Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide by Sarah Ratliff and Bryony Sutherland – A Review

About a year ago I responded to a job listing.  It called for essays from people from biracial and multiracial backgrounds.  I thought: ‘Okay, I fit the description.  I can do that.’  Little did I know how significant this project would become.

In my essay entitled The Process of Killing Preconceived Ideas About Who We Are I discuss what it meant for me to grow up and be part of a biracial background.  I submitted my story and waited a few months to hear more news on its publication.  In September 2015, I received the eBook version of the anthology, which featured essays by mixed people from all around the world.

It took me a couple of days to read the entire book.  I found it difficult to put down.  It was enriching to read other people’s stories, as well as enlightening to know that there are people who go through similar experiences resulting from very different environments.

The book made me think about something else that I had only vaguely considered before – parenthood.  It includes essays by the parents of biracial children.  I developed a new sense of gratitude towards my parents and all the considerations they had to make whilst raising me and my sister.  Sometimes I forget that my child will also be a mix of two races and will be a part of my husband’s cultural background in addition to my mix of cultural influences.  I forget because I grew up in a mixed home and I am accustomed to it, therefore those lines have been blurred and it no longer matters.  My husband and I don’t see colour lines, we see each other. This book reminded me that our story, like those of many others, is nevertheless unique.  I am proud of the differences.

My Rating

I’m giving this book five stars.  That’s not because I took part in it, nor only because the essays are well written (which in itself is deserving of the rating), but also because of the significance of this publication.  This book has arrived at a time in which so many people are at conflict because of their differences and offers the realization that so much beauty can be created from embracing, instead of challenging, those differences.  It also gives hope and unity to those of us who are different and may have felt alone.  The media tends to highlight the differences, yet behind the scenes, the world is changing.  People are more open and accepting than ever before and as a result the mixed race, a race which is not defined by a single identity, is the fastest growing race, foreshadowing an era in which ‘being different’ will have become the norm.

The World Is Changing so Read About It

If you’re interested in the topic of multiracialism or just in increasing your understanding of people, this is a great book to add to your reading list.  Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide is available as a paperback or Kindle eBook from Amazon.

Visit the Being Biracial website for more information or follow the initiative’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Below are my highlights from the book.

‘Susceptible and sensitive to what others think, say and feel about us and the actions they take against us, our experiences make us stronger, more resilient and after a point, impervious and more resolute in our missions.’ (Introduction: Sarah’s Story)

‘[W]e can’t unlearn what we know. We can’t pretend history didn’t happen. We can learn to live in the world we live in, but we can’t simply live with blinders on.’ (Sarah Ratliff, Criminal Mistakes)

‘I can hear them talking, “She is so different,” and it makes me want to scream, “Why are you so complacent with your status quo? It should be unsettling!”’ (Lezel Nel, Two Cultures Pull at My Heartstrings)

‘It’s still incredible to me how, in the span of several decades, a group of people could rise from a reviled to fetishized status.’ (Søren Kaneda, You Are Not the Colour of Your Skin)

‘Life is trying to tell you something. It’s not that your sense of disorientation isn’t real, it’s that you’re one of the few people with your eyes held open. The circumstances of your birth have forced you to ask yourself a question that few others ever will: are you the colour of your skin?’ (Søren Kaneda, You Are Not the Colour of Your Skin)

‘If your identity is contingent upon your membership to a group, you are subjugating your individuality to the conformity of the masses.’ (Søren Kaneda, You Are Not the Colour of Your Skin)

‘If you’re going to bleed for something, bleed for an idea. Bleed for the people you love. What really defines a human being is the sum total of the choices they have freely made.’ (Søren Kaneda, You Are Not the Colour of Your Skin)

‘Critical thought is currency, with all information now subject to higher levels of scrutiny than ever before.’ (Janek O’Toole, On Being Everyone and No One)

‘Race is not a level playing field. A child of mixed race is a thing of the future and not one of the present. Until such time as race does not matter, those who are responsible for raising mixed children must balance their cultural education and protection so that they are afforded the same sense of identity and belonging AND the same opportunities as those of the dominant culture.’ (Mark White, Nigger Nigger Pull the Trigger: One More View From the Periphery of the Master Race)

‘How will your children be treated outside the home? Where will they live? Where will they go to school? How will your extended families treat an addition that is neither one thing nor the other? What language will you speak in the home? How will you protect your children and provide them with an environment that fosters a secure sense of place?’ (Mark White, Nigger Nigger Pull the Trigger: One More View From the Periphery of the Master Race)

‘[F]or nearly a quarter of a century I have lived proudly and peacefully with my husband. Our three children are secure in their skins. They know they are loved, they know they are accepted and they know that they are two things, not one. And that is special and to be celebrated.’ (Bryony Sutherland, Mixed Up?)

Maja Dezulovic

Waking Up From Depression – Let’s Try This Life Thing Again

Twelve years ago I was diagnosed with depression.  I was still in school and although I realized that there were certain things I’d have to deal with in my life, I didn’t quite fathom the seriousness of the situation.  I mean, most teenagers go through some sort of depressive episode, right? After six months of therapy and medication, I moved across the world and began a new life.  I studied psychology as a subject, using what I learnt to teach myself how to cope and I did quite well, avoiding any major depressive spell for over a decade.

In June of last year, my husband and I moved to Croatia.  It was something we had been planning for about 18 months, with the last six months involving lots of administrative and financial preparation.  We made it, we got here, we arrived at our destination, but instead of celebrating, my mind slowly began to switch off…

The initial signs were subtle – fatigue, decreased concentration, increased irritability, short-term memory loss…
‘I think you might be depressed…’ My husband tried to reason.
‘No, I’m not depressed.  I’ve been depressed before so I know what it feels like.’ I’d snap.
Only months later did I allow him to hold my hand as I explained to my doctor what was going on.

How did I get there?

I don’t know.  It sort of just happened and for the first time in years I didn’t see the signs quick enough to react.

On the worst of mornings my husband would carry me out of bed and place me at the dining room table where he’d already have breakfast prepared and laid out; and there I’d sit with my head down, sobbing whilst he talked me into eating… And living. On the worst of days I would just go back to bed and carry on sleeping (usually after my husband left to work or visit a friend). On the worst of nights I’d be awake crying and pacing up and down from one corner of a room to the next.  Over and over… Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.  The pacing, I’d later realize, was how I dealt with the tremors in my hands and legs.

On the best of mornings, I got up. On the best of days, I’d talk to people (other than my husband), visit family, and get some writing done.  My husband would convince me to go for walks with him and these little explorations of nature would turn into the highlights of my days, something that I could look forward to and it would help in saving me from myself. On the best of nights, I’d lie awake in bed at least trying to sleep.

I stopped reading. I stopped writing.  I began to question myself and my ability to lead a fulfilling life.  Everything felt muddled – communicating with people, making sense of my own emotions.  I was in constant pain. Looking back, I remember what happened, but it’s a strange feeling.  It’s like things happened and I was there, yet not really there.  Recalling events from this time is like watching a movie of somebody else’s life.

What happened when I finally got medication?

The anxiety meds kicked in almost immediately.  I hadn’t noticed that I had tremors until they stopped.  My headaches and constant aches also stopped.  I also started going out to face the world instead of living indoors with paranoid thoughts about every sound I heard out there.

As for the antidepressants, my initial response was hellish.  An even worse insomnia kicked in, accompanied by irregular bowel movements and dry skin.  All of this and my mood hadn’t really improved.  It was enough to make me reconsider the decision to take medication in the first place, but I hung in there, supported by my husband, family and friends.  After a long six weeks, I began to realize that I was realizing things.  I saw the sunshine, I heard the noise of the fridge motor.  I felt awake in the moment.  I was alive.  I was living.  Okay, the meds had helped.

I started to look people in the eyes again, greet them with a smile.  I tried to read, then started getting back into the habit.  I got more involved in my work and helping others.  I saw my husband smile after seeing me smile for the first time in months.

Lessons learnt

I love what I do.  I’m good at what I do.  I live in a most amazing and beautiful place.  I am capable of achieving great things.  I have a wonderful support network of friends and family.  And most importantly, I have the most amazing husband in the whole wide world (perhaps even the universe, we’re still debating). There is hope for me after all.

The stigma of mental illness

As I’ve tried to figure this out and combat a taboo that is still associated with mental illness, I’ve seen that more people are talking about it.  John Green is talking about it and Stephen Hawking is comparing depression to black holes…

So, why did I write this?

Well, because I hope that maybe my story will let somebody else out there know that they are not alone and help is available (even though it may seem like it’s not).

I read a metaphor comparing depression to being in a burning building and suicide being the equivalent of jumping out of the building.  The outcome of both – burning or jumping from the tenth story, is the same but jumping seems less painful and quicker.  Depression is painful for those going through it and those watching a loved one go through it.  What I’m hoping gets across from this is that we don’t have to jump out of the burning building, help is on its way.  Even if you don’t see it, the firefighters are in the building and they’ll get to you before the fire does.

Some fun (and helpful) resources:

Maja Dezulovic