Writing

How to Tell Your Truth as a Biracial Writer and Why It’s Vital

Cover detail from Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Editor's Note:

Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he’s not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle (SCY) under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

In 1992, Dr. Maria P. P. Root wrote a “Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People,” which was later included in several of her books, including 1996’s The Multiracial Experience.

I wish I could say I had grown up with this document, or even been aware of it before researching this piece, but Dr. Root manages to encapsulate in twelve sentences what I spent an entire novel trying to express.

In Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Darius Kellner frequently refers to himself and his sister as “Fractional Persians,” as opposed to the “True Persians” his mother’s family in Iran represent. Growing up Iranian-American myself, I didn’t ever think of myself as “Fractional Persian.” In fact, I tried not to think of myself as Persian at all.

I was raised in Kansas City, Missouri, in a predominantly white suburb, and it was easier to pretend I was 100% white like all my classmates. Granted, this plan would have worked a lot better if my name wasn’t Adib and I didn’t have to constantly explain where my name came from.

As I got older, I became a lot more comfortable with my Iranian heritage, and there were even times I leaned into it, like in college when being Iranian made me stand out in an otherwise crowded field. (It helped that there was a very good Iranian restaurant in town that I got my classmates hooked on.)

Even now, though, I don’t know that I’ve gotten myself all figured out. Some days I feel white; some days I feel Iranian. Some days I feel both, and some days I feel neither.

I knew from the start that one of the central conflicts in Darius was going to be his sense of identity, his Fractional-ness. Firstly, because I wanted to mirror and explore my own experience, and secondly, because there are more and more Mash-Up Americans each day. Whenever I write, I’m grappling with a question I have, or a problem I’m trying to solve. In this case, it was, “What does it mean to grow up feeling like you’re walking a tightrope between two different cultures?”

There are times Darius truly feels like he belongs in Iran, and others when he feels utterly out-of-place. There are pieces of his life in America that he feels perfectly at home in, and others that make it clear just how “other” the people around him perceive him.

And all of this is inextricably linked with Darius’s name. Throughout the story, Darius is referred to alternately as Darius or Darioush, the Persian rendering of his name. It’s not just his Iranian relatives: his own mother switches between Darius and Darioush with confusing regularity, and by the time he gets home, even he thinks of himself as Darioush sometimes.

And that’s because, at the end of the day, he truly is Darioush sometimes. And he is Darius sometimes. He is American sometimes, and he is Iranian sometimes. He is both sometimes, and he is neither sometimes.

These are feelings that I had growing up. And that my sister had growing up. I’ve heard from so many readers of mixed heritage that they, too, felt this way. Fractional. Hyphenate. Mash-up.

As writers, and especially writers for young people, it’s our job to tell the truth. This was my truth growing up. But you know what?

I turned out okay.