Words by Randy & Alisha Roper
In the United States, we live in a world that’s Black, White or Other. Either you’re the minority or the majority. But what happens when your life is caught somewhere in the middle? A life where you’re perceived as too Black, but yet, not Black enough. Conversely, too White, but yet, not White enough.
Where does that leave you?
That’s a question I can’t answer. As a Black man in America, I can only speak on the African-American experience. For a varying perspective, I’d have to ask someone with a differing background. So, that’s what I did. I asked my wife, Alisha.
Born in Germany to an African-American father from Columbia, South Carolina and a German mother from Stuttgart, Germany, the issues of a biracial citizen, who first moved to the US as an Elementary schoolgirl is something that Alisha knows firsthand. Childhood memories that still touch a nerve of the now 30-something-year-old, mother of two.
But for Americans to get a better understanding of each other, embrace our differences, and heal wounds that have been untreated for generations, these are the types of conversations we need to have. A husband shouldn’t be afraid to ask his wife, when it comes to race in America, “How was your experience different than mine?”
Growing up in Germany I don’t have any memory of racial tension or feeling different being a biracial child. It could be because I was very young there. We didn’t move to the States until I was going to the 2nd grade, but I don’t remember looking at my dad or my uncles on my mom’s side and thinking their skin isn’t the same color. Germany is similar to the United States in that it is also a melting pot. You have different cultures living together. You could walk downtown Stuttgart and see all different types of people.
Kids are truly color blind. I really don’t think I knew I was different until I moved to the United States. So, you asking “How did you see color, or how did you see race in Germany?” I truly don’t know. I don’t remember it being like the US. My family on either side never treated me different. At school, I was never treated different, so I don’t remember that.
But the States were definitely a culture shock. It wasn’t until we moved to South Carolina that I had thoughts about racial differences and identity. We lived with my grandma for a couple months until we closed on a house. There, I was zoned for a predominantly African American school, starting the 2nd grade. Then, we moved to a newer school district, where the school was more mixed.
I distinctly remember one day my 3rd grade teacher took our class outside for a break. I’m not sure if we were too rowdy or what but she wanted us to run laps to burn some energy. She said, “Ok, all my black girls go run a lap.” Then she said, “All my white girls, go run a lap.” And I honestly didn’t know when to run. I was this little girl, and I was like, “ok when do I go?” I didn’t know if I should run with the black girls or run with the white girls. I must’ve had a lost look on my face because she said, “Don’t worry. It’s ok. Go home and ask your parents.” So, in her mind, I don’t think she thought she was doing anything wrong. Well, honestly, I don’t know what exactly she was thinking but she basically segregated the class, and that was in the ‘90’s. Can you imagine that?
So, I went home, and asked my parents, and they were visibly upset, especially my mom. And that’s when my dad started introducing me to slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, teaching me in-depth African American history, and exposing me to books to educate me. It was his way of empowering me at such a young age.
I was young, so when I think about it now, it makes me angry. I don’t know if I was angry back then. Learning Black history made me feel enlightened. I loved to read and I soaked it all up. The good, the bad and the ugly.
I remember years later being with my family on our annual summer vacation. I don’t remember if it was Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. We went out to eat and I could literally feel people staring at us and looking at us funny. Blacks and Whites. You’d think that in the 90’s they’d be used to seeing a German or White woman with a Black man, but obviously they weren’t or they didn’t like it, cause they sure did stare a lot. But whatever.
At the time, you know, it probably made me feel defensive, and ready to defend my family. Like, we’re no different than anyone else. Is there a problem?
I think now, I’m more focused on everyone being treated fairly and equally and standing up for others, even if they’re different from myself. I’m not just talking about Black people. I see these stereotypes and scared tactics used for the Muslim population. I’m going to stand up for them, too. If someone can exclude entire populations of people, what makes you think that sooner or later they won’t get to you?
I’m very vocal when it comes to my social media pages. Sometimes I feel like that’s my venting session when I want to voice my opinion, especially on these racial issues and injustices that surface and literally knock the wind out of me. I get so frustrated. I don’t write anything for a couple days, and then it just all comes out. And I really want to get across that just because you have empathy for a Black person or someone that’s being oppressed (or murdered) does not mean that you’re against any other race. I don’t ever want it to appear that I’m so Pro-Black that I’m against white people. How can I be against the other side of my family? To be Pro-Black doesn’t mean you’re against another race. It just means you have pride in your people, and you want equal rights in 2016. You can be Pro-Black and be Pro-Human Rights.
These are difficult conversations to swallow and digest but it’s reality. It’s difficult because in a matter of a couple years, I feel like we, as a human race, have taken some giant steps backwards. I have to start thinking about how I’m going to have these tough conversations with my children. I want to raise them with an open mind and I don’t want to taint them too much with the reality of this crazy world, but I also don’t want them wandering around color blind because unfortunately that’s not the world we live in.
I don’t ever want them to be in a situation where they’re in trouble because I didn’t show them how to act in those circumstances. I don’t want them to be another statistic or hashtag. Like, “Be respectful of police officers, but be mindful of this.” Or “Don’t put yourself in a bad situation.” I don’t want them to be so oblivious to color that they put themselves in a bad situation, thinking everyone is good and everyone wants the best for them because that’s not the reality.
[Racism and colorism is a topic that Alisha and her family still deal with on a regular basis. For instance, her sister, Jasmine Sanders, a popular fashion model, who is constantly in the public eye, is often scrutinized for her light skin, blonde hair and blue eyes by social media followers and blog commenters].
I think the Black community has a lot of history, with being too Black or not Black enough. We have a history where we were oppressed and taught that the lighter your skin and eyes and the straighter your hair, the more valuable you were. And I think that carried on from generation to generation, creating internal conflicts within the black community. So, when they look at my sister, some people are so Pro-Black that they’re like, “Oh, she’s a white girl.” And I take offense to that. Because calling me white…first of all, I’m German and I’m African-American. So, calling me white, totally ignores the other side of my family. And on the flip side, calling me Black or a Black girl, and only putting me in that box, excludes my mother’s side of the family.
When I was younger, I experienced that, too. People calling me “white girl,” and I took offense to that. It was a long period of time, where I was like, my mom is German. She’s not White-American, so I didn’t understand White-Caucasian, because I didn’t look at my mom as a White, Caucasian, American. I never liked that classification, so that was another identity struggle with me. But I had those problems growing up. Girls trying to tease me because I wasn’t Black enough.
I just learned to love my differences and embrace the uniqueness of me. So, when people say, “My sister is not Black enough,” I think that’s ridiculous. And she’s not out there trying to prove her blackness, because she doesn’t have to. She’s embraced who she is. She’s unique, she’s beautiful and that’s how our parents raised us to be.
We have a unique background and upbringing. An interracial military family that relocated from Germany to the South. I think that’s very unique and it’s raised us to be open minded and tolerant of all different types of people and lifestyles. As you can see, my family members date all different ethnicities, so there really are no barriers. It’s truly shaped us to who we are today. And we plan on raising our families with the same open minds and hearts. We can’t let the times or the outside world negatively influence our character and core beliefs.