Two or More

Since its publication on Two or More, Two or More has been featured on Quirktastic, The Huffington Post, and Onyx Marten.


I was born in New York City to a Jewish-Belgian mother and a Jamaican father. When I was little, I moved to Belgium, but spent at least two months each year with my family in New York, or Jamaica, or Israel. I have three younger brothers with whom I’m very close, but not one of us shares two of the same parents. Three of us are from the same father, two of us share a mother. It’s a nontraditional dynamic, more complex than the binary blended family, and I often find myself drawing intricate family trees on napkins for people who seek to understand the biological bonds that tie us together.

My brothers & me

My heritage, family structure, and ties to different cultures and places always made sense to me, but I realized early on that others were confused by it. People often – very often – questioned me. How could I be Jewish and Black at the same time? How was my white, redheaded brother related to me? Was I sure that I wasn’t Moroccan? Algerian? Maybe Brazilian? How come I was Jewish but didn’t believe in any god? Why did I have a Brooklyn accent if I grew up in Antwerp? And why did I grow up in Antwerp if I was born in Manhattan? This range of questions was frequently asked by classmates, teachers or people I’d just met. It didn’t stop when I moved back to New York. In fact, new ethnicities were attributed to me. Any given time, this is how a conversation might go:

Stranger on street: “Are you Dominican?”

Me: “No.”

Stranger on street: “Oh, Puerto Rican then. Yeah you’re Puerto Rican.”

Me: “No.”

Stranger on street: “Yes you are. You look Dominican.”

Me: “No, I’m not Hispanic.”

Stranger on street: “You’re Dominican.”

At this point, I probably turned a corner or jumped between the closing doors of a subway car, but these assertions happened so regularly throughout my life, that I often questioned what compelled people’s need to identify me. Some people may be genuinely interested in my background, but I had a sense that the majority of people wanted to know how I fit into their order of things. If they had to fill out a demographics survey, which category should they place me in?

I developed a resistance to this apparent need to classify people.

There can exist a great schism between who you are, and what others think you are. To the people who questioned me, it didn’t matter what I really was, or even what I thought I was; all that mattered was what they perceived me to be. Since my answer often cradled two or more categories, it was deemed incorrect, and the person would classify me in whichever bucket satisfied their preference.

My parents & me

With my nonwhite-but-too-light-to-be-Black-skin I was expected to be whatever the person evaluating me was accustomed to, whether it be Black, Hispanic, Arabic, Sicilian or something else. One thing all these assumptions had in common is that I was always guessed to be one or the other. No matter what I responded, it was inconceivable that I could be one and the other, as if a person is required to be one-dimensional, as if each facet of my identity directly contradicts the other.

It doesn’t.


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59 thoughts on “Two or More

  1. Mia says:

    Great piece ! I have a biracial daughter and letting her read your blog sparked some very interesting conversations in our family.
    I can’t wait to read more of your writings.

    Like

  2. Romi Vandeginste says:

    Really nicely written Dani!! I think you chose an excellent topic; some people think of being biracial as something as simple as being black and white, when race is often the simplest thing to pin down. Now which cultural elements do you take from each parent? Do you take any? Would it make you less of a [fill in ethnicity] if you didn’t participate in a particular thing that might seem like a given but just clashes with you somehow? There’s a fluidity of identity that exists which you’ve captured so well. I love this, can’t wait to read more

    Like

    • Danielle @bklyndani says:

      Thank you! So true. Your comment applies to anyone who may have multiple cultural backgrounds in their families, and still so strongly resonates with multiracial people, as this too is a question often asked: “What do you feel more, X or Y?” And it could be one, or the other, but mostly it’s both, because we encompass both, in addition to the cultural identity of the places we grow up in.

      Like

  3. Flore says:

    So proud of you following your dream. It’s actually quite funny to read as i’m sure many of us mixed race girls have been through what you’re talking about. Can’t wait to read your next blog. Many many kisses 😘. Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Adrienne says:

    This is fantastic! So proud of you for pursuing your passion of creative writing through this blog. As a fellow mixed race female, I loved this post and found it very relatable. Keep up the good work and being a positive role model for so many girls out there. I am looking forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Su Sanni says:

    Great start Danielle! I think many multi-racial/cultural people will find that your story and writing resonates with their experiences too.

    Keep sharing your voice and exploring the depths of your writing. We’re proud of you. And you’re great example for other fellows and young people. #doit

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Zeeshan Saroya says:

    Danielle! Great work. I love how I can relate to this, but in a different way with people asking me different questions. I also like the pictures you posted, it was mind blown, interesting and cool at the same time. Bleed your passion out and write write write!

    -Zee

    Like

  7. SN says:

    Danielle, your words lifted my spirit tonight! Today I had a debate with someone on my campus, about how I could be Greek Orthodox but yet identify as Albanian and not be Muslim. Obviously I didn’t fit in their categories, and I love how you expressed your experiences with this type of ignorance!

    Much love and hope to see more!

    SN

    Like

    • Danielle @bklyndani says:

      Thank you SN! I can imagine how your background confuses people. It is so hard for some people to understand how the different places we live, cultures we grow up with, and ethnicities we encompass contribute to our world view, a view that might not fit the cookie cutter, traditional mold. Keep letting people know who you are!

      Much love!

      Like

  8. Rosie Wachsstock Unterman says:

    Danielle, you write beautifully and I really enjoyed reading your blog. For somebody born in Antwerp your English is amazing. We are all put into boxes and when we don’t fit it just disturbs people.
    Enjoy being the “you” that you are and feeling the great connection with your siblings. That’s important.
    Keep writing because that is obviously where your talent lies. Apart from that ENJOY life. By the way I’m a friend of your Mother and she is always telling me how great you are.
    Love Rosie

    Like

    • Danielle James says:

      Hi Rosie,

      Thanks so much for checking it out and for your comment! Yes! Interesting how people get disturbed when you don’t fit in the box they want you to. it’s so much richer when you don’t have a limited world view.

      All the best,
      Danielle

      Like

  9. Raymond says:

    I can relate to your blog dani. I am also from different parts of word and always had a hard time adjusting to who I should be to please the people around me. As I grew older I realized I can only be me with all that I am made of. In truth I believe we (the mixed generation) see no boundaries, we are awesome because we become this colorful butterfly. We see the world with no restrictions. And we are very accepting to anything that isn’t quite the norm. Great first blog! You are amazing thank you for the brief intro about your life.

    Like

    • Danielle @bklyndani says:

      Hi Raymond,

      Yes, yes, yes! Growing up with different cultures in one household can be a great advantage. It does away with the one-sided mindset some people grow up with.
      I love the thought of seeing the mixed generation as a colorful butterfly, in appearance and/or mind, as many people might look one way, but have been raised with different cultures, and still have that open state of mind.

      Like

  10. Anonymous says:

    C’est un plaisir de te lire Danielle ! Ta façon de t’exprimer est si joyeuse et down to earth. Etant juive anversoise je ne peux pas m’imaginer dans ta situation, cela me semble plus que compliqué et pourtant tu me sembles tellement sûre de toi et fière de la personne que tu es devenue, avec raison d’ailleurs !!
    Don’t stop writing, je suis sûre que beaucoup de monde te liras !
    Shalom !

    Like

  11. Elsje Weyn says:

    Hey Daniellleke, ben jij het? Je ziet er stalend uit ! Ik ben ook heel fier op jou! Ook hal heb ik maar een kleine rol gespeeld in jou jeugdjaren, Ik kijk nu naar een foto met jou en mijn twee zoontjes van jaren geleden die boven mijn pc hangt. Jullie zijn nu volwassenen en ik ben blij dat het je goed gaat! Lots of love Els xxx

    Like

  12. Angele Zawadi says:

    Nice & fluent writing Danie. Also an interesting topic to start your blog with and I’m curious to read part II ( little hint that there should be a part II…). Kisses Angie x

    Like

  13. Tina says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! I can totally relate as a fellow mixed etnicity woman. The eye colors what the mind perceives. #ANYlove #iamme #noassumptionspleasr

    Like

    • Danielle @bklyndani says:

      Hi Tina,
      Thank you! Ah yes, how people love to assume and how preconceived notions affect what’s in front of you. Glad you found this relatable, as mixed people, I think we’ve all been there at some point.
      All the best.

      Like

  14. Anny Schiff says:

    Bravo Danielle, beau début de carrière! Je te soutiendrai et suivrai tous les succès à venir. Je t’enverrai un mail pour mes commentaires.
    Anny 👏👏👏❤️😘

    Like

  15. Dwayne says:

    Great work Danielle . I find your writing to be excellent. I can see your words jump off the page and turn into reality. Many people find the need to place “individuals” into certain classes. I never had to deal with this, but your writing allows me to feel exactly how you feel. Keep up the great work I’m really proud of you love you.

    Like

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hey Danielle! Love this piece because I can definitely relate. Peoples’ eyes often widen in disbelief when I tell them my heritage is African and Indigenous, a heritage which I have had to rediscover as a Dominican woman. In my eyes, cultural diversity is richness, and you having so much of that cultural richness be part of who you are and part of your family is amazing.

    I feel that your piece truly captivates the absurdity of people, who based on what other people look like and where they are born, try to categorize other people. Instead of assuming, why don’t people just ask what your background is?

    I feel that what you have described above is a microcosm of how people are viewed across the globe as belonging to different races. For example, peoples’ “needs” of wanting to use phenotype or place of birth to categorize other people allows for other people to be categorized under the imaginary concepts of “race.” I say imaginary because from a scientific standpoint, there are no significant biological differences between humans who are placed in different racial categories. Yet, although socially constructed, historically the consequences of categorizing humans as belonging to different races have been devastating when the concept of race is used to divide people and to justify oppression against people.

    Very excited to read more of your work!

    Like

    • Danielle @bklyndani says:

      Thank you so much for your insightful comment Maoly! Yes, I agree that race is such a constrictive and often stigmatizing social construct. It’s baffling to see how many people can’t think beyond the categories they’re familiar with.

      Would love to hear more from your perspective as well!

      Like

  17. Alicia Foxworth says:

    You always were a high performing and engaging student. This blog is nothing less. Congratulations on a wonderful first entry. The person that thought you were Dominican probably wanted to date you and couldn’t figure out a pick-up line.
    I once listened to a young woman say she was told she was too light to be Black (because of her Jewish heritage). Don’t ever let people put you in a box sistah! But don’t let them tell you that you don’t belong either! Soar Danielle! Soar!

    Like

  18. imrunningmymouth says:

    This is a great post! I love the mix of words and images. Reading a lot of pieces relating to your family, it’s great to put faces to the words. And that baby pic! <33

    On a serious note, I think this is an important topic to talk about. It is infuriating that people ask "Was I sure that I wasn’t Moroccan?". Like, yes, you know what? I completely forgot that I was Moroccan, but now that you mentioned it. People's ignorance is so deeply ingrained, I don't think they even know they understand the weight of what they are saying / doing / implying.

    Your writing is always so well-crafted, I enjoyed reading this and can't wait for your future posts.

    Like

    • Danielle James says:

      Haha yes! You’re completely on point with, “Yes, you know what? I completely forgot that I was Moroccan, but now that you mentioned it.” As if their statement would jar my memory and I’d remember my TRUE origin again. Then again, I guess there are people who either embellish or hide all (or parts) of their heritage, depending on what they identify with, or what their experience might have been. So complex on both sides.

      Thank you for your feedback! And, as you know, my invitation forever stands for you to write a guest post.

      Like

    • Danielle James says:

      Hi Clara,

      Thank you! I look forward to meeting you as well.
      Working on a few multimedia projects that take a bit longer to publish, but I’ll make sure to add them to the blog.

      All the best,
      Danielle

      Like

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