Okay. This is a sensitive topic for me.
I’m African American.
Now, I was raised by white people so I don’t always identify with my race. When I was being adopted I had an African American social worker who wanted me to go to a black family, so she gave my parents a fight. She wanted me to grow up with my own kind and in my own community. But I think the fact that my black older brother and my Hispanic younger brother were raised by white people and behave according to their racial stereotypes shows that we are born who we are. Sure, it is partly nature and nurture, but I like to think I’d have turned out the same, no matter what.
Now, stereotypes. They are the main reason I don’t truly identify with my race. I believe, and I am writing a research paper regarding this topic for class, that at some point communities of a certain race begin to embody their stereotype. They accept it and encourage it. That is why people say I don’t “act black.” What you see as “acting black” is the way black people appear in movies and TV shows and in music videos. I don’t dress revealing or like a diva. I don’t rap. I enunciate when I speak.
One time I was on the phone, telemarketing, and I called a family in the south. When I asked for the home owner and the person who answered the phone went to find him, she said I was some white lady. Because I didn’t “sound black”.
This is a bit of a problem, especially when you see that I am a singer and an actress. I don’t see myself as a certain race, I used to say I was white on the inside, but because of my looks I am pigeon holed. You expect me to sing a certain way, riff till the cows come home, but I got my base in opera and musical theater. You expect me to be able to dance, well I’m a little bigger and I quit every dance program I was in. You expect me to feel for my people and convey that on stage. Well, I do feel for my ancestors, but my whole life isn’t about them.
One of the things that started me on my downward spiral of depression in 2015, and led to a few suicide attempts, was the musical Ghost. I was cast in the show as one of the Whoopi Goldberg character’s sisters, but I wasn’t given a solo. I freaked because I assumed that I was only cast to be a token black person. Show up on stage and then get the heck off without doing much of anything. I quit the show, had a break down, and a horrible year where I was hospitalized twice. (I’ll have another post about my wonderful trail with mental health. But I have come to terms with my role in theater.)
Here’s the thing, and I am sure that a lot of actresses of color feel this way. We are sick of playing a race. We are sick of playing slaves or oppressed people. I mean, it is depressing. My acting resume includes Hairspray, Big River, Aida, and Civil War. While I like these shows and learned a lot from them and would do them again, I’d like some variety in there. If someone looks at my resume and sees those shows then they think I’m only good for those shows. (Not saying I won’t play these shows in the future, my year outline for 2017 auditions includes these type of shows.)
To get to the point, yes I am African American. There have been times I’ve hated that. But I am more than my race. I am a nerd, a writer, an actress, a singer, a sister, and aunt, and a daughter. I am a friend to anyone who needs me. I am a student. I am a person. I am more than my skin color.