“I got to the point where I didn’t know if I should act like ‘black Melinda’ or ‘white Melinda,”
Melinda Ude knows who she is; she loves who she is; she accepts who she is. It hasn’t always been this way.
Melinda is biracial. She was born to a white woman and had a black father but was adopted at just four days old by a white couple living in a small, sheltered southern Illinois community.
Her adoption, even just 24 years ago, was seen as taboo, even considered “special needs” just because of her biracial status.
“My parents couldn’t have children of their own and decided to adopt,” Melinda said. “They were about ready to give up on adoption though when a social worker contacted them about a woman who was pregnant and was giving her child up for adoption.”
Melinda’s parents waited six months. When she was born they discovered that she was biracial.
“The social worker asked them if they still wanted me,” she said. “They came from two different backgrounds – West Virginia and Chicago, and had some family members who had different thoughts about it. But they didn’t care. They wanted to love a child, have a child of their own. They didn’t care about skin color.”
Although her parents didn’t care about her skin color, it was something that she spent a good part of her life struggling with. Growing up it wasn’t too much of a factor. Her community was so small that everyone knew her from day one and accepted her. But there was no one else that looked like her.
“Everyone knew who I was – I was the little brown girl with curly hair,” Melinda said. “But everyone accepted me too.”
Going to college though was a whole other story. Melinda struggled with finding where she belonged.
“I didn’t know if I was a white girl or a black girl,” she said. “I felt like I was constantly mimicking other people and couldn’t find where I fit in. I never felt like I belonged. That’s when I realized that color really did matter to some people.”
Melinda said she’s heard some people say that being biracial was the best of both worlds. But to her, at least during this time, it was the worst of both because she never felt “enough” – white enough or black enough.
Dating was an exceptionally difficult challenge.
“I got to the point where I didn’t know if I should act like ‘black Melinda’ or ‘white Melinda,” she said. “But eventually I realized, ‘I’m not a color. I can’t let that define me.’ I realized if I let what I look like define me I would never know who I was.”
And so Melinda found someone who didn’t see her for her color, her husband of three months Iseanyichukwu Ude of Nigeria.
“He’s taught me so much about loving myself for what I am and who I am and not caring about what I outwardly look like,” she said. “When I ask him what he loves about me he describes my character and my personality, not how I look. It doesn’t matter to him.”
Melinda said it is good that she has gotten to this point in her life because she hopes when she has children – who will also be biracial – she can help them learn this lesson of acceptance, love and sense of belonging.
“I wonder what color their skin will be and how they will feel about it,” she said. “Will they wish they were darker or fully black or white? I wonder about that. But what I will say as a parent is, ‘Love who you are, not what you look like.’ I will explain how to handle those challenges.”
And these challenges of acceptance aren’t limited just to skin color, she said. Melinda has witnessed her own friends, white, black and “other” struggle with accepting other things like their weight or hair type.
“I am proud to say, ‘Melinda is not a color. She is a personality. She is a faithful, honest, loving and happy person spreading joy,’” Melinda said. “I’m being exactly who I am supposed to be.”