I come in pieces: I am part Italian, part Jamaican, and part Metis Indian. I look like a white man with a perpetual and very even tan. My eyes are brown, and my hair dark, though I streak it with ash blond. I’m not sure why I do that, and lately I’ve been wondering.
There was never a hint of racial prejudice directed at me, unless all or part of my muddled heritage became known. The boys across the street, using brilliant deductive reasoning based on my last name, called me Wop. My mother, the Metis (though her father was Jamaican), was too fearsome for them to confront, even indirectly, so they had to settle, on school grounds only, for “chief”, which was pretty mild, but since it was meant to wound me, it did.
I have since heard every racial epithet known to man, I think, most of it by oblivious people unaware they were attacking me, my parents, and my grandparents, and who were certain I would be in on the joke since I was “white”, like them. Sometimes I corrected these people, sometimes I didn’t, sometimes I got into fights, and one time I stabbed a man. I didn’t realize the cut had severed an artery, but fortunately for him the bartender knew how to apply a tourniquet, and he survived. I went to the hospital and offered a blood transfusion, just to irritate the guy.
I didn’t serve any prison time for the incident, since this man also had a knife, and witnesses told the police he attacked me first. Self-defence, and all that.
That racist’s near death experience, and my ugly idea to put hybrid blood into his veins, got me started with the idea of giving blood. I donate my mixed and mixed-up blood, regularly. Not only that, but I am a well-paid executive with the Red Cross. You could say blood is in my blood.
In college I discovered self-loathing, as a concept. My mother wouldn’t allow such a sentiment in practice. She didn’t spoil me, except psychically. She had me believing that I was as good or better than any other person who walked the earth, even the Pope, whose picture hung in the kitchen.
My full college tuition, by the way, was paid for by the federal government, because as a child born to a Metis mother, I qualified.
Meanwhile, I was streaking my dark hair with highlights, and I realized why, finally.
I was in love with a white woman. A 100% bleached, British-style, Mayflower-descended, blue-eyed, privileged in every way, white woman. I was ashamed and abashed about this, without completely understanding why. She was many, many other things besides the colour of her skin, as I was. But she was such a thoroughbred white, that I was blinded by it.
And I wanted her to love me. So I made myself whiter; lamely with streaks of dye from a bottle. She never requested such a change by word or deed, and I was barely aware of what I was doing myself, to myself. Still, she knew very little about my background.
The actual idea of self-loathing, and my imaginary immunity from it, arrived at my doorstep at the same moment. Self-awareness is necessary, sure, but I can tell you it can be painful.
I am taking her to my sister Felicity’s wedding next weekend. She will think she’s waltzed into the United Nations. All shades of white, brown, and black will be represented.
There is no one blacker than my grandfather Hannibal. I look forward to their meeting