My Story of Identity and Authenticity

Writing a book is an incredible journey. You start out with one purpose that you believe is what the book will be about and end up with something quite unexpected. I knew this would be a personal journey for me, but I had no idea it would culminate in the evolution of my own authenticity and become a profound escape from my own paradigm prison. In this process I have been able to release fear, anger, and even deep-seated hatred that I was unaware was still claiming part of my spirit and my courage.

As a biracial African-American woman

growing up in the 1950s to 1960s, I have witnessed and experienced inroads in the advancement of minorities and women over the past fifty years. In the South where I was born, if you had one drop of African blood, you were considered Negro, and not too long ago there were even laws prohibiting blacks from marrying whites. My light-skinned mother and dark-skinned father experienced verbal abuse and discrimination throughout their marriage, but I never sensed any bitterness in either of them. My personal challenges in coming into my own self-esteem and personal power were compounded by my looking Caucasian and being able to pass through doors that dark-skinned African-Americans could not.

Part of me felt guilty for escaping the judgment and limitations imposed on blacks,

and the other part of me felt shame for being of African-American heritage. As an adult, I had suppressed these feelings of guilt and shame until just recently. Completing this book was the key to opening myself up to unexplored questions. I had to ask myself why I was writing this book. What is my deepest intention and what do I expect to gain? I knew this was a project I was called to do from my heart, with no motivation for fame and wealth, but I had to do a lot of personal exploration to understand my deepest motivation. Now that I’m finished, I have come to realize that I needed to do it for myself, to teach myself what I needed to learn and what I needed to fully embrace about true authenticity and courage to be all that I am.

Until I was nine years old, I didn’t give much thought to being of mixed heritage. My parents didn’t express judgment or negativity about people and had both black and white friends. Race was something that was rarely mentioned in our home, and after we moved to California, people didn’t talk quite so openly about racial differences. Then one day my best friend, Virginia, asked me if I was colored or Spanish. When I asked her why she wanted to know, she told me that her mother didn’t want any colored people in her house. My heart dropped to my stomach because her mother was my Brownie leader.

I dropped out of Brownies and lost my best friend.

As the years went by, it seemed that more and more incidents happened to prove to me that I was not as good as white people. In 1959, when I was eleven years old, we went to Mississippi to visit my grandmother. It was shocking to me that we had to use drinking fountains and restrooms with signs that read “Colored Only.” When we went to the local grocery store owned by a white man my grandparents had known for thirty years, I remember my little sister asking why we had to go in the back door. My heart sank further and there was more proof that I was not equal to whites and not good enough to be accepted.

As a teenager, I learned even more about racial lines you just don’t cross.

At thirteen, I remember an innocent flirtation with a white boy on the school bus turning from playful slaps on the arm into him pushing me down on the ground when we got off the bus and calling me the N-word. With the bus full of kids staring out of the window at me on the ground, I didn’t think my heart could sink any further and the humiliation was devastating. A couple of years later, my best friend Judy told me that I couldn’t be John’s girlfriend because another white girl liked him, and, as she put it, “You know.” Yes, I did know and it became clear to me that I was different and that was the end of another best friendship.

High school was the first time I didn’t go to school on a military base; I was exposed to more black kids and saw that they segregated themselves from whites. I found myself being under constant attack from black kids who assumed that I thought I was “better than them” because of my light skin, especially the girls. At school rallies, some of the girls would sit behind me and do loud cheers such as “For the green, for the white, Debby ain’t white!” They often taunted me with insults that implied I was pretending to be something I was not, as if they themselves believed being white was better than being black. One day after a rally, a group of black girls circled me and started calling me names, pushing and spitting at me. I was trapped by the group and felt such fear and panic that it nearly caused me to faint.

I didn’t understand why they hated me

when I had never done anything to them. A teacher finally broke it up and sent me to the office in hysteria. When I told them what happened, the principal told me that I must have done or said something to those girls for them to treat me that way. I went home and remembered staying inside for days, looking out the window, afraid they were going to come after me and attack me again. I was so afraid to go back to school, and I felt that there was no one who would defend me. The worst part was that the school called my father and told him that the girls had attacked me because I was ashamed of him because he was black. The look on my father’s face betrayed his hurt, and it seemed there was nothing I could say to make him feel better.

The truth was that I was ashamed of being black.

As an adult, I didn’t realize that the cumulative effect of my childhood experiences, along with some in my adulthood, had been suppressed into hidden anger and hatred for both blacks and whites for not allowing me to have an identity. I belonged nowhere in a world in which people attach themselves to their race, culture, and heritage. There was no group I could connect with, no group that made me feel safe, accepted, respected for who I was as a human being. I remember, at a very young age, making a conscious decision that I was neither black nor white, and that I would just be me and the best and most perfect person I could be. Inside, however, I separated and isolated myself from others and from my feelings. I chose not to feel anything so that I would never again have to feel the pain of rejection, humiliation, and being less than anyone else. I didn’t realize that my unexpressed rage would be converted into self-hatred. It has taken me years of personal growth work to forgive, to trust again, to overcome the fear of having feelings, and to begin to experience real joy and peace in my life.

My father always said, “You have to kill people with kindness.” That was his advice for surviving in a culture of discrimination. He also taught me that

I need to hold my head high and my shoulders back with pride,

to work harder and be smarter, and always leave things better than I found them if I wanted to be successful. And that is what I’ve done, and it has worked. I’ve accumulated all the credentials, degrees, and tangible things that represent so-called success in this culture. Money and material things are supposed to give you an identity, social image, happiness, and freedom in life, right? Yet that hasn’t been the answer for anyone I know, and it certainly didn’t heal my entrenched fear of failure.

Over the past fifty years, laws have changed and many people have changed their attitudes about equality for women, African-Americans, and other minorities. We have seen tremendous progress and achievements in our humanity toward one another. But for many of us there are still the secrets and dark crevices in our hearts that hold pain and memories of our past, and that pain locks us into mental and emotional prisons. These false prisons hold us in old beliefs, patterns, and behaviors that affect our choices, decisions, and the joy and richness of our lives.

This book is not about race, or a soapbox for a resentful victim of our society.

It’s about authenticity, self-acceptance, and self-love. And it’s about honoring who we are and our true power of choice in creating relationships that honor us. What I have just expressed to you in this writing is a kind of “coming out” celebration of myself and all of who I am. My identity does not come from a label of a race, heritage, or skin color. And it doesn’t come from a man. My identity comes from the full expression of all the aspects of me that are demanding to be known and shown. They’re pleading to be freed from the self-imposed suppression of my spirit and calling out for me to be authentic—a real human being. My identity is all of the gifts and experiences I have to share that hopefully can touch others’ lives and show a way through their own pain, bringing them the love, joy, and true freedom that I am coming to know. Through writing this book, I have liberated myself from the false prisons of self-denial, fear, anger, and hatred and unveiled who I am. And my journey continues to evolve.

–excerpted from CHOOSE HIM: How to Get Clear, Define What
You Want and Attract the Man of Your Dreams