“What are you?” – guest post from Cat Fillmore


If you read my blog with any regularity you know that I have a strong conviction that becoming secure in our identity as daughters and sons of God is one of the most transformational dynamics that we can participate in.

It is from that conviction that I have developed another strong belief about identity.  I see a strong thrust throughout the Bible of God developing a man or woman’s sense of cultural identity as a dimension of their overall identity as children of God. Whether we look at Esther or Joseph or Daniel or the Apostle Paul, we see strong leaders who embraced their cultural heritage as part of the gift mix that God had stewarded them with. So whenever I come across a well written post like this I jump for joy!

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Cat, one of the brilliant young women in our community. She has written an incredibly articulate piece called “What are you?” and it originally posted on her site here.

This is one of the reasons I love the world of blogging – I didn’t even know Cat had one until I saw this referenced on the blog of another great couple in our church (and if you are looking for one to subscribe to, check out Misuzu and Alvin’s blog here). Feel free to comment here if you’d like, but please be sure to go back to the original site as well to affirm Cat for the brave and vulnerable way she shared. Enjoy!

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I’ve been hearing the question “What are you?” my whole entire life. Sometimes I hear it from curious little children and other times I hear it from adults it seems should know better. There was a time I wasn’t sure I knew the answer, but as I’ve gotten older, I have gotten closer. Today is the last day of this year’s Black History Month. It’s a month that always makes me a bit reflective. I think about the warriors who came before me such as the Lovings who made a marriage like that of my parents possible. I contemplate what it means to be black or white or both. I wonder if someday my children will grow up around people who have found a kinder way to get the question “What are you?” answered.

As a teenager, I always hated the way I looked. Tears would roll down my cheeks as I stared at myself in the mirror despising my pasty-white skin, giant forehead, curly hair, and gap-teeth. I couldn’t believe how ugly I was. I’d put on a brave face and wear big dangly earrings, pleather pants, and silvery lip gloss, but I still felt the same. My style never fit, my hair was labeled as sponge-y, interesting, or weird, my taste in music and movies was nothing like that of my peers and my skin was too pale for most of the people in Maine to realize at first glance that I was mixed. Boys never liked me and girls never envied me. I wasn’t white enough to fit.

I was so excited when I got to college. I was no longer “Caitlin,” I was now “Cat” and I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could be loud and smart and quirky and cool, but most importantly I thought I would no longer an anomaly! Chicago was this glitzy, glamorous place in my mind where black women were proud to wear their hair in afros and mixed college students were a dime a dozen. People of all colors and background would mix and I would finally find my place. If I had done my research, I would have found that Chicago was far from the promised land I had pictured it to be, but instead I found myself in one of the most segregated cities in the States and mixed people over the age of six seemed no where to be found. The few I did spot didn’t seem quite as anxious as me to talk about it. I discovered that black people in Chicago are very different culturally from my mother’s family in New York and I didn’t fit in with them any better than I had in Maine. In addition, I found myself at a college filled with more tall, thin, blonde women than I realized it was possible to contain in one place. When you lined me up next to them, I might as well have been an alien from an entirely different planet. Boys still didn’t like me, girls didn’t want to borrow my clothes, nobody wanted to burn my cds or borrow my movies, and it was beginning to look like no matter where I went my problems would follow me. I blamed everyone else for a really long time. They were all closed-minded, ignorant, mean, superficial, and the list went on and on. I was angry at God, angry at my parents, angry at my friends, angry at those tiny, toothpicky blondes and angry at myself for my inability to fit in. Why couldn’t I be normal for once? Why did I always have to stand out? Why couldn’t my skin be a little bit darker, my hair a little bit straighter, my waist a little bit smaller and my stature a little bit taller? I’d never be white enough or black enough or the perfect blend of both like the women you see in the magazines would I?

Sometimes things in life just click. We have a magical moment when we are reading something in a book or having a conversation with a friend and we’re given an epiphany and we see things clearer than ever before. This isn’t one of those times. I can’t pinpoint a moment when things changed, but for the first time in my 26 years, I wake up and I love the women I see in the mirror. She is beautiful. Her hair is long and gorgeous, her eyes are a bright, bold blue, her short stature is endearing, she has great fashion sense, and her makeup is stunning. Men may never like her, women will absolutely never envy her, and she will never be good at being black or being white, but now she knows she doesn’t need to be. The Lord made her to be unique with fair skin and curly hair and the question “What are you?” doesn’t scare her quite as much anymore. She is who she is and she doesn’t plan on changing for the comfort of anyone.

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