I met my freshman-year roommate, ironically, at a different college’s event. We bonded over the fact that we both got into UC Berkeley, then we dove into the fact that we were the only two Black people at the event. Incidentally, we both were coming from households with a Black father and an Asian mother. My mother is originally from the Philippines; hers is from Japan.
Originally from predominantly white areas, we were happy to learn that we shared many similar experiences. We connected over the degradation of our Black identities for liking “white things” such as One Direction and the devaluation of our opinions on Asian identity and cultural issues. We both felt the weight of knowing we’re Black women in America, while also holding our Asian culture near to our hearts.
We endured colorism within the Black community, colorism within the Asian community and the constant wondering of whether people like you because you’re you or because they needed a Black friend in their social group.
And we experienced all of these same things because we were both mixed.
The experience of a Black mixed student is extremely different than that of any other mixed student. A Black mixed student must deal with microaggressions received because of their Blackness each day, while also struggling to understand how their cultures can intersect within them.
UC Berkeley’s campus often seems to highlight the narrative of the white, Asian mixed experience. With such a large white and Asian population, it makes sense that many mixed students on campus are of white and Asian descent. There is a community of white, Asian mixed students who can relate very clearly to each other’s experiences. They have support, and they have resources provided to them by the mixed community.
The experiences of Black mixed students on campus, however, are rarely addressed. The number of Black students on campus is already so minimal; the general idea is that we, as Black students, will always have each others’ backs to protect and fight against any oppression we may collectively face on campus. I am Black, and I am proud to be Black.
But I am also Pilipinx.
It is unfair to expect Black mixed students to erase their non-Black identities in order to conform to a single ethnic label. Yet, this is often the experience for Black mixed students.
Where does that leave us?
It leaves us with no space. We have no space to openly talk about Black issues without being criticized for only being part Black. We have no space to talk about our non-Black identity issues without having our experiences in that culture be questioned. In my case, I often feel I must reiterate that I am, in fact, half Pilipinx in order for people to take my opinion seriously when speaking about Asian issues.
Being Black and mixed comes with disadvantages. There is always the feeling that our opinions on culture will be dismissed with the excuse that we cannot know everything about one culture because we participate in multiple. There will always be people who see being mixed as an exhibition of diversity and exoticism but never value the true experience of a multicultural lifestyle. And as a woman, there will always be the men who like you because you’re Black, but not “too Black.”
But being mixed also leaves us with privilege. Black mixed students still have to recognize their privilege within the Black community. Light-skinned individuals benefit from a colorist system that prefers mixed individuals. The non-Black community favors an individual who looks diverse and can speak about Black issues but can also feel comfortable in a non-Black culture.
Ultimately, it leaves mixed students navigating a very limited societal mindset. We’re not Black enough unless we watch this television show, listen to this music or know who this person is. We’re not Asian enough unless we eat this food, play this instrument or watch this movie.
It leaves us here, with the idea that we must choose between our Black identity and our non-Black identity. But I don’t want to do that. I am Black. I am Pilipinx. I am proud to be both. I am one of the many voices of intersectionality, and I do not want to abandon any part of my cultural self to fit a certain idea that we have apparently cultivated on this campus.
The mixed community at UC Berkeley makes strides to support all voices of diversity on campus, but there needs to be a better support system for Black mixed students to assist in dealing with the struggles that are unique to the Black mixed experience.