Let’s Talk Race! Growing up Biracial

Hi, beautiful people! I hope you are all having a wonderful week and are getting so excited in the days preceding Thanksgiving. I know I am! Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and I cannot wait to take a trip home to spend time with my family, share in the season of giving, and graciously embrace all that this fall season has brought me. Only a few short days away!

In this week’s blog, I thought I would write about a topic that has been much-requested on Instagram, Facebook, and in my past blog comments: what it has been like to grow up racially mixed and how it has impacted my personhood and the course of my life. I thought this topic suggestion was really interesting and I was instantly drawn to it, because after looking back on how my life has been shaped thus far, it was never something that I have so openly discussed (apart from the plentiful political science papers that I’ve written on the basis of race) . So naturally, I wanted to dive right into uncharted territory and talk about race and being mixed in the context of my own life, my family’s life, and how the distinct dynamics I have experienced have contributed to my growth. Alright, let’s talk race!!

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Obviously, first thing’s first. My dad is African American, and my mom was 100% Caucasian, so my sisters and I are full-fledged mixtures of them both, and I identify as both black and white. Doing so has been important to me for as long as I can remember (I suppose as long as I have understood what race implies & entails), and I have grown up learning to embrace both parts of who I am. Even within my mixed family, the children that my parents produced are extremely diverse. My oldest sister, for one, is the fairest of the three of us and perhaps most resembles my mom with her mostly straight hair and blue eyes. My middle sister has the most bronzed skin of us and has tight, curly hair and brown eyes, and I am somewhere in the middle in terms of both pigmentation and hair texture. My eyes are also blue (which is crazy, I know. Those recessive genes really came in clutch for our family lol), and while I am often told that I look most like my oldest sister, I can also see similarities between my middle sister and me. That is to say, we are all so unique, anomalous and special in our own distinct ways, and the way we appear to one another and to the world is only a beautiful manifestation of the diverse, loving background from which we come. Looking back, I really do appreciate the way my parents raised my sisters and I— always being honest with us, teaching us the ways of the world, and never trying to hide the adversities or difficulties that could arise throughout the course of our lives. I remember from a very young age my parents describing what it means to be biracial in this world, how it manifests itself in both the public and private spheres, and the way it is perceived by others. They never shied away from being honest with us about human nature and the fact that there were and will always be people who look at us differently, don’t appreciate our coming from a mixed background, or hold us to the same standard or regard as those who identify as full white (or even full black). I distinctly remember my dad telling us many stories in my childhood in which he would give accounts of his own experiences dealing with race and forms of discrimination, including the intolerance he and my mom encountered resulting from their interracial relationship and marriage. Like so many other African Americans, my dad faced endless critique, inequities, and acts of bigotry all throughout his life (and still does), from the supermarket to the workplace. His “blackness” has been an element of his being that others have targeted and exploited in many ways, and he always told us that in his workplace, he had to work at least twice as hard just to be considered on similar footing to his white colleagues. Hearing this come from my dad at a very young age undoubtedly struck a cord with me, and I never forgot all that he told us regarding the impact that race and appearance play in the unfolding of social and political life.

Now that I am older and have widened my experience, array of knowledge and understanding for how race is conceptualized in our contemporary society, I definitely have come to better learn what my race and background mean both to me and to the world. Race is something that I’ve often found to be considered a “taboo” subject by so many people, and I think the stigmatization around it is, in itself, damaging and supererogatory. Race is something that 100% should be able to be discussed, for it is unquestionably something that has most worked to shape our culture, institutions, and even modes of thinking (for better or for worse). My being both black and white growing up has definitely come with its challenges, most of which I have never thought to talk about before. I remember the first introduction I had into the notion of race came with my first encounter in which I realized that I was a little different. My sisters were a little bit different. We didn’t have the super straight, blonde hair that so many other kids at our schools did, nor did we have two white parents that was the norm of the suburbs. Additionally, I had an entire half of my family with darker skin who resembled my dad, while the other half was full white and resembled my mom. Little by little, noticing these minute differences between the way my family looked as compared to the ones that surrounded us at school, out in public, on TV and in the media all led to my eventual realization that my sisters and I were not like everybody else. However, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s beautiful.

Admittedly, it is difficult for me to speak to the conflicts and obstacles that a lot of African American people face, because I don’t feel as if I can completely relate to the black experience, considering only half of my identity is fulfilled there. And yet, I also can’t fully claim the white experience, for I did not grow up just being white and playing to my whiteness. I don’t think I understood then exactly what I was feeling, but I recall very early in my childhood feeling this sense of aloofness and lack of complete belonging, especially when it came to social interactions that involved stratification of some sort, or even at family holidays. I remember struggling to understand what it was that was so different between the times I spent with my mom’s family and those I spent with my dad’s side, never grazing underneath the surface to find the source of my internal discomfort. For some reason, I always felt like I was being pulled in one direction or the other, depending on the people who surrounded me or the environment I was temporarily a part of. While I know my family or friends never did so intentionally, I did, at times, feel as if I did not belong. It didn’t matter how many things we had in common, the fact that I had the same abilities as others around me, or even that I was interacting with my own family. I still felt this inexplicable guilt and tension within myself when I was called upon to be in certain settings, for I almost felt as if I had to reject one half of myself while simultaneously fully assimilating/accepting the other half of my identity. Often times, I think people have this conception that biracial people have “the best of both worlds” in this way. But what they refuse to acknowledge is that along with the ability to somewhat blend cultures and embrace diverse modes of life derived from both races they incur, this “blend” can also lead to a kind of detachment, reclusion, and even oblivion as to what we are meant to be seen and understood as, as well as how we are supposed to be in this world.

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This marginality that has characterized my entire life is something that I’ve only come to fully understand in my college years, but it is something I find essential to indicating what my experience being mixed has been like. Because my parents come from such vastly different backgrounds and their ancestries occur on very separate continuums, my experience growing up was nothing if not multidimensional. I definitely had the “biracial experience” in attempting to exhibit both sides of my identity, and that did not come without cost. Although I was raised in a diverse and mixed household, my experience growing up was not one that I would consider an evenly distributed cultural experience. I grew up in a household that culturally reflected whiteness, and I never saw that as a problem until I started to get a little bit older and hear comments like, “You’re so whitewashed,” “You’re not black enough for this,” and even questions asking, “Are you SURE you’re black? You look, sound, and act full white.” Now, the whole notion of “sounding” and “acting” black is a whole other conversation that I can create a whole separate post about at a later time. But hearing people express these kind of judgments and doubts about my own race and experience was not something that I ever took lightly. I began to wonder why people were so inclined to feel as if they knew more about my race than me, what it should look like manifested in the world, and how they were so quick to judge me based on my appearance and the way that I present myself. Getting comments about being “whitewashed” is still not uncommon for me (or even my family), and although I do, in part, agree with the fact that my environment and upbringing does not fit into what could be coined as African culture, the complete rejection of half of my identity that is implied in these kinds of statements still aggravates me. I like to think that although my household (my sisters and I, specifically) was primarily culturally white, we in no way attempted to forget or deny the presence of our African heritage and the fact that it composes a large percentage of who we are as people and as women. We have never been naïve in believing that life would be easy for us, for our mom and dad explained to us very early on that the world was not structured to benefit or protect women NOR people of color, and that being both would inevitably pose great and lasting challenges. Still, I am very, very proud to be both African American and Caucasian, and my race is something that I am inclined to think of as an asset to my character. My race does not define me, but it does hold great importance in shaping who I am and how I choose to interact with the world I live in. And most of all, looking, being, and feeling different (even on the smallest scale) is not a problem, and I am not a problem. My differences make me who I am, and who am I to say they aren’t wonderful differences?

I still find myself struggling with this concept today, because I think society has forced us to believe from such an early age that being different is not okay under any circumstances, and differences in race, appearance, character, etc. are equally susceptible to judgment and criticism. Though I definitely continue to feel waves of isolation and separation from people around me at times stemming from my inability to FULLY be a part of or accepted by one side or the other (whether it be black or white), I have come to learn that, as cliché as it is, being different is freaking amazing. It’s a gift, and I deserve to cherish it. So what if I don’t look like people who are full white? So what if I also don’t look black and people constantly question my racial assuredness? I know what and who I am, and that is what matters. Being mixed gives me a diverse and unique experience, and that is something to be celebrated and grateful for, not ashamed of. I love who I am, where I come from, and how my identity has shaped me, and I am grateful everyday for my parents and their creating this beautiful, diverse and exciting life for my sisters and I.

My body is not an apology, and the complex and deep-rooted dynamics that undergird my identity all coalesce in order to make me who I am. That is not something I will ever apologize for, nor is it something that requires an explanation. I don’t have to feel obligated to reply to people who shockingly comment about how “white” I look and those who claim I’m lying when I describe myself as being racially mixed. The way I look to others does not shape the way that I identify myself; that power lies within me and only me, and being black AND was is not something that I am (or have ever been) ashamed of. In fact, it is the source of some of the greatest pride I feel for my identity, because it connects my life and being to those of my parents, for whom I have boundless respect and admiration for. For me, embodying the races of both my mom and dad has always been something I have found joy in, and I will always feel immense honor and have dignity in discussing my race and its effects on me. I’m proud of my identity, and I know there will never come a time in which I feel differently.

My Very First Blog: An Introduction to Me!

Wow! This is a whole lot more nerve-wracking than I anticipated…I’ve had a thought in my mind for so long about wanting to start my own blog, but I never got around to it until now. I know part of that was out of fear, but I also wanted to ensure that I would be able to give my site the time, commitment, and effort I wanted to in order to really make it something I can take pride in. I needed to know that if I did it, I would go all-in and give my whole heart and mind to it (something I try to do in every part of my life). To start out, I guess it would make sense to tell you all a little bit about myself, who I am, where I’m from, how I was brought up, etc. I assume an introduction to my blog calls for an introduction to ME, so here we go!

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My name is Kamryn Gooden, I am 20 years old, and I am currently a third year college student at the University of San Diego (though I plan on graduating this May). I am originally from a small suburban town Glendora, CA, just outside of Pasadena and other more well-known cities. I grew up in the same home in Glendora my whole life, and my dad still resides there today. Although at times I wished I lived in a bigger and more exciting city, I now look back and am so grateful to have grown up in such a wonderful town and community. Still, I am absolutely LOVING everything about San Diego and am so grateful everyday that this is the decision I made.

I have two older sisters, Courtney and McKenna, who are 9 and 6 years older than me, respectively. Despite our immense age gaps, however, there was never a moment in time throughout my childhood where I didn’t consider both of them my built-in best friends. I can’t explain how wonderful and dreamlike my childhood really was. I hesitate in saying that anything is perfect, because I know that that’s a far-fetched and often unattainable standard for anything in life. Still, my childhood was pretty close to that, at least in my eyes. Some of my very first memories revolve around my childhood home, spending time with my family and creating memories that were to be cherished forever. One of the very first memories I have in my mind is going to preschool when I was just three years old. I remember distinctly how much I hated going, and how difficult it was for me everyday to be away from my mom. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she took great pride in raising all three of her girls. Not only had she dreamt of simply being a mother and raising kids her whole life, but she loved being with us so very much and always wanted to be close. She was successful in doing so, and in creating a relationship with each of us that was very special, enabling her to watch us grow everyday and never miss a single step. The extent to which my mom valued closeness surely impacted my family as a whole, for everything I remember about my very early childhood involves nothing more than all of us being together and being happy. Family holidays, birthdays, and events were always something to be looked forward to in my family, and although w didn’t necessarily have the biggest family or see our extended relatives very often, the five of us were always more than happy to spend quality time together and make unforgettable memories. And although holidays and marked calendar events were much anticipated and a cue for excitement, it was the normal and subtle simplicity of our day-to-day lives that was most special to me.

Apart from the time spent with my family standing out in my memories of growing up, sports were also such a HUGE part of my7 life and how I came to be the ultra-competitive, perfectionistic, athletically-inclined person that I am. I began playing soccer (or rather, kicking the ball around with my dad on the sidelines) when I was just two years old, mainly as a result of being around it so often. Both of my sisters played soccer all throughout their childhood, and sure enough, being tagged along and dragged to every soccer field in California at such a young age to watch them play was enough to make me fall in love with the sport, too. My oldest sister Courtney played for only a few short years before choosing to fully commit herself to dancing, something she greatly excelled at. McKenna, though, continued playing soccer all the way through high school, and she became the sports figure I most looked up to and pushed myself to be like. Both of my sisters have always been amazing at everything they did or tried to do, and although I didn’t really consider it or think much of it at the time, this is probably one aspect of what so deeply ingrained my desire to be the best and achieve perfection in every area of my life at such a young age. I recall my household being very competitive, but not to the point where we didn’t honor one another or celebrate each other’s excellence. Looking back, I think my parents did a great job of allowing us all to find our passion, dedicate ourselves to it fully, and pushed us appropriately to be better versions of ourselves in every way possible. I’ve always been extremely competitive, and I think seeing my sisters constantly win at things they did and continue to strive for better definitely struck a chord with me. I wanted to be able to do the same, so I did. I’ll stop here in talking about soccer because I really could go on FOREVER. (Maybe I will make a whole separate post about that!)

Although most of my childhood and time as a young kid and teenager revolved around sports, with my parents having to maneuver around three kids to different places, somehow getting us all to where we needed to be and never missing a single game, I also remember most of my earliest years as a kid being extremely fun and creative at home. My sisters and I would make home videos on my dad’s giant camcorder, where we would film super quirky and weird things like fake news reports, interviews with each other, and different types of segments that required little direction or preparation. And man, are these a riot to watch now! We still make fun of ourselves every single day for those things lol. We just liked to create things together (as strange as they might have been), and I’m forever appreciative of both of my sisters, our wonderful relationships with one another, and all of the memories we’ve created. I just love them so very much. Our time together has always been special to each of us, and nothing has changed. Despite them being so much older (and arguably wiser haha) than me, my sisters never made me feel excluded and I always felt just as important and worthy as they did. I can’t really put into words how much they both mean to me and how much their beauty, grace, strength, and kindness has helped shape me and make me into the person I am today, but the least I could do is show them my endless love, support, and gratitude for them as often as possible. And this I find completely doable.

All in all, my early childhood and into my adolescence was amazing and wonderful in every way, and I don’t think that I would change a single thing about it if given the chance. Of course nothing is perfect and my family hit definite bumps in the road. We fought one another, went on completely dysfunctional family vacations, shared a few screams, and disagreed a number of times. But there was nothing we couldn’t endure or overcome together as a unit, and the high value my parents instilled of togetherness, connection, and love for one another is what carried us through everything that came our way. To this day, I can’t imagine there ever coming a time where we don’t communicate, assist, or cherish each other just as the human beings we are, and that is what most gives me strength even at my worst.

I think I’m going to cut myself off here, otherwise I’d end up digressing into my whole life story and boy is it too early for that! Hahaha. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about who me, my family, and got a little glimpse into what my childhood and early life consisted of. Let me know if there is anything in this blog post you’d like me to go deeper into— whether it’s family, soccer, my transition into high school, my faith, friendships, academics, etc! There is so, so much to talk about and so many directions to go, but I think this is a good place to start. If you’ve read this far, thank you so much! Be sure to leave a comment telling me what you want to see next. I hope you all have a wonderful week.

 

xoxo, kam

The Journey Begins

Thank you for joining me on this new adventure with a blog! I’ll admit that I’m extremely nervous to start posting and publishing things- there’s just something so real and raw about writing to me, let alone writing for the world to see. Writing has always been something very special and dear to my heart, and I’ve always kept it close. But with time, I’ve come to realize that there’s a certain depth and power that words hold in this world, and they deserve to be taken seriously. As much as I enjoy being a private person, I no longer think it’s adequate to merely keep my thoughts and articulations to myself, ESPECIALLY if they can be used to help someone. Through sharing my life, my experiences (the beautiful and the ugly), and my perspectives on the world as a whole, my eyes have been opened to new waves of life I never anticipated, but am equally grateful for. Through all the hills and valleys that comprise this wonderful life, I have found that sometimes in the wave of change, you really do find your direction. And sometimes, it takes losing yourself a little in order to really be found. I don’t think I’ll ever be done exploring every inch of who I am and discovering, losing, and re-finding myself again, but that’s what makes this life so beautiful and worthwhile. Who we are and what we do is never done growing and changing, and that’s something to be cherished. Right now, this is the place I have found myself in. And I cannot wait to see where this path leads me- today, tomorrow, and in my future.

I am so, so excited to start this new journey and share my thoughts, writings, and reactions to the world with you all, and I hope that through creating this type of space, I can either spark the interest of some people or provide solace for even just one. I anticipate incorporating everything that I love and interests me most on this site, so expect to see lots of philosophical inquiries, commentaries on our contemporary political state, poetry, and talks about my life and the world in general. Although I definitely have some ideas in mind about where I want to take this blog, please feel free to leave a comment or suggestion at any point if you’s like me to write about something specific. Thank you all for your continued support. Always.

 

xoxo, kam

Sometimes in the wave of change, we find our direction.

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