Black, White, Other Flashback: Jacqueline Djanikian

by | Dec 4, 2013 | Word Up

Here are two excerpts from Jacqueline Djanikian’s original 1992 interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity (now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):

“When I was thirteen, I went to the grocery store with my dad in a predominantly black neighborhood, and we went up to the checkout stand and my dad picked up Jet magazine, because he always got that. And the woman at the counter said, ‘Excuse me sir, that’s not a TV Guide.’ And he looked at her and said, ‘I know what it is. Thank you.’

And I just died. The look on his face, ‘Do you think I’m stupid? I know what this magazine is.’ I will never forget that. I just died when he said that, you know? It was so funny, and she was so embarrassed because she thought, well, what would a white guy be doing with a black magazine?

I thought it was great. I thought it was great! Because he’s very upfront, and it was like, ‘Don’t give me any shit. I’m not an idiot.'”

“I’m black because my mother is black, and, technically, you are whatever your mother is. This is according to documents, paper, the hospital, everybody. Somebody was telling me about this. It’s actually the law. You are whatever your mother is, so if your father’s Jewish and your mother’s Catholic, you’re Catholic. You can’t be half-Jewish or whatever. My brother could pass for white, but he is black because that’s what his mother is. The mother dominates. So I consider myself black. I am closer to my mom, also, and to her family because they’re here, and my dad actually lives half the year here and half the year in France. And he’s over there now, and I don’t see his family except when they visit.

And it’s not only the law; it’s just my choice, actually. That’s the way I want to live my life—as a black African-American, not as a Caucasian. I could never pass for Caucasian if I wanted to. And regardless of whether it was legal or not, it’s sort of like my mom and I have a very close bond, and because she happens to be black, that’s who I feel I am. I’m a black woman.

When you grow up you just make that choice. You either decide you want to be African-American, or you want to be Caucasian. And it might have to do with your skin color, it might have to do with how people perceive you. I’m obviously African-American. You could never look at me and say, ‘Oh, she’s white.’

I don’t think it’s possible for people to identify as both. Take my brother, for instance. If someone were to come up to him and say, ‘What’s your race?’ he would say black. It’s just a choice you’ve made yourself. You can identify with both races, but you are one or the other. You are not both. I identify with both, but I am one.

Between black people, when we see each other on the street, there is acknowledgment that takes place. We don’t have to say anything, it’s just eye contact that no other race really does. I notice that. My friend and I actually talked about it. There’s an acknowledgment and it’s really interesting. You don’t even have to know the person; you can just look at them and there’s something between you, like a togetherness, I guess.

It’s a good kind of unity thing because life’s rough out there. And compared to other black people and black women, I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been sheltered from the things that a lot of other black families and black children and adults have to deal with. I’ve got a really great job; I went to a great school; I’ve been all over the world; I’ve gone to French schools and speak the language fluently. Not too many black people actually can say they’ve done a lot of that stuff.”

Jacqueline’s 20-year update will be posted in the near future. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of her original oral history—in which she talks about Andy Gibb, lunchroom politics, and diversity in the advertising world, among other topics—in the BWO ebook.