Ask Lisa Advice: I say “Mixed”—They say “Just Black”
This week, I counsel a young Multiracial woman who is fed up with her Black family members dismissing her Mixed heritage and insisting she’s “Just Black.”
I’m Mixed race with White European-American and Black-Caribbean
ancestry and refused to go to a family reunion this summer because I
deal with a lot of racism on my mother’s side of the family (Black
Caribbean). Sometimes they say racist things about White
people. Last Christmas, I was in a room with my two uncles and one
cousin and they were commenting on my body, saying that I
would appeal to a White man because I’m so skinny. On another occasion
my uncle was commenting on my hair texture being loose and mentioned
my admixture and my aunt seemed upset and cut in that I’m “just Black”
denying me my father’s heritage. My question is how do I respond to
these situations? I wish I had said something in both situations but I
just kept my mouth shut.
These days I’m really finding the American environment frustrating in
general because people still uphold the racist one drop rule. I
feel like Mixed race Black and White people aren’t recognized unless
they are of more White ancestry than Black like Mariah Carey or
I feel you. As a Multiracial person, it’s hard enough when outsiders question and attempt to cast your identity to suit their own beliefs. When family members do this, it’s even more frustrating.
I understand why you sat out the family reunion, though your relatives might be surprised to learn you were offended by their recent behavior. As I’m sure you know, there are many Black/White Biracial people who do identify as “Just Black” as your aunt put it. They have a much stronger connection to their “Black side” and simply don’t connect with Whiteness. Thanks to the One-drop rule, Biracial people cannot generally claim Whiteness, even when they embrace the European nationality—German, Irish, etc.—of the White parent. In any case, it sounds as if your family expects you to identify as “Just Black.” They may also assume you do—hence their freedom making negative remarks about White people in front of you.
There are three approaches you might take to address this issue—each depending on the type of relationship you have with a given family member.
- If you’ve been offended by a relative with whom you are very close, you might pull him aside, sit down with him and talk about it.
For example: “Uncle G, I know I am thin, but It makes me feel uncomfortable when you say it will attract a White man as if that were a taboo thing. I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings but it bothered me, seeing that my father is White.”
Or “Aunt, C, when you say I’m just Black, it sounded like you were denying my father’s heritage. I love you and I love my Black Caribbean family, but I am my father’s child too.” Listen to where your family members are coming from and make sure they listen to your point of view too. It is possible, if these are truly loving relatives, that they are simply attempting to claim rather than dismiss you. If these family members are important to you, you owe it to yourself and them to clarify where you stand and how you identify. Please note that it may take several deep discussions before you both feel heard. Then again, you can try making a joke: “Hey, Pop-pop! Stop putting down White people—that’s half of me!” And see where that lands.
- If these are family members whom you rarely see but care about, come up with a combination strategy for dealing with the derisive statements about your father’s heritage when you visit.
You want to stand up for yourself but keep it simple, since you will probably not have the opportunity to make your explanations stick. For example, you might use gentle humor again: “I know you love disparaging White people, Uncle J. But they can’t be all bad or I’m half guilty.”
- On the other hand, maybe these are relatives with whom you are not particularly close, or with whom you’ve had age old gripes.
You have less to lose if you speak out, set a limit, but fail to make an impact. Likewise, you have less to lose if you let it go and walk away. Possibly enlist a supportive cousin or two as a liaison who might explain your case in your absence.
At the route of your distress is frustration with your family’s failure to see your whole racial identity—Black and White. Since they view White people as a singular block, rather than as individuals, it may be hard for them to see the “White” in you. There are many Black families (Caribbean and otherwise) with Multiracial members whose Mixed backgrounds are considered irrelevant because of the roots they share with the fold. There are also many who resent their Biracial kin, construing their dual identity as a claim of superiority.
Finally, as you say, some people only consider the Rashidas and the Mariahs among us truly Mixed. I agree: Many darker-skinned Biracial Black/White people (yours truly included) are not immediately recognized as Mixed. Because we look Black, some people discount our Multiracial heritage. But none of us can—or should—wear a t-shirt or carry around a sign that announces our racial mix. The important thing is for you to know and appreciate your full heritage—no matter who else detects or dismisses it.