Adventures in AmbiLand

Ambi = Ethnically Ambiguous

Ambi True Life: I’m an Ambi who thinks she’s Black. January 10, 2009

Hey Y’all.  How are you? Today we’re gonna talk about Ambis Who Think They Are Black. Namely, Me.  I would like for my readers to have a solid understanding my background and how it informs the psychology of Adventures in AmbiLand, some context if you will.  Blogs, like anything else, benefit from a good foundation.  So let’s start at the beginning shall we…

Part One: Ambi-Enlightenment

It all started when I was a child attending an all white private school.  I thought I was white too. I mean, I  knew I was biracial– my dad was black (he was mixed too actually, but that’s a whole other story) and my mother is Italian.   I thought mixed people turned out black or white, one or the other. My dad had a white mother and black father, but he had turned out black.  My older brother and I, on the other hand, came out on the opposite end of the spectrum.   This conclusion seemed logical enough considering  the only time I was significantly darker than my caucasion classmates was in the summer time when my skin would tan effortlessly, taking on a deep olive tone.  The only thing is, my hair was crazy curly (much to my school-aged dismay), and even as a youngster, the early signs of my thick thighs and mixed girl booty* were already apparent.  Naturally, I thought I was a DEFECTIVE white person.

I's Negra!

I's Negra!

There is no telling how long I would have internalized these faulty beliefs had it not been for one pivotal moment.  I owe it all to my beloved cousin Z and a conversation we had when I was nine-years old.    Zeta, as we called her affectionately, is a cousin on mine from my father’s side.   Seven years my senior, Z was the person I looked up to the most.  She was so beautiful, and so stylish, and most of all,  so knowledgeable about the ways of the world.  I wanted to be just like her.

It was the  summer of 1988 and  Zeta and I  were in NYC visiting relatives.  One day we decided to head down to SoHo to do some shopping.  But first, something had to be done about my appearance, I was looking a 9-year-old mess.   In an effort to rescue me from my devastatingly bad hair and unfortunately boyish clothes,  Z did what any other amazingly stylish older cousin would do: gme a mini-makeover.  It was the only right.

She taught me how to properly fix my hair that morning, dressed me up in some of her cute clothes- leggings and a ethnocentric jersey dress.  We completed the look with some 2″ silver hoops and a little mascara.   By the time we hit the sub, I was all glammed out (in a 9yo sort of way). During the train ride,  I was telling  her how and how I hated my hair how my thighs were too big, and how I didn’t fit in with the other white kids at my school and-

“Wait- Did you say other white kids?” Zeta asked me

“Yeah, the other white kids, like i’m white, and their white.  But everyone is always asking me “What are you?” beacause my hair’s so curly and–”

“Ok Lauren, let me explaian something to you and I’m gonna put it plainly.  You’re Black.

You’re black, you’re black, you’re black.

Your dad iss black, your brothers are black, we [your cousins] are black and so are you!

End of story.”

“Reeeeeally?” I said,   nine-year-old eyes widening in amazement.

Suddenly it all made sense.  I felt different from the white kids at my school because I was different.  My cousin’s clarification freed me in a sense from my futile struggle to conform to the dominant culture.  It gave me some context in in which to begin to form an identity.  My perspective was forever changed.

“Your parents never talked to you about this Lauren?” she asked incredulously.

“Uh-uh” I shook my head no.  “I guess it, you know, never came up.”

And that was that- I never has another moment of confusion about it.  My journey as misinformed mixed child had finally ended.  My

Adventures in AmbiLand, however, had only just begun.

Not Reading All That?

While Lauren (AmbiJawn) may look ethnically ambiguous, AmbiJawn thinks she is black.

*Not a huge fan of the word “booty”, but it seems appropriate in this context!

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Is Barack Obama African American? December 28, 2008

AmbiJawn says: Yes Of Course!

There are many Americans who beg to differ.  During a recent “Talk of the Nation” segment titled  Obama And The Politics Of Being Biracial host Neal Conan asks the audience:  “Does it matter what Barack Obama calls himself?  Why?”

White and Multi-Racial people flood the phone lines,  using like “hurt” and “insulted”  that Barack Obama considers himself African American.  One caller was offended that Obama “doesn’t acknowledge his white ancestry”.  Guest hosts Annette Gordon-Reed and  Dawn Turner Trice address these concerns in a much more graceful and evenhanded way than I could ever dream.  They speak so well! They are so well spoken.

As a person who has lived in ambi-world all of her life, I find it all highly entertaining.  It’s as though some folks feel that mixed people are somehow responsible for the “one drop rule and other uniquely American concepts of race.  The option of those with a black parent or African lineage to call themselves anything other than African American is a relatively recent phenomena (more info on this here).  I am tickled by the degree to which people are either uneducated about this facet of American history, or simply in denial.

There are many people who would rather just forget “that whole slavery thing”.  As Americans, we are all “hurt” and “insulted” by the history of slavery–this goes for those with white ancestry, black ancestry, both and “other”.   I think it’s safe to say  that most people around today give slavery the thumbs down!  It doesn’t mean that we can forget the past–understanding the past is essential to moving forward.  We as a nation must recognize that acknowledging the past is not analogous to condoning it.    While we have powerless to choose our past, we have all the power in the world to effect our future.

Micheal, can you clear this one up for the people??

One that note, I will leave you with an with an excerpt from  the essay  “Illogic of American Racial Catagories” by Paul R. Spickard which explains, well, the illogic of American racial catagories:
More to the point is the question of to which socially defined category people of mixed ancestry belong. The most illogical part of all this racial categorizing is not that we imagine it is about biology. After all, there is a biological component to race, or at least we identify biological referents–physical markers–as a kind of shorthand to stand for what are essentially socially defined groups. What is most illogical is that we imagine these racial categories to be exclusive. The U.S. Census form says, “Check one box.” If a person checks “Other,” his or her identity and connection with any particular group is immediately erased. Yet what is a multiracial person to do?

…The salient point here is that once, before the last third of the twentieth century, multiracial individuals did not generally have the opportunity to choose identities for themselves. In the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, however, individuals began to assert their right to choose their own identities–to claim belonging to more than one group, or to create new identities…. By 1990, Mary Waters could write, “One of the most basic choices we have is whether to apply an ethnic label to ourselves” (p. 52). She was speaking of a choice of ethnic identities from among several White options, such as Italian, Irish, and Polish. Yet the concept of choice began to apply to mixed people of color as well.

…That choice is still available to mixed people, but it is no longer necessary. Today a person of mixed ancestry can choose to embrace all the parts of his or her background.