I’m a Biracial Girl with Straight Hair—Why It Unfairly Defines Me

“So, what are you?”

The age-old question I’ve been asked countless times over my 25-year-old life. It is the bane of my existence, boiling down the many facets of myself into one simple question. The answer is quite simple in essence, but depending on who I’m dealing with, I’ll sometimes innocently ask back, “What do you mean?” and wait for their guarded answer. On occasion, I’ll even make them guess — a party trick that has consumed more hours than I’d like to admit.

“You know, like what race are you?”

Again, my mind prepares itself for the typical reaction — surprise, denial, interest, and questioning.

“I’m half-black, actually. My dad is Ethiopian and my mom is white. Yup, just plain white, from California.”

As terrible as my answer is, it usually leaves the recipient satisfied — until I see their eyes gaze upward.

“Oh, no way… yeah, your hair is what threw me off.”

 

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I can feel the walls of the box this answer puts around me growing by the second. I am tall, with big feet, curvy thighs, and skin the color of caramel. Or coffee with milk. Or light brown sugar. My eyes are brown, and my hair is brown and straight. Bone straight, no kinks, wash-and-go straight. Though my siblings and I may be half-black and half-white, all of us ended up with straight hair. Call it genetics, and to this day I’ve never met another biracial person with hair like me.

To me, having straight hair is the wrench thrown into my external identity. Every physical piece of me seems to make sense to the outside world, and then — boom. There’s no way I couldn’t be Latina, or Pacific Islander, or Indian of some kind. It’s the hurdle no one can ever seem to get over — almost as if having textured hair would complete the “look” of what a typical biracial woman appears to me. Luckily, the word “typical” is becoming more and more obscure, as the population in the United States ever so slowly begins to morph and grow, an ever-increasing number of people who look more like me. The ambiguous, caramel-colored, coffee with milk, light brown sugar being.

Being as “light-skinned” as I am, it was sometimes easy to get lumped in with the rest of my academic class growing up. In a Washington, D.C. suburb, diversity was hard to come by, and it was only until high school when I realized that my “half-diversity” stood out starkly against my all white classmates. Teachers begged me to join the Black Students Association, but I didn’t feel comfortable attending meetings. I felt too white for those members, and too brown for my fellow classmates. When I applied for colleges, I greatly hesitated over whether I should apply to an African American Scholars program at my dream university, for fear that I’d show up during the first day and everyone would assume I was a fraud. However, I eventually applied, got into my dream school, and lived the rest of my life until now.

 

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As conflicting as this outside identify seems to others, it couldn’t be more clear to me. I know my strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and gifts, and at 25 years old, straddling those two cultural worlds is something I’ve dealt with for my entire life. The feeling of not even being able to be identified — living an unidentified, ambiguous life — by others has always been unsettling. It’s been said that a woman’s crown is her hair, showing femininity and sweetness, and to have my crown misrepresent a part of me to the outside world can be unsettling. However, in this fast-changing world, I see more and more women and girls that look like me, and the “ambiguous ethnic look” is celebrated more and more often — caramel, coffee, sugar sweetness is devoured and praised. I love my hair and wear it proudly, and as I continue to hold conversations with new people, I know that self-definition is more important than anything else the outside world can decide for me.

  • claire

    I am actually not shocked by the OP’s hair texture because eastern africans tend to have wavy hair that isn’t as coarse as say western africans so it makes sense that with her being half-white her hair is bone straight.

    Honestly, even having two eastern African parents alone, you will sometimes end up with a really loose curl pattern.

    Full disclosure: I am western African with a lot of eastern African friends so just my observation.

  • TMN

    My sister and I are half Black and half Asian. I have curly 3b hair and she has straight hair. Hair and our ethnicity have been significant determinant factors in our social mobility and how we’ve experienced the world. When I was younger, I was ridiculed for having curly hair. Any of my features that were thought of as “Black” were shamed, made fun of, and degraded. Whenever I straightened my hair, people treated me differently, better in fact. So I grew to hate my curly hair for most of my life until recent years. Even to this day, when I am to give a presentation or public forum, my mentors will say “Make sure your hair is presentable (coded language)”. I now LOVE my curly hair and wouldn’t change it for the world, but its itelling that society still ascribes to a very narrow standard of palletable blackness/ societally-acceptable beauty standard.
    Aside from hair, navigating the world as a biracial woman has been an uphill battle to say the least. Women of color have definitely taken the reigns on the beauty of diversity and I am thankful for that. My worry now is all the fake-love for people of color and fetishization ciruclating. Will be releasing an article and podcast on these topics soon! Thank you for generating conversation, TheEverygiri. Thank you for being open and vulnerable about your experiences, Lucy. <3

  • Mischling2nd

    Hon, stop feeling guilty for being white.
    http://multiracial.com/index.php/2004/09/01/white-racial-identity-racial-mixture-and-the-one-drop-rule/

  • Kayla Megan Sallee

    i’m half white and half Mexican but I only look white-that is except my corse, wavy hair. I want to do protective hairstyles to help my dry hair but I don’t want to further encourage the “trend” of white girls appropriating black hairstyles (cough cough Kylie Jenner). How can I as a fair skinned Latina care for my hair without appropriating box braids and dreads? Please only answer if you are apart of the black community cause otherwise your opinion isn’t what I’m looking for..

  • Dandm

    Honestly you’re such an inspiration to me, just like you i’m mixed. My dad is black and my mom is half white half Latina, and I live in a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood. Kids at my school always bully me, because my hair is straight and my skin is white, but because of how I was raised I still identify more with the black community. It is also hard looking just white in my area as well, because I can’t rock some of the clothes the other girls wear, because I don’t have a “black body.” It’s so cool to see other people like me, because I never see any biracial people who look white. I would like to thank you, because you made me feel more comfortable in myself and in my appearance.