An estimated seven million people checked more than one box on the 2000 census, indicating an increasing number of mixed race identities in the United States.
University alum Elizabeth Atkins, the best-selling author of “White Chocolate,” “Dark Secret” and “Twilight” spoke about the importance of biracial identity in last night’s book signing.
As a University biracial student during the late 1980s, Atkins asked herself an important question: “Am I a tragic mulatto?”
Crying in her South Quad Residence Hall single after a night of racial insensitivities from peers, she began to realize she was having a racial identity crisis, she said.
While she was originally a pre-medical student, the crisis prompted her to change her career path.
She chose an English major and became a news editor at The Michigan Daily. With these changes, she realized how therapeutic talking and writing helped her to find her identity.
With a black mother and a white father, Atkins said she believed that this identity crisis was a unique experience only felt by her.
“I was always caught in the middle,” she said. “I felt black but I’m half white.”
Due to her light skin tone, many people did not believe she was black, Atkins said.
“I felt black on the inside, yet someone would always make comments like, ‘Have you looked in the mirror?'”
As a biracial child, Atkins said she always knew she was unlike most other children.
“I was always different,” she said. “I was always the oddball.”
Atkins stressed the importance of the role of her parents while growing up with the uncertainities and questions of being biracial. In a time when biracial marriages were uncommon, Atkins’s father, a former Catholic priest, changed his life to marry a black woman who was 25 years younger and pregnant. “All they gave us was love and encouragement,” she said.
Although growing up biracial had difficult moments, Atkins said she believes it made her who she is today.
“Never fitting in made me stronger,” she said. “I cherish the fact that I never fit in.”
It is through her experiences as being biracial that she found her calling in life, Atkins added.
“I sort of see this as my life mission,” she said, referring to spreading awareness on biracial identity.
Marie McCrary, whose granddaughter is half black and half Japanese, said it is important to have people like Atkins to raise awareness on mixed race identity.
“There is nothing wrong with half black, half white,” she said.
For biracial children, Atkins said it is important to remain strong in the face of adversity.
“People are going to make fun of you and make issues about you,” she said. “It’s a negative reflection of them. Don’t let it deter you. Stay strong.”