Milk’s Favorite Cookie
Finding that sweet spot in a racial identity that isn’t black or white.
We all know the scene: The scrawny kid, deemed easy prey by the infamous school bully, is shoved into a locker in front of a hallway full of classmates. From that point on, the kid knows exactly where he belongs because the bully literally put him in his place.
Something similar happened to me, albeit gradually and minus the physical assault. Throughout my adolescence, I absorbed the implicit racial bias of my peers and was shoved somewhere I didn’t find too comfortable—a box of cookies. Specifically, Oreo cookies.
Never heard that one before, huh? Allow me to explain.
Growing up, race wasn’t discussed in my house. My parents—my Latina mom and black dad—had different complexions but I didn’t think much of it. I had more important things to worry about, like which stuffed animals were joining me for tea or when my next soccer game was. But I do remember the first time I was caught off-guard by a racial comment. My dad’s stepmom was sitting on the couch with me watching an NFL playoff game and I asked her who she was rooting for. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Whoever has the black coach, I guess.”
My eyebrows furrowed. There I was, an 8-year-old watching sports. The only colors on the screen I saw as important were the ones on the players’ uniforms. But that comment made me realize there were people in the world who saw more colors than I did.
A few years later, I started playing competitive soccer. After a joint practice with several other teams, I was waiting at pickup with a girl I’d met a few weeks before. She definitely meant no harm when, upon seeing my mom, she asked, in a hushed voice with raised eyebrows, “Are you adopted?”
I’d already started to walk away and just made a face, shook my head and said “no.” Ten-year-old me dissected this as best I could. She was my mom. Could people not tell? Would the girl have asked me that if my dad picked me up? This is when I started to feel slightly othered.
Throughout high school, I was always told how “white” I acted. Some kids called me “an Oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside—get it?). I’d chuckle passively, but once I really thought about it, the comments started to upset me. I listened to punk rock, wore bohemian clothing, hung out with a lot of white kids and never knew which rapper was playing in my friend’s car. Somehow, that made me “white.”
The thing is, despite the similarities between me and the white girls in school, I didn’t entirely feel like I fit in with them. I didn’t completely fit in with the Latinx or black kids, either. I had the ability to comfortably talk to every kind of person, but after a while I felt like a social paradox: Even though I fit in everywhere, I didn’t really fit in anywhere.