Exploring My Racial Identity

08/18/2011 11:22 am ET | Updated Oct 18, 2011

Growing up, I had no issue being painted with the broad stroke of the label "African-American." I mean my mother didn't come from Africa and my father is a Jamaican citizen with roots in Portugal that date back to the slave trade.

I first knew I was black when I went to the mirror and tried to do something different with my hair. I couldn't gel it like the cool kids or comb it over, it just stood there. I started to realize that race mattered at an early age; a recent conversation with my grandmother reveals a moment when I recognized race in relationships.

My girlfriend is white and when we first started dating we were sullied with what seemed like the most mundane questions. Such as, "Does your mom know you're dating a Black boy?" and "Do her parents treat you weird because you're black?" I love my girlfriend regardless of her skin tone. My grandmother tells me that once in my stroller as we walked to Macy's in Manhattan I pointed at a girl and said, "I want to marry her." The girl was white.

I grew up in racially diverse Morris Park, a culturally Italian enclave that has become increasingly populated by blacks and Hispanics.  From Kindergarten through 2nd grade I attended P.S. 105 in Pelham Parkway, a historically Jewish community where students had names like Norman and Jake and where I didn't fit in.

The opportunity to cover the historic 2008 election cycle made me aware of my racial identity.  The first serious Black candidate emerged as a front-runner for the presidency.  I was elated to be selected to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions.   The 2008 conventions fell on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.  I'll never forget recreating the freedom train and marching around the room with his son, Martin Luther King III, riding the elevator with one of the world's most influential Black actresses, Cicely Tyson and speaking with the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington.  Congressman John Lewis, who had a hose brought on him during the Civil Rights movement, was spit on and was the target of the KKK said "I cry today and I'll cry tomorrow, but they're tears of joy, tears of happiness." 

As one of the youngest reporters at the Democratic National Convention, I realized my racial identity sitting in the press box at INVESCO field as I watched as a man who eventually would lead this nation speak, seeking to calm a nation in turmoil over the war, the economy and terrorism.  I was given hope that night, that someday, if I wanted, I too could stand on that stage.  No longer was the stereotype that a black man on TV is a criminal or killed.  I had something to look forward to.

At the school where I just graduated, the NYC Lab School only about 10 percent of kids are Black or Latino and jokes about race are the norm. Just last year, over half the kids of my race sat in summer school, and due to the majority of wealthy families at the school Title 1 funding isn't allotted to Lab, disenfranchising Black and Latino students. For the Black and Latino students there, it's a dream deferred.

If we want to talk about race, let's be real, to end racism, we have to be comfortable with getting out of our set ways.   I'm sick of being asked in a store if I work there, and I'm sick of any times I wear preppy clothing if I am a conservative.  If we want to make strides in racial tolerance, we must first acknowledge that there are disparities of all levels in our society.