Lately I’ve heard of the struggles of mixed black teenagers trying to navigate being different in majority white surroundings in America. I’ve been through it and felt the need to share my tips to empower mixed black teen girls in predominantly white suburbia. As a biracial girl (Burundian, Italian & German Jewish) growing up in Long Island, I realized early on that my friends’ families don’t look like mine. I am from a different era, they now call it “The Loving Generation,” yet I wonder, does the generation make a difference? Feelings are feelings no matter the time or space. Have your friends’ parent’s jaws dropped when they saw your parents are a different skin tone than yours? Do you have any mixed friends? I didn’t. Maybe the black kids ignore you because they assume you think you are ‘all that’ with ‘good hair’ and ‘acting white?’ Maybe your body type is not that of your white girlfriends? Do you secretly wish it was? Could it be that you rather have straight hair? Is your body too curvy by chance? Do you ever talk to your friends about race? Are you one of the only kids of color in your classes? Do you sometimes feel like you don’t belong even if you love your friends? I did. I say yes to all of this. I am very aware that every person on this earth has different life experiences, but we are all human, so though the scenario may be different, the feelings just may be relatable. This is why I am writing to you, the teen mixed girl that is black-identified, but is still trying to figure it all out. Just wanted to let you know you are not alone, though you may feel misunderstood at times.
My upbringing was both beautiful and difficult. I had such amazing childhood friends. Some friendships have lasted the test of time— some have not. But still – my white girlfriends will never understand the black side of me that is very much the essence of who I am. What does that mean? Well, in America, it’s obvious black culture is very different from white culture. I can imagine that possibly the acceptance and celebration of black culture, due to the popularity of hip-hop today, may change the dynamics of race in your school? I would love to hear from teens if my hypothesis is true. Racism and colorism is very much in full effect in our society, but I wonder how teens really feel about this? I am aware, it all depends on where you live. My teen mixed girl niece lives in the city and has a predominantly brown and black class. What a nightmare school year she had due to the negative effects of colorism. That is another story all together yet my segregated suburban experience was very different. Yes, I said segregated.
In my heart, I believe the black side of me may actually, subconsciously seem scary and foreign to some of my white friends. It is possible some may be afraid to experience that world with me nor have the interest. In fact, one of my close high school friends that I hadn’t seen for about 20 years just admitted to me that she was uncomfortable when she discovered I had all new black friends when we went to college together. You see, all my friends in high school were white because the black crowd wouldn’t accept me. I was brand new in high school and wanted to make friends with everybody. This girlfriend was so used to seeing me in our world of whiteness. When we got to college and she noticed I had black friends, it was an eye opener for her and hard to relate. It was so difficult for her to share that bias years later but I’m proud of her bravery, to be honest with herself and me. Most people wouldn’t have the guts to do that. I still love and accept her.
Let’s use the analogy of music. Music is universal, yet with such strong cultural differences. As we got older, I have friends that would never hit the dance hall reggae spot or an R&B/hip-hop dance party with me at midnight. Yet, it was perfectly normal for me to hang with them in Irish pubs and sing classic rock all night or just hang at a random bar all night. That was the culture. Vice versa is very real too. My friends of color would never choose to go hang in bars with singer/songwriters strumming acoustic guitars. Belting it out to Billy Joel covers at a piano bar is not most black people’s idea of fun. As a mixed kid, there is a bit of me in all of this. I shock friends when they discover I appreciate a wide range of genres. I may appear black to the world, but my mom was a white hippy strumming her guitar to folk and classic rock, Motown and soul music my entire childhood. My point is there is beauty in your diversity, the way you flow between cultures and life experiences with a unique perspective. This is a gift you’ve been given. So many people can’t do this. Fear of the unknown, of being an “only,” of feeling uncomfortable gets in the way. What I’ve learned is we have to accept our friends for who they are and at the same time embrace our uniqueness. More than embrace…celebrate who we are, love ourselves.
I was talking to one of my college girls, who is Jamaican, about this and she can see my unique perspective. She shared she doesn’t have the rich, deep relationships that I have with white people. The opportunity was not there in her life. My brothers and I were raised predominantly with our Italian side of the family, yet we have the West Indian culture of my step-father deeply ingrained within our souls too. We just easily flow between cultures because it’s all we know. I observe the same is true on the flip side. As with most of my close white friends I’m, more often then not, their only close black friend. This is just how it is. As a mixed kid, when you step out of the equation, you can get a glimpse of the racial divide.
So when you are feeling like crap, like you don’t belong, like you just may be in survival mode and subconsciously faking the funk, here are some of my tips for you:
16 Tips to Empower Mixed Black Girls in White Suburbs:
- Love yourself deeply. Look yourself in the mirror. Give yourself a hug. Have pride in who you are.
- Get good at something you have passion for. Nurture your talents. What do you love to do? Do it! This is a major confidence booster. Bug your parents is they are being lax getting you involved.
- Play sports or join an activity or club – I’ve heard athletic girls build the most confidence. I was never an athlete, but there is some truth to this. Move your body and take action if sports isn’t your thing.
- Challenge yourself in school. Go for the AP’s even if you think it’s hard. Academic achievement is important. Don’t play around with this.
- Make an effort to do activities outside of school with kids that look like you, whether they are mixed or of color. This may require you to go outside of your town, so ask you parents for help to seek out fun groups you can join. This may actually take effort. (I do this for my tween daughter.)
- Read books that inspire you
- Find women of color that are positive role models for you. Read about them if they are public figures and seek out teachers or elders that inspire you in your family or community. Spend time with them on occasion.
- Share with your friends things you really love. If there are things about your life or culture that you don’t share because you think your friends won’t understand – just try it out and invite them into your world a bit more. You never know until you try. (I’m not sure I did this in high school.) Try not to hide these sides of you from your besties.
- If your acquaintances say racist things – call them out—nicely. Be bold. You can offer a teachable moment from a different perspective.
- Accept and love your body. How? I don’t know. Just do it! This is huge. It’s a must. Don’t be like me, ashamed of my African butt my entire life surrounded by most of my white friends with perfect bikini bodies. When I finally got to college and embraced the black girl life, I will never forget my girlfriend telling me, “If you were from the Bronx, you would’ve never had this problem. You would have been rocking those tight jeans all over the place.” Damn! This is true. I probably would’ve been flaunting rather than hiding and suffering from years of a warped body image….for no damn reason. (My fashion magazine obsession didn’t help.) At least now the big butt craze is all the rage, so you can move on to other insecurities if you don’t watch out. I think living in the Boogie Down Bronx may have done me some good!
- You are a package deal. A cool kid with a warm heart, beauty and brains, I’m sure. To quote Kendrick Lamar… “Be humble.” There is a fine balance between confidence and conceit. Just to stereotype for a moment, us mixed girls already have a bad rap with people of color — that we think we are better than anyone else. It’s total B.S. Myself and countless girls go through this. Check out Oprah’s insightful video Light Girls: How to Begin The Healing Process.
- You are unique and be proud of it. Don’t you forget it. It’s such a blessing to be a global citizen. You have many special gifts you haven’t discovered yet that will benefit you when you grow up.
- Don’t let the haters get you down. Keep it moving the best you can. Jealous girls and boys can cause you a lot of pain. Be strong. This too shall pass. Yeah, you are fly. The boys want what they can’t have & the girls are just hating because you are just being you. Resist the negative words of your haters to sink into your soul. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of who you are. There is nothing to prove. Do not play down who you are! Own all your wonderful values you possess. Meditation works wonders for releasing stress and gaining clarity.
- Ensure your hair game is tight. If you do not know how to manage your hair seek out professionals. (My hippy mom didn’t know one thing about managing my curls and hence my hair was a hot mess my entire childhood.) Now we have YouTube and social media with tons of gorgeous girls giving all sorts of hair and beauty tutorials. (My daughter put me onto Jasmine Brown and we love her tutorials.)
- Learn about the history of your multiple nationalities. If your parents haven’t taught you, ask. Further still, do your own research. Trust me, it will benefit you in the future to know your roots.
- Respect yourself and exude some class. Keep in mind the wise boy-advice Doria Ragland gave her daughter, mixed chick extraordinaire, Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex…“Honey, remember – never give the milk away for free.” Look, Meghan married a real life Prince from that wisdom. Let that not be your goal in life….but still. 🙂
I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of my tips for you to survive the suburban teen life. What is one thing you can do today? Check out my FREE E-Book on Daily Self-Love Practices. Everything starts with loving ourselves first.