My Race is not Up for Debate

Jaidan Inniss, Walter Johnson High School
Photography by Audrey Cibel, Stoneridge High School

Jaidan Inniss addresses her identity, and reclaims it after years of confusion.

(Published: 2019)

My father was born in the Bahamas, as was my mother, who is the child of a Bahamian man and a white American. I was also born in the Bahamas, but I moved to the United States when I was four, so American culture is what I grew up knowing.

I am the child of a black Bahamian man and a mixed woman. I consider myself black. However, close friend groups I had in middle school seemed to think differently. I have had close friends tell me, “Oh, you are not that black though,” and “you are black on the outside, but white on the inside.”

What does that mean? Am I white on the inside because I speak intelligently and with strong diction? Am I not “that” black because my skin is lighter than what someone’s standard of what “black” is? The few times I gained the courage to ask what my peers what they meant I was only met with a short laugh and no answer.

I have experienced this identification in nearly all my friend groups. I say nearly because most of my friends are white and this identification problem takes place primarily with them. I have found that I am only “white on the inside” when I am with white friends.

I have also found that I am “not that black” when I am with my white friends too. In fact, I am only “black enough” when my white friends want to make a "black joke." Not only have I experienced this dilemma with my caucasian friend groups, but also with my black friends on a cultural level.

I cannot express the amount of times my black friends have looked at me in surprise when I tell them my favorite band is Led Zeppelin or how I love 40s jazz and 90s punk bands and no, I have not heard that new rap song that you are all singing. In many social situations I often find myself encountering various stereotypes.

I was seen as the “white, black friend” to my white friend groups and a “kind of white, black friend” to my black friend groups. I understand that there are different classes and stereotypes of black and white culture; I have seen both sides first hand.

Why is the way I identify myself my friends’ problem? Why does me saying “I am black” warrant my white friends to tell me what level of black I am? Why do my white friends think they know what’s considered “black”? Since some of my black friends find me “kind of white,” does that impact how they see me as a black person?

Yet, something was different with my black friends in middle school. Al though, they may have been surprised at my taste in music and pop culture icons, they never treated me differently. My black friends treated me like a normal person. There was no debate over my race that my white friends liked to start. Is this because my black friends have experienced that same racial identity problem? Is this because my black friends understand what it feels like to not belong in a predominantly white school?

I am now a junior in high school and am no longer friends with the same predominantly white friend groups I hung out with in middle school. I have realized something: a majority of my closest friends now are white and never once have I felt alienated by them. Not once have they questioned the way I identify my race. Not once have they told me I am “white” or “not that black.”

I was friends with a certain type of group in middle school that was not exposed to black culture, or cultures of other minorities. When I first noticed this identity problem happening in my friend groups at the end of middle school, I became self conscious of my actions with many of the groups with whom I hung out.

Was I acting white enough to be accepted? Was I being black enough not to be teased? My current friends who are white are open and accepting to all cultures and identities. They have had a greater exposure to various peoples. I can fully express my interests and passions with them without worrying of being placed in a certain category. I do not experience this racial identification problem with my friends anymore, but it happens when meeting new people and has not left my mind.

Race should not be pushed onto someone. The way I identify myself does not impact anyone’s life, but mine. I hope to live in a world where a person's racial identity is not confined to a stereotype.