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How Come You’re Not Black?

Black Asia Magazine talks to a mixed-race woman in Taipei

I have a lot in common with Tarryn Lua. We’re both from the big city. We’re both far from home and we’re both used to life abroad. We sat down at a restaurant in Taipei called, Wild Wings America.The topic was our respective backgrounds and experiences living in Asia.

I’m from New York and Tarryn is from Cape Town, South Africa. On a deeper level, she wanted to know if she was a suitable subject for an interview with Black Asia Magazine. Her main concern was that she isn’t completely a black woman

Tarryn is a colored woman. You may have heard about the “Cape Coloreds”. The Cape Coloreds are primarily composed of people with mixed-raced ethnicity. They form part of a post-apartheid racial landscape, with a complex history of racial tension and interactions.

I gathered from her that, due to its complexity, it is difficult to navigate. Even more so than in the United States, which has its own racially charged history. Together, we could not determine which country is farther along in sorting out its racial mess.

So, what truly are the criteria for being featured as a part of Black Asia Magazine? Tarryn expressed her eagerness to participate in this project to me, but I also detected some hesitation from her. She wasn’t sure if she would fit in with the trend of this publication.

Here is what I think: Black Asia Magazine was created for the purpose of strengthening lines of communication between black communities in Asia.

It provides a place for us to talk about our problems and the different approaches we might take. Lastly, it serves to show the world the things that we’re building out here.

Tarryn is African. So, that is her connection to the community right there. More importantly, she identifies as a mixed-race woman. I would believe otherwise, but maybe it’s my American heritage talking?

According to the American ethos, one drop of black blood makes you a black person, legally. I believe the portion is one-sixty fourth in some of the southern states, to this day. Besides, I talked to her face to face, and she has the vibration of a black woman. Or at least, she reminds me of a black woman.

Tarryn and I are teachers in Taipei. The title of this piece comes from a question she was asked by one of her students. During a lesson about colors, a student earnestly looked at her and said, “You’re from Africa. How come you’re not black?”

Now, being a veteran of life in Asia as an expat, this is something I would laugh off. Especially, since the question came from an adolescent. Most western people would be offended to one degree or another by such a question.

What is the proper response in a situation like that? We’re both from societies where the mere mention of skin color is almost a taboo. Color is central to the identities of millions of people. Yet, to talk about it, and surely to talk about it the wrong way, may incur violence.

We both agreed that this is acceptable, only because it’s a child, and that this was a teachable moment. But what about when it’s an adult?

I end off this piece by asking: Should people be excused as being ignorant in cases similar to this? Should they be held accountable for their words or actions and put in check?

When is the right time to set aside the decorum that goes along with being a guest in someone else’s country? When does your opinion overrule that of a local person? These are questions I often ask myself.

Lastly, is race central to your identity if you are someone of mixed racial heritage?

Share your thoughts with us 🙂

What do you think?

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