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Celebrating Intersectionality Within the Black Identity

February 18, 2022

Classification of race and ethnicity is usually generalized to the following categories: Black, Asian, Hispanic, American Indians and White. When you’re biracial, these checklist groups are just a tiny fraction of the daily struggles you’ll encounter. Biracial individuals often feel part of both of their cultures and so are always asking themselves, “Am I enough?” In this piece, Popoai Tanuvasa-Lole, Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellow, shares her perspective on being biracial in America.

Myth of the Monolith

Honestly, I didn’t think much about race growing up. I was one of two Black kids in my entire school, everyone else was white. Don’t get me wrong, it was very clear to me that I was different. But I didn’t really have an opinion on what I was and what I wasn’t. I was okay with operating in that default “other” category.

Right now, and this may change, I identify as a mixed-race Black person. When I went to college, it really changed how I was able to identify with being Black. Although Maryville University is a predominantly white institution (PWI), I’d never been in a place where there were so many Black people that looked so many different ways and sat in so many different intersections of the Black identity and life. For the first time, I felt truly loved and accepted. However, this new setting posed its own set of challenges.

I had a lot of folks who couldn’t tell “what I was” at first glance, and I had to deal with ethnic ambiguity that I’d never had to deal with before. And this put me in the situation of having to find out what language I wanted to use to define myself. Sometimes I felt like a conditional Black person, and I think there are some mixed-race Black folks who have a lot of anger about that. I still struggle with it today. I’ve experienced many people both implying and saying, “Well, you’re not Black and you’re not Samoan enough.” And, while I feel very connected to both cultures, I sometimes feel as if I don’t belong to either.

But I’ve also come to understand that the idea of being “authentically” Black is literally a response to things like the one-drop rule and the tie between white supremacy and how we define race and mixed race. So, this reclamation of what it means to be Black is a byproduct of racism. But (and there’s a big but), I’d be remiss to not acknowledge that there are privileges that I have that other non-mixed Black people don’t. I am lighter skinned. I might not be white-passing, but I can pass as something else and because of this, I have been treated as an “exception to the rule” multiple times.

It’s weird to be labeled this way, and I’ve been on the “identity struggle bus” for the better part of my life. But I wouldn’t have it any other way; it’s what makes me who I am. And I’m not an exception. I think that has really made me embrace this idea of I am Black. I’m mixed, but I’m Black.

And being Black is nuanced. It’s beautiful. It’s a privilege in its own right.