Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I'm now reading Barack Obama's first book, Dreams of My Father. So far, it's a beautifully written narrative which in some parts is difficult for me to read because it is a reminder of how cruel the world can be. In the book, Barry reveals himself in a way I don't think many have the courage to do during their lifetime. I imagine that many of the experiences described in the book were hard to live through emotionally and in some instances there is a great deal of shame tied to certain events. While the book spans different continents and some unusual circumstances do take place, I do think that many of the problems "Barry" faced are common to biracial people. Being embarrassed of his parents because they are interracial, confronting friends' racial ignorance, worrying about living out a stereotype, etc. I give him a lot of credit for publishing his book.

For different reasons, Barry holds himself out as black even though his mother was white and his father was black. Generally, whites find him to be too black and blacks regard Barry as not black enough. That leaves him somewhere in the middle which is right where he started life as a biracial person. So far, it seems that his confidence is not shaken. I truly admire the graceful way he has handled the situation and I think he is an excellent role model for others (I admire Derek Jeter in the same way although he has not been faced with the same media attacks as Barry). I can only hope I would have the ability to be as graceful.

Coming to terms with the fact that the world is not racially harmonious is hard for many people but I think this realization can be particularly difficult for biracial people. At different times during our lives, depending on circumstances, it is easy to feel separate or alienated in the face of racial unrest. When I read of race relations in the United States, the anger, hatred, and the ugly incidents that occur on a daily basis, I often feel temporarily defeated and deflated. There seems to be no end in sight.

A friend recently explained that it is important to remember to put ourselves in context. Remembering who I am, how I feel among people who love and care about me, the details of the comforting environment in which I live, this defines my life.

Each person has their own context. In the face of negative external events, it's a good exercise to try and remember all the special things that make you who you are in your very own context.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


For almost my entire life, I lived on the outskirts of New York City. I visited often but never called the city my home until the fall of 2005. Since I made the move, I've had a love-hate relationship with my new home. On the one hand, I love the amenities, the overabundance of opportunities for entertainment and activities, and the diversity of the population.

Right now I'm entirely tired of Manhattan and just about everything that inhabits it's cramped space. I don't feel like making any excuses for that statement. I feel like generalizing. I'm tired of the superficial interests, self-serving attitudes, and the exclusionary air that fills the city. Tired of the pushing, rushing, incessant talking, honking, wealth, poverty, grime, sleaze, and pressure. I'm especially tired of how I get sucked into the madness here again and again. I'm so over it all right now.

I need to get away.

The biggest part of me misses the quiet beauty of Vermont. Much of what Vermont has to offer reminds me of my childhood. When I'm there, I don't think about work or the minutiae that clogs my thoughts in New York City.

I miss the smell of leafy green trees, blooming flowers, wet grass, even dirt. Digging and watering a garden. Picking tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other vegetables for dinner. Noticing simple things like whether or not a flower garden is coming along, playing with a dog in a lush backyard until it gets dark, watching fireflies twinkle in the air at dusk. Sounds of birds and crickets chirping, bugs buzzing, water splashing, screen doors slamming, lawn mowers mowing. Room to run, space to lay down and spread out my arms and legs, peeling long stalks of grass, searching for that ever elusive four-leafed clover, meandering down the road, writing poetry on a sun warmed porch. Walking barefoot.

I'm not a farm girl by any means. It would even be a stretch to call me a country girl. Far from it. In fact, other than pretty ladybugs and fireflies which I tend to enjoy from a distance, I happen to be "bug-phobic." Even so, I love escaping to in the country even if it's just for a long weekend. I don't think it'd take much to convince me to live there full-time. I would be happy to visit the city and live in the country.

The last time I was lucky enough to escape to Vermont during the summer, I stayed at a friend's vacation house for a few days. During the day, the neighbors allowed their red rooster to roam free around their flowered back yard. Somehow, this didn't bother the family cat, a sleepy orange ball that seemed to be a fixture under a corner willow tree. At the first sign of sun every morning, the rooster started to crow. Normally I dislike getting up at the break of dawn. Something about the rooster's early wake up call made me want to start my day early. Each morning, I woke with a smile on my face, downed a fresh cup of coffee, walked with the resident black lab to the store down the road. After picking up the newspaper and savoring a fresh maple donut, Pete (the lab) and I sat on the sun warmed porch watching the morning develop before us. It didn't hurt that I had a stunning view of a mountain range (part of the Appalachian Trail).

Small things that happened over the course of that weekend have remained vivid in my memory. While making lunch in the kitchen one sunny afternoon, I noticed a hummingbird was stuck between two windowpanes. Watching the beating of the wings against the glass was dizzying and a bit frightening. Working with my friend to free the panicked bird without injuring its wings was stressful. This was a different kind of stress than what I experience at work during the week. The feeling was almost paralyzing because the bird's life was at stake. Once it was freed, I watched the fascinating creature disappear into the sky, I felt my heart soar.

Lying in the sun on a larger than life sized boulder many feet above a rushing river was exhilarating. The loud music of water rushing past me drowned all other sounds. Thick woods crowded the riverbank and the fresh smell of the trees and grass was positively invigorating. I brought a book with me each day but found myself wanting to do nothing but lie as still as possible, soaking in all the sounds and smells around me while baking in the hot sun.

Stopping off at a roadside vegetable stand on my way home, I had a friendly chat with some neighbors and I bought fresh stalks of corn for dinner. I couldn't help but put my nose in the bag to inhale the crisp scent of corn and husk over and over again on the walk home.

Over the course of the vacation, I found myself making excuses to walk to the store down the road every afternoon to indulge in cravings I haven't had since childhood. Ice cream sandwiches, sherbet, lemonade, potato chips, peanut butter and jelly. The sights along the way were joyful. Children playing barefoot in their yards, waving neighbors, lush gardens, cyclists, a barn renovated into a post office, waterfalls, boulders.

As I read over what I just wrote, I'm filled with anticipation and I feel better already. I'm looking forward to escaping from the city for about a week in March. I need to recharge with some clean mountain air. While I'm not sure what fantastic things the first part of the week will hold (that part of the week is a surprise and I am told it will be fantastic, beachy and warm...very exciting stuff), I know that the last part of the week, I'll be skiing in Vermont. It will be cold and the ground will be covered with snow.

Even when blanketed, I am in love the landscape and the culture. Riding the lift up the mountain is peaceful regardless if I'm alone, with a friend, or with strangers. I like watching my own breath steam in the cold as I'm carried alongside and then up and over the tips of pine and white birch trees. Sun, clouds, snow, ice storm, I love skiing in Vermont no matter what the conditions. Warming my bones at the end of a great ski day in front of a fire with a cocktail in hand, what better way to end a great day?

My hot and cold love affair with New York is just that. Right now it has cooled. I need very much to get away from it all. Once I return, I'll come back to my city with an improved attitude, carrying my week away in my heart with memories to carry me until the next escape. New York knows that I'd leave it for a greener state in a heartbeat. It also knows that I'll return. I love it most for always welcoming me home.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I heard someone use the term “blasian” yesterday to describe Tiki Barber’s biracial children. Apparently the word is used to describe people of black and Asian descent. Somehow this term sounds offensive to me and I’m not black and Asian. Why do we use these racial terms to describe minorities? Are there similar racial terms for white people? Why not? Maybe I need a coffee, it’s been a long day, I can’t think of any at the moment.

If you happened to read the article by Jessica Pressler titled Truly Indie Fans that ran in the NY Times on January 28, 2007, perhaps you have an opinion about the new term that’s been created to describe hip black indie music fans. Somehow I don’t think the term “Blipster” is going to go away.

Initially, I was perturbed by the term for the reason that it widens the gap between the races. I thought great, one more thing that will make black people stand out in a crowd. But after mulling it over (and I do love to mull), I decided that it is high time for the world (all colors) to realize that (gasp) it’s true! Black fans of rock music do in fact exist!

The mere fact that there are people that live in this world today who cannot fathom this concept is simply astounding to me. For the love of God, it is 2007!!! And by the way, I think it is worth mentioning here that black people invented rock music! Did racist narrow minded people forget this important piece of musical history? And why do we (especially Americans) feel the need to compartmentalize everyone?

For many years, I have not been what people expect for me to be. I have seen it frustrate the living hell out of some people. I have found this experience enjoyable but also exhausting on some level. On the one hand, I am always happy to broaden a person’s understanding of how multi-faceted and well-adjusted a biracial person can be, what it means to be in an interracial relationship, and what it means to exercise tolerance. On the other hand, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the stupidity that exists in the world and I feel there is some pressure on me to be both multi-faceted and well-adjusted. Otherwise, I fear I may become some negative stereotype thought up by some narrow minded racist fool.

I ski, play tennis (okay, I’m learning), work out regularly, knit, and I read about three substantive books a month. I do these things because I enjoy them, not because I want to prove anything. I’m a vegetarian (who would be vegan if I had more motivation), I have an advanced degree, and a high paying job. I studied four different languages. As a child, I studied piano and violin. I quit the violin but continued the piano into my twenties. And, I’m damned good! I grew up in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the country. Yet, because of my background, I can immediately be dismissed by some as an outsider. This is infuriating.

As a teenager, my musical tastes were more Billy Idol than Michael Jackson. Somehow I became hooked on the alternative WLIR radio station and was obsessed with Depeche Mode, New Order, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. A couple years later, I was most interested in hardcore bands like GBH, Social Distortion, and Husker Du. At that point, I was wearing black nailpolish, fishnet stockings, and Doc combat boots. In college, I mellowed and listened to the Dead, Allmans, and Phish. At many of the concerts I attended, I was usually one of just a few biracial and black people. Of course I noticed the absence of minorities. I usually felt some fan group camaraderie at the concerts I attended but I would have loved to look out upon the sea of faces and see ones that looked like me enjoying the show.

No one ever told me that they were surprised by my taste in anything. Maybe it’s because I’m biracial and not black. Perhaps my racial makeup doesn't stand out in a crowd the way a black person might. Either way, I find comfort in a diverse setting.

Hearing that there is a growing group of black indie music fans is exciting to me. While I wish our great country were more racially mixed, it’s not. I think part of what prevents people from mixing is narrow mindedness. The inability to think in a new way. Perhaps we need someone like Pressler to spotlight black rock music fans to give them a name and a face. I hope they grow in numbers to the point we don’t need to slap a label on them. Until then, I say, rock on Blipsters!!!

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.