By Princess Gabbara
“What are you?”
I’ve been asked that question many times in my life. I think it’s one of the rudest questions you can ask a person.
Who am I? Well let’s see, I’m a senior in college with dreams of becoming a successful journalist. I love collecting vinyl records and watching those late-night Time Life infomercials (no matter how many times I’ve seen it), so I guess you could say I’m a bit of an old soul in some ways. I must paint my nails a different color every week or else, I’ll get bored. I enjoy taking long walks around my neighborhood in the summer time. I love watching The Twilight Zone marathon every Fourth of July weekend and oh yeah, I happen to be biracial.
My mother is a beautiful Black woman and my father is a handsome Arab and Chaldean (yes, there IS a difference) man. Although I grew up in a well-integrated neighborhood (lots of Blacks and Chaldeans), I knew I was a bit different from the rest of my classmates, but that wasn’t a problem because my parents always made a conscious effort to infuse both cultures in the home.
For instance, my mother told my sister and I countless stories about the heroic actions of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcom X and how Blacks were the masterminds behind some of the greatest inventions ever, including the traffic light and elevator. Where would we be without either of those? On the other hand, my father constantly made delicious Iraqi dishes and played Middle-Eastern music during what seemed to be nearly every car ride together. Heck, Chaldeans speak Aramaic, which is the same language believed to be spoken by Jesus Christ. Essentially, I grew up feeling like I had the best of both worlds because there was so much to be proud of on both sides.
At school, it was a slightly different story. I was never called any derogatory names, but I remember being told by one of my Black classmates that I “didn’t count.” There were also a group of girls who tried to make my life a living hell because I looked “different.” I remember being jumped by seven or eight of them one day while I was waiting to be picked up from school. I was only eight.
The Middle-Eastern kids didn’t accept me either. I noticed how different they treated me once they learned I was half Black. And the angry stares — man, if looks could kill….. A few of them also tried their best to convince me I wasn’t biracial. “No, you’re Chaldean. In my country, it goes by what your father is,” was the response of one guy after I explained my ethnicity to him. While there’s some validity in his statement, I knew that wasn’t the real issue. The fact that I have Black blood running through my veins made him uncomfortable.
Over the years, I’ve became so bombarded with the “What are you?” question that I decided to stop answering it unless I genuinely know the person. We should at least make an effort to know a person first before asking questions regarding their ethnicity, but more often than not, random strangers seem to ask that question most. Rather than give them the whole spiel, I say something along the lines of “That’s a personal question and I don’t know you well enough to answer.”
You should see some of the looks I get when I say that. People feel they’re entitled to know everything about you even when they don’t know you at all. Funny how that works! And best believe, I don’t do it to be difficult and I definitely don’t do it because I’m ashamed — puh-lease!! I do it because I am not defined by my race. There are so many other elements that comprise who I am and being biracial is only a small portion of my identity.
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up feeling like I had the best of both worlds because I truly did. And although I’ve faced a few obstacles that many people would use as evidence to say otherwise, I’ve never stopped feeling that way. Some people might view my situation as a disadvantage because of the challenges that often come along with being biracial and although I can’t speak for all biracial people, I turned out just fine.
So, who am I exactly? I’d say I’m like most women my age just trying to come into my own, making a few mistakes along the way but getting there nevertheless and learning a little bit more every day.
Sure, biracial is a word that can be used to describe me — I’m not denying that, but I’m also a lot of other things. I’m a daughter, sister, friend, writer, perfectionist, overachiever, avid reader, music lover, dreamer and yes, I’m mixed, but I’m most definitely not mixed up.