Written by: Alyssa Hodges, O’Neill IUPUI Criminal Justice major
Being biracial is complex and unique and beautiful. Being a biracial woman only deepens all of those things. These three groups, so wonderfully blended, have made me who I am. But my intersectional identity can be—and has been—fetishized and even questioned by some.
My mother is white and my father is Black. I spent the majority of the first 10 years of my life in a predominately white town, one I would classify as rather rural. I knew of fewer than 10 other Black people in my town, including my dad and brothers. To me, it was normal to have so few Black people around. it was all I had ever known.
When I was young, I honestly felt no different than anyone else—I was just Alyssa. But as a young girl, there was one glaring difference many people couldn’t ignore: my hair. I would hear things like: “It’s so poofy,” “It’s like poodle hair,” “What does it feel like?” and the word I always hated most: frizzy.
As I grew up, hearing about the difference in my hair soon expanded to include the difference in my skin tone. People would ask me questions like, “What are you?” or say “You’re not really that Black.” To this day, I continue to hear comments like this and comments about my hair.
I later moved to the suburbs of Northwest Chicago, an area that was vastly more diverse than my childhood hometown. There was still an underrepresentation of African Americans, but seeing more people who looked like me made me realize how detrimental it had been to grow up with so few Black role models, especially women.
Two years ago, I left the Chicago suburbs and moved to Indianapolis to attend the O’Neill School. This shift in location led to a shift in how I embrace my identities.
Moving here has been the first time in my life that I have felt adequately represented. My sophomore year of college was the first time I had ever been taught by a Black person. This is the first time I have felt like I could wear my hair naturally and not be looked at like a spectacle. It’s the first time I feel fully Alyssa.
All of these shifts have helped me learn that it is important to stay true to who I am. I also have learned the importance of surrounding myself with people who don’t try to water down any part of my identity. I am who I am, and I think that is the greatest thing about me.
But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also realized that while I have embraced my identities, others almost always will view and treat me differently.
I am simultaneously Black, white, and a woman. Being at an intersection such as this—and having the many experiences that come along with each of those identities—has allowed me to better understand multiple communities, ultimately helping my work with diversity, equity, and inclusion at the O’Neill School.
I realize there are few mixed-race people compared to other races. What I want people to know is that we may not fit perfectly into any single race “box”—and that is okay. What is never okay is to ask us “What are you?” or to question my Blackness just because you think I “don’t act Black.” It is never okay to look at a biracial woman in a way that may fetishize her or her features. These things may seem innocent—or even be viewed as a compliment by some—but in reality, they are microaggressions that objectify women and deepen the existing divide between the white and Black communities.
In my life, I have felt too Black to be white and too white to be Black. Yet I see now that I am not too much or too little of anything. I am simply Alyssa. Accept me for who I am, recognize that I am simply human—and please, don’t ask to touch my hair.