Open Letter From A Biracial Author
When I was a kid growing up in a suburb of Boston in the late seventies you could say that I had a foot in each of two diametrically opposed racial realities, with limited access to each and neither of which I could call my own. I assumed that I was to blame for whatever awkwardness arose as a result of my racially indeterminate skin color. Not even my mother and father could relate to my experience as much as they would have liked, because of how different we looked—so much darker was I than the one, and so much lighter than the other.
I assumed that something was wrong with me, and I became convinced that I didn’t look like the biracial kid that I was, when in fact, I looked exactly like what I was. I just didn’t conform to other people’s preconception of what a boy with a dark-skinned black parent should look like. In other words, I was more light-skinned than any black person had a right to be, something that presented a moral quandary for many whites and blacks. I was visibly close to being white, but based on a commonly held conception of white purity, I was so, so far away. Being the kid that I was, I tried to shrug it off and get on with the business of being a ten-year-old.
I wish I could say that I have exorcised that early cognitive dissonance from every corner of my being, but I have not. The world as it is—with its ludicrous racial boundaries—shapes my reality, and how I navigate that reality shapes how I see myself. Indeed, it shapes me. Perhaps the biggest difference between me now and me as a boy is that I no longer blame myself for our country’s racial perversions. Which is to say that I’ve gotten better at shrugging it off and getting on with my life.
When I started writing They Come in All Colors, I was drawn to the innocent confusion that I felt as a young person coming to terms with the messiness of my identity in an intensely racialized setting. At the time, I saw racism everywhere and conceived of it as a kind of grand unifying theory. It seemed to hold the power of explaining virtually everything. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point along the way I realized that my protagonist’s story isn’t just about the failures of the racial structures of his time to accommodate the particulars of a racial outlier. I began to see his story as part of a larger story, one in which his very existence functions to others as a social and cultural provocation. I realized that it wasn’t all that different from other stories, because his struggle to fit in, to find belonging, isn’t that different from those whose sexual orientation or gender identification or whatever else presents a similar cultural quandary. That is, anyone who is struggling to be seen as a whole person, rather than the box that so much of society insists on shoving us into.
I see my novel as a triumph for anyone who’s ever felt like they should come with a warning label because they don’t look like what people suppose them to be. So really, all of us who’ve been clamoring for the dominant culture to make a little room for us. I think that my book has the power to remind people that no matter how stubbornly inflexible the world may be, we must never stop insisting that it allow us to be the complex and multi-faceted individuals that we are.