Jessica Kehinde Ngo Can't Breathe

I can’t breathe because I am mixed / mulatto / biracial / Oreo / or whatever else you want to call me.
But if you want me to think that the increasing number of terminologies available to describe me means both my “halves” are on equal playing fields in present day America, watch yourself. I know better.
During my Central California childhood, I considered myself above any racial lines. The daughter of a Nigerian father and a white American mother, I was sure racism was a historical term. Dad was black, Mom was white, my siblings and I were brown and many of my friends’ families had similar make-ups. So what? Slavery was a thing of the past, and people needed to move on.
Then, I turned eighteen and moved to a predominately white backdrop: Malibu, California, and became aware of my brownness for the first time. I was suddenly nervous about how white people saw me and what they thought of my brownness.
Now in my thirties, and having lived half my life in blissful ignorance and the other half in painfully obvious awareness of America’s race relations, I struggle daily to catch my breath.
I can’t breathe because my brown older brothers get pulled over, arrested, and harassed by police—an experience none of my white male cousins or friends have ever experienced. I can’t breathe because when I leave a grocery store with my parents, they let my white mom walk out but then pull my black dad aside to see if he paid for the contents of his shopping cart.
I may be only an Oreo, a mulatto, a biracial woman with no full connection to either side of the racial line, but I am scared for my family, for all our families.

Jessica Kehinde Ngo is an identical twin with a Nigerian-American background. She writes about twinship, food, parenting and interracial relationships. She is Assistant Professor of English at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

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