Mixed Women Explain Why Talking About Race With Their Families Matters

Many people have committed to the stance taken by Reni Eddo-Lodge in her bestselling book, Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race. Black people across the world have adopted the intention to stop taking on the burden of explaining their oppression to others, with the idea that those who benefit from white supremacy should take it upon themselves to accumulate the knowledge to dismantle such systems. But for mixed families, these conversations can be difficult.
The number of Britons who say they have a mixed ethnic background almost doubled between the censuses of 2001 and 2011 to about 1.2 million, or slightly more than 2% of the overall population. People with mixed ethnicity now make up the fastest growing ethnic populations in the UK.
Advertisement
For mixed people with both Black and white family members, conversations about race can be hard to avoid. From dinner party disputes to confrontational conversations, dialogue which includes both sides of the dynamic is common. So how do young women in this situation straddle the duality in their own family?
Photo courtesy of Sami.
Blackness is undeniably subjective. There is no monolithic way to define being Black. Those with Black heritage do not have to fit a particular mould or stereotype in order to represent their culture. Sami, 21, from Bristol, is mixed race and says that the existence of two cultures in her life has made her appreciate it more. "My father is Jewish and my mother is Jamaican, meaning my ancestors before me — on both sides — had been through so much hardship, yet here I am: two people from differing cultures were brought together by love."
She adds that she can't define Blackness but she does feel the pressure to adhere to what society deems 'Black'. "Realistically, Blackness comes in many forms," she says. "The beauty in that is that it gives Black individuals the space to be whoever they want without restraint."
Alamay, 19, who is also from Bristol, is mixed race. Her mother is white British and her father is Ethiopian. She loves her dual heritage. "My dad always instilled in me the importance and pride in Ethiopian heritage from a young age and I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to Ethiopia to see family and keep in touch with that side of my heritage." Alamay adds that learning Amharic bridges the gap between her family members, in particular her grandmother, without having her father there to translate.
Advertisement
Of her mother's northern British heritage, Alamay says: "By living in England, I'm actively partaking in English culture so I feel as though I don't have to make such a conscious effort to stay connected to it. My mum has told me all about her and my grandma's upbringing and has given me her slight northern pronunciations and cadences."
For others such as Angie, a 26-year-old administrator from Kent, mixed heritage has brought difficulty. Angie's mother is Greek and Irish, while her father is Grenadian. Colour-driven conversations weren't always easy because she grew up alongside her sister, who is white. Conflict, Angie says, often occurred in their conversations. Angie explains how, as a child, she would be treated differently from her sister by her mother's side of the family. This lack of understanding had a negative effect on her. "I know when my grandparents first met my father, they refused to shake his hand," she says. "My parents often argued in the car after leaving my grandparents' home, debating whether or not they were racist."

My parents often argued in the car after leaving my grandparents' home, debating whether or not they were racist.

Angie
Photo courtesy of Libby.
Being multiracial is not only Black and white. Twenty-two-year-old Libby's father is from Barbados and her mother is mixed South African. Conversations with her mother about her heritage were full of gaps where her family's origins had been lost due to apartheid, which shaped and distorted the lives of Black South Africans as a result of white supremacy and authoritarian rule. While Libby recognises the privilege she has as a light-skinned mixed woman in a world fuelled by colourism, she admits that the uncertainty attached to her knowledge of her own heritage has caused issues for her and her social anxiety.
Advertisement
"To white people," says Libby, "me being mixed was a false justification that racism no longer exists." She says that her complaints of racism from other children in school often went ignored, making her feel as though her unjust treatment was somehow validated.

To white people, me being mixed was a false justification that racism no longer exists.

Libby
Chloe, 21, from Cardiff works as a Women's Aid volunteer and experienced the absence of mixed influence. She grew up with her white British mother as a single parent. Her father, a Black Jamaican, was absent from her life, which meant she turned to her friends to discuss race.
Photo courtesy of Chloe.
In 2019, she decided to spend two weeks with her father, allowing their conversations about race to heal gaps in her identity. "Reconnecting with my dad didn't cause tensions with my white family directly," she says. "He and my mum have always had a civil relationship." However, it was important for Chloe to start her own dialogue with her dad separately from her mother, which, she says, "healed me so much and allowed me to connect with not only him but myself."
Discussions with her white extended family on the political issues associated with Blackness were difficult for Chloe and "terrifying for a 16-year-old to have."
"I was terrified to find that one of my relatives might be a closet racist but it was my job to unveil if it was true," she tells Refinery29. Chloe admits that it was strange for both her and her mother to discuss these issues as, up until that point, her mother had taught her everything she knew. Then the roles were reversed. "My mother stands by me as an ally and has done so much to allow me to open up and be who I need to be."
Advertisement

I was terrified to find that one of my relatives might be a closet racist but it was my job to unveil if it was true.

Chloe
Chloe ended up seeking therapy in order to fully understand her mixed identity, a course of action that counsellor Rochelle Armstrong, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, supports.
"There are several challenges facing a conversation about racial identity," says Armstrong. "Often people do not do a good job of talking about race. Who exactly are Black people? Who are Latinx people? What does it mean to be mixed? What constitutes mixed? What is at stake when we fail to grasp the significance of these questions?"
She continues: "For young mixed women still figuring out their identities, the challenges posed by these questions may further compromise a delicate sense of self. This – having to educate white family members – can be frustrating, burdensome and, at worst, re-traumatising."

For young mixed women still figuring out their identities, the challenges posed by these questions may further compromise a delicate sense of self. This – having to educate white family members – can be frustrating, burdensome and, at worst, re-traumatising.

rochelle armstrong
Armstrong adds that external forces also inform these identity concerns and how they are received, such as the historical legacy of the 'one-drop rule', which confirms Blackness with the smallest sighting of Blackness. The reverse – whereby you're mixed but 'white passing' – remains just as prevalent a pressure today.
Despite these women having different experiences and perspectives, similar messages are echoed. Conversations surrounding race should be handled with care. Identity is such a sensitive topic for many and it is necessary that the depth and dynamic nature of such is recognised.

More from Living

R29 Original Series

Advertisement