Growing up in an anti-Black family: A message for Black people who consider kids with white partners
When that type of vitriol comes from a parent, the one who birthed you, the one who helped create you… who are you to turn to?
By Taylor Lamb
Every Black person has a story of the first time they remember experiencing anti-Blackness. A slur from a stranger. A disrespectful comment from a teacher. A childhood friend not being allowed to play. It comes in varying degrees but we all have a story.
What did you do when that happened? Did you confide in your parents? Did they comfort you, and make you realize you didn’t do anything wrong?
Now imagine: instead of being able to seek comfort from your parent, the person making you feel less than is your parent.
This is the reality for many Black children who are biracial. More often than not, our first experience with anti-Blackness comes from our own family. And unlike a bigoted stranger we pass on the street, it’s likely they subject us to it again and again.
Growing up, I didn’t realize I had anti-Black family members. Or, maybe I did, but I didn’t fully understand anti-Blackness growing up, so I couldn’t pinpoint it. I remember being a child and hearing that my uncle wouldn’t let my cousin date the Black boy who asked her out. This was the same uncle who hugged me so tightly whenever I visited. The same uncle who treated my Black father like an old friend whenever he was in town.
It didn’t quite make sense to me at the time, so I brushed it off as something strange. There were lots of things that I brushed off as “something strange.”
But there came a time when I couldn’t brush things off anymore.
Many Black millenials have cited Trayvon Martin’s murder and George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal as a moment of realization. That was when they woke up to the injustices surrounding us, and realized just how entrenched anti-Blackness was in our country. For me, that was when I realized how entrenched anti-Blackness was in my family. Suddenly, my Facebook timeline was inundated with posts “proving” Trayvon Martin was a thug who got what was coming to him. They’d ignore evidence of George Zimmerman’s wrongdoing to paint him as a hero and come to his defense.
Surely, a lot of Black people experienced this, but these were posts on the same timelines that were also littered with photos of me and my family’s shared memories. Naïvely, I would engage in these debates with my family members thinking I could get through to them. Maybe these comments weren’t rooted in anti-Blackness, just ignorance. I clung to that hope far longer than I should have. But when one of these debates devolved into my cousin’s girlfriend saying, “MLK Jr. probably wouldn’t be very happy with what you guys have become today,” and my cousin liked the comment as a co-sign, I knew this wasn’t worth the debate.
He was my favorite cousin—my best friend from the ages of 8-15. That moment was when I realized it wasn’t just a lack of knowledge causing my family to feel this way. No, my family was actively anti-Black. But there would be many more moments to come.
In recent years, the rising racial tensions in the nation have been mimicked right at home. My mom and dad aren’t together, so when I’m with my white family, it’s really just me as one speck of color among them, and I feel it deeply. They scoff at the Black Lives Matter movement. My cousin dons a “Drunk Lives Matter” shirt regularly. I’m no longer friends with any of them on any social media, the final straw being when my uncle posted a status for the police saying “Give those animals everything you’ve got!” in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death and the riots that fell down on Baltimore. (This same Uncle just watched me graduate from college a month ago. He cried and told me I was like the daughter he never had.)
And, of course, there is Trump. Nearly every single member of my white family who is of voting age voted for him. My aunt who used to make me waffles every time I slept over. My cousin who taught me how to drive. Even my grandmother, who “doesn’t talk about politics with her grandchildren.” That’s where her values align, too.
Amidst all of this, I am actually one of the lucky ones. You may have noticed all of these stories regard cousins, uncles, grandparents… extended family. But we know from the Kardashians (and countless other interracial families) that having a child with a Black person does not preclude you from being racist. My mom is my only white family member who makes an effort to be actively anti-racist, and will listen to me and work to unlearn harmful ideas.
Not all biracial children are that lucky. I’ve talked to mixed Black kids whose own parents have called them a “nigger” in an argument. The pain and confusion that causes is like no other. When that type of vitriol comes from a parent, the one who birthed you, the one who helped create you… who are you to turn to?
I’m also lucky because I did “wake up.” I had a moment of radicalization that spurred me to understand the anti-Blackness I was being subject to, and was therefore able to reject it. I know all biracial Black children haven’t had that same moment. The kids who say “I’m not Black, I’m mixed” to distance themselves from their Blackness deserve to be called out, but think about where they learned this.
All Black people must work constantly to refuse the anti-Blackness coming at us from various avenues our whole lives. Biracial Black people are also getting it explicitly, right at the dinner table. This undoubtedly breeds internalized anti-Blackness in a child. I know because I felt it. And if I hadn’t “woken up” then I would’ve gone through my whole life feeling it, and passed it on to other Black people including, importantly, to my Black children. Then the onus would have been on them to reject it. And they may have gone their whole lives holding onto it as well.
As a recent college graduate, I’m at a new chapter where I can really design my own life. I don’t have to spend time with anyone I don’t care to. I come and go as I please. I know what I’m expected to do.
I’m inundated with tweets about the need to cut off “problematic” family members. It makes sense. If a celebrity said any of the things my family members have said, I’d “cancel” them. If I were to make a new friend who thought the same way, the friendship would not continue. So maybe cutting off my family is the right answer. It would save me from the question I always have on my mind: How am I going to have my future Black children interact with my anti-Black family? Will they at all? And it would certainly save me from a lot of stress and a lot of pain.
But it just doesn’t feel that simple to me. Maybe this makes me weak. But I do have love for these people. Even when I try my hardest not to. They are the cause of some of my fondest memories. Some of my greatest triumphs came with them by my side. They have provided me with a tremendous amount of support and love and I’m not yet willing to turn away from that.
This isn’t an attempt to defend myself. I feel guilty. I feel guilty for continuing to love them. And I don’t know if my guilt is founded or not. I don’t know what the right answer is. I feel like I’m betraying Black people everywhere by continuing to love my family, and also hurting myself too. It’s hard and confusing. All I know is, like every other anti-Black thing Black people experience, I’ve been put in a very difficult position that I did not cause.
But one thing I can say with certainty to other Black people: If you’re going to have a child with someone who isn’t Black, really give it the most thought you possibly can. Think, “How are they going to treat my child? In what capacity will their anti-Black family interact with my Black child?” Let these questions dictate your next moves.
Make sure your future child’s home is safe.
Don’t make them experience anti-Blackness far earlier than they would otherwise.
Don’t put your future child in a position where they feel they’re betraying their family for their family.
Taylor Leigh Lamb is a writer and actress who is very passionate about using art to impact social change. Get to know her better by watching her on Youtube and follow her on Twitter to see more of her work.