This isn’t an Afro!: On being brown, German, and American

My mom is white and my dad is black. My father was in the Army and my mother is native German.

When I was six I went to a kindergarten nestled in the foothills of a German village. I don’t have many memories of being a six years old. I remember my parent’s apartment, a little old lady who didn’t like me because I destroyed her bushes, and that I only spoke German, but I fully understood my Dad’s English.

Every winter in Germany, little kids dress up and reenact that story about the Three Kings who follow the North Star. One of those kings is African, so usually a little white German kid is painted brown in the face. I was chosen to be one of the three kings.  Guess which one I was? They saved on face paint that year.

My kindergarten mates always teased me for being brown. When I complained to my mother, she told me to tell them that they were “Weiss wie Kase” (white as cheese). They continued to tease me and my curly hair. I told my parents that I wished that I looked more like my mom and not like my Dad.

babydoll

me and my white baby doll

I grew up in Germany for the majority of my life. I was always surrounded by white women and men. My cousins were white and blond. You could easily get a brush though their hair without it getting caught. There were very few people that were not white, and if they weren’t white they were Turkish, Greek or Italian. But they were never as brown as me. When I would play “Spice Girls” with my friends they would always force me to be Scary Spice. I’m sure that in Germany there was a lack of brown dolls even available. I mean there weren’t even any brown people in my cartoons, but I’m also certain that I would have picked the white doll regardless because that’s what I taught was pretty and normal.  Even in pretend, I couldn’t escape my “otherness.”

firstday

Me on the first day of school. My mother got me a traditional German “Shul Tute” even though I was in America.

I eventually switched to an American school on the military base that was run by the Department of Defense.  The military is extremely diverse so the children of the service members came from many racial backgrounds. I wish I could have been excited to meet people that looked more like me. Instead I found myself being  “othered” Again. Black children called me a traitor for being half-white.  I found myself being accused of not “acting Black.” It was so unfair. I had never been around black people my life. How was I supposed to act like it? Both of my halves did not accept and therefore it felt like both of my cultures were foreign to me. I was German who was not German and an African-American who was not American or Black.

Not to end on a bleak note, I’ve gained more of an identity and comfort in my skin. I feel as children grow up they became less cruel and more accepting. Not that I’m not subject to textbook mixed kid situations. My friends still compliment me on my “exotic” features and strangers still like to guess “what I am.”  But growing up a displaced third culture kid has a huge effect to my psyche. I mean to this day I can’t bring myself to wear my hair curly on a daily basis. I did that once in high school and my black friends called me nappy and white friends made afro jokes.

hair

This isn’t an Afro!!

–Tyler Washington

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4 thoughts on “This isn’t an Afro!: On being brown, German, and American

  1. simoneaisha

    I think that you make a good point about being caught in the middle of both races. I think as a nation of increasingly mixed background, I think there are a lot of people that can empathize with your story. Why should one have to choose to “act black” or “talk like you are white”? We should all just be able to be human beings,but unfortunately everyone wants to categorize you and fit you into a box. I had a similar experience of people in high school accusing me of “not black enough” as well. Eventually I just shook it off, but it took a lot of self-reflection to realize that I didn’t have to prove how black I am, or that I didn’t have to act a certain way around one particular group. Also, wear your hair curly, it will look great! I am sure you will get more positive feedback than negative!

    Reply
  2. ssyun1014

    I agree with the comment above in wearing your hair curly. I personally pay $250 and sit at a salon for three hours to make my hair curly. Now my hair’s too damaged so the stylist won’t perm my hair until I grow it out. You shouldn’t have to feel forced to straighten your hair. I also thought you made an excellent point in not being able to identify with any—“I was German who was not German and an African-American who was not American or Black”. I read, the other day, about mixed race in a classroom. Teens were struggling to identify themselves and they wished they could go back to Elementary when they chose their friends simply by who’s nice to them rather that what race they are (http://blogs.seattletimes.com/race-awsd/2013/11/27/race-project-teacher-learns-more-about-meaning-of-race-in-the-classroom/). I think identity is a huge issue in mixed race but I think those of mixed race should embrace it rather than to feel forced to act certain way or to meet other people’s expectations.

    Reply
  3. vanessaashleytadena

    I can see where you are coming from with your blog post. In high school, my best friend was half English half Black and it was very hard for her as well. She wasn’t necessarily one ethnicity more than the other, but she still had a hard time with people trying to figure out what her ethnicities were and when she finally told them, no one would believe her. In fact, when I first met her, I thought she looked Mexican. It wasn’t until I went over to her house and met her parents that I found out what her real ethnicity was. She also like you she has a hard time accepting how her hair looks. I think that her hair looked just fine curly, but you wouldn’t ever catch her with her hair curly. She would wake up early every morning to make sure it was straightened in fear that her Black and White friends would make the same comments as yours did. But I really think that you look great with your hair curly! It’s cute and who you are. I think you should embrace it because although you may not necessarily like it, I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there who wish they had hair like yours!

    Reply
  4. christopherjduclos

    I can’t imagine being in that position..being in this third race and getting made fun of.

    Naturally, the innocence (or ferocity) of children cause hurt feelings when we don’t understand/respect our differences quite yet. I’m not sure if there is a child out there that wasn’t made fun of for SOMETHING as a kid. Some just luck out with little things and others with actual serious things that they would recall to this day..like being made fun of for the color of your skin.

    One of my childhood friends that I still communicate with to this day is half African American and half Caucasian. When we grew up in our isolated suburb we never really thought much about the color of his skin, nor did he get made fun of. Though in our predominantly white school system, when we would learn about the civil rights movement or slavery, I remember that uneasy feeling..what’s Benji thinking about? It was almost as if we were too respectful or sympathetic to ask or consolidate how he feels about it.

    Reply

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