As a multiracial Londoner, Marty Annson shares his experience navigating what he calls “the line” on the sliding scale of ethnicity multiracial face on a daily basis and why he supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
Author Preface: I usually think that prefaces are performative and platitudinal. Unfortunately, this is because today, so many of them are. This preface, however, is not only appropriate, but it is also essential to say what I have to say: I was hesitant to contribute to this conversation for fear of taking the place of a Black voice. Voices we need to and must listen to, now more than ever. I cannot emphasize this enough: my experience is not to be a stand-in for those people who have no choice but to present as Black.
Where are you from?
I am from a mixed-race family. However, most of the time, many people are not able to tell. It’s not as readily apparent to most. I have olive skin, loosely-curled dark brown hair, and green eyes. In fact, whenever the inevitable game of Where-are-you-from? comes up – and believe me, it comes up – they usually peg me as Mediterranean. Because it’s obviously so important to find out where I’m from. It’s clearly a key factor in whatever equation this stranger, customer, acquaintance, or date is using to formulate what to think of me and tabulate just how different I am from them.
The sliding scale of ethnicity that multiracial people face is real, and constantly shifting depending on the location, setting, and whoever the inquiring person happens to be. When I stand next to my black family, I’m white. When I stand next to my white family, I’m not white “enough.” In our current society, and for centuries prior, there exists a damaging and grossly mistaken notion that whiteness is the baseline.
This misconception is unfortunately healthy and well in our forest city; London, Ontario. London has lauded itself “mostly white,” proudly, for far longer than my experience here. 16% of people in London are of a visible minority. To flip perspective on that’s more than 8/10 people who present as white. While that supports the fact that the majority of people in our city are white, it doesn’t support the idea that whiteness is the yardstick with which we measure all others.
This idea is present every time a comment like “I see more and more immigrants moving here every day” is made. Important distinction; “immigrant” is used here instead of “someone-who-presents-as-non-European,” another grand misconception used by white culture at large. If defensiveness is the response to a visible growth in cultural diversity, that belies a racist attitude. As most Londoners can attest, sadly, this is a common attitude in our city.
“Not Just White”
You’ll notice that throughout this piece, I’ve added quotation marks to those terms that quantify “how black I am,” the apparent weights and measures automatically applied to a mixed-race person’s life. Doesn’t the language strike you as forward? “How much,” “All the way,” as if any part that is not white (non-European) must be outed and examined. As if there’s a formula that needs to balance out. And, of course, the responsibility to explain so is put on the mixed-race person.
In my experience, after being clocked as not “just” white, I am expected to explain and give “enough” information until I ease whatever apparent unrest my “mysterious,” “sneaky,” or “exotic” features have caused. Or I’ll be met with disappointment and then expected to soothe the uncomfortable situation I’ve apparently created.
The quantification of my blackness – or lack thereof – has also been used to invalidate my feelings and statements. “Oh, you’re not even that black!” Implying that there is an appropriate ratio for melanin versus empathy. If my cultural identity and expression level are going to be critiqued, it should be by a racialized individual. It shouldn’t be coming from a white person trying to neuter my argument, while also distracting from the main point of please-stop-killing-black-and-brown-people.
In addition, those same individuals will eventually return with more questions. When they ask, they’ll say, “Well, I figured it was safer to ask you about it.” Here’s a tip for those people: A mixed person is not a waypoint on your road to self-betterment. I’m not any “safer,” and it’s not any less racist to ask because I fall on your side of “the line.”
In case you’re confused: “The Line” is the racial line that has been drawn in the sand, by white culture, to outline the acceptable amount of pigment and non-European features a person can have before they’re considered “not fully white.” Again, there’s that pesky white-as-baseline construct.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard I was lucky I got “all the good parts” of my Jamaican/Ethiopian ancestry, I wouldn’t be worrying about CERB ending. Apparently, I’ve been blessed enough to dodge all those bullets (choosing this idiom on purpose) associated with being not-white. These comments, although said as a compliment, do nothing but create a divide, making the person in the hot seat feel nothing but the other.
At least in my experience, multiracially-based microaggressions appear more often as these “positive” racist statements, as opposed to the overt racism more commonly accepted by white culture as “actual racism.” Objectifying the parts of a racialized body that have been deemed appropriate and desirable by white culture only widens the already significant chasm of separation one feels within oneself while reinforcing the feeling of being the “other.”
Grow, Develop, and Learn
I cannot write this and pretend to be beyond reproach. Because of my largely white-presentation, I’ve benefited from the VAST majority of opportunities and privileges given to white people. I’ve been inactive while knowing what was happening on the other side of “The Line.”
I, too, have made my mistakes; I have also have hurt people directly or indirectly with my assumptions and subconscious narratives about race, and I used them to hurt myself. I’m not here with a holier-than-thou mentality, but rather to say that I also have more learning to do. I, too, have more work to do.
But that is the point. We have our own work to do. The movement isn’t over because there was one protest. We can’t outsource to the nearest non-white person. Be an adult; take some responsibility. It’s bad enough that white people expect to be spoon-fed racialized experiences. Don’t expect to hear airplane noises while it’s happening. Eat your own damn vegetables. Go and read the experiences of black people. Do your homework. Give your attention and energy to those who have made my life look like a paradise by comparison. Visit Black Lives Matter London Ontario to get involved.
— blackcurtis (@blackcurtis) June 6, 2020
While you may not be racist, you have been subjected to the same pervasive anti-black rhetoric and societal implications that all North Americans have. Slowly folded into your subconscious mind, they inform the trajectory of your actions. More importantly, these subconscious prejudices inform your knee-jerk reactions, both mental and physical. It’s up to you to change those things within yourself, and it’s hard. It’s your duty as a human being to grow, develop and learn continually. Changing your views after being presented with new information isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of humility and development.
BLACK. LIVES. MATTER.