Then, I thought, I would have friends.
In retrospect, if god had turned me into an Indian, I think I would have just about died of joy. I fucking loved Indians. Alas, scouring my family tree didn’t reveal even one great-grandparent who could conceivably have been a Cherokee princess.*
For irrelevant reasons, I got sent to a ghetto school for sixth grade. I had no friends at this place. The whites wanted nothing to do with me. The blacks were openly hostile. A few of the Mexicans were friendly, but when it came to recess, they played with each other, not me. And besides, they didn’t speak English, and I didn’t know much Spanish.
If only I were Mexican, I thought. If only I woke up tomorrow with beautiful black hair and brown skin, then I could have friends and my classmates wouldn’t hit me.
Sadly, god was not forthcoming. I was stuck with whiteness, pale, useless, disgusting. Maggots are white, I thought.
For some reason my parents tacked up on the wall a portrait I drew of myself in art class. The portrait was supposed to express my misery. Every time I walked past it, I thought, Why do they have that thing on the wall? They never understood.
By middle school, I’d latched onto an identity that I could reasonably fake. It wasn’t really mine, but it was close. I at least had the right facial features, and was legally related (through adoption) to some people from that part of the world, if you went back enough generations. This became my obsession. I studied the language. I saved up my allowance to purchase traditional costumes. I read histories and novels; devoured the music. I talked endlessly about my heritage, no doubt annoying the everliving shit out of everyone around me. (No wonder no one liked me.) I even dyed my hair to look more like my ethnic ideal and lied about my eye color.
In retrospect, that was pretty dumb. But I was a kid, lonely and desperate. The people around me had culture, community, history, identity, pride. And I wanted that. I wanted something to call my own–my own music, my own history, my own country.
The place where I grew up was, obviously, not terribly pleasant or special to me. “Whiteness” is not a trait whites are taught to be proud of; “white music” or “white history” are not things that I was aware of as part of my heritage. On top of that, I came from a part of the country with a reputation for backwardness and bigotry, also not things I was proud of. Ethnically, I do not really have a particular European country I can claim as my own–I am not a majority English or French or German or Hungarian or anything.
As a statistical outlier in many ways, I don’t fit in terribly well with most people, except with other outliers like myself. (Finding such outliers is, I suppose, one of the purposes of this blog.) Not fitting in and what that does to your psyche is a thing I understand.
I have known other people like myself–other people who, at some point in their lives, desperately wanted to be part of an ethnic group they weren’t born in to, leading to what an outside observer would call, “talking all the damn time about it.” I suspect Dolezal experienced something similar. I suspect she just wanted to fit in with the people she loved being with and an identity to claim as her own. Our politics may differ, but I still feel really sorry for her.
Scratch a dozen whites, and I bet six of them secretly wish they could be something they aren’t. That’s why so many of them lie about being Irish, twisting one possibly Catholic grandparent or great-grandparent into a claim that they practically hopped off the land o’ blarney yesterday. No one wants to admit to being mostly English or German, even if they are.
I am struggling to come up with a neat and tidy conclusion to this post. I have obviously come to a point where I am comfortable admitting actual reality, and enough distance from the loneliness to think I was once kind of funny. I have some positive thoughts associated with various accomplishments of groups I have some kinship with. And I am an adult, busy with the everyday concerns of work, friends, family, etc.
But I look at my kids and wonder what sort of identity would make them happy.
*According to 23 and Me, I may actually have a sliver of Indian ancestry, but it’s pretty far back.