Why are You Obsessed with My Race?

CHARLENA E. JACKSON
13 min readAug 19, 2021

Introduction

People size me up and down with their eyes, but eyes do not intimidate me. I am told that my hair is too curly to be white and too straight to be black. People ask me questions as if I owe them an answer. The most common questions they ask are: “Who are you? Where are you from? Don’t you know your features are exotic? Are your parents from here?” Funny, they look at me sideways when I ask them the same damn question they asked me. I am more than sure that my body language answers their question. In the front of my mind, I am asking, what does my race have anything to do with you — and why do you care? I am part of many. I am confident in whom I am, and I accept myself the way I am.

The other day, I was asked by a black girl, “What makes you think that you are black?” She continued, smirked, and said, “You want to be one of us, but you are not.” The tone in her voice was as if she hated me because of the color of my skin. The week before, a white girl asked me, “What makes you think that you are white?” Her sarcastic remark wasn’t any better. She had the nerve to say, “You are too dark to think you are worthy of white privilege.” Needless to say, this is the shit that I go through. Racial profiling is at its fineness at my school and, to be honest, in my community as well. It is not only the words that cut deep, but the stares are worse.

I am Stella. I was named after my great-grandmother, who was a black woman. She died when she gave birth to my grandfather. With that being said, my grandfather was raised by his white father and his family. After my great-grandmother passed, my grandfather did not know his roots from his mother’s side of the family. From what I was told, my great-grandfather married a white lady months later. However, my grandfather said he never felt out of place because his father and his family owned most of the town. With that being the case, they knew not to disrespect my grandfather.

Before my grandfather passed away, he shared with me many stories that were so amazing to hear. However, some of his stories were dreadful. My grandfather told me about when he walked into one of his dad’s stores; the cashier was new, and in the 1920s in Alabama, Jim Crow racism was the law. Racial segregation was rigidly enforced, and death meet many black people at their front door all because they were disliked because of the color of their skin. Well, when my grandfather walked into the store that day, having a conversation with his white brother and laughing, he didn’t know that that day his skin color was a target. The white cashier pulled out a gun, looked my grandfather dead in the eye, and asked, “Nigger, where do you think you are going?” My grandfather’s brother yelled and jumped over the counter. “Put the gun down! He is my brother!” My great-grandfather ran to the front to see what was going on. He didn’t have a clue that his son’s color intimidated the cashier. His father told the cashier, who he had hired that day, that my grandfather was his son. The cashier quit on the spot and called my great-grandfather a nigger-lover. When I think about that story my grandfather told me — sadly, I see that nothing has changed.

It is hard being biracial. I feel like people will not let me live, love, or, better yet, breathe. I am so sick and tired of people asking me where I am from. What am I mixed with? I am like, “Worry about your damn self, get the fuck off my back, and let me breathe.” What never surprises me is that they stare me down as if I am their enemy, and they don’t even know me.

When I was little, my dad used to pick me up from school. He used to always take off his hat when he opened the door for me. Every time he opened the door, he reminded me that a real man will always open the door for a lady. He always kissed me on the cheek and said, “And that means for little ladies as well.” I remember when I was in first grade, one of my classmates asked me if my dad was my servant. I slapped her in the face and told her no, he is my daddy. Needless to say, I got in trouble. My mother and dad always told me to control my anger. It is hard to do, especially when I am always around idiots.

When I was in middle school, I got in my first fight because of one of my classmates. I remember her name. Ayesha. She was the first black girl who tried me. She had the nerve to walk in the classroom holding on to her backpack, singing a stupid song she made up, “Stella is a white girl’s name. Stella comes from zebras. Stella wants to be black so bad, but she’s not. Stella’s name means she steals.” She laughed, and the entire class laughed as if that shit was funny. She continued, “Stella’s name means she steals because she wants to (she pointed at most of the black people in the room) steal your color, because she wants to be black so bad.” She walked towards me and put her finger in my face. I didn’t say a word. She stepped a little closer and said it as loud as she could to make a scene for the entire class. She pulled her braids from behind her back as they rested below her shoulder, “What are you going to do next? Get braids like mine?” Everyone laughed louder than before. Once again, she put her finger in my face, “You wish you could, but people like you with that white girl hair…” I didn’t let her finish her sentence. Instead, I grabbed her finger, bent it all the way back, and broke it. I didn’t let her go until she screamed for mercy. I punched her in the face. I dragged her by her hair, walked over to the teacher’s desk, reached for the scissors, and cut off her braids. The principal called my mom and told her to pick me up ASAP. She had the nerve to tell my mom that I had anger issues. I told my mom and the principal that I was being bullied because of my skin color. My mother believed me, but the principal was in denial. Once again, my mom transferred me to another school.

That was my first fight, and I can assure you that it was not my last! Most of my fights took place in my mind because I never understood why there was so much hate in the world. I cannot put my finger on why people hate people because they are too light or too dark. I mean, we all bleed the same color. Maybe it is not for me to understand. However, I think it would be so much easier to love. Hate pulls so much negative energy from the soul. I guess the saying is true; misery loves company.

I never was at one school long enough to make friends until I moved to another neighborhood. However, not too much changed. I can’t say it was better, but it was doable as always. I never went to counseling for my ‘behavior’ because I never had a behavior issue — All I knew was that I wasn’t going to sit around and be bullied. I had to stomp the ground and make my mark to let people know that I wasn’t the one to take bullying lightly. I let it be known that my skin color doesn’t make me weak and that I wasn’t up for anyone’s bullshit.

I do not know how many times I was told by jealous girls that the only reason why the boys like me was because I am light-skinned, redbone, or because I have ‘good hair.’ I couldn’t believe shit like that would come out of their mouths. I used to ignore it, until one day, in 9th grade, this white girl named Celeste told everyone that I straightened my curly hair to fit in with the white girls so that I can get the black boys. She then told everyone that I prefer black boys because my mom married a black man. Weeks later, she spread another rumor and told everyone I couldn’t make up my mind because black boys weren’t my type, so I wanted to talk to a white boy because my mother is white. The day I had enough was when she swiped my papers off my desk and called me a black and white mutt. I couldn’t take it anymore and stabbed her with a pencil and colored her face as much as I could with a black marker.

Once again, I got in trouble for someone bullying me because of my color. I was suspended, and my mom transferred me to a new school; and now I am here at North Seaside High, home of the snakes. Well, not really. It should be home of the snakes because so many people here are snakes, and to be honest, not anything less. In reality, we are the home of the Sharks. You better not bleed here, or the students will eat your ass up alive.

I am in the 11th grade. I’ve been going to North Seaside High since 10th grade. My school consists of more whites than blacks. Basically, our community is middle class with a small percentage of high class. To be honest, you would never know who has the most money because, from the looks of it, everyone is doing good for themselves. Most of the students who are mixed race have their own beliefs. Some of them say they are white because their mom is white, and some of them stand firm and say they are black because their mother is black. As for me, I am not either. I am a human race.

I remember when I was in the first grade, I had to fill in a ‘bubble’ to say whether I was black or white. I created my own race column and wrote in ‘human race.’ I made a circle and filled it in with my pencil. My teacher walked by and glanced at my paper, and said, “Oh, no, Stella, you have to circle whether you are black or white. You have to pick one race.” I asked why. However, she didn’t have an answer. I told her my parents always told me that we are the ‘human race.’ She said, “Stella, there’s no such thing as a ‘human race’ you have to either pick black or white. I begin to think; I guess the ‘human race’ only applies when I am at home. When I was out in the world, I learned very quickly there is no such thing as a ‘human race’ in society’s eyes — they only see color. There I was, a little girl at the age of six, confused. I looked at the test forms, and my eyes kept going back and forth. White? Black? White? Black? I didn’t know which one to circle. I raised my hand, and my teacher walked over, “Yes, Stella.”

My helpless eyes were filled with tears, “My mommy is white, and my daddy is black. Who am I? What am I? Which one should I circle?” I asked.

She touched my hand, “Stella, I cannot tell you that.”

My tears fell on the form. I looked at my skin, wiped my tears, smiled a little, looked at my teacher, “Oh, I know, I will circle the word peach.” I searched for the word peach, but I couldn’t find it.

She touched my arm gently. “No, Stella, Peach is not a race.”

I looked at my skin, “But that is the color of my skin. Peach.” With sad eyes, “I do not know which race to circle. Could you help me?”

She looked at me with pity eyes, “I’m sorry, Stella. I can’t. You have to pick one.”

That was the day I realized I was different. I stared at the paper during the entire class period. Needless to say, I didn’t start the test because I was stuck on the race question.

Later that day, I talked with my parents. My mom told me next time to circle that I am African American. My dad agreed.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because baby, you are not peach.” Answered my dad.

My mom’s face told it all, “Stella, we are a ‘human race,’ but the people want us to pick one race. I know I am white, and your father is black. You are what we call biracial, but there’s not an option to circle for someone who is biracial. So, since you have to choose, I prefer you to put black or African American.”

I asked out of curiosity, “Why?”

My daddy took over the conversation, “Because, Sweetie, society wants everyone to be in a bubble. They section us off into a category…” He paused, “They separate us and try to define us by what we fill in or circle on a sheet of paper. It is about having control and keeping people in the mindset of…”

My mom cut my father off, “Morris… this is not the time.”

Daddy looked at Mommy, “Heidi, yes, this is the right time. The younger she learns, the better she will understand. We do not want the street to form Stella’s mind into what they want her to know. Manipulation is very powerful. It is our job to tell Stella the truth about the way of the world. I agree she is too young, but it is better to instill the facts in her now than later before it is too late. This is the perfect opportunity to break everything down. And as her parents, we will teach her as she ages.”

My mom looked worried.

“Heidi, what she encounters today was the first straw, and it will not be the last. This is one of many battles she will face, and we want to make sure that our daughter will know how to react to certain situations. We are her parents, and learning starts at home,” said my dad. He kissed my mom on the forehead, “We knew this day was coming. Baby, it will be okay. Everything will be just fine.”

My mom held on tight to my daddy’s hand as her eyes filled with tears that streamed down her rosy cheeks. She nodded her head, “But Morris, she is too young.”

“Heidi, our daughter didn’t know what race to choose. She had an important test to take, and she couldn’t complete it because she was stuck on (my dad put up his index finger) that one question. So, this is the perfect time to have this conversation.” He kneeled down, looked at me, and continued, “We cannot have Stella walking blindly when we know that racism is real. Not only racism, but she needs to understand who she is as a person. She needs to understand her roots on both sides of her family. One is no greater than the other, but some people feel that white is better, and black is trash.”

“Morris!” My mother yelled.

Standing up quickly. My dad said calmly, “Heidi, let’s not sugarcoat the situation here.”

I remember that day clearly. We all walked to the table and had a family discussion. My father brought up a historical moment called Juneteenth — short for June Nineteenth (June 19, 1865) when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing the ending of slavery of African Americans. However, slavery ended before the announcement.

My daddy looked me into my eyes to make sure I understood, “Stella, they always call Juneteenth Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day (TX), but to be honest, Sweetie, slavery still exists. It exists in the minds of people. Slavery still exists for sure because there is still a limitation on what blacks can do. Not only that but also for some white there are limits because they’re judged because of the people they love.” He kissed my mom’s hand, “Your mom and I had a hard time. People judged us because we were of different races. Until this day, ignorant people think that it is forbidden to love someone of a different race. So many people told us not to have children because the only thing we were going to do was confuse them because they would not know where to fit into this world. That is why I always preached to you that we are a human race because we are. Well, we should be. However, some people are set in their ways.” He looked at my mom, “I love your mother, and your mother loves me. We weren’t going to let what others thought tear us apart. Love doesn’t have a color. Love is love and not anything less.”

My mom hugged my daddy. She looked at me, “Lucky for us; our parents accepted the love we had for each other. Sadly, I have friends whose parents disowned them because they loved a black man.” Tears continued to roll down my mom’s cheeks, “It shouldn’t be this way, but Sweetie, in reality, your father is right. Some people will hate you because of the color of your skin.” She couldn’t control her tears, “They will judge you because of your hair.” She put her hand in mine, “Sweetie, they are going to judge every little thing about you, and we want you to be prepared.”

My daddy looked at my mother and me, “Yes, Stella, we want you to be mentally prepared because people’s words and stares could break you down — but only if you allow them to.”

At such a young age, I had so many questions, and my parents answered them to the best of their ability. I am so grateful for my parents because if it weren’t for them — I wouldn’t have such a thick skin, and I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Therefore, I do believe in the human race. One day, I hope to see more people gravitate to being one race, but we shall see. If they do not accept it, that is fine with me, but I will always remember and know that I am a human being and not anything less.

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