My mother is White, of Scandinavian descent, and my father is from Nigeria. I identify as both Biracial and Black, but not White. I believe that being Biracial is an experience, a mixed-race experience. Though many people look at me and know that I’m mixed, I’m aware that many people view me as Black. My identification has been fluid, and it may not always be at it is today. As I have learned about Black history and connected with more Black people, my Black identity has become stronger and more of an affirmation.
Growing up, I was raised by my mom’s side of the family only, I didn’t meet my father until I was an adult. (The story of my travels to Nigeria are chronicled earlier in this blog, for those who are interested.) This had a complex effect on my identity. Visually, phenotypically, no one was going to mistake me for White, but my family and social circle was White. This gave me a sense from a very young age of being different, outside, but also special. I felt very special growing up.
My White mother was always encouraging me to be “Blacker,” whatever that meant. To my observation of her behavior, it meant “talking Black, being loud.” That’s how she put it on and even as a child it looked like a ridiculous act to me. She made Black seem like something you could put on. I had a second family who just were who they were as a Black family. They accepted me. My sister/cousin T always tried to help me fit in with Black people, teach me somehow. But I always felt like a fraud, a terrible failure, trying to put on culture. So I kind of retreated from a young age on cultural identification.
Another part of early racial experience was the family my aunt married into, a White family of hunters, very Minnesota. I was told from a very young age that some of them were racist. I was told that my uncle’s father didn’t want me at my aunt’s wedding (I was only a year old). Yet we would share Christmas Eve with them some years and they all treated me very well. This was my first experience with tokenism. “They may not like Black people… But they love you…”
I had a couple of Mixed friends when I was a kid, but there were no other Mixed people in my immediate family. Much of my education on race was my mom’s aggressive encouragement/instruction, education at school on MLK and civil rights, National Geographic movies of saggy boobied African women in the bush, We are the World and starving children in Africa engulfed in flies. It was not positive. So I never talked about race, really. I put my thoughts and perceptions in a locked box in my heart, and stifled it until I was in my late 20s.
That’s when I began to discover research on the mixed-race experience. That blew my mind to discover that not only were other people thinking about race, but were having the same discord as me, the same problems. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t weird.
I have always been drawn to people who were “other.” From the time I was a kid, it’s interesting to look back and see the number of transracial adoptees, Asian kids, Mixed kids, freaks, outsiders that I gravitated toward. Today my closest friends still largely have an element of otherness in one way or another.
I was born and raised in South Minneapolis, and live in the Whittier neighborhood today. I love it because there are mansions, apartment buildings, condos, Eat Street, it’s a very multi-cultural and economically diverse neighborhood, so I feel comfortable. I don’t enjoy the suburbs, I don’t feel comfortable in majority White neighborhoods, and for most of my life I didn’t feel comfortable around majority Black neighborhoods. As I’ve overcome childhood hurts about not being Black enough, and made connections with Black people, communities, and culture, I have become much more comfortable in my Black identity and among Black communities. I’m increasingly uncomfortable in all White situations, it’s like I’ve become hyper-aware and a bit paranoid about perceived racist judgments. I think it’s a part of identity development. Either way, I’m most comfortable in truly diverse settings.
I love Minneapolis! It’s my home, I’ve been here all my life. I started this project, Mixed in Mpls, to try to find others who are having a neither/both experience in this city. I’m just beginning to open my eyes to the reality of Minneapolis – from segregation and disparities, to susceptibility to stereotypes based on the overall small percentage of people of color in the state. As I talk to more people, both new to Minneapolis and lifers, many observations emerge. What I know is that I want to hear more, I want to talk to more people, I want to create communities of color and interracial communities that talk to each other, learn from each other, and provide strong, holistic, real examples of who we are as people of color.
I am Black and White. This means that I need role models, strong representations of real people who are positive examples of what it means to be Black, White, Mixed, Bi-Cultural, Adopted, and Blended. I see that void in Minneapolis, the void of a community. I need all of you. And I think you need me, too. That’s why I started the Mixed in Mpls project. This is the legacy of my experience growing up Mixed here – I want to make it better for the booming population of people crossing culture, internally and externally. We need flesh and blood examples, role models, families to serve as examples of what it means to grow up healthy and whole, living fully inside our racial identities. We need to build community.