Growing up, I learned about races, cultures, skin colors and what differences they made socially. But, it has never been a trendy topic in my house. You see, I am biracial. My mom is White, Russian and my dad is Black, Cameroonian. I grew up in Yaounde, Cameroon, living with my mother for the biggest part of my life. We never spoke clearly about what it meant to be biracial. All my life, she told me that I was different and I had to understand it. I should not expect to understand everybody and they could not fully understand me either and that is just life. The show must go on. I grew up as a very unique character with two very different cultures, two very different views on the world that somehow blended into each other. I never thought it was a problem, an advantage or a disadvantage on others... until I moved to America.
I grew up in Africa, and as the lightest shade of brown in the classrooms, my difference was obvious. When setting up the statistics of the school, when strangers were asked to stand up, I had to be the first one up, even though I did not feel foreign at all. No matter the uniforms, I was very recognizable in the crowd because of the color of my skin, my curl pattern, the length of my hair and especially, the person who was picking me up after school. Every time that my mother engaged her 4x4 through the gates of my Catholic conservative middle school, all eyes were on me, like there was something wrong with the fact that she was my mother. It always felt very awkward but I tried to not pay attention to it, convincing myself that it was in my head. Afterwards, I started receiving a lot of comments, such as "You just get it because you are mixed," "People think you are pretty only because you are mixed race," " if you were Black, you would not have this." I even had "You have good grades because your mom is White" ...Like ....Really? I could not help but wonder what people were expecting my reaction to actually be. Was I supposed to apologize or to be upset? Why was it such a big deal to everybody else but me?
When I moved to the US, race suddenly became an unavoidable topic. You had to know how to speak about race, be comfortable with it, choose a side to battle with. There were no in between, it has to be clear, no awkwardness allowed. The first office I walked into was a skills test office so I had to fill up an application to make an appointment for the test day and here I was in front of my first boxes. But what can I check actually? Saying that I am White is denying not only my father but also the land that I grew up on and the culture that stick to me the most. But saying that I am Black is denying the woman who gave me life and every single thing that I have today, the woman who raised me, gave me an education, a cultural balance that is so hard to find in a world where it is all about picking a side. To add up to it, I do not identify as Black or White so... I went with "Other" to keep up the surprise.
A lot of people do not understand what it really feels like to be in front of the boxes when you are biracial. This feeling is coming with us everywhere we are: the feeling of being an outsider. We will never fully be part of a group, never 100% be considered as a native when we are home and when we are asked where we are from, we have to start narrating our full life story to have an accurate answer. Mine pretty much looks like "I am from Cameroon, I was born and grew up there. My dad is Cameroonian and My mom is Russian, so I am Russian too." Such a long answer, but necessary, though.
People think it is glamorous to be mixed race: the best of both worlds, you are bilingual by essence, you have two homes, your family is very eclectic, your hair, your skin tone, everything about you feels so exotic... Which is true, don't get me wrong. But the worst comes with the package too. This outsider feeling, the fact that you grew up very differently than your peers, you are treated like you were some sort of experiments or ticking bomb that we had to manage delicately. Even your parents are not able to fully comprehend you, so you have to navigate through who you are mostly by yourself. Personally, the hardest part was not learning my languages. My parents had me with an established career already, so I grew up with nannies and ended up not learning neither Russian nor Eton (my Cameroonian native language). It has always been very painful to accept it in my journey because instead of feeling like belonging to both, I felt like I belonged to neither of them, because I could not communicate with them. I was just an awkward in between shade who wanted to fight for every color's rights. I had periods where I wanted to be Black, fully Cameroonian, learn my language, exit to the village to prove to others that I was as African as they were. And I had periods where I wanted to be White, straight hair, light eyes, move to Moscow, speak Russian day and night and forget everything that came before it.
But retrospectively, I wouldn't trade my identity for the world. being biracial, raised by a Russian woman in Cameroon gave me such a different perspective on the world. Open, fresh and unique. First of all, it is a part of my identity that love does not have a face, a race, a color and that you can be with whoever you want as. It opened my mind to discovery: learning different languages, different cultures, and never expecting the one in front of me to be like me. The fact that I am biracial made me understand very early that I was responsible for my own happiness, I could not wait for other people to show me what I was and how to accept it because I was experiencing something very different than they did. I had to learn it on my own and it strengthen my idea of my character. I was blessed to have been equally exposed to both of my cultures, always encouraged to mix them up instead of trying to separate them.
And for everyone out there who struggles with their biracial identity, the only advice that I can give is to take your time in exploring who you really are. Don't fight your diversity because it will never go away, just embrace it as much as you can. Nobody should pressure you should into identifying to a specific group because of how dark or how light you are. Being different is never a curse, it is a wonderful blessing and you will have time to discover it. Your path is slightly harder than others but the message you carry just by existing is so rich and so powerful that you cannot let it down. The beauty of mixed races is the fact that we don't look the same, we don't share a fix story but we share the same struggle and can learn from each other. Trust the process, take your time learning your families and you will find a way to blend all the information into who you are as a biracial individual.