Colorism/Shadeism Project

Tawn: Growing Up Biracial in the U.S.

Hello everyone! I’m Tawn, and I am super excited to guest blog for The London Curls!

I’m going to share a little bit about my experience growing up bi-racial child in the U.S., and share some things that I have learned along the way.  I hope you find a bit of your story within mine, and we can share a touch of life with each other on this page.

Let’s start with some background, shall we?tawnn

My father is an African American man, born and raised in Chicago, and my mother is a French Canadian woman, born in the small town of St. Jude, about an hour out of Montreal.

My parents met and began dating in Chicago sometime in the 1970s, ultimately marrying after some time. I was later told that it was not easy dating situation, as my father’s family did not like him dating a “white woman”.  My mother explained she never understood this, as even growing up in a small town, she never saw people according to race. It was never a matter of color, but of character for her, and this was a strange lesson to learn. My father, of course, was just wildly attracted to my mother’s beauty (and who could blame him- I’ve seen her pictures-and even to this day, the woman is lovely)

They get married. They move. They start a family. They have my sister and I.

There we were. Hustling, bustling, happy kids. My early childhood was filled with memories of watermelon and sun. Snow days and laughter. Bike rides. Corner store trips. My sister and I clung to each other, and we were generally very happy children.

family

Now looking back, my family always had friends of different nationalities and backgrounds, focusing on compassion and care, and surrounding ourselves with people who supported one another. We didn’t see distinguishing lines of color, and there were no dinner table chats on differences, where we fit in or.. really, if we fit in at all.  As far as I knew, we were a typical, functioning family: loving, living, and trying to survive.

Well, reality smacked me right in the face when I was about eight. I mean: right in it. We had a good run my innocence and I.  I was warm, and cozy, and snuggled up with hot chocolate in thinking I was an average child. No distinguishing characteristics besides the ability to learn Disney ballads in a 24 hour period, and belt them out repeatedly to anyone in my house that would listen. Nope, nothing to see here. But then..I had an eyes-wide-open- “WHOA, this is different” experience that shaped my view on being bi-racial in a modern world. I suddenly became very aware of two camps of thought into my bi-racial self. Heck, I was introduced to my bi-racial self the first time that year.

Camp one; Story one.  Quite the positive one. We moved to Arizona from northern California, and I was enrolled in a predominantly Caucasian school. The very first day, a girl walked, no. RAN to me and swiftly glazed over my face, getting hers stuck in a somewhat state of bewilderment.. “Woooow! You are SO beautiful!” she blasted out, and hastily called a group of girls over that were idly standing nearby. They cooed and pawed and stared at me for most of recess, something like you would an exotic animal or newborn kitty- too odd to touch. I recall the particular recess well, as I spent the majority of it confused and unsure of what happened just then. I liked it.  After I got acclimated to the stares and unwarranted popularity, I soon found myself the most popular kid in school. Seriously. I was earning points for being different, and it was the first time I realized being bi-racial was not an every day occurrence.

Happiness ensued. I went home and gazed at my parents daily for about a week, deciding I was proud of them for not telling us we were different, my sister and I, and happy I never noticed. I was honored to be their child, and grateful they chose to see each other as people and for the extent of their skin. My parents were awesome.  I was bi-racial. It was awesome. So.. there it was. First school of thought: awesomeness.

Second Camp, second story. Sigh. Not awesomeness. After moving to a more ethnically diverse part of town, I was enrolled in a predominantly African American school. I anticipated meeting new friends easily, and to be real , looked forward to gaining popularity- quick. Unfortunately, the reception was not as grand. In fact, it was the beginning of three years that changed my life forever. I was being bullied.

Scoffed at, outcast, and teased on a daily basis bullied. I was called yellow, and thrown a label that we all know- light skinned. Deeming me a failure as a black girl, they tugged at my hair, told me I was ugly, and criticizing me for my refusal to use slang.  They were relentless. Mean, cruel, and unforgiving.

There was a barrage of how to’s and do not’s when it came to my hair, and days spent convincing me curls and other out of the norms were worst part of my existence. They needed me to be like them. They didn’t know what to do with me. They WANTED me to distinguish myself as either white or black, and when I couldn’t, they shut me out.  Not awesome.

Don’t stop reading here. Hear me out, and follow along as I discovered that the best part of that situation came when I shifted my perception. I learned to value instead of resent, and when I decided to change MY view, I was able to affect a multitude of views. Now I’m hoping to share these points with you:  A “Grown Up Girls Guide to Being Mixed” if you will.

Here we go-

Lesson 1Being bi-racial was cool before people knew it was cool.         

Think about it. The civil rights movement, the marches our parents or  grandparents attended- were for the rights of PEOPLE. Yes, race and color were a factor, but at it’s core, this was about equal rights for people. Those events and tragedies didn’t happen too long ago when you think about it, and being in bi-racial love during the 1970s was a continuously progressive statement. So thank your mom and dad- they are seriously c o o l.

Lesson 2: You are historic

Belonging to two or more racial backgrounds means an intimate level of diversity. How did your families come together? Maybe you get to say your great-aunt’s mothers- father-was one of the first settlers in the city, or county, or nation. Maybe they were one of the first interacial couples in their city. Perhaps. Your family could have just met last Christmas too. I’m not sure, but either way, be proud of it. Your story is historic, and most importantly, it’s beautiful.

Lesson 3: Remember that you cannot be categorized

The world loves to categorize things. Short, tall, skinny, healthy, happy. I know, I just categorized categorizing, but you get the point. I’ve found that the act of categorizing helps others feel they are approaching a person or situation appropriately. Is it needed always? No. Practiced often? Yes. The good news is, when you are multiracial, there are no categories. You are who you are-free to be yourself, forcing people to seek YOU in order to find the answers.

Lesson 4: You are not the color of your skin or the curl in your hair.

Really, See lesson 3.

Lesson 5: You are a jewel

Yes, people will stare. They will try to figure out your nationality or what your background is. Let them. Tell them to guess, and giggle at all the exotic nationalities they come up with. Note the beautiful people of the places they name, and take the compliment to heart. You are a jewel. You are rare. People will look. A lot.. Let them.

Lesson 6: You are a representative, and a teacher

This one I take to heart. We are not the first generation of bi-racial babies but, we are one of the newest generations. We have a responsibility to be the example for future generations who are becoming increasingly multi cultural. How we act and react in situations where we are called light skinned, mixed raced, and the like will warrant a reaction from those that come behind us. We must remember that our children are watching. Consider how are you being an example to the girl that feels she is less than for NOT being bi-racial or how you will reach out to multi racial children who feel they don’t fit in. Your reaction will become their reaction, which will become a generational reaction. Let’s encourage each other to embrace who we are, and blur the lens on outward appearances. Together, we can leave this world better than the way we found it.

-Xoxo, Tawn

tawn dad

tawn mum

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This article has 4 comments

  1. Tiffanie

    Great job, sissy! I think our parents did a wonderful job of erasing that color is an issue. It’s quite interesting that it was the predominate African-American school (I recall which one because that’s when negativity started for me as well– I guess I tuned out the names and purposely made myself an outsider) that was the cause of bullying.
    I agree with lesson 5 and 6. I enjoy hearing what ethnicity people think we are. I also never know how to respond when non-mixed people say; mixed people are so beautiful. I’m like — I am one. So… what are you saying? what do I say? Thank you!?
    I think our parents did a great job of making sure we didn’t feel like we needed to fit in with either race or that we had to find other mixed kids to feel welcome. Many times I forget about the color of my skin until I hold hands with my husband or kids.
    Great job, mom and dad 🙂

  2. Rose Frey

    Great story, Tawn! I have never noticed color myself and I pride myself on that. I grew up in a school where I definitely stood out for my ethnicity. I love how you discussed that the world likes to categorize. If we could individually strive towards changing this, the world would be filled with so much more love and acceptance. The fun in life is getting to know people and learning about their differences and their beauty-both inner and outer!

    I am very lucky to know Tawn as a great friend with so much inspiration to offer!

  3. Harriet C Ht

    I came across this website at just the right time; it represents my experience in the US and makes adjusting to life as a bi-racial transplant/immigrant a bit easier today as my husband and I adjust to norms in American society. Thanks and great story.

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