Yeah, but you don’t look white.

offwhiteSeth Skaggs,
Marion, OH.

Four months out of the year, I get to be white. Well, white-ish.

My parents always told me that my tanned skin came from being part Native American on both sides, but beyond that I was raised white. I never thought about it growing up because “it was just a tan”, even though my half-sister never tanned and neither did my cousins on either side. Besides, I was part-Native, so of course I got dark.

Except for the fact that after graduating high school, and no longer socializing with people who grew up knowing I’m white, people stopped considering me white. I once had a man tell me to go back to Mexico in a grocery store. I had people ask me how I tanned so quickly. I had a summer picture up as my Twitter avi for a year and people thought I was half-black, until I changed to a winter picture and confusion reigned supreme. I had a co-worker who is half-black tell me that I couldn’t be white because I came into work one day in August and I was almost as dark as she.

So, I paid for an internet DNA test. My mother grew uncomfortable when she heard about it and revealed a family secret: her father wasn’t white. He was a “melungeon” and that had to be why I so dark. My late grandfather was a mix of black, Native, and Scots-Irish. He hailed from the deep backwoods of Kentucky and his melungeon mother died when he was six so we knew very little about her.

Except my DNA test came back with no sub-Saharan or Native American DNA. I was predominately German, Irish, and British. My Scandinavian last name I so closely identified with only added up to 11% of my makeup. But I was 15% Iberian with traces of North African.

I revealed the results to the folks on Twitter and everyone latched onto the fact that I was part Spanish (or Portuguese). My black friends told me I was white after all, my white friends told me I was mixed, and my Hispanic friends welcomed me immediately as one of their own. It was weird because my family had no idea where the Iberian came from, and my parents grew uncomfortable with me choosing to identify as a “Hispanic viking”. After all, so many people already confused me for Latino when I thought I was white, but I was still proud of my Scandinavian roots. It seemed a good compromise to me.

But it didn’t sink in that I can’t even be a “white Hispanic” until I mentioned being white in a casual conversation and a Mexican friend told me “Yeah, but you don’t look white.” And her daughter agreed with her. I guess you only get to be white if you look it.


Tweets by Michele Norris