One of the neglected discussions within the black community is the need to truly acknowledge and embrace how diverse of a people we are. The African diaspora continues to stretch its arms wider to encompass many representations of blackness. Because the black community has been slow to recognize and process its growing diversity, not all black voices are heard and welcomed. Some of our unheard black brothers and sisters are multiracial. I am among them.
I grew up at the intersection of my reformed Jewish family, my conservative white family, my charismatic black family, and my Brazilian stepfamily. My childhood was filled with traveling to see these sides of my family. There were always adventurous reunions to go to on the south side of Chicago, in rural Wisconsin, and on the beaches of Rio de Janiero. Growing up, my mom blasted Motown music and my dad played Folk Rock. I didn’t have authority over the radio so I learned to love their music. I have countless memories of waiting impatiently for relaxers to transform my curls into an unnatural state. I was able to endure hours in the salon because the old Tyler Perry plays on TV helped pass the time. I remember being at a few Bluegrass festivals with my dad and sisters. We were the darkest people around for miles! White people in the crowd would look at us in disbelief of our presence or as if we were sad little adopted kids. Though I always loved the music, I felt like a stain that people were staring at. I remember rejoicing over the black Barbie dolls my mom would give me to play with. I remember how thrilled I was about the tennis class my dad would take me to.
I grew up with an abundance of underserved privileges from being in a middle class and two-parent household, which included a white father. I carry a grieved heart knowing that my upbringing is not the reality for many of my black brothers and sisters. With the same heavy heart, I can also testify to growing up with an abundance of internal discomforts produced by racial unrest around me. Being multiracial has been a position of living between racial crossfire and struggling with a chronic dissatisfaction about who I am and who I am not. I have experienced rejection from both white people and black people. And I have also felt the sting of receiving partial acceptance, as if I’m a guest with a visitor’s pass among my own people, rather than a rightful member. Words like “Nigger, Half breed, Oreo, Exotic” have all been thrown at me. Assumptions about who I am, what kind of music I like, what things I enjoy doing, and who I want to be around have also been casted over me. And I am familiar with pressures to fit into stereotypes of society and expectations to embody a narrow definition of blackness. With the combination of experiencing sporadically blatant racism and apathetic ignorance, gathered with frequent micro aggressions, I know that the white community has systemically and socially inflicted the greatest harm to people like me. However, I have felt a distinguished disappointment towards my black brothers and sisters for not knowing how to receive me and affirm my blackness. I have had hope that the people who look like me, the people who are most familiar with marginalization would be capable of fully embracing me. It is my prayer that my black brothers and sisters will learn to have a posture of listening and begin to ask questions about multiracial experiences.
The multiracial narrative encapsulates a range of stories depending on the specific makings each person’s racial backgrounds. Growing up within a black and white background is very different from growing up within multiple minority backgrounds. Growing up within two racial backgrounds is different than growing up within more than two racial backgrounds. I personally feel that the language mono racial people use to define and describe multiracial people is insensitive and unhelpful. Multiracial people are often described with phrases like “75% black, ¼ white, only half Latino, just part Asian, not fully Middle Eastern.” This can make many of us feel like fragmented individuals and severed parts. The numeric language perpetuates our feelings of not fully being accepted and lacking belonging among our own people. It communicates that some pieces of us are welcomed but not us in our entirety. Given the pressure of our experiences, it’s unfair for us to be expected to fraction our identity or actions to make mono racial people feel more comfortable with our complexity. This is one reason that fellowship and community within the church can be a struggle for us. Since we find our racial journey confusing, we wrestle with wondering who can love and accept our complexity. Rather than pressuring us to pick one side or manipulating us to identify with the race we are most physically or internally perceived as, allow us to speak for ourselves. Instead of defining multiracial people as a fraction or a percentage, recognizing us as fully all of each our backgrounds is much more dignifying. Doing this honors the God that created us and gave us our dignity.
We see similar complexities concerning the theme of identity in scripture. People like Moses, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, the Samaritan woman, and JESUS were bridge builders between cultures. They were characters that people found difficult to fully understand and accept. Jesus was described and defined as fully human and fully God. His humanity and divinity demonstrates the biggest existential divide possible. He is a whole person and a whole God. Scripture teaches us to have peace with that mysterious and beautiful paradox. One aspect of his identity does not devalue or cancel out the other.
Much of the multiracial journey with Jesus involves reaching a place of peace with the paradox of fully being each of the races that we are, all at once. The journey also reveals that multiracial identity cannot be defined or threatened just because others don’t understand it. Multiracial people need the black community to be inquisitive and inclusive while pointing us to Jesus. Since so many unhelpful voices have spoken into multiracial identity, it’s the greatest gift for us to discover that only one voice truly matters. This voice is not the voices from either side of our cultural backgrounds. It’s certainly not the voices of mono racial people or society’s expectations. It’s not even the multiracial voices. The one voice is Jesus. Only Jesus has the authority to speak definitions of us. Only he is aware of the different dimensions and depths to who we are. Only Jesus is the one who is comfortable with our complexity and only Jesus has the capacity to fully understand us.
Multiracial people are a gift from God to baffle and teach mono racial people, including the black community. We are a dose of humility to division and a foreshadowing of God’s justice. So much racism and prejudice has survived and spread over the course of human history. This demonstrates such a need for racial reconciliation in the world and unity within the black community. God has designed multiracial people to call for peace in the midst of crossfire, to be a prophetic voice to each of their backgrounds, to grasp multiple realities simultaneously, and to personify racial reconciliation. Our existence reflects the beautiful paradox of Jesus’ identity and his coming Kingdom.
By God’s hand, the multiracial community continues to grow rapidly within the climate of this country’s racial turmoil. We are also seeing the multiracial community experience oppression and share in the cries of “Black Lives Matter,” alongside the rest of the black community. There is an urgent need for us all to be unified, not only in our shared suffering but also in our shared blackness. As the black community grows in loving multiracial people, we are activating an entire generation of black leaders and strategic peacemakers who have been overlooked. The black community has a legacy of fighting for racial reconciliation and holistic justice in the world. In the midst of this, we have reached new heights of black unity. Imagine how all of these pursuits could bloom into fuller form if our multiracial brothers and sisters are each recognized and accepted for the unique narrative that they have to offer to blackness.