That time I wanted to be black…
Growing up in Upstate New York there were black people and there were white people.
I don’t remember any Hispanic or other Asian kids in school. In fact, I grew up calling Asians “oriental” back then, back there. (I know, I know)
So, many of my friends and classmates were black and naturally there were many times I wanted to be black. I wanted to be like my friends.
There is one particular time however that stood out.
One sunny day, when I was around nine or ten, I was in downtown Syracuse and I came across another boy who was probably seven or eight.
He did a double take.
“Are you black?!?”
I don’t remember exactly how I said, no.
I do remember feeling a mixture of feelings.
Amused, that he probably had never seen anyone like me.
Tickled, that I was so dark he thought I was black. (Cool!)
And even though I couldn’t articulate it or maybe realize it then, looking back, sadness, that the answer mattered.
I could tell that whether we would keep talking or would start playing depended on whether I was black too.
It was the first time that I remember my race being an issue.
And I realized, remembering this, that is one reason I sometimes don’t like answering the question
“What are you?”
Because while most of the time folks ask good-naturedly with genuine curiosity, sometimes it feels like when I answer some people make a lot of assumptions about who I am. Or what the answer must mean.
It seems to shut down conversation or any further attempts to get to know me.
Like, that’s all they need to know.
Or that I answered with the wrong answer.
And it goes back to that moment with that little black boy I didn’t end up playing with because I wasn’t black.
Part of me wishes I could go back and say
“No, I’m not black. But we can still be friends.”