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Activist Sil Lai Abrams Discusses Not Finding Out She Was Black Until Teenhood

Avatar • Aug 23, 2015

This week mainstream media outlets ran with a story started by a racist blog claiming that Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King was hiding his true identity as a white man.

Shaun King

Shaun King

Followers of the intelligent and dynamic leader were dismayed as publication after publication accused King of being a liar, charlatan and a hypocrite.

As it turns out King is the son of a “light-skinned black man” whom his mother had an affair with. She listed her then-husband, a white man, as the father on King’s birth certificate.

The rapid and gleeful way mainstream media ran with the story displays not only a racist bent (the woman blogger who unearthed this ‘secret’ is known to harass families of police brutality victims and has been banned from Twitter multiple times) but a lack of understanding of black identity.

In an effort to support Shaun King, domestic violence activist Sil Lai Abrams shared her story of not finding out that her father was black until teenhood.

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634356264789786624

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634357141105721344

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634357295070224384

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634357521025789952

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634357980297854976

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634358264059273216

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634358880504532992

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634359073459277824

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634359332692430848

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634359924005453824

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634360120756056064

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634360624869412864

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634360945775616004

https://twitter.com/Sil_Lai/status/634361227720978432

Wow.

A story from The Oberlin Review goes deeper into Sil Lai’s story;

It’s amazing how denial can kick in especially if your parents want you to believe something,” said Abrams. “When I asked my father, ‘Why is my skin tone different?’ what he told me seemed to make sense. I was born in Hawaii on the island of Maui, so what they told me was, ‘Sil Lai, your skin is brown because you are Hawaiian,’ and it made sense to me.”

Abrams revealed how she finally found out her true ethnicity as an early teenager. She and her sister were reading a book of “tasteless jokes,” and after reading a particularly offensive joke about black people, her father furiously burst into the room.

‘I don’t know why you’re laughing Sil Lai. You’re one.’ My mouth hung wide as we watched him stalk out of the room without glancing back, and with those few words my father stripped me of my identity and place as his daughter. That was it. That was the conversation. That was how he told me,” said Abrams.

Her father told her that he and her family lied to her for so long out of love. Abrams found out that her mother had an affair with a black airplane pilot, and she was the result. Abrams said that after finding out, she became a social misfit and a part of the alternative culture inside her high school. She ignored her racial identity and her biggest fear was anyone finding out that she was black. At 17, her Florida driver’s license indicated her race as white.

America has provided very limited ways that people can be black, act black, define as black, but more people are coming to the fore and challenging those notions. The ‘black experience’ isn’t singular. There are a multitude of ways that those who identify as black express themselves and acknowledge their heritage;

No, My Blackness Isn’t Determined By Who I Date
How Rachel Dolezal Just Made Things Harder for Those of Us Who Don’t “Look Black”
“I Had to Un-Brainwash Myself” Zoe Kravitz Admits to Not Identifying With Black Culture as a Girl
The #AllBlackGirlsDont Tag Is Giving Black Women Space to Dispute Stereotypes and Self-Define

Ladies, what are your thoughts?

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candice roma
candice roma
5 years ago

This is why blackness should be about self identification. No one drop rule. No community consensus. If you identify with blackness, then own it.

PETTYNEXTDOOR
PETTYNEXTDOOR
5 years ago
Reply to  candice roma

amen

omfg
omfg
5 years ago
Reply to  candice roma

Weird how no white or Asian person would ever say this. The consensus issue is one mostly for black Americans. None of these people are black. Period. Black Americans don’t want to draw a line in the sand like others do.

bri
bri
5 years ago
Reply to  omfg

Legally, if it’s in your ancestry (and you can prove it) you can claim it and have your race legally changed to reflect that. Even if it isn’t in your ancestry, if the community recognizes that person as black,and they have fully immersed themselves in the community, then they can legally “become” a black person, the race on birth certificate, Social Security, etc changed. Because race is a legal and social construct, it can be changed as long as the requirements are met for that change to be legal.

DeepCherrish
DeepCherrish
5 years ago
Reply to  bri

Race is a white mans concept. No lie. Literally one white man came up with the concept and the cruxt of its demeaning and meaningless origins remain ( please look it up before you argue with me even if you believe it do not take my word for it look it up; if you haven’t already your mind will be blown). But, that does not mean that hertiage has no meaning; if you are not of African descent you are not black unless that term is socially disconnected from having African ancestry.

SKEEWEE
SKEEWEE
5 years ago
Reply to  candice roma

But she has one parent who is Black. Should a Black kid who is adopted by White parents identify as White, since that is the culture they are raised in??

Apartheid Cried
Apartheid Cried
5 years ago

Her father loved her as his own which is wonderful. I don’t understand why she refers to him as the man on her birth certificate, he’s her father not biological but her father none the less.

Me
Me
5 years ago

First, I don’t like the notion that if you find out you’re mixed with black, all of a sudden it becomes false that you are white. Both Sil Lai and Again are white. They just happen to also be black, but the media strictly uses the term black in place of mixed which is the accurate description of what they are. Second, Sil Lai makes it seem as if we’re all to assume that any time we see an olive complected person in a white family there must have been an affair to create that person. If your birth certificate says… Read more »

Kanika Ameerah
Kanika Ameerah
5 years ago
Reply to  Me

Sil Lai’s mother is Chinese (the woman in the family portrait is her stepmother).

kalexa1
kalexa1
5 years ago
Reply to  Me

.…but her family WERE lying to her; so … anyone who looked on and had assumed that would’ve been (in that case) right, not wrong to assume.

Me
Me
5 years ago
Reply to  kalexa1

No. Just because your assumption coincidently turns out to be correct doesn’t make it right to assume anything about anyone’s family history that you don’t have evidence of. Coincidence is not a justification for assumption.

bosslaydee
bosslaydee
5 years ago
Reply to  Me

Sil Lai isnt any type of white. Her mothers Asian.

Cruzangurl69
Cruzangurl69
5 years ago
Reply to  bosslaydee

Thank You bosslaydee. Somebody else saw the picture that I saw.

Chel
Chel
5 years ago

Race becomes complex when people are of mixed race. My friend is black who has black parents. One fairly dark-skinned, one light-skinned, and she herself is lighter than both. People often think she’s mixed.
Her daughter is blonde hair, blue-eyed, and fair skin. Her daughter looks white, but she may identify as black when she’s older.

Like I said race is complex.

Who cares what Shaun King’s race is? As long as he’s not faking the race he claims, then what’s the issue? I’m just glad he cares about black lives so much.

Felina Femenina
Felina Femenina
5 years ago
Reply to  Chel

“People often think she’s mixed.” Because she IS mixed. She’s descended from a line of very mixed people who were one-dropped ruled. The mother is light because she has a lot of ancestral admixture. We know this because we know there were no light-skinned, golden haired people in ancient Africa. People who can pass as white are not black. They have some blackness in them, but a simple DNA test and common sense will tell them they are mostly “other.” Black people continue to perpetuate the lie that there are black people who can pass for white, because these black individuals… Read more »

Felina Femenina
Felina Femenina
4 years ago
Reply to  Chel

“People often think she’s mixed.” Because she IS mixed. She’s descended from a line of very mixed people who were one-dropped ruled. The mother is light because she has a lot of ancestral admixture. We know this because we know there were no light-skinned, golden haired people in ancient Africa. People who can pass as white are not black. They have some blackness in them, but a simple DNA test and common sense will tell them they are mostly “other.” Black people continue to perpetuate the lie that there are black people who can pass for white, because these black individuals… Read more »

Latonia Gray
Latonia Gray
5 years ago

That is not true at all. You do not have to have two black parents to be considered black. Let’s start with a history lesson…unfortunately, in this country under the slavery system and the subsequent Jim Crow Laws it was deemed that if you had even one ancestor of African descent you were considered black. Those premises still hold today but people are refusing more and more to be defined by that standard. If Sil Lai’s father was African-American then she is technically considered the same.

roo08
roo08
5 years ago
Reply to  Latonia Gray

Come on so because society considers her black, she’s technically black? That’s not what the word means. Her mom is Asian and her dad is black, so she is technically both black and Asian, period. If she identifies as being black though, there’s nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t suddenly erase her Asian background.

kalexa1
kalexa1
5 years ago
Reply to  Latonia Gray

Then how is it you HAVE to have TWO WHITE PARENTS to be considered WHITE? Please explain the logic / inconsistency in the argument if you can.

Joanna
Joanna
5 years ago
Reply to  Latonia Gray

“My father is Indian but he SO looks black and my mother is Malaysian but her grand-grandmother is black and I identify as black too. Plus, my boyfriend is Jamaican.” People. You do not LOOK, ACT, IDENTIFY, PASS, TALK, WALK, or CONSIDERED black. You were BORN and ARE black. And that ONLY happens when your parents are black. I am tired of people trying to shimmy their way into one race of the other to their convenience. Being black is obvious. It’s not what you feel, it’s what you are. It’s what causes people to discriminate you, it’s what gives… Read more »

Brianna Nicolas
Brianna Nicolas
4 years ago
Reply to  Latonia Gray

it is very much true. Yeah you stay in slavery times im in the 21st century.

kalexa1
kalexa1
5 years ago

Well said.

bri
bri
5 years ago

Just seeing this, but I am sorry that part about not being of african descent= not “black” is not true. Look up “how the Irish became white”, Read up abut how chinese people were classified as colored and black in the 1800s and early 1900s, Read up on Walter Plecker and how he classified Native Americans in Virginia as black(This happened all over the South East U.S. not just Va ), etc.. there are too many examples of people who are not of african descent being classified as black or colored. You do not know the history of race in… Read more »

DeepCherrish
DeepCherrish
5 years ago
Reply to  bri

I actually do know these things which is why I said what I said. I understand that currently being Black in America means having African ancestry. If/when that correlation looses its current social context Black will have yet a new meaning. I’m sorry but your comment is disengenuous you know very well that when someone in 2015 refers to a Black American what they mean. Of course the meanings can change. Being a person of color has generally implied any non white I know that. None of this is a mystery to me. I know the history well that is… Read more »

bri
bri
5 years ago
Reply to  DeepCherrish

Black only means African ancestry to those that believe it to be that. It never historically applied to continent of origin, and still does not apply to that even to this day because race and ethnicity are not considered to be one in the same in the United states.They say it right there on the census website that race and ethnicity are separate categories. If race really equalled ethnicity or continent of origin then North Africans would be considered black in this country but they are considered to be white legally, regardless of their own personal claims. Even in this… Read more »

DeepCherrish
DeepCherrish
5 years ago
Reply to  bri

There is no distiction between the concept of race and ethnicity they both refer to biological heritege. Furthermore America doesn’t make any distinction between Black and African; any census will clearly say black/African American. You know that and so do I. The civil rights movement in America strove to include the term African American prior to that the segment of the population here that were indigenous to Africa were refered to as Negros, Blacks, and Niggers. I currently live in the U.S and currently there is no distinction made between the two in a larger social context and I don’t… Read more »

bri
bri
5 years ago
Reply to  DeepCherrish

Yes there is, and it’s written into the laws. Do your research and you’ll find out about it. I spoke about it in terms of the law, not social context. Just because it’s not done socially doesn’t make it indistinguishable in all other avenues.

DeepCherrish
DeepCherrish
5 years ago
Reply to  bri

The comment you responded to spoke of the absences of a social distinction. Black has often been used as a synonym for slave not a secret, but currently colloquially and legally Black is used to identify people who have African ancestry. This doesn’t seem to be something you want to accept. It’s the only point I was making. I am not talking about previously accepted legal definitions of blackness. I’m not going back and forth with you any longer. You enjoy arguing even when you contradict yourself. Of course terms like Nigger and Negro aren’t aren’t ancestrial that was not… Read more »

bri
bri
5 years ago
Reply to  DeepCherrish

“There is no distiction between the concept of race and ethnicity they both refer to biological heritege” No they do not. Race in this country was originally pushed upon it’s residents based on color, not ancestry.White was such a new term back then, that what the term referred to had to be explained for the Europeans still in Europe to understand it when they heard it. During slavery, all slaves were called Negro because they were slaves, it had nothing to do with ancestral origin. There were white Negros, Indian Negros, African Negros, etc. “any census will clearly say black/African… Read more »

Joanna
Joanna
5 years ago

“My father is Indian but he SO looks black and my mother is Malaysian but her grand-grandmother is black and I identify as black too. Plus, my boyfriend is Jamaican.” People. You do not LOOK, ACT, IDENTIFY, PASS, TALK, WALK black. You were BORN and ARE black. And that ONLY happens when your parents are black. I am tired of people trying to shimmy their way into one race of the other to their convenience. Being black is obvious. It’s not what you feel, it’s what you are. It’s what causes people to discriminate you, it’s what gives you a… Read more »

Way Brown
Way Brown
4 years ago

facts

Muteti Ndeti
Muteti Ndeti
4 years ago

This series gives a real insight to race in america.
Follow all three episodes:
Race_ The Power of An Illusion, Episode 1, Part 1 — MSU MediaSpace.htm

Brianna Nicolas
Brianna Nicolas
5 years ago

This person is not black. Black people are the product of two black parents

not black?
not black?
5 years ago

i am confused

bri
bri
5 years ago

Honestly people, Why didn’t he change the names on his birth certificate and get the race changed on it? You actually CAN DO THIS if it’s incorrect and you have proof!
Stop leaving these things in the records if it’s not true. No one can come at you with these claims if you correct these things!

John
John
3 years ago

Genetically speaking, races don’t exist in human beings. They are social constructs. A real shame for those ostracized or who feel alienated, including the author, because of ignorance.

It’s the 21st Century and the age of genetics and epigenetics. We need to realize the truth. There’s only one race; the human race.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981008051724.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/race-is-not-biological_us_56b8db83e4b04f9b57da89ed

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6273/564

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