Valuing Blackness vs. Claiming "Mixedness"

Photo credit: Deposit Photos
by Tamara Williams

I remember being in 7th grade, and writing on the back of my folder all the things I was told by an older cousin I was “mixed” with. I had a desire to claim all I thought I was, but what was more interesting is that I wanted everyone to know. I had no idea where this desire came from, but I did know the idea of being part of something other than Black intrigued me. I was unaware that the need to denounce my Blackness had already been steeped in my unconscious by mainstream media.

Once in high school, I had given less thought to my identity in terms of ethnicity then I had in the past. Although it did not seem to be an issue for me at the time, I now realize race relations and skin tone were major topics of conversation at my school. Surrounded by other minorities, I was often told I was dark-skinned by my Black peers, even though I didn’t see myself as such. I had always thought I was just Black. I knew Black people came in different tones, but the idea that some tones were considered “better” than others never registered with me.

Similarly, I had always kept my hair in braids with extensions throughout high school except for my senior picture day. I remember having those same peers who called me dark-skinned tell me I must be mixed, because of the soft curly texture of my natural hair —complimenting me on what they considered “good hair.” By college, I claimed my identity as Black regardless of what else may be included in my heritage because of the complex relationship I noticed Black women had with Blackness.

Valuing Blackness is something we never see in the media and sometimes, it is not even taught in Black homes. In pop culture, we tend to only see negative images of people of color. We learn self-hatred and never really accept Blackness. In “Black Looks: Race and Representation,” feminist scholar and writer bell hooks writes about how loving and appreciating Blackness is so foreign to everyone—including black people—that if more black people claimed they loved the skin they were in, it could be used as political resistance. Going off of that, I believe if more Black people loved blackness we could bond as a race. Instead of using blackness to solidify us as a collective, Black people—specifically Black women—often claim they are mixed, giving the impression that being Black simply isn’t enough.

So does claiming you are mixed mean you hate your Blackness?

I think the real question is the intention behind wanting to claim your “mixedness” as part of your identity. I see nothing wrong with claiming you are mixed if you feel strongly connected to all the cultures and communities you say you are mixed with. If you are claiming mixed ethnicity because deep down, you feel embarrassed or ashamed of your dark skin or something along those lines, then you have a problem with who you are. Ultimately I think how you choose to identify yourself comes down to the individual, but I also believe you have to be really honest with yourself about why you decided to choose one identity over another. Sadly, I fear that until we start teaching how much power Blackness has, we will still see self-hatred from Black people in the form of them rejecting their Blackness and accepting whatever else they believe is more socially acceptable.

Follow Tamara Williams on Twitter: @tawill0920

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