“Were you making a cake?” my grandmother asked me after she heard me refer to my children as “mixed.”
She gazed at me with a grin on her face, her head cocked to the side, and one hand on her hip. I knew that look. I had seen it all my life. She had just finished teaching me another life lesson. And she had done it in less than 5 words. She was just waiting for me to catch up.
My grandmother, a retired community college professor, was a world-class teacher. Her best lessons were often taught in 10 words or less.
That day was the last day I referred to my kids as “mixed.”
It was also the last time I allowed anyone else to refer to my children as “mixed.”
“She Isn’t Really Black”
My aversion to the word mixed actually started on the day we brought our first child, my daughter, home from the hospital. We were living with the mother of my daughter’s family at the time; living in the house everyone in the family hung out at on holidays, for birthday parties, and even lunch breaks. It all happened at this house.
The day we arrived home with our newborn daughter was no different. My new daughter’s (adult) second cousin was visiting when we arrived home. She rushed to greet us at the door as we walked in. She didn’t actually greet us though. No one greets the parents once a new baby arrives.
“Oh shit! She don’t even look Black. She came out looking more mixed than Black. Her hair not even Black.” These were the first words my daughter’s cousin said as she reached in the carrier to lift my daughter out.
My daughter was 2 days old.
“WHAT THE FUCK YOU MEAN SHE DON’T LOOK BLACK?!??!?” That’s what I wanted to say. I didn’t say it, but I’m sure the look on my face did.
I remember my daughter’s mom searching my face waiting for me to clap back. Instead, I did what most Black people do when hit by an anti-Black micro-aggression. I swallowed my disgust and ignored the insult to make sure I didn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable. I took the punch to the gut and pretended like it didn’t happen.
Show Me Where You’re Mixed.
“Dad am I part Black or part Asian?”
Several years later my son asked me that question while we were standing in front of the bathroom mirror as I helped him brush his hair to get ready for bed. He was in 1st or 2nd grade at the time. I don’t recall exactly. But it was an age-appropriate question.
I have always told my children that they are both Black and Asian. But I had not explained why that was true and why they aren’t mixed.
I stopped brushing his hair and gazed down at him in the mirror considering how I would respond. “Well, I don’t know for sure.” I replied, “Can you show me what part of your body is Asian, and what part is Black?”
I am a big fan of using the Socratic method for answering the difficult questions kids sometimes ask. It actually works great for the not so difficult ones too. Also, try “Did you google it?”
My son thought for a moment. Pulled up his pajama shirt to have a better look at himself. Then looked over his shoulder at me with the face he gives me when he’s figured out I’m playing a trick. A look that said, I’m not going to fall for that again.
I wasn’t trying to trick him. I was trying to prepare him to confront an issue he would deal with in one way or another for the rest of his life.
I asked, “What is Daddy?” he said I was Black.
I asked, “What is Mommy?” and he said she was Asian. Then I asked him, “So, what does that make you?” He didn’t know the answer.
I explained to him that he would always be both Asian and Black. That he didn’t have to pick which he was. That all of him was Black. And all of him was Asian. No one could tell him he wasn’t Black enough or Asian enough unless he let them.
As the years go by, I make it a point to talk to my kids about race and racism in exactly the same way I talk to them about the latest Marvel Movie: matter-of-factly. I also make it a point to talk about sexism, gender identity, LGBTQ+ issues, poverty, drinking, sexting, and so on. Not talking to kids about sensitive issues leaves them vulnerable to those issues. At least, that’s my approach to parenting.
If I allowed the world to tell my kids they were mixed, they could begin to develop the idea that they don’t belong. I would be telling them, through inaction, that they didn’t have a right to either racial identity. They didn’t have a right to be like their dad or their mom. Placing them in a racial purgatory they could struggle with the rest of their life. I did.
Many of my ancestors are of multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds. The so-called mixing happened so far back on my family tree none of my living relatives are anything but Black.
Both of my parents identify as Black. My siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles all identify as Black. At least, I’ve never heard anyone in my family refer to themselves as anything but Black.
Growing up in my home, speaking anything other than conventional English was unaccepted. Dropping the “r” or “g” from the ends of the words and using too much slang was not either. My grandmother also taught me about good grammar (though you might not know it from some of my early drafts).
My grandfather was a chemist on a team that discovered two elements on the Periodic Table of Elements. Formal education had been my grandparents’ path to financial security and the way they created safety and opportunity for their children.
My grandparents’ formal education and the ability to effectively code-switch and assimilate into the dominant (White) culture made it possible for them to live a very comfortable life. Don’t get me wrong, my grandparents were Black as fuck. And proud of it. My family was more Huxtables than Evans. We were very Black and very proud.
I attended an affluent, majority-White elementary school. All my teachers were always White. The majority of my friends were White or Asian. Most of the few Black kids I went to school with were related to me. I learned to talk and in many ways act like an affluent White kid. It wasn’t until I got to middle school that the majority of students were people of color.
These kids (not just the Black ones) fluently spoke a different dialect of English than I did. I could more or less code-switch (mostly less) but this is where my problem with my racial identity began. As far as a lot of these kids were concerned, I spoke White, acted White, and looked a little White. To them, I might as well be White or, maybe more accurately, I wasn’t Black like they were Black. They knew it, and I knew it, and we probably weren’t best friends because of it.
By the time I started High School I had willingly started to refer to myself as “mixed.” Something I picked up from my peers. In a way, it made logical sense. I wasn’t Black like they were used to and I wasn’t White so they decided I was mixed.
At the time, I fully accepted this conferred identity. With my acceptance came preparation (I’m a solid A-type). I was always prepared to list all the other ethnicities or races my ancestors had been if the topic came up. My great-grandmother on my mom’s side was Native American. My great grandmother on my dad’s side was Irish and so on.
You Can Call Yourself Mixed If You Want
Everyone has the right to self identify in whatever way feels right and authentic to them. But side-eye to the growing list of Racheal Dolezals out there.
I’ve known more than one “mixed Black girl” (and one guy) who was passing for White. Well, passing to everyone who wasn’t Black. The type of person who only personally identify with Blackness after a few too many drinks. Or once they were out of the earshot of anyone who wasn’t Black. Or when it somehow advantaged them to confess their Blackness.
It doesn’t matter how I personally feel about their need to pass the “paper bag test”. At the end of the day, they have themselves to answer to and I can’t spend too much of my energy judging their life choices. They have to make their way in the world as best they can just like the rest of us.
If they ask me how I feel about their decision to pass for White, I’ll tell them the truth, but in the meantime, it’s not my job to live for them — no matter how embarrassed and ashamed I am for them. I will not demand anyone to identify as anything other than what they feel comfortable identifying as. But still, side-eye to the Racheal Dolezals.
Racial Identity and Pride
Bi-racial acquaintances who identify as mixed have told me it’s easier to reply with two syllables, “I’m mixed.” when asked the crude question, “So, what are you?”
Imagine taking the time to list all of your ancestors’ ethnicities to a near stranger, forcing yourself to engage in the conversation when more often than not the person asking about your race likely has a monologue about race to share. And whatever it is they have to share is going to be racist as hell, but they are going to start by saying,
“I’m not a racist or anything…”
“You don’t talk Black!”
“I’ve never met such a pretty Black girl.”
I have no regrets about having had children with an Asian woman. That was the only way I would have been blessed with the two perfect little humans that call me dad. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice the side-eye some Black women gave me.
Some parents of bi-racial or multi-ethnic kids aren’t comfortable enough with their own identity to talk with their kids effectively about race and identity. They might even feel shame for being in (or having been in) a relationship with someone who was of a different race. If one parent is White, they might not have made peace with their racial privilege. Or worse yet, haven’t admitted this privilege exists for them.
For children of color, a strong sense of pride in their ethnic and racial identity is pretty conclusively shown to positively correlate with good life outcomes.
Children of color who have a strong understanding of their ethnic and racial identity have fewer instances of depression, are less likely to use illegal drugs, attain more education (college and grad school), and as a result of this educational achievement live longer-happier lives.
All Mixed Ain’t the Same
We should not try to pretend that all “mixed” people experience the world the same way. A “mixed” kid who presents as White (or mostly White) is going to experience the world differently than a mixed kid that doesn’t present as White (or mostly White).
You can not protect bi-racial Black kids from racism, bigotry, or policy terror by calling them mixed.
My light skin didn’t protect me from racism, bigotry, or the police. My light skin did not protect me from harsher treatment in elementary school. Being mixed didn’t protect me in middle school. It absolutely didn’t protect me in high school and college.
I know for a fact that I was (and am) treated better because my skin isn’t as dark brown. But I’ve still been called a nigger (hard r) more than once. I’ve still been followed around stores. I’ve still been pulled over by the police for driving while Black “in a car too nice for you.’
I was even asked, “Are you here on a basketball scholarship?” though I was 35 with an undeniable dad bod when I returned to finish my college degree.
The police brutalize multiracial, light skin, “mixed,” Black men and women (cis or trans), and gender non-conforming folk just like the chocolate skin or dark tone ones. Mixed Black folk are singled out for disparate and cruel treatment too. Calling someone mixed does not protect them from racism. That said, we will talk about colorism in a future post.
There is nothing wrong with being multiracial, but the use of the word “mixed” obliterates identity without any gain. If I allow you to call my kids mixed I’ve allowed you to erase their mother and me from their life. I’ve allowed you to further question their right to be in this world. I’ve made it that much harder for them to resist the racism they will face.
Sometimes I regret that I didn’t say, “What the fuck you mean she don’t look Black?” to my daughter’s adult cousin. In a nicer way. Maybe. I guess it was the right call at that time. I didn’t have the language to properly explain what she was doing to me and my daughter. I have the words now.
No, my children are not mixed. They are Black and Asian.
-The Single Black Guy
Previously published on medium
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.