Identifying as a mixed race, black woman is a means for me to express autonomy and celebrate myself, my family and my experience.
It is definitely not the same for all those of mixed heritage, I can only speak on my own experiences and I hope it resonates with others.
Imagine a scenario, a dream if you will, where white uncles and aunts and cousins are hugging, laughing, embracing black uncles and aunts, cousins and friends. There is love in the air, each side invited into the other's world with no judgement, no expectation, just acceptance. This is your beautiful family. Sounds utopian! Until one day a member of a family comments on your birthmark stating this was caused by your parents’ genes not being compatible...There you have it, the reality check. The realization that, despite genuine love and respect of one another, a member of your family still possessed an idea of what was natural or flawed in the union of a black man and a white woman. Your parents. Sound familiar? Yes, because this is the experience of many people of mixed heritage. There is no outward viciousness, no explicit racism or prejudice displayed by family members, but the painful conflicting realization that some members of your family still possess some racist ideas of who you are and how you became.
My sister recalls her experience growing up: “I never felt authentically black or white enough…it held me back in many ways and made me quite timid and self conscious when it came to self expression.” Growing up in London, I lived in a community mixed in both class, culture and race. My mother was White English from the country county of Sussex, (former Dukedom of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Thought I’d just throw that in there), and my father, Black Caribbean from Barbados.
Perhaps out of rebellion and feistiness, (a trait from my dad I am told), I was unapologetic in declaring my Bajan heritage. I wanted to be darker, as I saw blackness as beauty, strength, joy, historic, musical! I loved my English heritage, stories of my grandfather, a Jew, who was adopted by his neighbors during WWI, my great grandmother Charlotte Darling who lived in Clapham Junction, near my home. I fortified myself in my roots from each family; roots both comfortable and uncomfortable. I acknowledged the struggle of others, the pain of slavery and racism. Funny how embracing my black self led me to accept my white self, led me to a whole. I have no guilt in being mixed; I proudly speak of my heritage and all my family members.
Yet my sister’s experience was different; this was a powerful realization for me. That in the same family, your experience of your race and identity can be so completely different. We went on the same family holidays to Sussex, Kent and Barbados yearly. We watched the same programs, surrounded by the same people. We were and still are loved; we had a community. However, our autonomy was not understood until adulthood. My sister states, “only becoming a mother, overcoming abuse and maturing as a woman has allowed me to find the authentic version of myself...I’ve found joy in my natural hair, my freckles, my bum, my “black” features...now I can enjoy both sides of my heritage without worrying about what others think and connect with others on both sides with understanding.”
We didn’t have the terminology or knowledge of this struggle back then but we do now. Part of my purpose is to give voice to this vocabulary of experience. To lend a voice and or support to those who may not understand their conflict or are painfully aware of it. To let them know they are heard, understood, seen and loved.
I am a mixed race black woman, so in the words of Mary J Blige, take me as I am or have nothing at all.
In Part 2 of this blog series, I will be drawing on more experiences from my fellow mixed race sistas. How they embrace their mixed heritage and navigate their privilege in a world that continuously seeks to divide.