Since before I could even form my lips around the phonemes to say my own name, I have been asked, "so, what are you?"
I admit, I do look vaguely Hispanic with some African features and undertones, and I am, by most immediate ethnicity, one half black and one half white, but I have still struggled to answer this simple question.
In preschool, a man saw my white mother and me, her brown child, at the bank, and muttered under his breath, "there go my tax dollars." I am ingenuous. I am childlike.
In kindergarten, a girl on the playground asked me why my mom was white and I was not. I didn't know how to answer her question. My mom just told me that was the way God made me. I am inquisitive. I am colorful.
In the first grade, I took the FCAT for the first time. I did not know what to put for my race because you could only check one box. My teacher told me to select whatever race I told people I was. "I don't know" was not an option. I am exceptional. I am anomalous.
In the sixth grade, I put a relaxer in my hair, destroying its texture and causing much of it to break off or fall out because I thought the only pretty hair was the long, straight hair all of my white friends had. I am observant. I am a risk-taker.
In the seventh grade, they called me "Oreo": black on the outside, white on the inside. My friends often made jokes that they were "SO much blacker" than I was because they listened to rap music. I am multifaceted. I am unique.
In the eighth grade, my friends told me racist jokes about African Americans, and then told me "your white half thinks it's funny." Both halves were unamused. I am virtuous. I am moral.
In the ninth grade, upon learning my PSAT score, one of my classmates told me that I was "smart for a black girl." I am adept. I am talented.
Later that year, one of my older cousins told her friends to come and listen to me because I "talk so proper like a white person." I am articulate. I am eloquent.
In the tenth grade, a history teacher discussing the civil rights movement asked me for the "black perspective," and consulted me to find out whether or not certain terms and phrases were "offensive." I am powerful. I am strong.
That same year, a boy asked me out on a date because I was "pretty for a black girl." I am graceful. I am elegant.
In the eleventh grade, some of my classmates told me that it was unfair that my skin color would get me into whatever college I wanted, whereas they actually had to work to get in. I am educated. I am intellectual.
That same year, after I had finally grown out all of my relaxer and had gone back to wearing my hair naturally after I learned how to appreciate its beauty, I heard taunts behind my back that I needed to get some hair gel for my "mane."
I have learned to not define myself by my background or the color of my skin, but, as Martin Luther King said, by the content of my character. I need not shoehorn myself into fitting within a certain label, for I recognize that I am too complex and intricate to fit into a simple fill-in-the-blank box. The dilemma I faced growing up in simply trying to establish my own personhood inspired me to create my own identity, even if it means starting from scratch and building myself from the ground up.
Last week, someone asked me "So... what are you?" and I told them that I am a human being. I am me.