What exactly should I see when I look into the mirror? A young Native American man? A Caucasian boy with a naturally killer tan? Maybe an African American youth that doesn’t fit in? Or, a young Islander who found his way to the mainland? Possibly a little bit of a few other things?
There was a time when I was none of this; just a body standing in a room full of mirrors. Each mirror reflected identical, blank faces. Day by day, I would slowly morph one of the faces into something new. I was looking at all of the possibilities of who I could be.
There was a single day in this last year that brought me back to this place: a day when I woke up to find a racial slur waiting outside my door. Clearly part of my message had been erased from my whiteboard yet it read clearly, “Nilan is a N****R!”
I had faced bits of racism before that day, but this was so much worse. I told my friends that I was okay, that the only reason I hated what happened was because that ugly word was placed on something I used to make others happy. It was somewhat true. My mind ran itself ragged, wondering which of the people I had lived with – who I believed to be my friends – had the audacity to write the six letter word. Had nobody seen the writer the entire time it took him/her to write the “n” to the finishing “r”? Finally, was that who I was?
It all seemed surreal in that moment. For the first time, I was actually mad at the world. Since the 1800s, my family has mixed race and blood. They had been brave enough to cross lines and break unjust taboos. Did they know that more than a hundred years later, I’d still be facing prejudice and racism?
As a young child, I knew myself to be different from many of my friends. I had Black friends, White friends, and Hispanic friends. They all knew who and what they were. I was lighter than my Black friends – and some family members – but darker than my White friends and the same color as my Hispanic friends. I had curly hair, so dark of a brown it was almost black. It curled in different ways. Not so tightly coiled that it naturally tangled itself into layer of “Black hair.” It wasn’t in danger of feeling overly greasy or caving in to frizz as so many others. There wasn’t much to tell me who I should be, so I just was.
I hadn’t met many others like me in my lifetime. Certainly a few understood. Being singled out by the Black community because we didn’t adhere to the “One Drop Rule.” Weren’t they always complaining about the times of slavery and Jim Crow Laws: about how they shouldn’t apply anymore because they were inhumane? Yet they tenaciously try to befit the rules to us. The coveted texture of hair that makes everyone – of color or not – wanting to touch. The uneasiness of being caught in the middle of a race war that only we could see.
Even the role models of more than one race would cling to one culture. So I took to the only model I had: the American Indian drum I had since I was a child. Working together with a people who came to steal their land; kill their women, men, and children; and portrayed them as savages. I had to teach myself to be proud of whom I was, no matter what other people would see – a proud Native-Caucasian-African-Polynesian American plus some. Even then, I had always known that I would meet people who didn’t see the world as I see it. But never did I think it would unnerve everything I worked hard to define.
So, was I representative of that horrible word? A word that meant ignorance? Something less than what I was actually worth? No. My only act of ignorance was thinking for a second that I must have been worth any less than I truly was. And my only hope is that anyone who has ever been subject to racism, prejudice, or discrimination of any type realizes the same of themselves.