Now that I know that I’m mixed race. I reflect back on moments in my life where people questioned the way I look. My hair and skin tone were the two physical features that were always on trial, and I never understood why. Both of my parents were “Black-Black,” my brothers were “Black-Black,” which meant that I was “Black-Black.” People would tease me and say, “Someone in your family is lying to you!” or “You know your real daddy is white.” I’d go home, deeply hurt and depressed. I’d ask my parents why would they say such hurtful things; the response from my mother would be,
“Janeen, they are jealous of you because you are beautiful!”
Sadly, I’d say, “But people at school ask me all of the time.”
“Janeen, look at your daddy—you take after your father. Look at Mary Margaret, your grandmother; she’s light like you!”
“What about my hair, mom?”
“Look at grandma Jackson, your grandfather’s mother. She’s part native, and you have her hair! Janeen. You. Are. Beautiful! You are MY child, and ALL of my children are unique and beautiful!”
She’d then tell me to get myself together, kiss me. That was that! I’d think to myself that if I was so beautiful, then why would people pick on me or not believe that I’m related to anyone in my family? Most importantly, why did people mistake for being white?
North Stafford High School, 1988, 11th grade
One thing that was interesting about the dynamic between me and my brother Jermaine was whenever people were around us, no one ever questioned my racial identity. So when he entered high school with me, I was excited. He was my shield and my scapegoat.
Jermaine had (and still has) an infectious personality. If you asked anyone from any grade, who’s one of the coolest kids in school, they’d tell you it was Jermaine. He had it all, the charm, the looks, the energy, and he had the ability to make everyone feel welcomed. He was also good at almost everything—and daring! Jermaine wanted to be a skateboarder, and so he’d get other kids to sneak building materials from a construction site in our subdivision, and he’d built a half-pipe in our cul-de-sac. Once it was completed, he’d boldly practice skateboarding tricks. Jermaine wanted to be a musician, so he picked up a sax, and after a few classes, he’d successfully play away. Jermaine was a champion swimmer, Boy Scout, and was on his way to getting his black belt in Karate, a boater, and he was a ladies man. Jermaine was almost great everything and is still like this now. If you don’t believe me, then check him out here. A few years ago, at age 42, my brother was a contestant on Naked and Afraid. Spoiler alert! He made it to the end.
Jermaine was also a ladies man—the Pied Piper of girls, a smooth operator. However, this trait got him into a lot of trouble. I remember one Valentine’s Day, Jermaine had a girlfriend at North Stafford AND South Stafford High. He’d asked me to deliver gifts he’d purchase for both of them because he was too busy trying to court another girl at another school. Jermaine was a mess – LOL. Most of the time, Jermaine’s girl drama never interfered with me too much…except for one situation.
Jermaine, a 9th grader, was “dating” a white girl in 12th grade. I don’t remember her name, so let’s call her “April.” One day after school, “April” saw Jermaine and me riding off in my car heading home. April didn’t know who I was and so she started to ask around. Well, that didn’t help her much because I wasn’t like my brother—you know, popular. The crew I hung out with weren’t part of her circle of friends. I hung out with the theater kids, marching band kids, and art kids. I ate lunch with a few of the less popular kids. Anyway, one day, Theresa, you know, the girl who bullied me in 8th grade, told me that there was going to be a fight in the locker area and that I should go and see who’s going to be there.
“Why should I go? I don’t like to see people fight.”
“Oh, because I think the fight is about Jermaine.”
Theresa began to laugh. “Actually, this white girl, April, wants to kick your ass! She saw you and Jermaine in your car together, and someone told her that you were Jermaine’s other girlfriend.”
“Theresa, you have to tell her that I’m Jermaine’s sister!”
“I did, but she said that there’s no way Jermaine has a sister who is white.”
Theresa laughed again. “Janeen, you’re going to get your ass kicked!”
I was terrified! At lunch, I ran to find my brother and told him what was going to happen.
“One of your stupid girlfriends, April, wants to kick my ass after school in the locker area because she thinks you’re cheating on her with me!”
“What? She knows I have a sister!”
“Well, she must not believe you because she said there’s no way you could have a sister who’s WHITE!”
“White?!? What?” Jermaine’s boys started laughing.
I began walking away, embarrassed, and completely crushed. I was so sick
and tire of my skin color bullshit.
Jermaine yelled, “Janeen! Meet me in the locker area after school! I’ll take care of it!”
I asked myself again, “What are people seeing that I’m not seeing? Why do some people think that I’m white?” I stormed away.
After school, kids were gathered in a circle in the locker area. I peeked in between a few people to look for my brother. I only saw April, who was visibly pissed.
“Where the fuck is this bitch?” she said.
I said to myself. “Where is Jermaine!?”
Theresa push me into the circle. “Here, she is!” Damn, what was Theresa’s deal?
April’s voice got low, sorta’ like one of those WWF wrestlers, “Where were you taking my boyfriend, Jermaine, yesterday?”
I looked at her pale, freckled cover face and wondered what my brother saw in her. Her thick, navy blue eyeliner was smearing, and she had big bangs that were glued together by what smelled like Aqua Net.
“April, I’m Jermaine’s big sister!” I barked like a teacup Maltese trying to tell a pit bull to stand down. I was so fucking scared.
“What? You’re lying bitch, you’re white! I know you are dating Jermaine. I saw him at your locker this morning!”
“April, I’m not white!” I looked around the crowd for a familiar face for back-up. Fuck! Where is my brother?! My heart was racing, and my throat hurt.
Jermaine, finally, busted through the crowd.
“April! That’s my big sister!”
“You’re lying, Jermaine! This is a white bitch!”
A few of Jermaine’s boys chimed in, “April! He’s telling the truth. That’s his sister!”
Theresa laughed and said, “April, you know me, and they are telling you the truth. That’s Jermaine’s sister; Janeen is a light-skinned skinny ass Black girl.”
April backed down and hugged my brother. I stormed off, giving Theresa an evil look.
“Ah-haha! Janeen almost got her ass beat!” she said.
The rest of that afternoon was a blur. I only thing I remember is feeling alone, defeated, and that Darkness came knocking again. I opened the door and invited Darkness in, but after my conversation with it, I decided that I was too scared to take Darkness up on its offer and escorted it out of my room.
I looked into my dresser mirror, cried, and asked God to help me understand. I didn’t bother to ask my mom and dad about my skin color this time. Why should I? I get my looks from my dad’s family. <<
46 years living my life blanketed by confusion has been emotionally torturous and affected my self-image, confidence, ability to trust, and decision-making.
Many people have asked me to try to understand that times were different back then or that my parents did the best they could, or that I came out “okay”—I get it. But no matter the logic, one thing remains. My life was emotionally confusing and distressing—no matter how much love and privilege surrounded me. My life’s emotional experience was like a subdivision built on top of a landfill—beautiful yet mephitic. However, I’m successfully bulldozing it down and healing and embracing my truth.