"Hey, Kristen...what are you mixed with? Or are you all Black?"
This is a real question that my African-American co-worker asked me on Wednesday...to be filed under: #lightskinnedproblems.
I just looked at him.
He was like, "What? I didn't mean to offend...I just wondered what you were mixed with."
I really didn't know how to respond to him. So many things went through my mind. First of all, it was a shock hearing the question because it wasn't one that I'd heard in a while.
When I was in grade school, I was asked this question quite often. My peers thought I was either mixed with White, or Hispanic. But this is expected of children who aren't yet aware of the diversity of African-American skin tones.
I encountered the question again over a decade later while living overseas in the Middle East. My foreign friends were often quite shocked that BOTH of my parents were African-American. It was all more confusing when they met my little sister Nia and my little brother Reggie, who are both darker in tone than me. I also had to explain something quite foreign in an Arab-Muslim community: that my mother and father never married...and that my siblings and I all have different fathers.
Their ignorance (in terms of simply not being aware, not ignorance in the "Oh, you're just DUMB" sense of the word) wasn't surprising to me either. With my lighter tone, all I had to do was throw on a sheilah and abaya and I would look "Qatari min galb!"
But hearing this brother ask me on an April afternoon in 2013 was just not appropriate to me. I think the look I gave him kind of answered the question for him but looking back in retrospect, what IS the proper way to answer this question?
When discussing with my friends overseas, I would always joke: "Just look at my hair...the answer to my roots lies in my roots!" I was natural at the time, sporting bright red twists, and my edges were not characteristic of the curls featured on most of "mixed" heritage. My shits were/are keen-key (kinky).
Similarly, when responding to my co-worker, I put on my Day-Day voice when Craig plopped his fat ass down on the roof of his Mercedes in Next Friday: "Look at my rutts (roots)...look AT my roots...you play too much!"
What am I mixed with? Or am I "all Black"? What does that even mean? Are any of us "ALL" Black? And if so, what constitutes "all Black"? Does that mean 100% African? Because if so, considering our ancestry as African-Americans, I don't think there are many among us that can boast such.
This also brings to mind when Jamie Foxx, in his hilarious stand-up show "I Might Need Security", talks about how when he went to Africa, he saw a "whole pack of Halle Burries." Seems that even in Africa, what constitutes "all Black" isn't dictated by skin tone.
Additionally, while living in the Middle East with friends from all over Africa, I gained a new understanding, appreciation and respect for the skin tones within the continent. My hair argument even lost some of its relevance as many if not most of my girl-friends from Sudan and Ethiopia had long silky tresses, not to mention my peoples from Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. So what is "African hair"? Another post altogether.
Whatever it is, I was always proud that it is my kinky hair that answers the question before it is even asked. I am also thankful for this pride as if I would have grown up under my Grandmother's care all of my life, I would have developed a complex for sure.
I remember my mother telling me that my Grandmother relaxed my hair for the first time when I was three-years old because she felt I was "too bright-skinned to have such nappy hair." Sigh. Can you imagine?
And at only 22 years old, my mother allowed her to do it. I wonder what would have become of my hair texture had she not altered it before it even had a moment to develop. Especially considering the fact that everyone on my father's side of the family has "good hair" (whatever that is). Tsk.
But I digress.
I have chosen to discuss this topic as # 2 on my list of things that bother me as a Woman of Color because I'm not sure if I should have to justify my ethnicity to people just because of my lighter skin. I shouldn't have to point to my roots (the ones on my head, not those holding up my family tree) with the "Duuuuuuh" face.
Or should I?
And should I be so irritated by the question when, as I mentioned above, considering our ancestry as African-Americans, we are ALL mixed with something?
I for one am just as aware of my African roots as I am with my Native-American and French Creole roots. However, I am on Team One Drop, and therefore, regardless of the true extent of my colorful make-up, I am inherently "ALL Black".
I'm curious to know how my other fair-skinned sistahs answer this question, as I KNOW you've been asked it at least once in your life. And for those of you reading, how would you define "all Black"? What does this terminology mean to you? Are YOU "all Black"? Holla back...