When I was growing up in the early 1980s living with my mom, she had a couple of friends with mixed kids and we would play together at times. When I no longer lived with her the playtimes with some of those kids faded out. In my daily life no one at school looked like me, no one on TV or movies, no idols and no one in my neighborhood. Being mixed wasn’t popular. It wasn’t something that any mixed celebrities talked about so other mixed kids could connect. Many mixed celebrities just passed for black or even white.
I felt rare and disconnected from so many people. When I was younger I didn’t understand why strangers would stare, ask what I am, touch my hair, or praise how beautiful of a mix we kids were. Kids teased us, filled our conversation with questions of curiosity or were even flat out mean and racist.
Now I believe that people were curious, ignorant or closed minded and this was mainly because mixed people were so rare to see and there were no interracial relationships or mixed people represented on TV or in books for people to connect to and become familiar with. Comfortable with.
In time I started to be able to identify mixed girls on TV. Unfortunately they always were portrayed as black and having two back parents. There just wasn’t a place for mixed people in the public. In 1994 (I was 15) there was a sitcom called ‘On Our Own‘ starring 7 mixed kids (6 which were real siblings). I could tell they were mixed by their skin and hair looking like mine. The children in the show were trying to live on their own after the death of both parents. For a moment in the pilot episode the camera zooms to a photo of their parents, a black woman and a white male. Otherwise not to my memory was there a mention of an interracial couple or stating they were mixed with examples of a mixed lifestyle. The show lasted one season.
Another sitcom ‘Sister Sister‘ also came out in 1994-1999. Twins Tia and Tamara Mowry were mixed and my age acting on TV! They were separated at birth, one adopted by a black man, the other twin adopted by a black woman. Though I did love this show, it is also another example of hiding the fact that black and white people had relationships together. That mixed people existed and struggled. It wasn’t until the last season (I was about 20) that the twins met their Biological father and found out he was white and they were mixed.
It was a struggle trying to find someone to identify with. It wasn’t until the Mid 2000’s that social media, advertising, TV shows and movies all pushing the product of interracial relationships. Mixed people!
About 8 years ago in New York, a bus passed. It had an ad with a mixed girl modeling Sketchers shoes. A friend got excited and said…“What are you doing on the side of a bus?“ I turned to see and silently screamed “yes! ” The fact my friend pointed it out with a comparison to me proved again how very rarely mixed people are publicized with their tan skinned and full curls out.
Only over the past 5 years has the rise of the mixed race started. I give that credit to social media. It may seem small, but being mixed in the 80’s without social media and blogs – meant nobody knew how to treat my hair. Black people relaxed it, loaded it with hair grease. White people brushed it dry into curly frizz and hardened it with hair spray. I tried everything I could to tame it and my hair cuts were usually something of a cartoon.
Young mixed girls have no idea how much social media has helped them grow and accept herself. A community of brown skin and giant curls, shared ideas, techniques, products and experiences. There are mixed people all around the globe. Seeing the hastags and spread of mixed people educating eachother from hair styles and products to skin care or even just videos and posts explaining the things they went through being mixed.
There was a time when I couldnt see or relate to anyone, no one looked like me or went through the questions and confusion I had and it took almost 30 years to find that.
Today, when I see other mixed girls on the street there’s eye contact, smiles, nods. An “I get your struggles and see you’re like me.” My friends over the years see someone with my same hair type and have nicknamed them “hair twins.” Being mixed even strikes up conversations with other mixed girls. Where do you get your hair cut, what products are you using and so on. We unknowingly are quenching a thirst that we didn’t know was there. Someone who get us.
In advertising, one of the most popular mentions is the Cheerios commercial and the racist comments they got for showing interracial parents and a mixed kid. This was 2013 and this was my reality and yet people hated it! It hurt personally to know people hated interracial couples and the product of that.
With advertising and social media the rise of the mixed girl has created lead roles in movies and TV too. When the movie A Wrinkle in Time cast a mixed girl as the lead my heart warmed! She was a miniature me! What I wouldn’t give as a child to have had that. Proudly brown embracing giant curly hair, my childhood would have been much different.
While still a minority, we are no longer as rare. We are often misclassified racially or uncomfortably floating between black and white, but we at least have a platform to show ourselves. We have become recognizable to people and most importantly to ourselves.
Here is a list of some Mixed Raced (black and white) celebrities:
Barack Obama, Trevor Noah, Halley Berry, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Rashida Jones, Vanessa Williams, Lenny Kravitz, Derek Jeter, Sade, Wentworth Miller, Shemar Moore, Maya Rudolph, Smokey Robinson, Ben Harper, Lisa Bonet, Jordan Sparks, Giancarlo Esposito, Blake Griffin, Thandie Newton, Bob Marley, Faith Evans, Tracee Ellis Ross, Leona Lewis, Tia & Tamara Mowry, Jasmine Guy, Meghan Markle.