It was the final evening of 2014. A Wednesday. I used to find it very important that I stay up until midnight to be witness to the arrival of the new year. These past few years, I have begun thinking more about the fatigue I will surely experience the day after should I stay up to bang pots and pans.
This year, I was brushing my teeth well before 11pm when my partner walked into the bathroom. He was smiling at my in the mirror when a look of concern swept over his face.
“You look white,” he told me. “Are you feeling alright?”
I finished brushing, rinsed my mouth, and stared at him blankly. Something was trying to register in my brain in response to his words.
Of course, I knew what he meant. I was looking pale, even for me.
I was still processing his question when I found myself walking out into the living room and shouting to his teenage daughter.
“Guess what your dad just said to me?”
Thus began an interchange in hilarity of many possible retorts.
“Wait, what? I’m white? Well, this just throws my entire identity into question.”
“What are you telling me? After all these years…..”
And so on, and so forth. We shrieked with laughter as we hollered back and forth across the house.
It was one of the more hilarious phrases that have been directed at me in my life, but it was also humbling in some way. There is a kind of sickness that has spread across the world with regard to race, culture, religion, etc. And a person’s appearance seems to continue to be the greatest claim for first impressions.
In the past few years, I have wondered if I am really white. My ancestors and Joel from Northern Exposure would claim otherwise; that I am a Jew. I always hesitate on forms that request me to reduce my racial identity to something that seems far too limiting to describe my whole self.
I might claim that I a woman.
I might claim that I am of ethnic origin.
What does it even mean to be reduced to a color on a page?
What are the people on the other end hoping to learn?
The older I get, the more concerned I become with the narrow scope within which we attempt to define and determine the world.
My music partner told me recently that he hesitates to introduce himself as a musician.
“If I define myself as one thing, I limit my potential to be other things as well,” he told me.
In this new year, I am less concerned with creating a definition of who I am that will please others and help them to feel comfortable by perpetuating an unfortunate cultural norm.
Rather, I will continue my own inner search to cultivate the kind of me that nourishes my spirit and soul and helps to lift the spirits of those around me.