial, female in a society that caters to White men. If you had asked me a few years ago whether or not I would take the pill, I would have hesitated. Now, however, there is nothing I am more proud of than being Black, being White, and being a woman.
Ashley Millner is a student, activist, friend, sister, daughter, and proud woman of color. She strives to take the material and history learned in the classroom and put it to use in the real world in an effort to create critical racial awareness. Ashley hopes her knowledge, and the sharing of her experiences, makes a difference in her community and beyond.