“What Are You?”
By Lexi Brock as told to Kim Tranell
Lexi, 18, grew up hearing that question again and again in her small Georgia town. Now she will proudly tell you she’s multiracial—and what that means to her.
Imagine sitting down at a restaurant with your family and the couple at the next table ask to move. You aren’t sure why, but you’re no longer hungry.
Now think about going to church on Sunday, but all of a sudden you can’t, because no church will welcome your family through its doors.
My parents tried to shield me from these prejudices growing up, but the truth is, it’s impossible to shelter someone from who they are. My dad is black and my mom is white, making me multiracial, and I’ve always felt like an outsider: not white enough for the white kids, not black enough for the black kids. At school, I’ve actually heard, “You can’t date her; she’s mixed”—as if having tan skin affects my character.
For the longest time, I tried to blend in. I spent hours straightening my super curly hair. And I silenced myself when that black girl at school said, “She’s nothing but a mixed-breed mutt”—not directly to me, but just loud enough so I could hear.
In 10th grade, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Fricks, assigned us an essay in my honors Lit class. The prompt was to write about how a short quote applies to your life. I had no idea what to write about, so I browsed Pinterest for inspiration. I saw the lyric It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world, from the Dolly Parton song “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Upon discovering those words, I felt them immediately resonate in my soul. The essay poured out.My teacher eventually entered my paper in a contest, and it won. I was really excited, but winning didn’t matter nearly as much as what I learned in the process. Writing the essay was a big turning point, because when I put things down on paper, they become clear to me.
My favorite line is: “Let us never forget that, like human beings, not all things are simply black or white.” I think that everyone needs to think long and hard about that statement. The truth is, we’re all a mixture of cultures and traditions and experiences, and we should celebrate that—not let it divide us. The only difference is that I have to wear my mixture on the outside.
I still encounter people with hate in their hearts—like the woman at Subway a few weeks ago who stared at my dad and me, the disgust written all over her face—but I don’t take it personally anymore. If you let someone change your mood and your mind-set, you’re giving them power. Now I feel sorry for people like that, because their prejudices must make them miss out on some really great friendships.
I’ve learned that the only way to change things is to talk about them, so I’ve been working with the nonprofit Project RACE to get certain companies to add a box that says “multiracial” on applications and tests. Often the only option to answer the race question is “other”—which is just a reminder that there isn’t always a place for teens like me to fit in.
Being multiracial used to be something I tried to hide, but now it’s my superpower, because it allows me to help other multiracial kids. I want them to know that they aren’t weird. They aren’t alone. We’re all shining diamonds in this rhinestone world.
3 THINGS LEXI WANTS YOU TO KNOW
1. Words can hurt.
Do not call multiracial people outdated, offensive terms like mixed breed, mutt, or Oreo.
2. Don’t stereotype.
My boyfriend is tall and black, and people who meet him immediately ask him if he plays a sport. It’s frustrating and rude.
3. Insults aren't jokes.
Don’t play them off like that! No matter what, the words are felt. You don’t want to be responsible for someone lying awake in the middle of the night, wondering: Why am I not good enough?
—additional reporting by Jane Bianchi