Ask Lisa Advice: Rejection of Blackness

Ask Lisa Advice: Rejection of Blackness

This week, I counsel the White mother of a young, Biracial man who expresses his anger toward his father in an utter rejection of Blackness.

Dear Lisa

I am a White mother of a nineteen-year-old Biracial son. We are close confidantes, but I believe I have done a terrible job in supporting his Black identity. His father, who was Black, has only been sporadically involved with us—my son has not seen him for several years—and I am remarried to a White man, whom my son now loves and considers his second father.

My son just began his sophomore year at an elite university that has a wonderful African American Studies department as well as several campus groups aimed at the African American community. My son wants no part of these, nor will he participate in any Black-focused activity at all, because he believes they foster more segregation. While my husband and I recently attended a BLM rally and invited my son to join us, he will not even discuss Black Lives Matter. I am very upset about this and feel he should participate in his biological father’s culture, to at least acknowledge the contributions and struggles of Black people in this country.

Unfortunately, I admit, this situation was not on my radar until pretty recently—with the killings of Michael Brown and many others being in the news. I did not do much to support my son’s Black identity when he was a kid. He looks almost exactly like his father, so I always assumed since he looks Black, that he would be connected with that heritage no matter what I did. But after his father left, I was not working and we needed to move in with my parents in a very White community, far from my ex-husband’s family. When I married my current husband, my son was sort of absorbed into a world that had no connection to his Blackness. I always thought I should do something about it, but life got away from me.

I thought in college, my son would connect with other Black students and find himself that way, but that has not happened. Now he says he does not identity as Black but only as Biracial. He does not seem to have Black friends or girlfriends and becomes angry if I question him about it. I recently reached out to a Black psychotherapist with an office in his college town, who says my son is internalizing racism and is at risk of depression. I doubt I can get him to see her, but I wonder: is she right? And if so, what do I do to help him?

Guilty mom


Dear Guilty,

As a mother myself, I am aware that the first impulse when a child is struggling is to search for ways to blame yourself. Please resist that urge. Could you have worked harder to prevent your boy’s rejection of Blackness? Yes, you probably could have, but you made the choices you made years ago for reasons that made sense at the time. You can’t go back and you must now look forward. It is not too late to help your son.

He is clearly, deeply angry, though he may not be fully conscious of why. I would wager that he is cheerful most of the time, that he keeps up a smiling front because, if he allowed his smile to waver, he might unleash some serious rage. Right now, his anger is directed at Blackness itself. It seems he wishes to rid himself of it altogether. But every time he looks in the mirror, every time someone calls him Black rather than Biracial, there it is. This is the meaning of internalized racism. Your son is not just shunning negative stereotypes of Black people, he’s denying the Black part of himself.

If we had a map of your son’s psyche, I have a feeling we could draw a direct path from his biological father’s exit from your lives to his rejection of Blackness. You didn’t say why your first husband left or how he has been sporadically involved or how sporadically, but I am sure your son has feelings about this. Putting it starkly, a Black father left his life and a White father entered it. Besides feeding the negative stereotype of Black fatherhood, your ex also left your son to make sense of being brown in a White world all on his own. As a child, I am guessing that your son made his own rules, developing his own narrative about his heritage. Black represented the object of his anger, something to turn against, as he embraced his White stepdad and his Biracial identity.

The irony here is that your son is indeed Biracial. And, while there are many who claim that being Biracial means something all its own—neither one race nor the other—I believe that Biraciality is inclusive: both/and. In your son’s case, being Biracial means that he is Black and White. His rejection of Blackness—the more marginalized and arguably complicated piece of his heritage—may haunt him until he is able to make peace with it.

One baby step—a lead-in to getting in touch with his Black side—might be to connect with other Black/White Biracial people, if he has not done so already. Multiracial people come in all shades and identify in multiple ways. Connecting with other Biracial people may help your son become more comfortable discussing his races in general.

Next, I agree that it would be great for your son to see a therapist. I think the woman you reached out to sounds like she has the right idea, but my wish for your boy would be to find a male therapist of color if possible. To develop a therapeutic relationship with an older, Black or Black/White Biracial male might provide a different perspective of Black manhood.

Before you sign him up, however, summon the courage to talk with him about all this. Be candid, loving and direct. Say:

“Sweetheart, your rejection of Blackness worries me very much. Maybe you feel this way because your father left. Maybe it’s because I didn’t expose you to your Black heritage when you were growing up, but it’s something I think you need to work on.”

He may deny this. He may become upset and argue with you. He may shut down. But don’t give up. Tell him:

“You deserve to love your whole self and right now, I can see that you don’t. It breaks my heart and I want to help. I’ve made you an appointment with Dr. Somebody. Talk with him. He’s got a lot of experience. Go just once and decide.”

It may take several discussions before you get through to your son. It may also take a few therapists before you find one that’s a good fit. In any case, with hope, time and support, your son will end his rejection of Blackness and take pride in his whole identity.

7 Responses to Ask Lisa Advice: Rejection of Blackness

  1. Deana Bowlds-williams says:

    He does need therapy. I think though that the Mother tried to outsource the sons black identification. When you have mixed race children, it is not an intellectual exercise and, unfortunately, if you do not work to keep a variety of black people in the daily life of the child AND the parent, you cannot preac acceptance because you do not live it. It isnt a weekend exercise. Just speaking from experience.

    • Alex Barnett says:

      Thank you so very much for your thoughts on this. We really appreciate the insight and hope that you will continue to write in.

  2. Karen says:

    It is only an issue because society makes it so. If one wants to identify as mixed bi racial multi racial it does not mean somethong is wrong. Maybe this Motjer should adk het son how he really feels & stop second guessing herself. I do not see how BLM meetings would help him.
    I th9nk sometimed you van try too hard. Just be yourself & enjoy life

  3. Lyn says:

    Identifying as biracial isn’t a rejection of blackness. This is a racist concept supported by ignorant people who give into groupthink. It’s not the job of biracial people to cater to the insecurites of others who have issues with mixed race people. This mother sounds like she has prejudice herself. First of all,
    “he looks exactly like his father so I thought he’d identify with his black heritage”
    Someone doesn’t know what heritage is. And no mixed child looked exaclty like their parent. This sounds like another case of “All colored people look the same”. His features are likely different but he retains semblance of his father as his son.
    He’s just as much white as he is black. It’s like his mother doesn’t want to accept her own whiteness and how it contributes to her son. Again, brainwashing of the racist one drop rule strikes again.

    How about teaching him about all of himself and why he should love all his ancestry equally. Not favor one over the other.

    • TIA says:

      Exactly , I think the problem is her trying to force a black identity on her Biracial son too much .

      A child that already has their mind made up about their identity being Biracial and now having his own mother ( someone he is genetically a part of just as much as he is his father ) feels like the mother is rejecting the fact that she had a Biracial son and wishing she had a black son .

      I think he is rebelling against the black identity because he feels it’s being forced on him , if you continue to force it on him and not respect his wishes to identify as Biracial he may reject black people and culture indefinitely .

      I speak from experience , I’m Biracial and I identify as Biracial , when I was a kid my own mother and stepfather tried to get me to accept one dropping myself as exclusively black , the more they pushed a black identity on me the more I rejected it , on school forms my white mother would mark me as black and once she wasn’t around I would circle white too .

      When my mother would try and force acceptance of the one drop rule on me ., I felt like she was agreeing with the racist that implied I wasn’t good enough for my white heritage , she made me feel like I wasn’t good enough for her . It pissed me off and I rebelled against anything ” Black ”

      He may not ever identtify as ” solely black ” and she needs to be ok with that .

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