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How I Embrace Being A Multi-Ethnic Woman Of Color

The truth is, women like me are effing magic.

Her Voice

I have been meaning to write this for an entire year or maybe all of my life. This has been a touchy subject since I was old enough to understand the concept of race. It's a sensitive subject for all of us because the concept of color and race is something we are still learning to be raw about. It's not a conversation you can have with just anyone either. You have to be open to receive others' experiences and respect their perspective too. I realize that not everyone will understand my point of view. And that's OK. So, I want to say I write this so you can understand me more.

I have been exposed to colorism and a level of xenophobia my entire life for simply being a mixed-race person. Xenophobia is a dislike or prejudice against people from other countries. If you ask me what it means to be a Black woman or a woman of color, my answer is more than likely going to be different than the majority.

I belong to a subset of women who are deemed not worthy, and not capable because there is melanin in our skin. I belong to a subset of women who are seen as less because we may speak different languages and have different cultures. I belong to a subset of women who are not white.

When the truth is, women like me are effing magic.

I am a Black woman. I am a woman of color. I am a minority woman. I am a Caribbean-American woman. I am the daughter of immigrants. I was raised as a Trinidadian-American woman. I am well-versed in some of Trinidadian history. I know the slang, the holidays, the food, and the culture. I can even laugh at the jokes. I was raised knowing because the color of my skin is not white and my ethnic features are not quite "black" and not quite "white", but in between, I will experience a level of prejudice from everyone.

My mother is Indian, Venezuelan, and French. Her mother's father is Indian, and her mother's mother is Venezuelan. My mother's father is French and Indian. If I remember correctly, my grandfather's father was half-white and from France. But I can't remember what my great grandfather's other half is. My grandfather's mother was a Madrassi Indian. This is a region of South India. Madrassi Indians are dark-skinned and damn near black. My father's parents are Indian and Pakistani. Both my parents were born and raised in Trinidad. For historical context, the indigenous people of Trinidad were the Arawaks and the Caribes. If you Google them, they resemble Native Americans.

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The Triangular Trade between England, Spain, France, and Portugal brought slaves and indentured servants from Africa, India, Syria, and China to Trinidad. Then there were the settlers from England, Spain, and France as Trinidad was ruled by all of these countries before gaining independence. The misconception that most Americans have is: if you are a Caribbean immigrant, it automatically means Black or African. Which isn't always true. And in Trinidad, the Caribbean, and other countries, there's no such thing as "Afro" or "Indo" [insert country's name] or a "white" or [Caucasian-insert country's name]. This is just a man-made concept and a politically correct way of saying things. In the US, there isn't a differentiation between Black and African-American either. The terms are interchangeable. I know, because I studied multiracial hybrids in college.

But did you know in other countries, we're just Americans? To hyphenate ethnicity and race is an American thing. As I said before colorism and racism are different in Trinidad compared to the US. It's not to say they didn't experience these things, they did. It was just different compared to the United States. Trinidad is the only country in the world that celebrates all ethnicities as one country. We don't care if your neighbor is white, yellow, red, brown, black, and in between. We are forever one.

My skin color and my ethnic features never bothered me. I have always loved my dark-hued skin, curly hair, and bushy eyebrows. I never felt like I was less than nor do I think I am better than anyone else because of what I look like.

My parents came to this country having to learn what Black history is. They had to choose a racial category because there was no option for West Indians. And if you ask my 72-year-old father what race he chooses, despite the fact his racial and ethnic features are Indian, he will choose Black because he is not East Indian and he has no choice. My parents experienced triple the racism for being immigrants, having an accent, and the color of their skin.

My parents never assimilated to America nor did they forget where they come from. They never lost their accents. I was raised with curry chicken, aloo (potato), roti, paratha (like a beat-up tortilla), dahl (blended yellow peas with spices) and rice, baigan choka (stew eggplant), calaloo (pureed spinach and okra), pelau (pigeon peas and rice), plantains, cassava, breadfruit, mango chow (like the Mexican chamoy on fruit), fry bake (fried bread), salt fish, and brown stew chicken. When I was a kid, my faddah would play his soca and calypso records during the holidays. My brother and I would wine down di the whole living room. My best childhood memories are in Trinidad; my parents took my brother and me home from the time we were three-years-old.

It was hard going through middle school, and high school living in a predominantly white suburb of Southern California. At home, I was raised with a broad meaning of racism. In school, I learned a different and narrow meaning of racism. In school, I was teased because I spoke the Queen's English. I was told I wanted to be white. I didn't know there was something wrong with the way I spoke English. I didn't know I wouldn't be accepted by others because of it. I didn't understand.

I was teased because I wore my hair in one plait (braid) and didn't wear braids. But that's how my mother and her mother grew up. Teased because I had no idea what soul food was or who certain famous Black Americans were. But let me just say, the teasing didn't come from the white kids. It came from the kids who had the same skin color as me. I was constantly asked, "What are you?" or "Are you even Black?" Like it's a bad thing if I am not. But it's a bad thing if I am too. It didn't matter which way I answered because it was clear I wasn't going to be accepted. I'd have to constantly explain where my parents were from. I had to explain they are not African nor American. It was annoying AF. I became embarrassed about where my family came from because no one understood me. I didn't want to invite friends to my house, let alone a boy I liked. But still, I didn't feel the need to choose a group to belong to. Why do I have to choose any damn way? Because I am told to? Nope. I often think about if the concept of race was nonexistent and not a social construct, who would we be?

Answer: Human.

There isn't a West Indian community in California because most Caribbean immigrants go to New York or Florida. But let another West Indian run into each other in California, it's like they found their best friend again. Come Hollywood Carnival in June we come together on Hollywood Boulevard to jump up and play mas. I keep a very diverse circle of friends. Throughout middle school most of my friends were white. In high school, I realized we could no longer connect on a cultural level. So, most of my friends in high school, college, and even now are Hispanic, Latina, Asian, Filipino, Black, Caribbean, or mixed like me. We connected because we had similar cultures, whether it was food or upbringing.

Now, that I am living in Florida there are West Indians everywhere. It's cool to hear the music I grew up with playing in the bars, clubs, or at a party. Soca, chutney, and calypso. I like that can I drive up the street and find curry goat or brown stew chicken when my aunt doesn't cook those foods. When I am in Trinidad, I never have to question or explain my ethnic background because it does not matter. It's not questioned. My family will tease me and call me "di Yankee" aka "the American".

Honestly, I never wanted to be confined to a box. When I have to fill out a form, I choose "other", or "two or more races". Simply because I don't have an option for who I am. And if you ask me, now that Madame Vice President Harris is in office the racial categories should be redefined, restructured, or abolished because it leaves out so many people. I am dougla gyal just like Kamala Harris, Shan Boodram, Tatyana Ali, and Melanie Fiona.

A dougla in the Caribbean is a person who is predominantly mixed with Indian and Black. I will never forget where my parents come from. I embrace all of me now more than ever. The Indian, Pakistani, Venezuelan, and French in me that is. I embrace my multi-ethnic identity by accepting it. By accepting who my family is. All of them. By teaching others who I am and about my culture.

By releasing the guilt and shame, I once felt about my family. I don't feel I have to check a man-made box to make someone else comfortable or feed someone's curiosity. No one can ask me to look the other way when it comes to my multi-ethnic background. By asking me to choose one race and only one, is asking me to dishonor myself. You're asking me to disown and insult my family. You're asking me to forget where they came from. And that's something I cannot do and will not do.

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At the end of the day, I feel race is just a color assignment and doesn't account for so many people's cultures. We are so many colors and we cannot all fit into one crayon box.

We are all Black women, and we are all women of color regardless of where we come from, or how we grew up. We are subject to the same the negative connotations and stereotypes that come with it. Regardless if you're biracial, mixed race, or all of the above. No woman should have to feel like they are only allowed to own half of who they are to be accepted or fit in. No woman should have to feel like they are less of one race because they are a quarter or a half of something else. And vice versa.

You are no less Black, White, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, or Indian because you're a mixed-race woman. Accept yourself. You are who you are. Honor all of who you are at all costs. Embrace that shit to no end. And I understand this is dependent on how one was raised and dependent on many other factors too. But please know you can unapologetically be all of who you are without question. It's not your responsibility to validate people's perceptions of you and ignorance. But it is your responsibility to educate those same people.

And if you can break free from the mindset of having to choose to be only one ethnicity and/or race, only then will you be free to embrace all the parts of you have suppressed or may not have known. It's never too late to keep learning about who you are, sis.

In 2021, we're unapologetically embracing being multi-ethnic women of color. Periodt.

Are you a member of our insiders squad? Join us in the xoTribe Members Community today!

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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