Labels

I remember standing outside of an upscale sushi restaurant in Texas, waiting for my valeted car to return. I noticed a guy walk past me with a Dodgers hat. As a homesick fan, I couldn’t help but acknowledge him enthusiastically:

“DODGER HAT!”

He turned towards me, spat in my face, looked at me and said, “Nigger,” and kept walking. It was 2007.

If that story hit you like a pile of bricks, then you, my friend, have just experienced a bit of what I did almost 10 years ago. I was a young, fresh twenty-something that had recently moved to Austin for work. It was only after this incident that I realized certain parts of my background and life had made this moment an anomaly for me. Call it naivete, or innocence, perhaps, but young Breegan had lived a life somewhat sheltered from subversive racism. I was a kid with two white parents, a different complexion, and an upbringing that created a backdrop for which these sorts of things simply did not exist.

With that one unfortunate scene, my pristine, racially irrelevant bubble burst, and my awareness expanded. It was like holding the viewfinder of a kaleidoscope up to your eyes and twisting the knob until everything is clear, but suddenly, previously fuzzy images were now sharply in focus. Each station in my life was a new snapshot. In Texas, I was often the woman who was industrious and spirited, but misunderstood. I could go have dinner alone and feel eyes on me, eyes from people wondering who I was, or whom I was waiting for, because something about the picture in front of them just didn’t make sense. Back in California, the snapshot shifted. I had friends from every ethnic group, yet people often found it difficult to accept that nurture sometimes outweighed my nature. For me, it simply wasn’t about the color of my skin or the genetics involved in my biology. The answer wasn’t cut and dry, and that fact presented a challenge for people attempting to understand me.

With constant maturing as I moved through this life, I found more and more of me. Imagine the surprise when hardly any of it was exclusively determined by the hue of my skin! You see, I will always have two set of parents. The biological ones, by pure definition, affected my nature; the Mom and Dad who raised me, however, have had an overwhelming effect on my nurturing and the person I am today. And both of those things are okay!

I have embraced the truth that Breegan is many things. She is a woman, a restaurateur, a mother, a wife. She is spunky and smart, busy, a music-lover and DJ, a traveler, a night owl. She is Californian, American, and she is black, and white. The boxes people attempt to put me in? I reject them. Labels centering on race and ethnicity are so limiting if we–if I–allow them to be. Instead of creating labels and boxes like we’re all something meant to be packaged up by the postal service, I choose to think of them only as what they are: nouns and adjectives that exist to describe the various parts of who we are.

What am I? I am a jigsaw whose pieces you acquire solely by getting to know me. The curl in my hair, the hue of my complexion, the accent in my speech… these are the building blocks of the picture of a person you see before you. I have two black sons. We are a black family. Those facts make us both interesting and intricate, particularly if you’re willing to dive under the hood.

Race will always be important, especially when coupled with the beautiful cultures in which it lives. Our country has an ugly history with that four-letter word, and it oftentimes makes for some unpleasant conversation (and even more difficult categorization). The key here is embracing the notion that for some people, their racial makeup is simply a what-you-see-is-what-you-get bottom line; for others, it is a bit more complex. Luckily, we are given this life as a journey of discovery.  For many of us, race isn’t just a checked box next to a color. It isn’t a label at all. It’s a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle you put together, one exploration at a time.

Thanks for reading. I sincerely look forward to what unfolds next 🙂

-BJV-

4 thoughts on “Labels

  1. Breegan~ Very moving!
    You open up “Pandora’s Box” with ease and give precise direction. I pray others can learn from your experience and process the missrepresented labels that generate many complicated problems. Our country needs more people like you to use the power of the written word to share truths. Truths like yours need to be read, heard, embraced, digested and precisely acted upon!
    Thank you for sharing!!
    m

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