Black/POC mixed race folks can reverse the anti-Blackness of mixed race narratives
It's possible to be both marginalized & privileged, & the more people who realize that, the sooner people of color can dismantle oppression
By Tonya Pennington
Every now and then, I’ll hear a news story about a mixed raced person that makes me sigh. This was the case recently with chef and entrepreneur Ayesha Curry, who discussed her experience with her heritage on The View. Since her mother is Jamaican-Chinese and her father is African-American and Polish, Curry stated that she doesn’t feel accepted by the Black community and felt like she had to “choose” one community over the other after moving to the U.S.
Since my dad was African-American and my mother is Vietnamese, part of me can empathize with Curry’s feelings. I can remember feeling not “Black enough” due to not only my ethnicity, but also my personal interests. I was even bullied in high school by other Black kids who called me a nerd. Even though it hurt, I eventually moved on as I discovered other Black nerds and learned how vast Black experiences have always been.
But despite my empathy for Curry, I disagree with her conclusion for why she isn’t accepted by the Black community. Both of us are ligh-skinned, and we know light-skinned Black people are often considered more desirable than dark skin Black women because of colorism. As much as she may have been picked on for being “different,” like me, it’s inevitable that she also experienced a host of privileges both within and outside the Black community for the same thing.
Curry’s statements remind me of the 2017 documentary The Blasian Narratives Vol. 1. Directed by Jivan Aiman, The Blasian Narratives features personal skits from young Black and Asian mixed race people discussing their experiences of being Blasian with many using their skits to proclaim how they don’t feel “Black enough” or “Asian enough.”
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For the most part, the film was enjoyable when it came to how it expressed the cultural experiences of other Blasian people, especially since I’ve known few Blasian people outside my family. A variety of Blasian people were featured, including a Black Sri-Lankan girl named Shiranthi Goonathilaka, a French Caribbean Vietnamese girl named Jessica Lam, and a Blasian man named Marlon Riggs who was raised in Hawaii. However, I did wish that more of the participants would have addressed the personal biases and racism that they’ve internalized based on their experiences.
One scene that made me particularly uncomfortable involved a Blasian person named Julian Booker. Booker performed a skit called “Salvation,” describing how he is reluctant to date Black women, stereotyping them as Christians who wouldn’t understand that he was a Buddhist. While the issue of religious differences is understandable, him saying that he doesn’t want to date Black women based on this stereotype is misogynoir and inexcusable. He outright states that not all Black women are Christian, so why did he start out the skit saying he’s tired of dating Black women?
Since the film mainly focuses on self-acceptance with some discussion of race relations among Black people and Asian people, I can assume that the people featured in the film are still working through how being Blasian affects their worldview. In fact, some of the personal skits remind me of the internal work I did a year ago when coming to terms with being Blasian. Despite its flaws, The Blasian Narratives matters because most mixed raced narratives focus on interracial Black people with Black and white heritage, and usually exemplify the fallacy of “not Black enough” narratives.
The upcoming TV series Mixed-ish, a spin-off of ABC’s Grown-ish, is the most recent example. Mixed-ish focuses on the early years of mother and wife Rainbow Johnson as she struggles with her identity with a Black mom and white dad. Another example I’m reminded of is the mixed race lesbian foster mom Lena Adams from the TV show The Fosters. At one point, Lena is told by her dark-skinned Black mom that she will never understand what it’s like to be a Black woman and Lena replies in frustration how she never fit in among white or Black people, now presented as the victim in a situation where, structurally, she is not.
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Even among Black/POC mixed race people, white supremacy manages to appear through internalized racism that manifests through symptoms such as colorism, misogynoir, microaggressions, and anti-Blackness. Julian Booker’s statement in Blasian Narratives is an example of this. The reason that both Black/white and Black/POC mixed race people get defensive when this is mentioned is that they are reluctant to acknowledge how they could play a role in white supremacy.
Although Black/POC mixed race people certainly have struggles that are unique to us, they don’t erase the benefits that we can have based on our skin tone, hair type, education level, and other factors that represent the ideal of whiteness. The opposite is also true; your privilege doesn’t erase your struggles and marginalized identities. It is possible to be both marginalized and privileged, and the more people who realize that, the sooner people of color can dismantle this oppression.
While self-acceptance and a sense of belonging are important, Black/POC mixed race people need more. Instead of continuing to focus on not being Black enough, we must interrogate internalized racism and white supremacy in ourselves and others. By doing so, we can learn to uplift each other better by celebrating our ethnicity and cultures while learning to navigate spaces and people who cater to whiteness by recognizing and getting rid of anti-Blackness.
Latonya Pennington is a freelance pop culture critic and poet. Their criticism can be found online at Syfy Wire, Brain Mills Press, and Black Sci-fi. Their poetry has been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, EFNIKS magazine, and Argot magazine among others.