Ask Lisa Advice: Multiracial Siblinghood and Microaggressions
This week I counsel a Multiracial woman whose White-passing Sister fails to Acknowledge Racial Microaggressions
I’ve recently started living with my older sister, I was semi reluctant because we often butt heads.
I have been seeing the root of my lack of Sisterhood in my life stem from our relationship.
We are both we are both a Multigenerational mix of Black, Native and White. We have had a completely different racial experience because she is “White passing.” She pretty much has an “All lives matter” stance and whenever I try to discuss situations I have been in as a Person Of Color dealing with racial microaggressions with White folks, she will literally defend the White person and in so many words tell me I’m overreacting.
Utterly alienated and alone.
Multiracial Siblinghood is not simple when it comes to discussions of race and racism. It must be deeply disappointing to have your own sister take the part of a total stranger without acknowledging these microaggressions. To add insult to injury, this is not a White member of your Multiracial family—who might be excused for failing to recognize subtle racism. This is a full, biological sibling who shares your precise racial mix.
That said, the question of how to communicate with someone who refuses to listen is relevant for many Americans these days. The current climate in our nation is one of deep social, political and racial division. Rifts that have been brewing underground for decades have come to the surface, shattering relationships of all kinds.
I know many siblings who have wound up on opposite sides of the gulf: blue versus red, liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican, Black versus White, and so on. Vitriol runs deep lately, partly because our president has been such a cheerleader for the right and a provocateur of the left.
Relationships are strained to the point where people don’t want to build bridges anymore—even among families. I have clients who have said of siblings, “I won’t speak to them again. At least not until 2020.”
I recognize that you don’t have that as a possibility, seeing as you live with your sister.
As I see it, here are your options.
- Initiate Talks to Educate Your Sister
You mentioned feeling a lack of sisterhood with her even prior to these recent interactions. But if you believe that you and your sister have the potential for mutual respect and affection, teaching her racial awareness is possible. This will require patience and tolerance on your part. Your goal is to persuade her to understand what you go through daily so that she can be your supporter and ally. Start with a positive opening:
“Sis, I care a lot about you and it makes me sad that we’ve been at odds lately. I think it would help if we communicate better. I need you to understand where I’m coming from in terms of race. Please hear me out and I promise I’ll listen to you too …”
With hope, this will lead to a series of discussions that open her mind and fortify your Multiracial Siblinghood.
- Agree to Disagree
This option also requires some mutual respect and openness. Try something like:
“Sis, you and I have different appearances and are therefore viewed and treated differently by those who have racist beliefs. We may never see eye to eye on race, but I need you to stop invalidating the microaggressions I encounter. I need you to listen to me without ‘playing devil’s advocate’ or defending strangers who may have insulted me.”
With this option, you will be able to talk about your reality, acknowledge one another’s different viewpoints and validate one another’s different experiences. You will not be partners, and you will not agree on everything, but you will be heard. Your Multiracial Siblinghood may become a forum for debate rather than alienation.
- Let it Go and Walk Away
Let’s say you have tried the other two options and they have proved fruitless. Swallowing your anger and keeping silent about racism may be excruciating and impossible, but it may also be the only way to live peacefully with your sister. Then the question becomes: Is the relationship worth it? Is she deeply rigid and resistant to seeing what you are trying to get her to see? Is she invested in maintaining her way of thinking at all costs? If so, there is nothing you can do or say to alter her perspective. The choice is yours. Say nothing and stay—or be true to yourself and leave.
The bottom line is that many Multiracial people feel embittered when siblings of different shades deny or dismiss their racial experiences. It’s a little-known fact about Multiracial families: Siblings of different shades not only have different racial experiences, they often have different takes on race.
These relationships are complicated, underscoring the fact that Multiracial siblinghood in no way guarantees common attitudes or responses to life in our world.