The In-between: Black Like Me

10/31/2018

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The funny thing about the in-between is that sometimes you don’t even realize that it’s where you are. You get so used to feeling different and slightly out of place that you grow numb to the constant sensation of being out there in the world alone. Of course, these feelings of difference are also (hopefully) assuaged by the camaraderie and sense of belonging you have cultivated amongst other in-betweeners; however, these connections are typically built on shared experiences of difference, rather than on a mutual recognition of being the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the communities I am a part of because of this inherent diversity. As I detailed in an earlier piece, I believe that our unique experiences (a.k.a. our differences) are actually what tie us all together, rather than keeping us apart. In all likelihood, this view is largely due to my lifelong vantage point from here in the in-between, where I find myself surrounded by not only the various groups to which I may or may not belong, but also fellow in-betweeners who are busy occupying the spaces created by their own unique assortment of groups.

That being said, I would be lying if I didn’t also admit that at times this shit can be exhausting. Navigating across differences to coexist with other humans can be, and often is, hard-ass work. It requires constant communication, heaps of patience, empathy and grace, and a willingness to check many of your most sensitive feelings and strongest held beliefs at the door. This is not to say you can’t or shouldn’t stand up for who you are, but it does mean that you are constantly having to explain yourself—and I mean that in the nicest possible way—to everyone you come across, because no one is exactly the same kind of “different” as you.

But every once in a while, if you are lucky, you come across someone who is close.

To be honest, I hadn’t even really realized that I’d never dated another Black-and-White biracial person before, until I found myself sitting across from one eating pancakes on our first in-person date this past February. Sure, I had been in relationships with loads of different iterations that were close (my most serious of which, thus far, had been with a Black and Egyptian guy, a Puerto Rican and Irish guy and a light-skinned Black American guy), but this Black-and-White biracial man was different.

In hindsight, I was probably first struck by this man’s aura of special-ness a few weeks earlier, when I came across his dating profile online. As soon as I saw his picture, I thought to myself, “this dude looks biracial.” Sure, his pale skin, bald head and generous serving of freckles had probably led many folks to misread him as “White” over the years, but I had developed a strong sensitivity to even a dash of Blackness, given that I too have often been misread and/or mislabeled as something else.

And sure enough, almost as soon as we started communicating, the topic of race came up, which quickly unfolded into long text exchanges and conversations about our personal racial developments and current identities. At first, I just thought I was excited to talk about these topics with a fellow nerd, but I soon began to realize that underneath this excitement was something more. It was a comfort, a sense of relaxation, a feeling of being at home in a way that I had only rarely experienced with another human being.

Of course, in the many years leading up to this moment, I had come to find a certain level of this sense of familiarity in my relationships with other Black folks. There were certain views I didn’t have to explain, certain sensitivities I didn’t have to justify, and certain desires I didn’t have to articulate. Sure, I still had to endure the occasional joke about me being “high yellow,” and I learned to shrug off the quick glances and mumbled apologies of “no offense” that sometimes followed a complaint about “White people,” but these slight misalignments quickly faded into the background and were easily forgotten in favor of the other comforts I enjoyed.

Thus, it came as somewhat of a shock to me that morning when I found myself feeling the absence of these misalignments over pancakes for the first time. “Holy crap,” I thought to myself, “this must be how monoracial people feel all the time!” And then: “No wonder so many of them continue to gravitate toward each other…”

Now, before I go any further let me be very clear: I am not advocating for any kind of racial separation, re-segregation, the reinstatement of anti-miscegenation laws or anything else crazy like that. As I stated in the beginning of this piece, I firmly believe that the beauty of humanity is in our diversity, and that embracing this diversity is our best (and perhaps our only) way forward. In this sense, us in-betweeners are, in many ways, a sort of vanguard for this future, and our ability to navigate through myriad layers of difference is perhaps our biggest contribution.

That being said, what I am saying is that our experiences also reveal that the reality of this diversity is not without its own unique challenges and difficulties. In my experience, at least, one of the biggest of these challenges has been the way that layers of difference can serve to alienate and isolate us—sometimes without our even seeming to notice them at all. Sure, it would be great if such differences didn’t matter or could somehow be made to vanish for a while, but the reality is that they do matter, they can’t be made to vanish, and so we all have to figure out a way to move forward with them comfortably.

In my opinion, this means that at the very least, we have to figure out how to acknowledge our differences, to talk about them, and carve out a healthy space in our lives where we can work to understand and sort through them. It also means that we need to be a little bit gentle with ourselves, and to account for the fact that sometimes it is not only nice but also imperative for our wellbeing to take a little break. For me, this means that I continue to seek out opportunities to interact with other folks who share similar experiences of difference to me, and who reside at nearby crossroads in the in-between. I need them to remind myself that I am not alone and that my world view and experiences are normal, just like I need everyone else to remind me that my perspective is just one piece of this very complicated, collective puzzle.

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Lorien Hunter
Lorien Hunter is a writer, researcher and aspiring world traveler who currently lives in San Jose, California. In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Southern California, where she examined digital media, popular culture and marginalized communities. Today, she is a regular contributing writer at Bi.org, where her weekly column, The In-between, centers on her experiences as a biracial bi woman finding comfort and belonging in the spaces between worlds.