Black Sheep

[Originally posted on violinia.blogger.com on November 11, 2016]

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being biracial.

Do you know how long it took me to fully understand accept this statement in regards to myself? 23 years too long.

You would think that in a country so diverse, one would never feel like an outcast in their entire life. You’d think every single person would feel welcomed and included no matter where they stand on the soil of this nation; after all, there’s a group for everyone. But it’s not like that here, is it? Actually, perhaps so much diversity results in more isolation rather than unity. We’ve never been the greatest at mingling with each other, have we? We’re very good at separating ourselves, staying with people who think like us, talk like us, and look like us. It’s too hard just to exist on the earth’s soil and work together. And our current climate does not help at all; in fact, it makes this blog post even harder to write and to share with you all. But it makes it all more important.

The feeling of isolation is what I’d like to focus on for my very first blog post, because it is something that I have felt for the majority of my life, especially in the beginnings of my musical career.

Now, I am an only child so there’s at least one thing I’m very good at, which is I don’t need others to constantly entertain me (I’m fine on my own) and there’s one thing I struggle with, which is sharing. So there is a difference between being alone and enjoying the quiet and feeling completely isolated.

I grew up in a predominantly white area in south central Pennsylvania. Born in a household where I never once thought it to be strange that my parents’ skin colors differed from each other, but as soon as I began the early stages of school, I quickly learned that was the oddball. The Strange One. The Black Sheep. Somewhere along the lines, it was ingrained in me that I wasn’t normal, that I was a freak of nature. I reached a time when I no longer wanted to go outside because spending even two minutes in the sun would make me three shades darker. I started to think that if I looked differently (pale skin, straight hair, lighter eyes, etc.), things would be better and people wouldn’t give me strange and nasty looks.

I’ve spent a good percentage of my life hating myself because I’ve felt so unwelcome at times. When I started joining the local junior symphony, kids would ask me: “Why do you play the violin? Shouldn’t you play flute or saxophone or something?” To most, when I explain this, the question seems innocent; clearly, there is nothing offensive about the comment. And sure, it’s not a fully loaded question, it honestly could be far worse, but if you read into it, why should I play either of those instruments? Why should I, or anyone for that matter, because of the color of their skin, be limited to specific instruments while others are given the full spectrum?

You’re probably already saying to yourself, “Why are you just retelling the stereotypes? We know that stereotypes aren’t at all true. After all, they are just stereotypes; anyone can choose whatever instrument they want to pick and still succeed!” Yes, you are correct, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. We live in a time and an age where this absolutely should be true. And yet, it feels as if we are far from where we should be. Times have certainly been better, and with current climates, things are certainly worse off, but there are still plenty of people who look with a judging eye. Let me reassure you, I’m not calling the music community racist because they are far from that; I will simply say that there are plenty of musicians in the classical community who are prejudice.

It’s always come from both sides of my race as well. In high school I felt judgement from the black community as well as the white; it was almost as if “why are you renouncing yourself and your heritage and acting like someone else?” When really, I was just being myself. As someone who is biracial, I’ve always felt that I had to choose a side; my mom’s white heritage or my dad’s black heritage. It could never be both in so many people’s eyes. When I continued my studies in violin, I felt that I would never truly fit in because I wasn’t, well, white. But I also felt that I wouldn’t fit in the black community either because I’m not black. In high school, I always felt like I was always in a quandary with myself and felt that I would never truly belong no matter what I did or what career I pursued. Throughout high school, I fought the churning unsure feelings in my stomach and continued to just do me.

But then it comes across as if I’m disowning my African American heritage as well. But it’s so much more complicated than that. When people first meet me and find out that I am a violinist, some assume that I must take in some interest in jazz music, performing and violin, which is far from the truth. To be frank, I’ve never been the biggest fan of jazz, hip-hop, rap, R&B, and blues. This doesn’t mean I don’t have songs on my iPod from those select genres because I do, but I cannot listen to these musical genres for long periods of time. For years, I thought that I was renouncing part of my heritage to get where I wanted to be, which was wrong of me to do. In this day and age, we should all accept where our ancestry comes from; it is a part of who we are and rejecting means that we are rejecting a part of ourselves.

It’s isolating, and that is by no means to living our lives, and I no longer want to live my life that way.

 

I cannot blame everyone for how I have felt for the bulk of my life, part of it is my fault as well. I let their words, their prejudice warp my brain. I’ve spent so many years hating myself because I wasn’t born white and beautiful like my friends or the people on advertisements or like the famous musicians you see on CDs in the classical music section of your local bookstore. It is mind boggling how easily and quickly that can mess with someone’s brain and idea of self; it’s something that honestly shouldn’t be. To think the way I have been thinking for the past several years isn’t innate, but rather something that is taught sub or unconsciously. I wasn’t born into this world hating myself, somewhere along the lines, I not only taught myself to hate myself, but society taught me to hate myself.

At the beginning of September, when I returned back to school for my Master’s degree, I told myself: “Enough is enough!” and have begun on a journey to accept myself for who I am and for how I look. It’s nowhere near perfect, and it most likely will never be perfect; there are many days where I slide backward and have a setback. But I can say that there are more days where I feel comfortable in my skin and know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. And I can say that with the start of my Master’s degree (there have been ups and downs throughout the semester which will have its own blog entry come December or January) that it has been reassuring being in the diverse area at Towson University. It’s finally nice to look across the orchestra from my seat and see African Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasians and people of mixed races like me participating by my side. I no longer have to feel like I stick out like a sore thumb for looking different.

It has also been helpful to know that as I look into history, there have been plenty of people of African descent who were composers and musicians in classical music. All of the years I’ve believed that I was turning away from half of my heritage, it turns out that I’m still embracing it, just not in the stereotypical way people would like to see me do. Upon looking into and discovering this, I have decided that I would like to dedicate my Master’s thesis to the topic of Black composers and musicians in classical music. One of my goals in my career is to spread this information and perform music of Black composers because they are sometimes stashed away and hidden so that the more “important” composers can always be remembered and their music preserved. There is so much music repertoire that exists in the music community, and it would be a shame to forget the diverse members of the community when their works are just as good, maybe even better, than the Greats we always remember.

The journey of self-acceptance has only just begun for me, and I have a long way to go from here. This post originally ended in a much happier light in the hopes of a positive outcome for the election, but now that is no longer the case. It seems that the road to my journey has grown even longer because of the hate that resides in this land. I will not go into details because I am sure many know what I am referring to. I have been pushed down several times and I’ve always gotten up before. I will continue to not only fight others to prove myself, but I will fight the demons society has put into my head. I will fight in order to succeed in this uphill battle we all call life.

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