I have learned that race is a social construction, and so it makes sense that the number of races change with nearly every census. White is seen as the absence of race. White is the majority, the norm and what everything else is compared to. And everything else, everything that is not white, is not quite right. But what really is not quite right is the idea that race structures our society and controls our lives. It’s not natural, not biological, not reasonable, not true.
I sit wondering who society constructs me to be, who society tells me I am. My Spanish teacher thought I was Puerto Rican and she’s from Colombia, so she must know something about what Latinas are supposed to look like. And my good friend, two shades darker than me, told me last night in the right lighting he would just assume I’m white. But at home in Maine, I’m pretty much black.
Society doesn’t know what to make of my tight curls and my skin that isn’t quite white but certainly isn’t black. If society can’t figure out my construction and race is a societal construction, then do I get to be raceless?
Raceless because black people often think the word “biracial” is absurd, but my white best friends love to remind me that I’m just as white as I am black. Raceless because I’m not willing to ignore my Grammy and my mom and my aunt and my cousins whom I love, who are Irish and Italian. Raceless because I prefer manicotti over macaroni and cheese. Raceless because I’m two races for now but I could be three if society decides Italian and Irish are races again and aren’t clumped into that great category of whiteness. But I know society won’t decide Nigerian, Algerian and Zimbabwean are races. These countries with exciting names, countries that are just as real as Ireland and Italy, but will never be categories on the Census.
I guess society doesn’t want my white side, my white family to count. One drop is all it takes to be black. As much as I love to be and as much as I am proud to be black, am I supposed to tell my mother she doesn’t count? Her genetics that gave me the softness of my hair and pretty toes are not real, I suppose.
Society, I’d like you to write my mother a letter of apology. Tell the best woman I know you’re sorry but she cannot count as a real part of me. I refuse to tell her that because I refuse to choose a race. Some days I will be black, some days biracial, other days I’ll be mixed, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I guess I’m a rebel because I’m deciding my race for myself, and I’m writing my own box in on the census. I’ll label it “raceless.”
Juliana Partridge is a sophomore English major at Spelman College, a historically black college for women in Atlanta. She is from Scarborough, Maine, and enjoys writing, laughing and spending time with her family and friends. She hopes to change the world, or at least a few minds.