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Have you watched Mixed-ish? If not, let me give you a quick summary of the show.
Mixed-ish tells the story of how Rainbow “Bow” Johnson grew up in a mixed-race family in the 80s and the dilemmas she faced as a biracial girl.
I love this show for many reasons. The main one being that I can relate to Bow as a fellow biracial woman. In the show, she talks about how she often felt insecure and unsure about her place because she was African American and Caucasian. She also talks about how people went out of their way to make sure she knew that she didn’t belong to either racial community.
Growing Up Biracial
Growing up, I experience the same dilemmas as Bow. As a Puerto-Rican and Black girl, I was taught to be unapologetically proud to be biracial. However, that can be difficult to do when adults and peers alike constantly questioning you.
Yes, even in the early 2000s, people were still acting like being biracial was a crime.
As a child, I was often bullied to feel insecure about everything, from my hair to who I was. I remember kids telling me that I cannot be black since my skin was white. At the same time, I could not hang out with the Hispanic kids because I didn’t know how to speak Spanish.
Whenever my mom went to my school, they would give me a hard time not walking out with strangers. Despite having seen her so often, teachers and students still wouldn’t accept that I had a black mom. I don’t think my mom noticed, or she didn’t care because she knew their words meant nothing. But, at the time, it meant something to me.
Often, children and some adults would go out of their way to say cruel things to little me. For years, I heard the exact phrases.
- “Why is your hair like that?”
- “Is that really your mom. Wow, I didn’t know you were actually black.”
- “Why do you sound so white?”
- “Are you sure that’s your mom?”
- “Just because she’s black doesn’t mean you’re black.”
- “Real Spanish people speak Spanish.”
These perceived perceptions, comments, and ignorance did not get any better as I got older.
As a high schooler, I experience the same identity crisis as Bow when it came to my biracial heritage. I tried to force myself to fit into every group I can find. I wanted to be as peppy and “white” as the Caucasian girls. I wanted to be cool and popular like the black girls, and I wanted to Jajaja with the Hispanics (I went to an all girl-school).
But, no matter what I did, the girls still treated me as if I was less than them. The only time my race mattered is if someone asked me about it. It got to a point where I was uncomfortable speaking about who I was and where I was from because I wanted the other girls to like me.
If I was asked, “Where are you from?” or “What’s your nationality?” I’d often avoid the question or pretend I didn’t hear it. It got to the point where I cried on my mother’s couch because I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. She’d often tell me to ignore it, but being who I was, that wasn’t easy.
I compared myself to the other girls a lot. I kept asking for my hair to be permed, for my mom to stop giving me hand-me-downs, and forced myself to behave how everyone wanted me to.
Learning to Love the Skin I’m In
I learned how to be proud because I watched my mother do it for me. She is the reason why I proudly represent who I am, regardless of what people think. Let me tell you what happened.
The incident started when my high school eleventh grade English teacher asked me to tame my hair and my attitude because she felt like I was pretending to be someone I am not. She explained that she didn’t want me going on a trip to Motown looking “raggedy.”
I explained to her that my sweater was old and that my mother couldn’t afford a new one at the time. She responded, “Don’t pretend to be struggling when actual girls are struggling.” At this point, I was almost in tears because I knew my family situation, but she was accusing me of lying. I kept telling them about my multiple siblings and our financial situation, but she wouldn’t let me get one word out.
The last thing I remember her saying is, “The school sweater doesn’t cost a lot. It shouldn’t be hard to get one. Don’t come on the trip looking like that.” as she pointed to my afro and patched up sweater.
I went home and cried that day. I told my mother everything, and she pulled up the next day in a white t-shirt, hair tied up, and jeans ready to beat the teacher. She went straight to the principal and told her that she would call the news if she didn’t do something.
Afterward, she had a long conversation with the teacher about her ignorance. She told her that she’s been trying to teach me how to love myself. My mother pointed out the irony of another black woman belittling a girl because she was light skin and mixed.
Being Unapologetically Proud
That day changed everything. I felt more comfortable speaking about who I was and went to college with no regrets. I joined the newspaper and worked hard to appreciate who I am and what I have. I never allowed anyone else to bring my self-esteem as low as the teacher and the people before her have. Now, I wear my mixed heritage proudly. I am half black and half Puerto Rican, and nothing can change that. So, why should I care about what anyone else thinks?
Since high school, I’ve been on a journey of self care and love, and learning how to rediscover the truth of who I am.
Thank you for reading my story. Let me know if you have had a similar experience and how that’s changed you in the comments!