Here in the states I’ve never once been asked that question. I believe this is because the answer upon taking a casual glance at me is rather, well, black and white.
I’ve got brown skin and natural hair. I mean, hell, even my last name starts with Black. I have never not checked the African American box when filling out demographic data.
However, while visiting Lagos people frequently asked about the coily texture of my hair. When I explained to them that this is simply it’s natural texture, not a coiling technique or starting of locs their response would be, wide eyed with an air of suspicion:
“Your hair just grows like that!!?? Okay, but are you mixed?”
My response was at first always a solid “no.” I mean, I’ve got two black parents, black grandparents, black great-grandparents; I am definitely 100% black. Always have been, no question about it how I’ve identified.
However, after being asked by several people, I started to wonder where this was all coming from, if there was something to that question. This was truly a first for me and I took some time to reflect.
I would never say that I’m mixed, but the truth is that in my family we’re not quite sure where exactly we come from. There’s rumblings of Irish ancestry somewhere back in the day. Rumors of Native American heritage somewhere in there. We see a looser curl pattern here and a touch of light skinnededededness there. But in general, when it comes to skin color, the main link between we the Blackwells is that we loooooooove to be tan. The deeper, the browner the darker the better. With all those winters in Minnesota that suck the color right out of us, once summer hits, we are out there setting our tan lines to show our hard work. My mom calls it “searing” and even my grandfather finishes the summer looking like Golden Teddy Graham. But again, the last name – Blackwell – there has never been any question of who we are and how we identify.
Back to Lagos.