EmbraceRace

Composite Soul: A Poem About Growing Up Mixed Race

By Kelly Bates

Kelly bates' parents (left) and Kelly today (right)

Kelly's parents back in the day (left) and Kelly today (right)

Today, I declare that I will not keep the races separate within me

I will polish off my veneer of black and white, and dare you to see

ALL that is ME,

All that is REAL, and

ALL that is misunderstood, even by the ones that love me the deepest and love the “uniqueness”

Can you handle it?

You’ll watch my wild curls spring from my head, every frizz uncovered, every strand untamed, every piece unstraightened. You’ll watch me jump, bend, sway, and lift up my fist to fierce soul and hip hop, deep defiant rock and the sounds of steady African drums and off-cue Irish bagpipes

You’ll watch me over my lifetime love black men, white men, and women of every hue because I won’t fight their beauty or humanness

Can you handle it?

You’ll see me wearing big J Lo hoops on my ears with a long Janis Joplin dress hanging from my tan body

You’ll hear me talk trash with an urban roots accent, slapping my hands in loud laughter, and next talking quiet with plain words and no inflections, as the freckles rise from my face to yours

Will you accept this freedom and smile with joy?

Watching ME be ME

Watching me discard YOUR images of what you see, or want me to be

And still love me?

I carve up the black and white versions of me

And toss them to the fire

And take back out my true composite soul

Glistening, warm, and never fading

Today, the races are no longer separate within me

And I am ME,

And FREE

Can you handle it?

Kelly Bates

Kelly is president of the Interaction Institute for Social Change, a leading social change support organization. In that role and over her professional life, she has strived to be a transformational leader and civic innovator for progressive movement building.
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