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How Rachel Dolezal Hurt Biracial Kids

When the Rachel Dolezal story broke, I was confused. I didn't quite understand what was going on, other than that some mentally unstable woman was pretending to be African-American so hard that she convinced herself that it was true — even when confronted with the fact that she was born of two Caucasian parents. She's not even biracial.

Now that I've had some time to sit back and think about it, I think her intentions were good. At least, I'd like to think she was trying to do some good by educating students about the African-American experience and by being a strong advocate for the African-American community in Spokane — unlike Donald Trump who directly insulted the Latino community. Call me crazy, but can't you be an advocate for a group without actually belonging to that group? I believe in equal rights for everyone. But, how's trying to be something I'm not going to help African-Americans or same-sex couples?

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The problem is not about her race or her advocacy, the problem is that the woman is a compulsive liar who alleged to understand what it means to be an African-American woman in the United States. But she can't truly understand what that's like because, in fact, she isn't an African-American woman. Anytime she wants to escape the reality of being African-American — if it gets to be too difficult — she can just remove her costume and be white again. Problem solved. This is the part that I find offensive and unforgivable. She undermined the struggle of those who live in their skin every single day.

I am biracial and when you are biracial two things usually happen. First, you have a difficult time figuring out where you fit in until you develop your cultural identity, especially as a child. And second, other people have preconceived notions about you based on your appearance, and they usually don't match up with who you really are.

This is what the Latinas in my family look like:

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As a biracial child, my mom is Caucasian and my father is Mexican; every year I dreaded the enrollment card because you could either mark "White" or "Hispanic," not both. But I was both, and I never wanted to mark "other" because it made me feel like I was from outer space, so every year I alternated. When I was elementary school-aged, I used to tell people that I was half-white and half-Mexican and I would draw a line down the center of my body and say the left side was white and the right side was Mexican. It was confusing for me and confusing for others because I was very fair-skinned with freckles, brownish-green eyes and dark brown hair.

I can't tell you how many times I've been caught in conversations where Caucasians were making jokes at the expense of Latinos and I had to correct them and inform them that I was Latina. That's always awkward.

I knew that I was both Latino and Caucasian but I never looked "ethnic enough" for the Latinos, or white enough for the Caucasians. I felt like people looked at me like I was "other." If you see me with my father, you immediately get it that I'm Latina. If you see me with my mother, you would think that I'm just another white lady. But I knew I was Latina and I always felt like I needed some sort of proof because I didn't fit the typical stereotype of what a Latina should look like, as if I needed credentials; a brown card.

I can't tell you how many times I've been caught in conversations where Caucasians were making jokes at the expense of Latinos and I had to correct them and inform them that I was Latina. That's always awkward.

One time in particular, I will never forget. My husband and I were house shopping. We hadn't really found anything we liked, when we passed a cute little neighborhood. My husband, a 6'5", fair-skinned, blue-eyed man of German descent, asked the realtor driving us if we could "check out that neighborhood." To which she responded, "Oh no! You don't want to live there. That's where all the 'Mexicans' live." I could hear her words dripping with racism. I was shocked. But before I could open my mouth to correct her, my husband inserted, "Yes. You know that my wife is Mexican, right?" To which she promptly ate her words and tried to apologize, making it even worse by saying "not Mexican like you." That did not help. What does that even mean?

The problem is that Rachel Dolezal has now made it harder for those of us who already don't fit our ethnic profile to be taken seriously. She has made us all suspect and made a mockery of what it means to be biracial.

My daughters have blonde hair and blue eyes. They are very fair-skinned and are not confused at all about who they are. They will tell anyone who asks, and even some who don't: "I'm Mexican!" They say it loud and proud, and people always look at them like they're crazy. My girls know who they are, with no apologies.

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I think it's common knowledge to biracial kids that we are always the minority. We know that people discriminate against blacks and Latinos and we know that any time a brown parent procreates with a white parent, the outside white world sees the child as the minority. So we choose to claim it for our own. While I am Caucasian and Latina, if you ask me, I'm upfront about it… I'm Latina; let's get it straight from the get go.

I don't want or need to explain my lineage to you. I am a human being and that is all that you need to know. My daughters know this. They see one thing, human; that is also how they expect to be seen. But if you ask them, they will tell you, "I am Latina."

The problem is that Rachel Dolezal has now made it harder for those of us who already don't fit our ethnic profile to be taken seriously. She has made us all suspect and made a mockery of what it means to be biracial. When you are African-American or Latino, you are automatically labeled as "less than" in this country by many. We have to work twice as hard to get half the respect and pay.

We always have to prove ourselves and Rachel Dolezal made that that even harder. Now, we even have to prove that we are "ethnic" enough by stereotype standards and beyond. What may have started out as good intentions on Dolezal's part has ended in a blow to those of us who are already living between racial worlds and have to have these difficult conversations with our biracial kids.

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