My Sister’s Keeper
When I was seven and my sister was four, we were at a local beach. Her and I were splashing around in the water with our mom in the sand watching us when another young girl came up to us. This other girl asked me, while ignoring my sister, “Why is your sister so tan?”
“She’s not tan, she’s just half black,” I replied, a bit confused. The girl just stared at me blankly until her mom called her away.
Never had I thought it strange that my sister had a different skin color than I did until that moment. These things were just facts. I was white because my mom and my dad were both white, my sister was mixed because her mom is white, and her dad is black. It did not make her any different from me in my mind; she just had darker skin and curlier hair.
Fourteen years later, when my sister and I are both about to be seniors—in high school and college, respectively—I finally decided to ask my sister how she felt being biracial but raised in a white family and primarily white school. I had wanted to ask her before but was never sure how to approach the subject until I took a number of courses focusing on black people, history, and culture. She thought for a moment and said, “It’s never really bothered me. I don’t really know how to be black, though, like whenever I see my dad’s family.”
I never thought about how she might feel the pressure to have different operating systems according to who she was around. I had never really thought that one should have to learn “how to be black,” but this indicated that she was aware of the preconceptions associated with the color of her skin: black people are expected to act different than white people.
During this conversation, she explained to me how some people that she barely knew decided to nickname her “Toasted,” as a jokey reference to her skin tone and that her closest friends would say the N-word around her, with a half-hearted apology after saying the word and laughing. My jaw dropped, but she simply just shrugged her shoulders. She did not know how to tell her friends how wrong this was. She did not know how to stand up for herself as a biracial woman.
While I am white, I have spent years doing my best to educate myself about issues of race and my own privilege. People will not see my sister and I as the same or even similar. This is why I have tried so hard to educate myself. I want to be able to help my sister empower herself as a biracial woman. I want to help her find a voice rather than just shrug her shoulders.