“Imagine what will happen once she comes to the realization that she is a minority.” The words fall out of her mouth with nonchalance, and what I view as a touch of arrogance; supposing I might ever come to such an absurd realization. I just sit in awe of how simple that sounds out loud, but how wrong it feels inside. “…she is a minority.”
I’m sitting in this awe, directly across from my biological grandfather; whom I’ve only just met the night before. Beside me is my biological father, whom I’ve known for all of a month, and across from him is his new sister — my aunt. We are both meeting her for the very first time, and to be honest, it’s weird.
The whole situation is incredibly bizarre, and wonderful, and scary, and weird. It’s like the “she” she’s talking about is someone else. Like I’m outside looking in, nervously laughing under my breath about the fact that the poor girl doesn’t realize she’s a minority.
But the she is me, and I’m a 40 year old white woman sitting at a table with two non-white men and a light skinned non-white woman; this is my biological family.
They have known their whole lives that they are not white and, I assume, they have always, without question, checked that box on applications and miscellaneous forms. I, on the other hand, have just learned that I am not all white.
My biological mother decided I was “white enough” to be the fireman’s baby, so he is who was asked to meet her at the adoption agency in 1978. It is his signature on the adoption papers agreeing to terminate his parental rights, and his name on my impounded birth certificate over the word “father.”
He is who I’ve thought about every time I’ve passed a fire station, the one I concerned myself with every time there was news that a brave fireman had lost his life in a fiery blaze. I have spent countless hours pondering whether or not I would ever get the chance to meet this man — the fireman — only to find out at age 38, he was “not the father.”
It felt like a kick in the chest to learn that this fictional character I had created in my mind in place of the real-life person who might ever be willing to sit down and catch up, knowing that I was out there existing was in vain. A cruel joke that goes on for almost four decades, but has no punchline. There is no closure. There are only more unanswered questions and anger that this information was kept from me.
I agreed to a DNA test to find literally anyone I might share blood with, and I got more than I bargained for. In the search for who I am, I found out who I’m not and never was. I spent my whole privileged life as a white woman, only to find that hasn’t been the full story — the true story.
The truth is my biological father I just met a month ago (with no help from my first mother) is black, and my newfound aunt is telling him she can’t imagine what will happen once I realize I’m a minority.
I can’t make this shit up, and there I am baffled. How does a woman who has spent the majority of her very privileged life as a white woman realize she’s a minority?
When my new aunt says it, I look away, because I don’t want her to see my facial expression. My first thought is this privileged white woman will never realize she’s anything more or less than just that. I mean, how could I in good conscious?
I have never a day in my life suffered the agony of even so much as a glance of discrimination or prejudice. Outside of ignorant kids making fun of me in grade school for having “[N-word] lips, I’ve never experienced anything remotely disturbing in relation to my race or nationality.
The fireman is listed as “French Canadian,” and this is the explanation I have given when asked about my “olive skin tone.” No one has ever tried to dispute this, because I stated it unequivocally.
My father’s sister senses my angst and volunteers that her whole life people have thought she was white. I think she’s saying this to relate to my ambivalence about claiming a minority status, but I know we’re not in the same boat. It might look like a similar boat, but it’s definitely not the same. She has always known that her father is black, that she is black, and nothing else.
I contemplate asking her how she would feel if tomorrow she found out she had been checking off the wrong box her whole life and it was suggested she just simply fall in.
I find myself wishing there was anyone in my boat so I could process all of this and maybe just cry for like five hours straight; mourning the truth of who I really am — the lack of identity and the lie — for 38 years, and trying desperately to squeeze myself into this new skin that feels like a pair of Spanx two sizes too small.
It doesn’t fit me. It does not fit within the privileged white girl narrative, and it certainly doesn’t fit in the box. I have been an ally and advocate too long to claim this status, haven’t I? I understand that race is a social construct and all, but I feel like I somehow cheated the system.
I don’t feel like I’ve earned a seat at this table, even though my roots were planted here. I feel like a tall tree with a new foundation that has been invisible for 40 years. I feel grounded, but also incredibly lost.
I hope with time and more understanding, I will forgive my mother for white washing my entire life — whether on purpose or not; that I may ponder what might happen when I come to the realization that… I am a minority.