Friday, February 2, 2007

The Eye

I was killing time at Barnes & Noble in Union Square the other day sifting through birthday cards. I felt someone staring at me. I tried to ignore it at first, trying to focus intently on an image of a brown dog wearing a cat suit. After a minute or two, I lost focus. The card just wasn't that captivating. I froze as I often do in this type of situation. To meet the eyes of the staring person might encourage an unwanted conversation with a crazed lunatic. To ignore the stare would quite possibly drive me mad. Either way, I would be unable to continue the search for the perfect birthday card. Curious by nature, I had to look up from the costumed dog. When I took a gander, I met eyes with a taller and somewhat more fashionable version of myself. Slim, long curly brown hair, big brown doe eyes, and cafe au lait skin. She was dressed in a red coat that I immediately recognized was from a nearby high-end boutique. My tall twin glanced down at the books she was carrying, stole a few more glances at me, and smiled uncomfortably. I noticed that among other books, she was carrying Zadie Smith's On Beauty, a literary disappointment. I was moved to comment, "I read the Smith book. Didn't love it but it's definitely worth skimming. I didn't bother reading White Teeth." She readjusted the stack of books in her hands and nodded enthusiastically, "Yeah, I read the New Yorker reviews which weren't good but I like to read anything about um, you know, biracial people. I'm actually Swedish and Ethiopian. My mother's from Ethiopia and my dad's Swedish. Oh, I'm Liv. You look mixed too. No?" She spoke fast with a bit of an accent. I was intrigued and wanted to chat to learn more but my phone rang. I let it go to voicemail and quickly told her about my Caribbean-Euro background. She leaned against a pillar and smiled, "How cool. Do you speak German?" My phone rang again. I apologized, we parted ways, and I took my not so important call.

The moment I laid eyes on my tall fashionable twin, I knew for sure that she was biracial. I'm pretty sure she knew I was too and that's exactly why she was staring me down by the greeting cards. I am able to identify other biracial people in a crowd. Other biracial people I know have confirmed they are able to do the same. I can't count the number of times I've walked city streets and met eyes with other biracial people who quietly smile, wink, or nod to acknowledge our shared membership. "The Eye" isn't limited by age or gender. It's important to note that I've never once been mistaken for just white, just black, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, or Jewish by a fellow biracial person. Most people who are not biracial seem to mistake me for every other background under the sun.

From what I know, there's not much of a community that exists between biracial people in this country. It's easy to feel very alone in my "biracialness" sometimes. Moments like the one I shared with Liv at the bookstore are often fleeting but important. It's good to feel a sense of belonging and totally connected to other people like me once in a while.

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