My Life as an “Other”

Written By Rebecca Kalmer Tipa

Mulatto, biracial, and mixed are some of the terms used to define me, although most people don’t know what they mean. I am half black and half white – equally.

Unfortunately, society doesn’t seem to understand this equation. I like to call myself a halfie. I grew up in a predominately white suburb, went to white schools and had mostly white friends. Some halfies in my situation would identify with being white. Not me.

My parents raised me to be proud of both of my cultures. To identify with one would
negate the other. I basked in being different. I didn’t mind explaining that I wasn’t adopted or Spanish. Nothing wrong with either one, just that it wasn’t me.

I was Rebecca, a black, white, Indian, Russian, regular American girl. In schools, hospitals or anywhere forms would have to be filled out, my race would be checked as “other.” Sometimes,  there wasn’t an option and I would have the unfortunate experience of being nothing at all.

I learned early that if I checked both black and white, someone would change it to black only. Wasn’t that the laws of about fifty years ago? If you had any black in you, you
must be all black. That’s how I became an “other.”

I am okay with being an “other” because it sounds somewhat mysterious. People look at me and they have no idea what I am. A monster? No way, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. My mother is black and my father is white, which makes me an “other”.

I’ve been an “other” for as long as I can remember. There was one time when my mother and grandmother asked me about how many black kids were in my school. When I responded that there were only two, they would laugh because I wasn’t including myself. They never seemed hurt by it, but perplexed in how I didn’t consider myself black.

To me this was just how it was. There were only two black kids in the whole school, the rest were mostly white. Then there was me, a mixed race child. I wasn’t excluding the blackness in me, but taking into consideration the whiteness. If they had asked how many “halfies” were in the school, I would have given a different answer. I was the only halfie until 7th grade. This has never upset me. I’ve only embraced my cultural differences.

Instead of walking with my head down feeling alone, I held my head high being unique. It didn’t bother me to answer questions on my race or where I came from. I never lied about it either. I wanted people to know, and to learn that there was more out there than just black and white.

I was conceited at times thinking how beautiful a color black and white creates. This beautiful golden brown that all the white kids try to achieve during the summer, not a dreary gray as some may think.

Isn’t science fascinating? I married a white man and we have two children together. Can you guess what color they are? It’s amazing. I call it “My Human Genome Project.” My children are technically three- quarters white and only one-quarter black. My first-born could pass as a halfie like me, and he has green eyes, which make him look even more exotic.

My daughter, on the other hand, is white with blond hair and blue eyes! The only way to prove she is a mixed race baby is her Mongolian spot on her thigh. When my husband walks with our son, or I with our daughter, people stare. They don’t when it’s the other way around.

Then, of course, comes the trouble with people not knowing and realizing the truth about mixed cultures. When my daughter was born, her hospital discharge papers said she was black. I know I should be more understanding of human ignorance, but I wasn’t even asked – it was just assumed.

Years later I took her back to the hospital for blood work and when the Registrar pulled up our names looked puzzled, first at me then to my daughter then back at the computer screen finally asking “Why does it say here she is black, she doesn’t look black!” I smiled forgivingly when she said she would change it to”other” for us.

I’ve had many interesting experiences with having two children with different skin tones. I’ve been asked if they have the same father, which I consider pretty rude. People have also asked if one is adopted, which, I think, is a bold question.

The most down to earth experience I had was when I met a woman at my daughter’s ballet class. I’ve learned never to make assumptions when it came to someone’s culture,although I admit, I thought she was from the Philippines.

Here we are just making small talk while the girls are in another room. When the class was over, my blond hair – fair skin – blue-eyed daughter comes running up to me and to my amazement, another blond hair – fair skin – brown-eyed child runs to her!

I still laugh to this day, thinking of how she immediately turned to me and asked, “What are you?” I loved it! She wasn’t afraid to show her curiosity without assuming or labeling. After proudly explaining my unique family, she proceeded to tell me she was actually a Mexican that had married an Irish. Go figure!

In my opinion, being an “other” is kind of cool. I hope my kids end up feeling the same way and that they see themselves as unique. An even greater hope, would be for everyone to embrace the differences we all have.

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