A few weeks ago, I read an article on the Huff Post, written by Cheryl Green Rosario, a black woman considered “white-passing" due to her fair complexion and seemingly not-so-obvious black attributes. In her post, she discussed the racism she experiences, first-hand, from white people who are unaware of the fact that she is indeed a biracial black woman.
Hearing her story reminded me of many ambiguous biracial women in my life that I've met on my own journey, who are also black women, but are questioned every single day. This isn't an uncommon thing. Celebs such as Halsey, Soledad O'Brien, and Rashida Jones, all share the same story as Cheryl.
This made me wonder, considering the state of the country—and even the world—today, what direct experiences have women with racial ambiguity encountered throughout their lives? What stories do they have to tell?
We found a few women to chat with us candidly about how being labeled as 'racially ambiguous' has shaped their identity. Here are the captivating stories we were told:
Heather Fulton | 25
Courtesy of Heather Fulton
Ethnicity: Black, White
Houston, TX | @heathersavonne
Growing up for me, I always felt different—and people definitely let me know that I was. Raised by my father, who is white, it wasn't uncommon for kids to ask if I was adopted. I remember being so confused as to why they would ask, because for me, he was just dad—and I only saw him as my dad. I never saw his skin as white or mine as tan.
Once people realized I was mixed, they'd call me a "mutt", which honestly didn't really hurt me. I was more so confused as to why other people were so inquisitive about it. I remember times when I'd go to the doctor or dentist—and even taking state tests in school—I'd have to fill out my ethnicity, without an accurate option. Sometimes I'd choose white, sometimes I'd choose black. It always confused me as to why I had to select my race in the first place but I did the best I could (thankfully over time, these same documents have become much more inclusive).
Today, almost every day, or multiple times a week, I am asked, “What is your ethnicity?" or "What are you?" Not many can tell but when I tell them, especially with my hair being so versatile, almost immediately they'd want to know who was white and who was black, which was intriguing to me. Most of the time I received praise and compliments for how I looked once they knew I was black and white. But, on the negative side, people always bring up how I was "acting white" or "oooh, that's the black side of you coming out," which is hurtful. Anything that I would do that was so-called negative or bad, someone would say, "That's your black side" or even use the n-word towards how I acted. On the other hand, if I spoke properly, dressed in certain brands, and straightened my hair, I'd be accused of wanting to be white. And sadly, I've noticed I'm more accepted, or I receive more compliments with straightened hair, as opposed to curly. This led me to a lifelong battle of hating my hair and being confused about my tan skin. Now, I finally have a great relationship with my curls and love them!
Ultimately, I've unfortunately spent my whole life trying to be balanced. To balance something means two separate things are coming together in unison being able to well...balance. Coincidentally, my zodiac sign is a Libra which is "the scales" or balance.
I've always felt the need to be one or the other because that's what I allowed society and other people to have an influence on me. Thankfully, I've found my identity in Christ now and I choose to see both sides for what they are: different, but equally unique and special without one outweighing the other. And in today's world, I can stand up for my African American brothers and sisters as a biracial woman.
I no longer shy away from saying, "I'm black and white," but instead, say it with pride and honor. I can only speak on the perspective of being black AND and white, not one or the other. I believe I've had the special privilege to be able to see on "both sides of the fence" but I refuse to stand on one side. I stand linking hands with both sides as a living breathing symbol of unity and love.
Acacia “Breeze” Arnold | 27
Courtesy of Acacia "Breeze" Arnold
Ethnicity: Black, White
Pasadena, CA | @bby.breeze
Growing up, I had a very unique experience. My father is black and my mother is white, but was adopted by a black woman. Culturally, everything I love and relate to is of black culture. My adopted grandmother primarily raised me. Her being from New York, the first in her family to obtain a college degree and a single mother raising a white child in the 60s, gave me the strength I have today. Being around a woman like that gives you a superhero-like strength.
When I was young, I never looked at race until the world looked at it for me.
I, for a period of time, went to a wealthy white middle and high school. When my father would pick me up from school and the teachers would pull me aside asking if I knew who that man was and if I felt safe leaving with him. While at these schools I was an outsider. I had a hard time making friends and it was one of the loneliest points in my life. I wondered why guys did not like me, I wondered why I did not have a lot of friends and junior year I decided to change high schools. I went to a performing arts high school in the LAUSD district and had a great experience due to there being so many different cultures, races and acceptance.
I was looking for acceptance to be who I was and am very thankful I found it.
When I would go to parties, my friends would bring up in discussion that I was half black as if I was a science experiment. They would say I don't look black or act black…as if there is one way to act if someone is black. And it's interesting, because black people have always been more accepting of me being mixed than white people. Some would even deny me being black. It's amusing that people think they get to decide if I am black or not, that has to be one the most privileged things I have ever encountered. Anyone that is a minority knows I am mixed, but they're generally unsure with what exactly. It is usually white people that are in disbelief and request to see a picture of my father.
I am proud of my background and one of the biggest ways I balance my identity is by surrounding myself with those who I relate to or those that wish to change the way of the world.
I stand up for what is right and anyone who wishes to question that is someone who is not in my immediate circle. I look at my identity similar to my morals and relate it to water: if I dilute my water supply, I will become dry and empty. When you do not embrace who you are, you will reach a point of emptiness because you are not being true to yourself.
As a stand-up comedian, I often shed light on injustice, showing those who do not understand a perspective in which they can and continuing to open eyes of those who cannot see. My goal is to inspire women to embrace their identity, strength and culture because that is what makes us so beautifully unique.
Savannah Taïder | 25
Courtesy of Savannah Taïder
Ethnicity: White, Algerian (Northern Africa)
Belgium | @savannahtaider
In elementary school, my first name and skin complexion always differentiated me from the other kids. In a little Belgium town, full of pale-skin girls usually named Amélie or Laura, Savannah was considered a pretty odd name. Additionally, bronze skin, was a pretty rare complexion. I remember being young and feeling so different from the others. Although none of my classmates or teachers ever rejected me, l felt like I didn't belong.
You know, when you're a kid, you appreciate the resemblance and similarities with your pals. I would have loved to have a best friend that could pass for my sister or a name twin. Instead, I was always standing in my singularity.
I believe this is the reason why I've always been drawn to people with similar or darker skin than mine. I immediately associated with them because of the color of our skin. Having observed the world around us, something told me that they, too, knew the feeling of being different. And thanks to my mom, colored skin, no matter what shade, became a beauty standard for me.
Anyway, I think I've always known race existed. I grew up playing with Asian, Black, and Caucasian baby dolls. Additionally, I was fortunate enough to not have been raised in a racist country (at least compared to America), so I don't know what it feels like to be treated differently because of my ethnicity, but I have had experiences. I remember the day one of my crushes said that my skin was too dark and not to his taste; it killed me inside. As women, especially during our youthful years, we often tend to do the most for the guys we like to like us back. But in this case, there was nothing I could do. Not about my skin. I also remember being taught about Rosa Parks, way in Belgium. Her story profoundly touched me and stuck with me since then.
The question I am asked the most is, "What are you?" I've been told many times that I'm "so ethnically ambiguous." When I tell them that my father is Algerian, they're like "Oh, you don't look Algerian. I thought you were..."
I'm often mistaken for Latin, Black, or that I'm Indian. And when I say people, it includes Black folks, but Arabs know. They can always tell I'm one of their daughters. "It's the nose and the hairy forearms," they often joke.
And because my name isn't culturally Algerian, I'm usually forced to answer an endless list of questions:
Why were you given an American name if you're Arab?
Do you have family in America?
Have you ever been to Algeria?
How come you're Christian and not Muslim?
Funny enough, I'm not offended when these type of comments are directed toward me. I don't even pay attention to what's said. However, it is admittedly difficult to deal with people's assumptions of my ethnicities. I just simply combat this by surrounding myself with decent people. #positivevibesonly
Michelle Redman | 27
Courtesy of Michelle Redman
Ethnicity: Bajan, Sicilian, African-American, Irish
Los Angeles, CA | @thedaringmillennial
I'm a native New Yorker, born and raised. I've always had such great pride being a Brooklynite. By growing up in such a large and diverse place, I always felt like I belonged; that's my identity. I believe that being from a diverse place is a gift in itself because I welcome my ethnic ambiguity being from the cultural melting pot of the world.
I grew up closely with three of my sisters, being raised by our father, who's black. I'm the only daughter with fair skin so it was obvious from very early on I was "white-passing" and children would certainly point that out being that I have a black family. This caused me to question my identity and where I fit in my own family.
Being biracial was always something I was aware of, and it used to be something that made me insecure by not feeling like I was black enough, and not quite white enough either. Fortunately, this all eventually taught me to embrace the beautiful blend that makes me unique.
Most people of color pickup that I'm biracial, and they're always interested in the eclectic mix of ethnicities. I've noticed white people generally don't realize I'm a woman of color, so I'm regarded as white to them until I'm not. And if my ethnicity comes up, they're usually surprised that I'm mixed, or then notice my 'exotic' attributes.
Today, there are so many systemic racial injustices that are perpetuated, and it's unacceptable. And I've definitely been in the middle of them all my life.
This racial divide is something we can evolve beyond and I believe it is happening despite all the negative news we see. Most news from major networks are grossly manipulated and orchestrated by the one-percent to give the illusion that it's the left versus the right or black versus white but really it's just the ultra affluent versus everyone else. When society is at odds, the super-rich prosper even more.
Us, the majority, the people that make up this democracy, need to make it our personal priority to go outside of our comfort zone, help others and listen more. Come from a place of respect and compassion for your fellow human instead of trying to find the differences in one another.
Despite it all, I don't feel the need to balance my identity. I am a multifaceted person with so many different attributes and qualities that allow me to be an effective communicator that spreads kindness and awareness every day. I practice gratitude and forge genuine connections with people on a mutual spiritual frequency.
This is where the true magic happens; connecting and forging authentic relationships with people—regardless of color.
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Feature image courtesy of Michelle Redman
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith went to social media to share their Thanksgiving holiday with followers. The pair were surrounded by family and friends Thursday, and both posted how grateful they were to be with the ones they loved. Yet this comes on the heels of Pinkett Smith’s whirlwind of negative opinions and critics forecasting her book would be a flop.
Despite the negative feedback she received, Worthy, Pinkett Smith’s memoir, still debuted at #3 on the New York Times’ Best Seller list on October 25. The greatest backlash she received was centered around her relationship with Smith and the fact that the two had been living separate lives since 2016.
The commentary about their marriage overshadowed the reality that this book is ultimately about her journey to self-worth and the path she’s had to take in order to get there.
Social media comments about her book tour ranged from, “Me counting all the times Jada woke up and chose to embarrass Will Smith,” to podcasts like The Joe Budden Podcast saying, “Take me out the group chat,” which was a sentiment shared by many celebrities and fans alike. Yet, a point made by comedian KevOnStage proved that even though people say they don’t want to know about the Smiths, they’re secretly interested and want to know more.
Since the Smiths were wed in 1997, people have been fascinated with their marriage, and rumors about their marital arrangement have always been a topic of conversation. People continue to speculate that the pair is gay and swingers, and even new allegations have come out that Smith and Duane Martin shared an intimate relationship at one point.
However, despite their consistent united front throughout their marriage in recent years, Pinkett Smith has borne the brunt of backlash in the couple’s relationship, from her entanglement with August Alsina to Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards to the recent truths she’s shared about the couple’s marriage in her memoir.
Individuals are consistently running to the internet to support Smith and villainize Pinkett Smith, from podcast guests saying things such as “She doesn’t like Will, she likes the lifestyle” to deeming her “mean” or "manipulative" because of her facial expressions and demeanor.
Likewise, when you have hosts of daytime talk shows such as Ana Navarro saying, “I think she’s having a relationship with her bank account,” insinuating Pinkett Smith only shared stories about Smith to increase her book sales, it begs the question of where was this same energy when Smith released his memoir?
In Will, Smith discusses both of his marriages and how, in relationships, because of his upbringing, he needed constant validation and praise from his partners to feel secure. He also shared the reality that Pinkett Smith never wanted to be married, just as she never wanted the huge estate they share in California, but he wanted to give it to her despite her feelings about it.
Smith admitted to creating this family empire that only further boosted his ego and what he wanted his legacy to be instead of actually asking his family what they wanted or needed. People praised him for his vulnerability and said his book was an inspiration.
So how is it that one book about a person’s family, upbringing, and journey to self is praised, and another is villainized? The glaring thought that comes to me is, does likability often trump accountability?
People love Smith and his “good guy” persona; he’s always been an attractive, charismatic man that people can relate to, so even when he speaks about the way he mismanaged his marriage and family, it’s seen as growth. On the contrary, because Pinkett Smith doesn’t constantly fawn over him and shares how miserable she was in their marriage, she’s the villain.
People still blame her for not stopping Smith from smacking Rock at the Oscars and share their sentiments about how she embarrassed Smith with her entanglement with Alsina. Though this is a celebrity couple we’ve all followed for years, the question must be asked, how much accountability must Black women be subjected to in relationship to their partners' actions?
Why is it that the media is more interested in the marriage between Smith and Pinkett Smith than her childhood, or the fact her memoir consists of writing prompts, meditations, and methods for other women to find their sense of worth?
Could it be that the larger society doesn’t value Black women having the tools to find their own sense of worth? Or is it that Black women are expected to accept whatever is given to them regardless of how they feel or what they want?
The exclusive interview with Eboni K. Williams (@ebonikwilliams) and Dr. Iyanla Vanzant about if she would date a bus driver seems to have a lot of people talking. You can watch her response tonight on #theGrio. Catch the full interview, here: https://t.co/ctxE0zKFWj pic.twitter.com/BhIO52T2fg— theGrio.com (@theGrio) May 2, 2023
When Eboni K. Williams shared that she wasn’t interested in dating a bus driver, the internet blew up with individuals saying that Black women need to be less selective with their dating prospects. The commentary around this conversation shed much light on the reality that this demographic is expected and invited to settle in love if they actually want a life partner.
Black women aren’t often given the space to find their joy, fulfillment, or even self-worth because of the responsibility they’re forced to acquire in order to support their families and communities. Yet, “high value” Black men speak vehemently about Black women’s masculinity and inability to submit. We’re often inundated with podcast guests sharing that they’re not impressed by our success and are uninterested in our aspirations.
Black women, from a young age, are taught to place their community first and cater to the men around them regardless of what they do or how they behave.
We see this when young girls are told to put on pants when male relatives come around, we experience it when domestic violence survivors are encouraged not to press charges against their perpetrators, and we even see it when Black women face backlash for dating outside of their race.
The way Pinkett Smith has been treated since sharing the truth about her life and journey of discovering her self-worth is another example of how the world isn’t receptive to Black women being their most authentic selves.
It’s another example we can hold up to illustrate how Black women are expected to be magical but not human.
Even with this article, I’m sure there will be many who want to argue why Pinkett Smith was wrong in her narrative, but at the end of the day, it was her story to tell, and no one has more authority to share her lived experience than her.
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Featured image by James Devaney/GC Images