The Two Races of Tennessee

The Two Races of Tennessee

by Patrice Farmer
February/March 2001

I had found utopia, a place we could be free of outright hatred and prejudice, my daughter and I. I had found a place in the Southern Appalachian mountains where good ole southern values were still practiced, where people still said, Ma'am and Sir, and where people still canned their foods and quilted by hand. Sure, people stared at us, being such a strange sight, I guess. I am multiracial with mixed features, hair and skin color. My daughter is multi/biracial with white skin, blond hair and blue eyes. People looked, but no one shouted at us like in Detroit, no one burst out laughing in our faces when we tried to board the bus, no one spat at me for being a race 'traitor' or called my daughter a honkey. Here, people looked and turned their heads if they had a problem with you, and I could accept that. Mostly, they were so friendly, it was scary at first. And people apologized for everything: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I was in heaven, until I had to fill out a few forms. That's when I began to see the two races of Tennessee.

My first time was at the doctor. They had me fill out a few forms and under race there were only two choices: Black or White. When I wrote in Multiracial, I was told that I had to write in one of the recognized races!!! I was alone without my daughter and I got a few looks from these southern white women who was looking at a Northern multiracial woman. I said, but I'm multiracial, I'm mixed with four races, and I recognize all of them! One of the kind nurses replied under her breath, "Bologna!", as if I was clueless of her motive. When I vehmently requested that I be called Multiracial, I was told, after they had consulted with an higher up, that I had to choose one or the other.

Patrice and her daughter
Photo: Patrice Farmer and her daughter

Another situation was with my daughter in which the woman was distressed when I drew in my own little box and placed multiracial. Again, she had to consult a higher up, and still seemed distressed as she glanced from me to my daughter. Finally, she agreed to put multiracial after about a ten minute battle over the issue. I told her, I don't see the problem, I don't understand why there seems to be such a problem in this state! She said that usually they go by the race of the father, and I said, "Well, my father's white (He's half Puerto Rican too, but to irritate her), she was was not going to put me down as white, not with my curly brown hair and light brown skin. She finally placed multiracial on the floor, though grudingly.

I've noticed it also at the University I attend which is almost all white, with a very segregated minority of Blacks, Asians and Hispanics.

Here, I've experienced the typical experience many mixed people do with African Americans and whites. The black students won't speak a single word to me, even the older students like myself. I've had several instances involving the use of the terms 'weave' and "trying to be white", in reference to me. These students, I don't know because they have never given me the opportunity to know them, are worst than the white students. Some white students are willing to converse, while others, obviously are angered by me. I even had two white girls speak in front of me that "I must've gotten a perm to try to be white'. They seem to not understand the difference between white and black perms and the fact that I am mixed with white, and have naturally curly hair.

Clearly, in living here nearly six months, I've learned that race mixing is still frowned upon. And a mix person represents that fear. Several times, I've been on obvious display, sort of speak, as older whites have stared at me and then to a monoracial black person, as comparison, as if I were the very first mixed person they'd ever seen. Even though these occurances are nothing near the experiences of living in my hometown of Detroit. My adopted city in Tennessee still reminds me of how far we truly have to go! I may not get verbally and physically harrassed, like I did from blacks. But, I still get soul-burning stares from whites instead, as if to say, "What right do you have to be with that white child?"

I am afterall in a world of two races here… living in the beautiful mountains where people still say 'howdy' and give as much as they can offer. Where they still value family, religion, community, and heritage over everything else. And where they like their blacks, blacker and their whites even whiter. I've grown in moving here, I'm no longer as angry and defensive as I was just a few months earlier. But, I am still aware, because racial issues still affect me on a daily basis.

I'm more at peace than I've ever been but not satifsfied with the way things are! I'm still an activist deep down within, from the time I stood in front of my highschool with a sign around my body, with "Columbus Was A Murderer" to the present, with my God-given protest against racial hatred-myself and my daughter. Sometimes, I even get to forget that America still hasn't moved past colonial days in their beliefs toward Multiracial people. And unless we as mixed people are willing to introduce those people to interracial families, that is where they'll stay. And our children will have to fight the battles we were unwilling to fight!

Patrice Farmer is moderator of Mixed Families at Yahoo! Groups


Also by Patrice Farmer


Copyright © 2001 Patrice Farmer and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.

5 comments

  1. re: The Two Races of Tennessee
    Written by KEVIN10134, on 15-02-2001 08:57
    58.2 in reply to 58.1

    I really enjoyed the piece. I am a black American from the South, living in the Northeast and the two worlds are really strange. I was raised in a progressive home with fundamental religious beliefs. We were very multiracial/integrationists, my grandparents being Irish and black, carribean and native american. All our friends were white southerners, native americans and hispanic, as well as some blacks. We were taught to only be multiracial and to fight for the fundamental commandment of God(love thy neighbor AS thyself).

    Now as an adult, married to a Scottish American, I totally live by the values of my parents and our family and religious heritage. In the north, the raicsm is covert by whites(esp. liberals) and overt by blacks. We feel like we are foreigners in a strange land, becuase the tension between the two worlds is so thick and real. In the South, racism was there of course, but the races were at least cordial with one another and I didn’t remember any hypocritical liberal whites around. the white’s were conservative christians or conservative non christians who either hated you or loved you–no middle ground. That was at least safe for you knew who to avoid and who to trust. In the Northeast, where I attended Ivy League(liberal) University and graduate school and now live, the liberal whites said that they believed in civil rights and equality, yet they ran to the burbs, leaving decimated urban areas, as fast as the conservative families did. The liberal whites don’t date blacks anymore than the conservatives do and avoid contact as much as possible.

    So what is better? Who know, as long as we don’t bleieve the hype that the liberals care about blacks, multiracials and democracy anymoe than the conservatives. I love the progressives and libertarians and support them locally and nationally. But will support conservatives over liberals and centrists any day.

  2. re: The Two Races of Tennessee
    Written by Leosprycat, on 02-09-2001 13:53
    58.3 in reply to 58.1

    James, you’ve done it again (heehee).

    Thanks for all these wonderful articles you’re
    always finding for us.

    Good stuff (smile), as usual.

    Respect and best wishes, as always,
    for you and all your loved ones;

    Leo Y. “Ireland Sprycat” Abdulmalik
    (M├ętis-American Triracial)

  3. re: The Two Races of Tennessee
    Written by Dyoshot, on 25-09-2001 16:57
    58.4 in reply to 58.3

    Dear Mr. Landrith,

    First, I want to thank you for writing all your great and inspiring articles. It gives me hope when I think about my girlfriend. You see, I am 18, and my girlfriend is 17. No big deal? Well, she is white, and I am black, and her parents have a problem with that. They have forbade her from seeing me, so we sneak around and talk on the phone everynight. Some people ask me why I sneak around and deal with a girl I can’t see, or that I should stop being so disrespectful to her parents by dating their daughter behind their back. I’ve even had my own sister tell my how repugnant my current actions are. Sometimes I wonder if all the stress is worth it too, but I love her, and I think it’s worth it. We have gone a year through this already, and we are still running strong. I know that times change, people change, and their is a chance that we won’t be together forever, but if our relationship can stand the test of time I hope to start my life with her. We have tried to tell her parents before, but when they found out they couldn’t understand. We want to wait until she turns 18 so she can legally make her own decisions. Am I wrong? Do you think me dating her without her parents consent is wrong even though we don’t have sex and just want to be together? Regardless, thank you again for writing all your inspiring articles. I have found myself on mutiracial.com reading your old articles all the time.

    Sincerely,
    Jay

    P.S. anyone else’s opinions are just as much welcome.

    1. re: The Two Races of Tennessee
      Written by jlandrith, on 01-10-2001 06:48
      58.5 in reply to 58.4

      Dear Jay:

      I would advise you to go slow with this relationship. You are 18 and she is 17, so waiting until she turns 18 isn’t a bad idea at all. Also, you being of age and her being under age gives those who disagree with your relationship added ammunition to cause problems for you. Go nice and slow, and when she turns 18, discuss “going public” then. Take care.

      James Landrith

      1. re: The Two Races of Tennessee
        Written by Dyoshot, on 01-10-2001 14:57
        58.6 in reply to 58.5

        Thank you for your reply. I read it and discussed it with my girlfriend and she agreed 100%. We are going to take things slower, and we won’t “go public” until she’s 18. It’s just hard sometimes you know. I have a lot of feelings to take things faster, but deep down I know slower is the right way to go. Thank you again for your advice, it was much needed. Take care.
        -Jay

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