What Color Am I? A True Story About Race Identity and Racism.


I have never been able to understand racism. Not even when I lived in an all-white town and believed that I, too, was 100% white.

If racists were a tiny minority group, then I might understand it. I would believe they were mentally ill. Their thinking is screwed up because their brain isn’t working right. (Yes, I know how ironic this is, considering that I have a diagnosis of PTSD!) But so many otherwise “normal” people are rabidly racist — WHY? It makes no sense to me.

I grew up in a small town in southwestern Missouri. One day when I was five years old, my mother took me to see the doctor. Ahead of us, in the waiting room, sat a beautiful dark skinned family: a mother, a father, and two small children. They were sitting near the receptionist’s desk, in the area where everyone usually sat.

I went to the doctor a lot in those days, due to recurring bouts with tonsillitis and bronchitis. So I knew that people in the waiting room typically sat close to the receptionist. But on this day, all of the light skinned people were sitting as far away as possible from the dark skinned family, way down by the exit door.

My mother grabbed my hand and, after checking me in, took me back to sit by the exit door, too. All of the seats near the door where the nurse takes you through to see the doctor, were empty.

The Caucasian people looked very stiff, uncomfortable, and angry, including my mother. The dark skinned family looked terrified. It brings tears to my eyes even now, remembering the awful, deer-caught-in-headlights expression on their faces.

This happened in 1958, sixty years ago. Only white people lived in that small Missouri town back then. Shortly after this doctor visit, I heard my dad tell my mom that some…. he used the horrible “N” word…. had been “run out of town.”

My dad, a church pastor in those days, often talked in a racist way. But I never understood his racist talk at all. You see, my cat was black with white paws and a wide white stripe down the middle of her face. She had three kittens. One was black and white, like his mother, one was orange striped, and another was calico. No two kittens in the litter were the same color. But they were all equally soft and furry, they all had little sandpaper tongues and needle-sharp claws, they all had tiny, ticklish whiskers, and they all purred and mewed. What difference did their color make?

As for me, I look Irish. I have a zillion freckles, green eyes, naturally gray hair that used to be naturally blonde, and pale white skin under my dark freckles. So you could say that I am polka dotted! But despite all the dark spots on my skin, I believed that I was 100% Caucasian, until my dad called me one day when I was twenty-four years old to tell me the “family secret.” One of my sisters, he said, had found an old photo album and had learned the truth, that our paternal grandfather was 1/2 black. My dad said that his paternal grandmother was a full blooded African American. This meant that my father was 1/4 black — a “quadroon,” as they used to say — and I was 1/8 black, an “octaroon.”

My dad thought he was telling me a shameful thing, but I was absolutely thrilled! I thought this made me special! And more than ever, I could not understand the racist talk I had heard while growing up.

Three years ago, I had my DNA analyzed by ancestry dot com, and recently I also had it done by 23andMe. When I first had my DNA tested, I could scarcely wait to get my profile back and see the proof, on paper, that I am 1/8 black. Maybe, I thought, I have even more African American blood than just 1/8th? How cool would that be!

But my racial profile is nothing like I expected. I can’t begin to tell you the loss, the sorrow, the PAIN I felt to get my DNA results and learn that I am, at most, only about 1% African. According to my DNA, I am at least 98.9% Caucasian. Being “1/8 black” was so much a part of my identity, for so long, to have that taken away in an instant was very disorienting. Knowing that I am, in fact, only about 1/100 African feels like a terrible loss. And yet, one white person, on learning the results of my DNA, told me I should be relieved.

What is wrong with people, that anyone would think racism is right? We are all human beings, we have all been created by the same Almighty God, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US was made in His image.

I simply do not understand racism. Not because I am a saint — God knows that I have fallen and sinned so much, in so many ways, over my lifetime. But discriminating against people because of the color of their skin or hair or eyes is simply Not Logical.

This post was inspired by Martin Luther King’s Day, and also by the following blog article by Minister Aldtric Johnson, M.A.:

Photo of Cat With Multi Colored Eyes can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/384917099374399093/