When you look in my eyes, when you stare at my face, when you hear me speak, can you tell I’m mixed race? Alone in a crowd, treated like I don’t fit in. Aren’t we in this together? Since we are all human.
Being mixed race/bi-racial/dual heritage and having one black parent at a time when people are more openly discussing diversity and inclusion, microaggressions in the workplace, unfair treatment in the justice system, systemic inequality, and an overall imbalance due to the color of one’s skin can be complicated. People of all races are coming together in society via peaceful protests, marches, and workplace town halls to fight back against current day injustice towards Black people from the Government, the police, the school systems, and places of employment. Yes, although being mixed raced in this climate can be complicated, it has also presented an opportunity for conversations to take place within the mixed race family unit that can shed years of ignorance, subtle/covert racism, and feelings of otherness.
If you are a mixed race human (I apologize if you find the term “mixed” to be offensive) with one Black parent and have a parent that presents as non-Black or White and has a different ethnicity, there are unique challenges that you may be facing at this time.
Currently, many who are mixed race with one Black parent are not getting as much support from their non-Black family (and sometimes their Black family) members who may not necessarily see them as “Black.”
In many mixed families conversations around race were avoided. Usually because parents did not realize it was a conversation that needed to happen. Family members will say that they do not “see race,” while others struggled with how to talk to their children about how having one Black parent might impact them. This is a time where more Black people and POC are speaking out and actively using their voices to create tangible and concrete change. Our history provides evidence that since the mid 1800’s, Black people have been fighting for freedom, just treatment, and equality. Although slavery ended in the 1800’s, the battle for just treatment and equality exists today. It has been a very long journey. Acknowledgment of the history and current day challenges via open and honest conversation with family members can be validating, affirming, and connecting.
Challenges of being mixed race: Some of the challenges clients share most often are, having family members who are racist (especially the ones that think they aren’t). The feeling of not being enough of either race to feel as though they belong. Rejection by one and sometimes both of their races. Feeling confused around how to show up in the world and/or feeling forced to pick a side. There are times when filling out a demographic questionnaire can be consumed with guilt ridden thoughts around having to check one box. One box? So which one do I chose today? Which parent do I side with today? Oftentimes people will alternate between races to keep themselves balanced internally and not experience the guilt of having sided with one part of themselves, which in turn feels as if you are rejecting the other part(s) of who you are.
Advantages of being mixed race: Where there are challenges, you can usually find some advantages. Some of the advantages (that may be considered privileges) of being mixed race that my clients share most often are; Being accepted in more places and spaces. Being considered neutral and safe. There is also the exposure to different races, the window in to different worlds and a comfort level that is not always available to non-mixed race individuals. One of the biggest advantages is being able to know from an early age that people can look different, speak different languages, and have entirely different cultural backgrounds and still get along and actually love one another.
Many children of mixed race parents grow up never feeling enough of one race to fully fit in. There can be what feels like a constant tug of war between what feels like two parts of who you are and for some, it can be easier to pick a side. What happens when the side you “pick” does not accept you? and does picking a side mean that you deny a part of who you are? What are the consequences? How do you reconcile this and find a way to embrace all of who you are, especially when there are people in the world and maybe in your home (maybe even you) that reject a part of who you are.
Growing up with a born and raised Puerto Rican mother, who presents white and a Black American father from Virginia seemed normal as a child. I did notice that my mother and I did not look alike. Why was my skin so much darker? Why was my hair so different? As a child you think your mother is the most beautiful woman in the world, but if you don’t look like her, what does that mean about you? Are you not as beautiful? Not to mention all of the people who made comments in ignorance that I did not understand as a child.
My parents met in NYC, have been married for 51 years, and have been incredibly supportive throughout my life. Growing up they told stories casually about how they experienced discrimination and racism while dating and made jokes about how people thought my mother was my nanny. My mother made comments about how we did not look alike and how my cousin looked like she should be her daughter because she had lighter skin (colorism absolutely exists in the Puerto Rican community) and long, straight hair. All things said in innocence, and all things that impacted the way I felt about myself and my place within my family unit. My mother also called me beautiful and smart however, the mixed messages led to inner conflict. Luckily, the constant has always been my father, who thought (and still believes) that I am absolutely creative, intelligent, and beautiful from head to toe. It is my father who taught me and my brother to embrace and love all parts of who we are every moment of every day.
During this current time of increased racial tension, there seems to continue to be a disconnect around the fact that I am intimately impacted by how the world sees humans with darker skin. Although there is not an expectation on my end that my mother will ever completely understand (how could she possibly), there is a responsibility I have to myself that compels me to share with her what my experience has been and continues to be. In sharing with both my parents I learned that they are eager to show up, they just did not know how to start the conversation and needed to be given the opportunity. So many of my clients are living similar experiences, able to discuss injustices in the world yet are struggling to discuss with family members how current events are impacting their sense of self and overall mental health.
Conversations are needed. Getting to know one another on a deeper level is the answer. Blame, anger, hurt and disappointment are feelings that deserve validation, however, in order to heal the wounds, accepting who you are and sharing how you feel by using your voice is the most empowering tool you have. Lead with your heart and the words will flow. The gift of your voice is a way to honor yourself and your unique experience.
THE INTIMATE PERSPECTIVES OF FIVE
Recently, my clients have been sharing how they are experiencing the current state of the world in regards to racism. I asked current and past clients who are mixed race with one Black parent to feel free to contribute to this article in hopes it might shed some light for others and five of them shared their perspectives. Each person, ranging in age from 22 years old to 45 years old used their voice vulnerably and courageously in support of themselves, mixed race individuals, and humanity as a whole. The intimate perspectives of five:
“Being with my white mother right now in the middle of a pandemic and now with the Black Lives Matter protests has been such a discombobulating experience for me. I have never been with my mom during a time of racial unrest (at least not that I can remember in my adult years), and I am finding it really hard to figure out how to talk to her about it. Reminding your white family members that you are black in this world, even as a mixed-race human, is hard at any time, but right now I am realizing that I don’t have the energy to educate. Between the pandemic and everything else happening in my life, I am having to prioritize self-care in order to stay sane, and self-care at this moment means not having hard, uncomfortable discussions with my white mom. I plan to talk about this time with her when I’m feeling more whole, but for now, I’m focusing on my mental health. When I need to talk about it, I reach out to my black community.” – NC
I was always unsure of how to identify growing up. I was unsure if I was black. How could I tell? Did my skin need to be darker? Did my Puerto Rican family mean that I wasn’t. But look at my cousins, they are “negro”. I was questioned often if I was really Puerto Rican. “Por que no hablas Español si eres puertorriqueña?” Somehow I felt like a fraud on both sides. Having these conversations today, in the midst of this movement, I’ve finally realized that I am 100% both, and so damn proud to be. My heritage, from every branch of my family tree is who I am, and my empathetic heart beats for each part. Right now, it’s beating in full support of all black lives. – KNV
I am Black and Japanese. I was born Brooklyn and I have spent the majority of my life here. My relationship with my Japanese culture is not as strong as I would like. From a young age I was very embarrassed of my Japanese mother because I looked nothing like her. I remember questioning her often about why we looked nothing alike. My mother was the type to just say things like “it doesn’t matter you are my daughter”. In hindsight I wish she was more supportive and put more effort into talking about our differences. Right now things are difficult because my mother has been turned a blind eye to the racial issues, and hasn’t been able to show up for me when there are racist acts against Black people in America. We recently had a talk and it was very difficult because of the language barrier. I know my mother truly believes in peace for all people, but it was important that she understood that it’s about Black people right now, and I am your Black daughter. But because of this language barrier it is difficult for me to say that without me catching all of the wrong and inappropriate things she might be saying in between. I often find myself reading between the lines with her, constantly filtering her words so that I don’t get attached to any words she may not even fully understand. I know that I have to keep trying with her because it is important that she is aware of the things her children are going through, and how she can show up for us in times like this. I do not expect her to know all the answers or be able to delete these feelings. But it is important for me to make sure that she knows about these things so that she can educate others too. Recently I have found a bunch of videos of people speaking on racial injustice and they have been translated in Japanese. This has been really helpful and my mother has been better at checking in on me when these things happen. – AB
Being a mixed-race (African American and Mexican American) man, makes me feel like I live in two different worlds. I was raised in a dual parent household, but only felt and experienced a connection to my mother’s side (African American). Due to pressures of social conformities, some individuals have felt overwhelmed by having to choose a particular side, however, such has not been the case for me. Growing up, I didn’t really feel accepted by my Mexican side therefore, I wholeheartedly and unapologetically connected and lived life through the lens of an African American. What has been difficult, is the awareness/knowledge of the plethora of political, economical and social challenges that are faced by both African-Americans and Mexicans in this country. As I grew older (which I feel is typical for some mixed race persons) I came to recognize and proudly felt the strength and honor of both my African and Mexican heritage. During these times of social unrest, I go through all of the emotional feels, voice my indignation, pause for moments of reflection but then I get back in the race because that’s what those before me have done...The work continues! – Anthony G.
““I’m multiracial. My father is Black. My mother is mixed Indian and British, she was raised in India. The lineage of the oppressed and oppressor flow within my veins. At times it feels heavy, I am conflicted and feel lost. At other times, I feel so blessed to be part of such rich cultures and traditions.
These last few weeks I have gone from heartbreak, to rage, back to deep sadness & grief, returning to a rage that feels numb to feeling hopeful, for a moment. America and the whole world is reckoning with the legacy of systematic racism and murder of Black bodies and lives.
What has given me hope and solace is my conversations with my mother. She is learning, understanding and finding ways to participate in this historical moment. She attended a vigil for Black lives, donated to many organizations; we’ve had conversations about racism within the South Asian community. Most importantly she has shown up for me as my mother, while also holding that she is limited in her experience of understanding, that she is not a Black woman and her daughter is. This has been healing. I feel my mother seeing me in my fullness and also protecting and supporting her daughter. I am grateful.” – SE
I am hopeful that the contributions above are able to provide deeper insight, validation around a similar experience, and/or additional support. Each person alive has their own uniqueness based on their experiences. You get to embrace and honor yours!
TOOLS: JOURNAL PROMPTS, ACTION STEPS, RESOURCES AND AN AFFIRMATION
MIXED RACE INDIVIDUALS: Start with identifying what has come up for you around race throughout your life. Identify the messages you received from family, friends, and your community about who you are. If you ever felt like you had to pick a side, did you? Do you feel more connected to one race and if so, how come? Have you felt accepted and/or rejected by others? Have you accepted and embraced all parts of who you are? Have you identified the challenges you have encountered throughout your life because of being mixed race? Can you identify what privileges have been afforded to you? Are there still remnants of wounds that show up for you today and if so, what are they? what are you doing to heal? How are you impacted by the racial tension that currently exists and who do you turn to for support? Are there people in your family unit who have inadvertently or blatantly put down your other race? (which is putting down a part of you) and if so, are you ready for the conversation?
Some of the most hurtful and harmful comments come from family members and people who identify themselves as allies, understanding this and having an awareness that it happens can support you taking action by way of conversations to spread that awareness. The way you honor yourself most is by getting to know yourself and accepting all parts of who you are. Using your voice differently with family members can be scary and uncomfortable. You may be bought into the thought that it will not matter or make a difference or your fear may be that you will hurt a family members feelings. You get to validate family members AND show up for yourself. An unhealthy dynamic will not change if you reinforce it by continuing to show up as you always have. If you want it to change, use your voice, honor yourself, and make the decision to change it!
AFFIRMATION: I am enough because, I am. I am whole because I exist. I belong because I am living this human experience. I am a part of you, whether you accept me or not. I accept myself as whole, as beautiful, as enough, and in that acceptance, I am free.
INTERRACIAL COUPLES WITH CHILDREN: Begin the conversation early. Start discussion with your partner about your different cultures, traditions, and how race and racial tensions have impacted you. Share with one another your concerns as well as the challenges you believe your child may face. Get on the same page around how you are going to expose your child to all parts of their culture. Teach your child to see their own beauty and appreciate the beauty in both of their races, as well as other races and people. I have attached two children’s books to this post, which I am not personally affiliated with, that may support beginning the conversation. There are also quite a few other books on the market that you may feel would be a better fit for your family:
Remember that although you may not see race and color, the world around you often does, and having those conversations with your children early can make all the difference.
Who are your people? Where is your home? We are all part of the Universe, it is impossible to truly be alone. Always searching for belonging, we should not have to fight to fit in, because true belonging is inherent in being human.