Growing Up Beige: Appropriating the Struggle

I remember one day back in college, sitting in the computer lab with one of my friends.

She got frustrated suddenly, and when I asked what was wrong, she points to her screen at some girl’s Facebook page.

“I used to be good friends with this girl in high school.”

She continued on about their friendship and why they were no longer close.

They used to go to concerts all the time together, rock and metal shows with mosh pits and all that. The girl was biracial, half black, half white. In high school, she wore her hair straightened, wore skater clothing brands, and was wholly ignorant to black culture. The Facebook page I was looking at, however, showed a curly-haired girl, with post after post of shared news stories of gentrification in the city, think pieces on race, and general politics. Something had clearly changed since high school with this girl, and my friend wasn’t buying it.

The most recent of her postings was an article talking about the last high rise projects in North Philly. I can’t really remember the opinion of the piece, but the girl shared hers along with the article link. And whatever her stance was, it pissed my friend off.

My friend lived in that area of town. She shared her frustration over how article apparently oversimplified the issues, and how this girl was not only misguided in her opinion, but also had no business speaking on matters she didn’t understand. Then came her biggest issue about this girl, and at that point she said something that has stuck in my mind ever since.

“I can’t just take this off,” she said as she extended her arm and rubbed her brown skin.

Hearing that struck a conflicting chord. I simultaneously empathized with my friend’s rage, and sympathized with this girl’s identity struggle.

I am understanding the beige area, as I’m going to coin it, as the space in between these two feelings.

I am black.

I haven’t always accepted that, and I was kind of allowed to deny it, so I did. I can claim blackness, and I can just as easily renounce my race when it inconveniences me to be so. And honestly I found it to be an inconvenience for most of my life.

While I still struggle with my past upsets over my racial identity, I recognize and admit that I’ve been wrong and severely misguided. Injustice seems a whole lot more important than my pride and hurt feelings, and I don’t want to exploit this racial loophole as some kind of advantage anymore. It’s not one. I’m paying for my ignorance now as I try to work backwards seeking a foundation I didn’t think I needed for years.

What I don’t want to do through this process is to fake a hardship that I didn’t suffer through. What I don’t want to do is speak out of my backside about issues that have never pertained to me. I’m black, sure. But I don’t share or even know all black struggles, and I’m not going to act like I do. I will not and don’t need to appropriate the struggle in order to join the cause.

And I’ll join by speaking what I know, and learning and supporting what I don’t. My issues as a light-skinned Black American aren’t going to be recognized as real struggles to some. I get it, but I don’t really care. It’s my only vantage point, and I think as many shades of the Black American perspective that can be shared, should be shared and respected. We need to understand where we’re all coming from so we can collectively work towards one direction for the better. Colorism is maintaining division and distracting us from moving forward. It’s more complex than that, yes. But we have to start somewhere.

I want to hear perspectives and connect with different views and more insights, so you’ll find mine here, piece by piece.


I keep trying to speak with the Latino guys at my job who work in the kitchen. I’ve worked in that place for a year and every interaction to this day has been a train wreck when I try to talk to them in Spanish. Over the past couple years, I’ve developed this habit of mixing the Japanese I’ve learned with the Spanish I know. It’s a caliente mess, let me tell you…desu. Omg!


thai sleeping

Heh, anyways, I’ve been studying Japanese for the past two years. I plan on teaching English in Japan for a couple years after I graduate from college, and I would love to become fluent in the language. But I have a long road ahead of me towards full literacy. You know how stupid you feel when you just cannot grasp a concept in school? Well imagine feeling utterly stupid in two different cultures at the same time. That was me in my first Japanese class.

My Japanese professor, Tanaka sensei, was fantastic. He really wanted us to learn Japanese in a manner as similar as possible to how we learned English as babies. So he taught with mostly visual aids, and we rarely used the text because he didn’t want students to try and translate words. Tanaka sensei’s showed us pictures, and acted out situations with a little monkey puppet so we would understand the context of words and phrases. It sounds crazy, and everyone in class exchanged confused glances at each other when he first introduced us to the monkey puppet, but after a couple times trying to translate terms and failing, we grew to appreciate his teaching methods.

Along with not allowing us to directly translate words from Japanese to English, Tanaka sensei also forbade students from speaking English during classtime. To ensure that we didn’t, he would dock points from English speakers. It seemed harsh at the time, but looking back, it really did make a difference. Not only was it a hindrance to the person speaking, but it also threw off the learning process for everyone around them. I only wish I took Tanaka sensei’s warning against this more seriously. I was good about not speaking English in class, but what I failed at was shutting my mouth.

Generally, since we weren’t allowed to speak English, if you didn’t know how to say something in Japanese, the only other option was to shut up. But of course I would be the one to make up a whole new option. I just substituted Spanish for the words I didn’t know. I’ve been out of class for a year so nobody yell at me about my grammatical mistakes and whatnot. There’s a lot I don’t remember. But moments like this would happen in class all the time:


(Ray-san, where did you go for summer vacation?)


(I went to California.)


(What did you do there?)

 家族をあって、あの。。。あのおおおお。。。La playa に行きました。

I met with family, and uh…uhhhhh…went to la playa.

La…playa… la playa って何?日本語じゃありません。

La playa? What’s la playa? That’s not Japanese.


Uhh, no.

During my first semester in the Intermediate Japanese class, I missed my midterm due to some family things going on. For make-up, I had to take my test in the Foreign Language lab at a later date. I go in for my test and walk to this table in the back of the room. My Japanese professor ran the language lab, but it was purposed for all foreign language class students to come and complete their lab assignments. During the time I had to take my test, someone who took Spanish came in to do an audio lab at one of the computers. This lab required him to record himself reading a story in Spanish and sending it to his professor. And he was stationed three feet away from me while I’m taking a Japanese exam. It was the most confusing half hour of my life.

I was sitting there, thinking in English, listening to Spanish, all of which I understood, and reading and trying to write in Japanese. It would have been easy to tune out the guy reading in Spanish if it were basic and redundant. Like if all he was saying was “El gato es negro,” or something Dick and Jane-esque, that would be easy to ignore. But no. It was this long winded story of his family throwing him a birthday party in the mall and there was cake and dancing, good music, and…cousins. I couldn’t focus for the life of me.

I got an A- on that test, but the mistakes I made, oh geez. For one question, I wrote the Spanish word for ‘where’ instead of the Japanese word. It’s donde versus doko, sue me. What was weird was that I actually wrote ‘donde’ in hiragana. And I ended up using ‘de’ incorrectly since it functions completely different in each language.

My mix of Spanish and Japanese has only gotten worse since I’ve been away from a professor that would steer me away from doing so. It’s just become a matter of whatever is easiest to say in either language, that’s what comes out of my mouth.

In my defense, apparently children who are raised in a bilingual home grow up speaking both languages at once. Some parenting guides suggest each parent speaking to the child exclusively in one language each so they can better compartmentalize the two. I’m not a child though. I don’t get the opportunity to botch language while I learn. I’ll get it together in due tiempo though, promise. But bear with me in the meantime.