Coloring Outside the Lines: How Race Has Affected My Life

An Old School Coloring Book
An Old School Coloring Book | Source

Who I Am Again

Sometimes I have to remember who I am. Sound funny? No I don't mean like that. I have to remind myself that I have a race, gender, social class and so on. The truth is I don't see myself as a label or a demographic a lot of times when others do. I see myself as a person. And while I struggle from time to time to see the same in others, it is worth it to live in such a way that is not defined by social limits.

When I was younger, I had no boundaries or ideas about anything related to my identity. In fact, I was so silly and confused that I thought I was white until I was about five. My mom finally told me the truth when I was talking to her about something and suddenly was like, "We're white right?" I'm sure she wanted to cry but she laughed and told me the truth. And all I remember was being like "okay" and moving on.

And as I grew older, I realized not every kid felt the way I did. In fact, it was just the opposite. Some kids took their racial identity so far that they projected their feelings on others in such a way that was sometimes too sad to think of. But in all those experiences with my race and identity, I can say it's all been an interesting, strange, and sometimes fun ride.

Coloring Class

I grew up in the south around two main racial groups, African Americans and Whites. Being African American or Black as a kid in the 1990s was a lot different than what both of my parents endured in the tensions of segregation and Jim Crow during the 1950s and 1960s. My mom was only part of the third integrated class to graduate high school in our area. While my dad was one of the last three classes to graduate from an all-black high school.

Even though my mom graduated from an integrated class, all reunion activities are essentially segregated. The black alumni from my mom's class and the black alumni from the other high school reunite while her own classmates who are white have their own activities. When I asked her about this once all she said, "That's just how it's been. We have never really felt like a class. We were thrown together after integration. We didn't hate each other, we just didn't know each other."

While this situation has occurred many times over throughout the years, it never ceases to surprise me. But what I failed to realize was that the context of the racial tensions was greater than the actual assumed "mistrust" of others. White classmates did not know enough about black culture other than what their parents and the media fed them while they same can be said for black students.

I would like to think my experience was different. It was, yet it was not. I had classmates of different races at every level through college barring preschool. I never thought about it until now but preschool in many ways is like the womb. You're protected and cuddled while slowly being pushed out in a painful and real way. However, unlike the womb- the affects of preschool show up quite quickly.

By the time I got to elementary school, my parents knew that I was bound and determined to be my own version of Dougie Howser (minus the name and MD of course). But I soon realized that me being Dougie was going to be harder than I thought. The first few years of my elementary education, we were all in the same classes physically but developmentally and educationally- it was more like an episode of Survivor.

I was diligent about doing my work and excelled easily, as did some of my other classmates who happened to be white. By the time we got to third grade, we all tested and some of us qualified for SAGE (Soaring Achievements, Great Expectations) which helped us do more nontraditional classroom activities to enhance our intellectual development. What I did not realize was that I would be the only African-American student in the entire program.

By sixth grade, I was not completely alone, at least academically speaking. SAGE was now a group of classes and we got to learn outside the box. We read A Christmas Carol and then turned it into a sixth grade production for the entire school. We read The Hobbit ( I try to forget that ) and had a Hobbit party where some poor fool actually was Bilbo Baggins (can't really forget that performance!).

All the fun we had helped me partially forget that I was the only black kid in the SAGE class on my side of the hall. The girl who eventually became my best friend was the other. But none of the other black kids partially forgot anything, they had a better recall than I did and proceeded to call me on it. "Why do you only talk to white people?" was a common question and of course, my answer was dumb enough to make the walking target of my grade.

i did not think of it that way. My friends and classmates were people where those I spent the most time with. Yes they happened to be white, but I also friends of the same race. I eventually grew to ignore these people because they had taken enough from me by alleging I did not appreciate who I was.

I did, I have, and I always will. I have had the wonderful opportunity to learn about black history not only in classrooms but through extracurricular activities and my own family. Race is a part of my life, but it is not all of my life.

The Right Notes

I really thought that everyone grew up like me when i was a kid. However, I was soon aware of different realities. And I am not just talking about two parents, their own room, or even just the ability to ask ridiculous questions without being chastised. I am also talking about being exposed to music and the arts.

My parents had always been musical people. My dad even tried to form his own version of the Temptations in high school and my mom has long thought of herself as the missing piece from American Idol. Growing up, they both exposed me to all different types of music.

My mom listened to everything from the British Invasion fad bands to Prince and Rick James. And my dad essentially is a walking encyclopedia for the Motown sound. And while they each turned me on to great music, I also discovered music on my own.

In middle school, I started watching TRL and paying attention to music of my own age group more. But it was quite easy considering my classmates were into music as well. There were the resident pop lovers like myself, the rap metal heads who were into Korn and Slipknot, and the all encompassing hip-hop heads. Not every genre matched the race it was associated with. And I certainly was not embracing the music that is stereotypically associated with race.

I did not care but again, so many people associate your identity with your choices so of course there were times where friends and family members would laugh, however it did not change my mind. If music were a color, it would not give us all that it has. Besides, what fun what it be if it was?

When I think of music that really touches me, all I can think of is beauty. And to me, pure beauty has no color.

Higher Learning

Going to college was a relative no brainer to me, the only serious question I had was what college I would attend. As a teen, I had attended Duke Young Writer's Camp and decidedly fell in love with the campus. I liked how the curriculum was focused on providing a comprehensive education and it also happened to be located a few hours from the folks.

However, my parents were more concerned with the price tag attached to being a Blue Devil. I will not say how much it is, but let's just say had a I decided to attend Duke, I would be working as many jobs as possible to be debt free by retirement. Eventually, I switched the lighter shade of blue and became a UNC Tar Heel.

However, it became a topic of interest to my classmates. Particularly, those I had known and attended class with who were considering Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I had nor have issues with anyone attending these great academic pillars who were not that long ago the only places where black people could get a post-secondary education. Yet some felt it was imperative to capitalize on the black college experience these schools offered rather than being one of a few at a traditional or Predominantly White University (PDW).

In fact, one of my classmates who was a fan of UNC-Chapel Hill and considering attending changed his mind and something I won't forget. "You know what most UNC black students do on the weekends, they go to HBCUs since they don't have anyone to hang out with." In my mind, I could tell he was joking from his tone but I also knew that was one of the many reasons he decided not to attend.

For me, the words of no one could sway me. Not even my cousin who said she wanted to attend an HBCU for the dynamic experience that many not be the same type of experience she thought a PDW could not give her.

I had grown up around different people and people who were quite similar to me. What I wanted out of my education was a complete experience not only of a great education but great connections, a wonderful student life, and a diverse and passionate memory for the years to come.

And I have to say, I got that and more. I met people from different backgrounds, religions, races, and everything else. I got to taste foods and have adventures that I never thought possible. But what it did teach me was that following my heart pays off far more than trying to fit a cultural standard or expectation that continues to hold some back more than others.


Crayola Crayons
Crayola Crayons | Source

The Crayon Complex

I have been thinking about race a lot, especially given that this is Black History Month and in the year 2012 we have lost two major icons, Whitney Houston and Don Cornelius within this very month. While we celebrate their lives, we also remember they helped give the world a multi-faceted look into a single race. And like many across and between races, they help us see that life should never be purely lived in black and white.

In the 2010 census, the multi-ethnic option was finally added. I wondered, what took them so long? Well, the truth is, it took as all a lot longer than we should have ever allowed ourselves. Given the United States' bumpy racial history, it is obvious that race still is something we all struggle with.

However, the fact of the matter is it is little more than a social construct that has become a political tool, cultural weapon, and legal barrier to many who do not deserve it. We have tried to visualize our lives as crayons. Crayons in the sense that we can only be in the slot we are designated to be, shine only as far as what has been given to us.

Yet, in reality we all know that crayons and colors in general are more beautiful in dynamic harmony than in set solos. And once we all realize and work within that framework, we will all be in a better place for it. However, I cannot fool myself behind my own words. What has divided us took centuries and it will take even longer, if not ever to erase it.

But my deepest wish is for everyone to really know that we are who we are, not what a census or survey tells us. We are our mother's children, not our enemies' pawns. And no matter what life throws at us, we have to live beyond the crayon box that race has given us.

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Comments 52 comments

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I already knew you were unique, this story further explains to me why you are the amazing woman you are. You filled in some of the missing pieces. Thank you for sharing and for being you.


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

Thank you so much for writing this hub Alecia. First if all it's very welll written. But also it's not one dimentional. It's no one elses place to tell you that you don't appreciate yourself. While I too, am a minority, I'm a white monority, meaning that I can walk in to a room, undercover in a sense, and no one know's I'm Jewish. You, on the other hand are black, therefore it's obvious. Not to imply that any of us should hide, at all, but my point is that as a Jew, no one know's, from the outside, so I don't get any slack for it. We only realize we're different when others reactto our differences. It's the same with my having one eye. I never gave it any thought. Until other's started reacting. And not positively. Why do so many react to what's outside when they should really focusing on what's inside? Excellent, probably your best hub, that I've read at least, Voted up,interesting,beautiful, & awesome.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you Sunshine! That's very sweet of you to say and the same goes for you :).


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you Jacy! I sometimes wonder now that being one race or another is really going to do much other than add to your story. I agree with you, it's hard to be the only person of any race simply because we have been told for so long that it's something we have to notice about others. I agree as well that there are so many things that make us different that it does not matter because what makes us different should be celebrated but not above what is truly inside of us. Thank you for your feedback!


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

This is a great hub, hands down. I was thinking SO MANY things as I read: how I grew up around Mexican Americans, African Americans, Korean Americans, Guatemalan Americans,Jamaicans and many more. My mom had an assisted living center, yet she would also help anyone who needed a job. Consequently, my upbringing was like going to all the different countries all while growing up in my own home. I learned to appreciate people and cultures beyond appearance but what your self worth and contributions to the world were.

I love to call myself a Heinz 57 because I really have no idea what sort of mutt I am. But this mutt embraces her Native American, Mexican American and even Italian heritage.

This hub makes me think how you stand proud, Miss Alecia. You have embraced your very identity and for that, I am inspired.

Keep up the great work.


Mark Pitts profile image

Mark Pitts 4 years ago from United States

I am so very impressed by your comments. It will be folks like you that carry us on as a nation. I think that because of folks like you, it won't take centuries after all.


roxanne459 profile image

roxanne459 4 years ago from Washington

Thank you for sharing this part of yourself and your personal experiences. You are awesome and inspirational!


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

Alecia, I had also written an article about Hate. Yoursd is sooo much better, of course, but I have a few other points that I address in there. If interested it's called: "Hate: Why so Many do". It's a topic that makes me insane. How do ohers not get it?


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you Cyndi! I did not have the same experience of diversity directly growing up but in my own way I got to befriend all kinds of cool and dynamic people over the years.

I really do not see why people are so infatuated with what someone looks like because really it's what inside that truly counts.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you Mark Pitts, that is very sweet of you to say but I hope it will not take centuries either.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks Roxanne for coming by and commenting!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

I don't know how other people don't get it but like they say love conquers all :).


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

Personaly, I just don't "love" racists. : )


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Maybe not love but tolerate's a better word. I feel bad for them though because they miss a lot of life by being ignorant.


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

You know, you're very wise Alecia, you have a point, there.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Enjoyed reading your hub and admire your outlook on life. Yes, race is a part of our life but not the main focus for those who wish to life fully. Great inspiration to live beyond the crayon box!


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

Very well-done, and a valuable piece of awareness for all of us. As much as I'd like to believe it's dead, the best I can say is that racism is injured, perhaps, and different. But the ugly side still surfaces far too often. Thanks for writing this.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

I appreciate this well written look at your life, your parent's life and how it was to grow up. Thankfully things were easier for you than your parents, and your kids should have it even better and your grandkids hopefully will not have to deal with any of the issues you and your parents had to deal with....I am also glad the Census included multi-ethnic option....and since I was a census worker in 2010 I can tell you that option was used many many times....voted up and very interesting.


Cloverleaf profile image

Cloverleaf 4 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

Hi Alecia, I found this very interesting and inspirational to read, you have done an exceptional job of sharing your thoughts. What a great person you are :)


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 4 years ago from South Carolina

Wonderful, thought provoking hub. I loved your crayon analogy which has great truth in it: "We all know that crayons and colors in general are more beautiful in dynamic harmony than in set solos. And once we all realize and work within that framework, we will all be in a better place for it."

Voted up across the board except for funny.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

How you view yourself is the most important thing. It is quite true that people of today have it far better than the generation before and that generation easier than the generation before that, but still there is quite a variety in how individual people see races.

Talking about how some people focus more on their race than others - my father is half Italian. My grandmother was the only one of her siblings who did *not* marry a fellow Italian, but she married a fellow catholic. For whatever reason, it's important to him to point out when I use the terms white and Caucasian as interchangable terms when describing myself myself (3/4 white and 1/4 Latin out of nine individual European countries) I am) that his white half is Catholic, not Protestant. (Sigh.) and yet my Mom's family are Protestants, so I don't understand his insistence in correcting people.

I've never cared what race or religion anyone is and delight in pointing out to people that I am a melting pot of Europe and wouldn't have it any other way. I've had some people mistake my Italian quarter for being Spanish and when I correctly politely, they always feel the need to apologize. I shrug and say, "Ultimately, I am North American, so don't worry about it."


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

I wish hub pages awarded writers with a type of Pulitzer Prize. Your writing is really growing! (Sniff, sniff.. you are growing up.. SO PROUD!) I think in America, society is slowly merging as generations from the era of hate die off. I think there will always be ignorant people in the world, but it seems even in my lifetime that things are changing. I was raised to see all people as human beings. You did a wonderful job!


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

Wow...a second electrifying hub. I just read jacy's hub and came to yours.

First of all...it's a powerful one and I got to see how well accomplished you are...proud of ya!!

Race, is and will always be asked 'cause that's what we are and distinguished with. I am an Indian living in America....and have been asked zillion times what am I doing here...lol

This is a multi-cultural country and I have learnt to say that what you have come here to achieve....I am here to get it as well ;)


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

For the first 14 years of my life I lived in Canada before moving to California. When we did move and I started going to school in the states I just didn't understand the racists at all. I've always looked at a person as a person not as a color and never have felt that they are any different than I am.

I truly enjoyed reading your hub and I am glad to have met you through hub pages. Outstanding hub! Up and +++


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I can relate -- the various Asian ethnic groups were not separated out until the 1980s I believe, so it doesn't surprise me that they took so long with the multi-ethnic option. Voting this Up and Interesting.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you so much teaches 12345! I agree that race is only one part of what makes us who we are, it's more about what we do and how we inspire others. Thank you for coming by and commenting.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Marcy,

I think you're analogy is excellent. Racism is injured and different but it still rears its head like a deadly snake refusing to die. But I think the more we think about it objectively, the more things can change.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Cogerson,

Thank yo so much for coming by and commenting. I agree that things were easier for me than my parents and grandparents. And I would hope the children I have would not even have to see the things I have seen in my short life but only to dream big and aim high.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you Louise for coming by and commenting. I hope this story just shows that people are no different underneath it all unless they decide to paint themselves as different.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you Happyboomernurse. I hope that I get to continue to spread the crayon philosophy a little longer!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Flora,

As always I appreciate your insights and comments. I agree it's about how we see ourselves beyond anything. And trying to please others by making choices within what is socially or culturally acceptable only leads to a lot of doubt. But I agree there's no point in trying to care who is what as along as they strive to do good in life. Thanks again!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Tammy,

Thank you so much for the compliments and comments! I agree that the era of hate is slowly fading but ignorance will never disappear completely. But like I said on Jacy's hub I feel bad for what these people miss out. They miss seeing the full beauty of humanity's diversity.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Ruchira,

Thank you for coming by and commenting! I know that what I have gone through is nothing compared to someone who actually immigrated and is constantly questioned about their ethnicity. And I hope these people asking just know, whatever you say doesn't really make you who you are.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Susan,

It's always interesting to hear what it's like coming from another more tolerant country to the US. I'm not saying the US has always been less tolerant but in certain regions it's harder for people to accept diversity. Thank you for coming by and I am very glad to have met you as well.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Aurelio,

I did not really begin to learn about Asian culture until I got to college and met some great people but I would imagine being lumped together as Asian has to be frustrating. Thank you for coming by and sharing!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

What a terrific hub, Alecia. So thoughtful and well-written. My racial pet peeve is when someone is telling a story that includes a line like "and then this black guy ..." when the person's race or color has absolutely no bearing on the story. If the subject had been white, the speaker would never had used the qualifier "white guy."


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you Deborah. I agree that when people say that as well but it goes both ways because I've done it along with many people I know across a lot of races. It's hard habit to break, but it doesn't make it right at all.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

Yes, I'm sure it does go both ways. I just see it done more often by whites because there still isn't a whole lot of diversity where I live, unfortunately. I try very hard not to do it unless it has some relevance, like when I'm trying to describe what someone looks like.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

I agree the diversity level of a community definitely matches how people interact. I try hard not to do it either. I think in one of my college classes, we tried doing that and it took a lot of work but it was possible. It's all how you approach it.


amberld profile image

amberld 4 years ago from New Glarus, WI

what a great hub, thank you so much for sharing your experiences!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you so much for coming by and reading amberld!


Express10 profile image

Express10 4 years ago from East Coast

Awesome hub Alecia. I can relate to many of your experiences as I too have friends of all colors. Some people choose to segregate themselves to their detriment while ostracizing those of us who refuse to do that, often to our benefit. The way people interacts can help or harm us all and no one should remain an island unto themselves. Thanks for sharing your experience.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts. I agree, nobody can be a complete island. We have to relate and it's better when people relate with an open heart and mind instead of doing the opposite.


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Alecia, I thought your story was pretty amazing and should be shared! You should publish it!

I love when you said, "pure beauty has no color"! It is so true and beautiful!

Also, your last paragraph, "But my deepest wish is for everyone to really know that we are who we are, not what a census or survey tells us. We are our mother's children, not our enemies' pawns. And no matter what life throws at us, we have to live beyond the crayon box that race has given us." ...was brilliant and should be quoted forever by readers of your fine work!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Audra,

Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. I think pure beauty is just like anything in life, when it comes from a deep place it means more than what society can tell us.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

I don't think about race very much either. I will walk up to a group of people and start talking to them without considering race at all. I am then reminded when they bring up something about their race or mine, and I realize that we aren't the same race. To me, it isn't a big factor - just one of many things, like the fact that I wear glasses, but somehow some people make it bigger. You've told your story very well, and I admire your courage and tenacity to stick to your desires and choose a school based on its own merits that don't have to do with race. We can only erase the racial line when more and more people stop focusing on it.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Millionaire Tips,

Thank you so much for your thoughts and insights. I agree race, should be the last thing on our minds but some people still think in the ways of the past. Will it completely leave our lives? Not in our lifetime, but there's hope. We have made great progress but in many ways there is still a lot to be done.


Mommy Needs a Nap profile image

Mommy Needs a Nap 4 years ago from Arkansas

Great article. My youngest daughter is biracial, and I desperately want her (and her siblings) to grow up not thinking about race. Your article almost brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Mommy Needs a Nap,

First of all, I love your HP name. And I sincerely hope your youngest daughter does not have to be put into a corner about who she is. I had a friend when I was in elementary school who was biracial and she was one of a very few. Nobody really singled her out for it but I still think it took awhile for everyone to get used to the idea she didn't fit into the neat little categories we were used to. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! All the best.


B-Dawg 4 years ago

Alecia Murphy,

I see black skin for what it truly is in america. Protection. My mom always wanted to have biracial children because she felt her kids would be better protected in society with pigmentation. Black skin would be an insurance policy for the white man. People will think twice about disrespecting you if you are a black skin male. Black skin to me is like a shield.

I tell my white male friends straight up black skin is a blessing. I think if the white man went black he would not want to go back. There is a race change movement in the works where they are trying to bring pigmentation into the white community. There are multiple ways to bring it in. Everything from plastic surgery, Black spray tans, interacial breeding, or a white couple could ask a black friend for a donation of his sperm. PEACE!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi B-Dawg,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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