It’s been about 3 years since I’ve heard that question. I used to walk around Whole Foods, two tiny children in tow- one with blue eyes (now yellow) and one with cocoa brown and people would stop and say to me “ They’re so beautiful. Are the mixed?”. I never thought anything of it at first, but then I began getting offended as if their beauty was the result of some exotified idea that I layed down with a white man to make my awesomeness. (P.S. I’m sooooo team swirl) The idea that “regular”, “normal” brown skin people like myself must depend on someone outside our race to enhance our beauty and physical currency, was disturbing.
My kids and I hail from a multiethnic background. It’s not as visually apparent in my face as it is theirs and their father’s, but our brown skin is a shoutout to many cultures and communities around the world. I won’t rattle off these cultures as a point of pride because many multiethnic relationships of the past were tumultuous and complicated. Especially those during slavery (like when a slave master slept with a slave and then sold the kids, type of tumult). It’s a wonder how my children, their father or myself genetically made it.
So, Are they mixed? I don’t know… I guess we all are.
It’s no doubt about it, racial ambiguity is in. Looking ambiguous is popular. But really every human on this planet is an ambiguous hodge-podge of genetic soup in one way or another. Slowly we are melting away the idea of “other”. But I wonder if this drive to know is rooted in real acceptance, sheer curiosity or pop-cultural misinformation. Seemingly society has become more accepting of our perceived differences as people, but there still lies an undercurrent of cultural misappropriation and distrust… it’s so strange how we work to ignore the tension that actually lies beneath the surface.
As a brown skinned black girl, I was never considered exotic or different. Never considered “special” because of how odd my features were; how much or little melanin my skin and eyes had; or how loose my curls were. I was just me a regular black girl from the midwest. But in the late 90s that was beautiful. Nia Long, Janet Jackson, Gabrielle Union, Regina King, Brandy, (to name a few) were considered the iconic definition of black beauty. #TeamDarkskin/#TeamBrownSkin was in. So for me, I didn’t feel like I should be anything else. In an age when whitewashed ethnicity is praised, lauded over, uplifted and revered, I can’t help but feel a conflicted anxiety rush over me. It seems that black people (mostly spearheaded by rappers and music videos of the late 2000s) moved toward eliminating brown skinned beauty- not to be mistaken with dark skinned beauty- from our "black beauty arsenal". Where does this leave the majority of the black (female) population? Lost. Conflicted. Unloved. Forgotten.
Don’t get me wrong. The move toward a “one-color” society is appealing in an idealistic sense. I just wonder as we move in that direction, are other “races” moving toward the center and leaving behind what makes them “special” as well or are they secretly holding on to it? It seems like black people (especially Americans) are ready to flee from who they are in an attempt to belong to the dominant culture. What’s sad to me is that in our fleeing or being pushed (I can’t really tell these days which it is), we’re losing an important part of what makes "us", us. Don’t mistake this as an anti-establishment pro-black rant, it’s just a conversation I keep having every time I hear that question- “Are they mixed?”- because does it matter?
So when I heard the excited tone behind “Are they mixed?”, I just told the cashier “nope”. Rather than spit off the many cultures that make up my kids’ background, I decided to allow her the moment to think about how varied and diverse black people actually are. That two black people can make a vast rainbow of earth-tones and that a white person was not needed (in the near immediate term) to make such beautiful but seemingly different, genetic variations of their parents.
Disclaimer: None of these photos are mine.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.