Maya Raiford Cohen
For a lot of my life, I identified as strictly mixed race, with a black mother and a white father. The specificity served a few purposes; I wasn’t mistaken as some “exotic” other, my probable outfit of Brandy Melville and Rainbows was immediately explained, and more importantly, I distanced myself from a strictly African American identity, something that I’d always admired, respected, and upheld but also occasionally felt rejected and hindered by.
This last part was difficult. I came from an upper middle class household with two professional parents who had Ivy League degrees. I owned too many pairs of Lulu’s and BIHS had been my first choice small-school. I allowed myself to believe that this somehow invalidated my blackness and excluded me from the history, culture, and community my mother’s family had offered me since birth.
I am just now beginning to mature past this. There is no one definition of what being black is and I can fit within the community in the ways I am most familiar with. For me, that meant appreciating and listening to my parents, who are both Professors of African American studies.
It meant reading Toni Morrison, Malcolm X, and Richard Wright and fitting an African American studies class into my BIHS schedule. It meant shutting down highways when Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling were killed by police in their hometowns.
Now, when I’m asked to check a box on a survey or a college application, I always choose black. Not because it’s somehow advantageous, but because I see black history as something that I too can be included in, regardless of my white father. It has shaped my politics, interests, actions, and rhetoric. It is something that deserves my celebration.