“Can I ask what ethnicities you’re mixed with?”
“None. I’m black.”
“Right, I know, but what else?”
“Nothing else, just black”
“Oh, okay….Are you sure?”
This conversation happens more than I’d like to admit. It’s not offensive because the person is asking, rather I feel offended by the implication I would be unsure. But I get it. Absent African-American fathers are a thing. It’s not a big stretch to assume I wouldn’t know my father, one can easily picture the scene: my mother, a poor downtrodden white woman left to raise the offspring of a neglectful, albeit handsome, black man she met in the 80’s. But I’m not, I know my father. My parents are both black and raised me together; they were married for 18 years.
When I’m asked these questions, I feel the need to apologize for being less exotic than I look. People expect some amazing mix of no less than five nationalities as my back story. I have soft hair which is my own, light skin and typical California diction; Angela Davis, I am not. The apologetic feeling segues into a feeling of guilt. I feel I’m supposed to puff my chest and declare loudly and sassily, “I’m black, thank you very much!” throwing in a slight neck roll for good measure. But I don’t; no black woman has ever benefited from giving a response like that to any question. So I simper and shrink, sorry for not fitting into the box I should have.
My final thought after any of these innumerable conversations I’ve had over the years is always the same: Why don’t I find out about my background? I clearly have roots in other cultures, although one is predominant. Why not find out exactly where I came from? I think this only for a moment, because quite frankly, given the history of this country, and the known legacy of my ancestors, I’m not really sure I want to.