Residence: New York City
Occupation: Author, Writer, and Cheetahrama designer
I look back at what I said twenty years ago and I see how invested I was in denial. But not as much as my sister: it wasn’t until years later through my own investigations that I found out that so much of what my sister told me was a lie. For starters, I didn’t have a father who put us up in a cheap motel. Our mother also didn’t take us down to the welfare office and sign us over. And my sister was 12, not 10. According to the records I gained access to: My mother and her three children were evicted and we ended up homeless in Ft. Greene Park. Homeless. The police picked us up and our mother was taken for evaluation at Bellevue and then committed to Central Islip Psychiatric Hospital. We officially became wards of the state. To this day, my sister distorts things, even though I’ve shown her the papers and shared with her all the information and documents I’ve discovered. But I understand that this is how she dealt with it. She was overwhelmed and was just a child, traumatized by the loss of her family. To this day. So we just don’t talk about it anymore.
Another instance of denial. Despite the fact that my sister finally came clean and told me we had white fathers, I still had a smidgeon of doubt. So, I finally had a DNA test. I chose the Genelex lab, since that was the one featured on Oprah. It was more expensive than the Ancestry and National Geographic options, but I liked the fact that you could get to speak with a scientist after the lab results came back. So I took a swab of saliva and sent it in and two months later I received my Ethnic Ancestry DNA certificate in the mail. The results: I was 46 percent Sub-Saharan African, which means black and covers the countries where all the slaves came from who were shipped to this country. Secondly, I was 48 percent European, which means white. So that told me who my father was–and was the end of my denial about being biracial. And then there was a twist, which was that I have six percent East Asian DNA, which maybe helps explain the slight slant in my eyes. Something inside me was released after that. I knew on some level who I was–and had the scientific evidence that my father was white. At last, I didn’t have to rely on my sister, even though in this case she was telling the truth.
I talked to the scientist after I received my certificate, and my one disappointment was that he couldn’t tell me the region in Europe the 48 percent on my father’s side came from. I discovered through the scientist that they would only be able to define a region if it was on my mother’s side–and it’s known as mitochondrial DNA. That means, if the 48 percent European had been on my mother’s side, they would have been able to define the region. As for the East Asian DNA which covers 15 sub classifications of cultures–such as Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian and Cherokee–the scientist told me that because my mother was from the South, it was likely the East Asian DNA was Chinese or Cherokee because of the railroad workers (Chinese) and heavy Cherokee presence. He also told me, however, that one out of every 200 people on the planet have Mongolian DNA, so it could be that also. At any rate, I finally had a more complete picture of my racial makeup. And in the end, I simply call myself Black! Of course, if you delve further, I will reveal that I am indeed the true definition of “Black, White, Other.”
Today, I mark Black. I’ve collapsed into the American system, and if forms like the Census ask for anything more technical, I’ll check African-American. I’m just tired. I recently went to see 12 Years a Slave, and I took my old therapist, who’s from Russia. When we came out of the theater, she said, “Nothing has changed. This is the way the world has always been.” She said there will always be greedy, maniacal people killing each other or exploiting each other or giving out subprime mortgages. And that made me feel better. That this is just the way the world is. Even though we have a biracial president — who’s referred to as a Black president, by the way — nothing has really changed. All I can do is to try and do my part, to be the change in my own world.
To find out more about Deborah’s young reader series, Catwalk and Cheetah Girls, click here.