“There is no such thing as half,” my mama explained to me, “You are a whole German and a whole Black American. Your brother is your whole sibling. How do you even have half of a sibling? You don’t. You don’t have half things. They either are or they’re not.” Welcome to, “Being Mixed 101,” introduced to me by a feisty white German woman, and a tall, brown, fully locked (like…white kids asking if my dad is Bob Marley type of vibe,) black American man in the Bay Area of Northern California.
My creation and presence on this earth were intentional AF. I know my parents, they did this on purpose. I mean yea, I was a product of their love or whatever. But knowing them, I KNOW they couldn’t wait to showcase little me as a product of breaking societal norms, opening the floor to judgment and questions, but of course, being fully armed and equipped with every possible angle and rebuttal in shutting down anyone who even raised an eyebrow at their little mixed “look we’re breaking social norms,” baby.
Not only did they decide to procreate a child with one side of the family not believing in swirling their children, but they also decided to name me Maaéah. That’s not even it. They actually named me Maaéah Kenyatta. Maaéah that supposedly has either Ghanaian or Congolese roots, I couldn’t give you any real evidence on that because I’ve never seen or heard it anywhere outside of myself. Unique nevertheless.
Then, as if my first name wasn’t present enough, they thought let’s give our warrior baby a name like, “Kenyatta,” to really seal the deal. Yes, after Jomo Kenyatta. Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya, who also led them to their independence. No biggie. I got this. And then of course to close it off, I have Howell as my last name to represent whatever slave master was running the Howell plantation, the generosity of post-slavery identifiers still present in 2020.
I’m being humorous about the whole ordeal, but it’s actually pretty outstanding that my parents looked at little me (I mean I was never that small, over 8lbs at birth, as I said before, I had no choice but to always make my presence known… hello, Kenyatta!) but still, they looked at me and decided, this girl is making a mark in this world, she will have a dominant presence and whatever she does will not ever be half, it will be whole.
I hope you know they fully executed this plan. My father is a music guy (literally, he’s a trademarked jazz musician, but contributes to the full aspects of the industry), I had personalized, “lullabies,” if you can even really call them that. The nightly one that I was rocked to went something like, “Maaeah, my smart and happy girl, you’re here to change the world. Maaeah, you can be anything that you put your mind to.” Again, the execution was there from day one, I did not have a choice to be anything but present.
An interesting part of being a mixed woman in the US is the extreme pressure to identify yourself, and more or less choose a category to fit in. I didn’t grow up sheltered enough to think that this didn’t apply to me, but my parents never stressed it as a necessity. As I said in my opening sentence, my mother made it clear that I was all of it, and I didn’t have to choose or answer to anybody about who I am.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had in-depth discussions with other mixed people who suffered severely from an identity crisis, the feeling of not belonging, or finding their identity and being challenged on it. I guess in a way I was lucky to have been given the confidence to just be. Don’t get me wrong, there were sore spots left and right. Perhaps what I mean to say is, sometimes it was hurtful, but there was never a moment where I questioned myself and wondered if maybe I wasn’t what I thought I was.
Breaking it down further and going into my childhood. I went to a Eurocentric, very white school from Kindergarten through high school. I sat in classrooms for years that never talked about slavery, that only discussed black culture as “less than,” and never uplifted or spoke about the elite ancestral roots that black people are made of. I didn’t grow up blind to it, I was just taught at home, rigorously.
Actually, my parents were so OD about me knowing my African roots that now, as an adult I have found myself in multiple conversations with friends from the continent, where some of the information embedded in me is completely new and foreign to them. Kenyatta coming through strong, what can I tell you.
Small example, my father hung up a map of Africa in front of my bedroom, before I was allowed to go to bed each night, my dad would make me spin in circles, and then shout, “Stop!” At that point, he would start pointing at random countries on the map and I would eagerly shout out their respective names. I wasn’t more than three years old and definitely couldn’t read.
It came in handy in 6th grade, I had a test where we were required to draw the world and name as many countries and states on every continent as we could remember. I had one of the highest scores in my class because of course, Kenyatta drew Africa and her 54 countries correctly (I know there are some sovereign states/dependent territories, but you get the gist). Honestly, I probably would have gotten the highest score if I knew where any of the damn states were in the US. Ha.
Once again, I could never half know Africa, only whole. So, back to my identity crisis, or lack thereof. I always felt that my self-awareness allowed me to comfortably maneuver myself through life. I attended a white school, I dealt with the challenges that they brought, I posed for all their pictures that were used for, “diversity recruitment,” got my dreams and goals shut down and told they weren’t realistic, received my education (with the extra classroom hours at home,) and got out.
I had a coach who believed in me and was willing to fight my battles with me. A black coach, surprise! He was one of two black instructors in my entire high school, and without him, my outcome would have been completely different. He showed up every single day to remind me that my fight was valuable, important and success was the only possible outcome. In fact, he made my fight, “our fight.” I fully believe that unity is a black concept. You know, the whole Umoja vibe.
I graduated high school and earned a full Division I ride to hoop for Grambling State University (GSU) in Louisiana. Checked off one of my personal, “they told me I can’t do this,” items on my list, BOOP.
GSU is a historically black university (or HBCU), established in 1901. It was commenced by black farmers to offer educational advancement to black people in rural Louisiana. So naturally, the next step in my journey was to progress from San Francisco, CA to Grambling, LA. Once again, I am not half anything, it made sense for me to go from a PWI to HBCU, it’s all about balance, right?
I received a lot of discouragement before attending Grambling. People told me I would have a culture shock, mostly people who were confused and unable to understand my comfort in being mixed, they assumed that since they weren’t accustomed to black people that maybe I wouldn’t be either. Or maybe because they saw me succeed in a white environment, they thought I wouldn’t in a black environment, or perceived it as a step backward.
I actually remember people asking me, well what do you think it’ll be like? Black. I think it’s going to be a university filled with black students. And guess what? That’s literally what it was. Well, it honestly was SO much more than that. But for the sake of my anticipated culture shock, it was black, just as expected. And let me tell you, being at a black school, I was never asked to categorize my identity or be someone that made sense to them. Most of the time I was just, “the light-skinned hooper,” or “the high yella from Cali.”
Man, I seriously could write about what it means to be whole and not half, for days. Maybe I’ll start a mini-series about it. It’s funny, I relate, identify, and completely migrate towards black people. We’re lit. Why wouldn’t you? I’ve had people say things like, “But aren’t you white. You’re not even really black. You don’t look black.”
The funny part is, I don’t disregard my German side at all. I’m proud to be German, it was my first language, my first way of communicating, and it is 100% present in my way of thinking. My German family also has never treated me as less German (or less black) than any non-mixed person. I say “German and black,” not because I’m in denial that Germans are white, but because my white side is not American and I don’t relate to white Americans.
For some reason, it’s hard for many to conceptualize what it means to be biracial. Everything American about me is black, everything German about me is white. Most of the time I don’t really care anymore. It used to make me angry, and I felt defensive with the need to explain or prove that I’m not that kinda white, or that I am black.
Over time I realized the more pride and comfort I take in knowing who I am, the less it mattered what others have to say about it. So, for the last time, I’m a whole ass German, and a whole ass black woman, there is no such thing as half.