For Those Who Are In Between
I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland in the 90’s. When people ask where that is, I say it’s about 20 minutes from Washington DC, and that usually gets a nod.
I remember, in elementary school I went on a field trip to visit the nation’s capital. I was walking with two classmates and we stop a moment to observe a white man and black woman intimately holding hands. One girl turns to me and whispers, “That’s a shame, you know…so disgusting to see that.” She wasn’t referring to the intimacy but rather the very idea that an interracial couple was being intimate in public. To this day, I wonder if the girl had turned to me on purpose, knowing my biracial background, or whether she was just vocalizing some ideology passed down from generations about the need for racial segregation. Both hurt me to my core.
For those who are unaware, interracial marriage used to be illegal until a 1967 Supreme Court decision that overturned laws forbidding it. My parents, being the rebels that they were, married a bit later (but still not without scrutiny) in 1988. My Mom is black and my Dad is white. A year later, they had me. They are since divorced.
My mom would tell me of a time when schools were first being integrated and when even going to the beach in Ocean City, MD was once a difficulty, as it was separated by race. She remembers sitting in the back of busses and churches because she was forced to, and later on in life, she continued the practice because she never felt comfortable sitting in the front. Think about a system that has abused you so much, it makes an enemy of yourself and your desires so that you then begin to self-segregate for the system.
Throughout this period, I remember going with my mom to the hair salon. To me it was a magical place filled with strong black women who tended not only to black hair but rejuvenated the soul. I loved my Mom’s hair growing up. I still do. As soon as I uttered the words of praise, she would look at my fine hair and say “No, you’ve got that ‘good hair’.” Good hair is a term used in the black community to describe “more manageable,” “white passing” hair. It’s the hair you don’t need to straighten for job interviews because a system built on oppressing black culture says, natural hair is not beautiful, it is “unkempt.” I don’t need to tell you how false this is. One thing I have noticed, biracial women are always judged by their hair.
This constant struggle between claiming my heritage or suppressing it out of necessity is one that I battle every minute of every day, and it is exhausting.
From the age of 6 I have been transported to and from two distinctly separate worlds both culturally and mentally. It has pulled me in two different directions at the same time, from questions like “Is your boyfriend black or white?” or “Why do you pronounce that word that way?” in certain social settings.
Fast forward to my adult years. I’ve always known that I wanted to act. I loved the arts deeply from a young age, since I asked to be in my first play at the age of 6. I even put together an entire play when I was 9, with a friend’s younger daughter who came to visit (I never saw her again but the play is still ready to go whenever she’s ready!)
I had dreams. I went to school for those dreams. I thought as an actor, I could slip into the lives of other characters. I walked into the world thinking I could be the next Natalie Portman (to an extent).
With my first casting experience, I was asked what ethnicity I was. From this point on I have been judged in terms of my race, so as to suggest a box I will be placed in for the duration of my career. What am I you might ask? I am considered “Ethnically Ambiguous,” or if that still confuses, I am narrowed down even further to “Hispanic.” I will note the irony here, in that I am not Hispanic but am being told to act more Hispanic in auditions.
I have no personal problem with the comparison. The Latinx culture is a beautiful and vibrant one. But, if we are reduced to racial casting, I aim to never take a role away from another Hispanic actress who has worked equally hard to be seen. (According to, The Wrong Kind of Woman by Naomi McDougall Jones, which has tracked progress in the industry, her research showed 2.89% on screen female roles were Mixed and 1.95% were Latina.)
From the annual Hollywood Diversity Report, issued by the UCLA College of Social Sciences, a key finding was that “Films with casts that were from 31% — 40% minority enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts, while those with majority — minority casts posted the highest median return on investment. By contrast, films with the most racially and ethnically homogeneous casts were the poorest performers.”
Despite this finding, even against their own economic interests, movie producers continue to resist mixed casts in favor of homogeneity, with mixed race and Latinx roles amounting to very tiny percentages of the whole.
Where does that leave someone like me? What does your perception of who I am, label me as?
I have mulled these questions over in tears more nights than I can count. I would love to be seen as a person, a great actress that can fill a juicy role, rather than a stereotype opposite a white male lead. But here we are.
I cannot describe the amount of shame and struggles I have had to face throughout my life with my identity alone. From the standard “What are you?” questions (to which my favorite response so far is: human), to the more racially charged bullying. And I am on the lighter end of the spectrum. My darker brothers and sisters experience so much more discrimination, prejudice, and outright hardships on a daily basis that it makes me furious to have even a slight privilege (if you can call it that).
In answer to this I started writing my own material, with characters and people that I have never seen on television and film. Inspired by trailblazing artists such as Thandie Newton who remains vocal about her treatment in the industry as a biracial woman and Issa Rae, who defied conventions by creating her own series, I had been working on a piece that captures the most personal struggle of my life, called The Wanderer, about an illegitimate mixed-race heiress that goes undercover to fight a white supremacist group, while struggling to hide her biracial identity in 1800’s southern Maryland (currently looking for producers). Earlier, I had created a film about my biracial experience in public school called Butterflies (streaming now on Amazon Prime).
This should not be the only solution. As actors we are supposed to be quiet and take the jobs we get because if we make noise then there will always be someone to replace us who doesn’t. We are not supposed to question the status quo in the industry because we have no power to change it.
I am tired of being complacent.
I am constantly made to feel like I cannot claim my heritage because I have lighter skin (see Jim Crow laws’ forced segregation and how they oppressed people within the black community as well as the “brown paper bag test” that further divided within the race), that I am ignoring my heritage because I think I “am better than others” for being able to blend into a white society that demands we acquiesce, and ashamed for the tan skin tone, otherworldly appearance, and drops of black that run through my veins.
I am told that biracial people don’t belong anywhere, and thus made to feel like imposters. I believe that I wouldn’t feel this way if people and my profession didn’t constantly remind me of it.