Beauty Standards/issues: I have absurdly thick hair, and I tend to get pressured into straightening/relaxing it. Relaxers, for those who don’t know, are chemical treatments used to make naturally curly hair more “manageable”.
Daily struggles: Strangers on the street will stop me and ask what the heck race I am. Not a frustrating question on its own, but having random people flag me down to learn about my heritage builds up over time.
Dating and Relationships: My mom once told my sister and I that we need to date black men, or else the melanin in our family line will die out completely. And yet we’re both dating nice Jewish boys, just like she did. As far as friendly relationships go, I’ve had several white folks call me their “black friend,” because apparently half is all they were comfortable with.
Holidays: Christian holidays are the most important to my family because that’s the majority religion in our household. We only celebrate the “fun” Jewish holidays, like Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover. Somehow we never get around to Purim. We also celebrate Kwanzaa, but more out of novelty.
Identity issues: I’ve had white folks tell me that I’m not white enough to belong and black folks tell me that I’m not black enough. I tend to refer to myself as a zebra, since I can never tell if I’m white with black stripes or black with white stripes.
Misconceptions: Not everyone who’s half black and half white has ‘mocha’ skin. Genetics are a free-for-all. My sister and I can pass for white, but our brother has darker skin and hair.
Region: In Chicago, I am pretty much instantly recognized as mixed race, because there’s so many of us. From white folks I get a barrage of questions about my specific ethnicity, from black folks I get nods and the occasional “hey, sista!” In Ann Arbor, which is much smaller and whiter, most white folks assume I’m white until I mention otherwise. Then I get shock and sometimes disbelief, the latter of which can range from a simple “No way!” to the infinitely more frustrating “Haha no you’re not, quit kidding.”
Religion: My Jewish dad isn’t devout enough to fight over what faith to teach his kids, so my Black Catholic mom won out. After running away to college (and getting in touch with my queerness) I realized the Catholic church wasn’t for me, so now I identify as Episcopalian, but in terms of beliefs I don’t belong to any particular denomination. When I told my mom I wasn’t Catholic anymore, she shrugged and said it was okay so long as I was still Christian. If I was Hindu, she said, there’d be more trouble.
Self-esteem: Thick hair, round face, big nose. Not really Western society’s epitome of beauty, so I find my own.
Things you’d like to see less of: Fetishizing and accessorizing anyone who’s mixed race. Especially babies. Leave the dang babies alone.
Things you’d like to see more of: Emphasizing Judaism not just as a religion but as a deep-rooted culture and heritage.