“Daughter! You are Nepali! That is all,” is a refrain that Binsa hears often. She is under a lot of pressure: to marry, to bear children, to “prove” her worth as a woman. Her Zimbabwean roots are something to be hidden; her family wants her to identify as solely South Asian and to emphasize her lighter skin. This is a sadly common story for us multiethnic folks, as we try to fight against the dehumanizing evil of colorism while also celebrating ourselves in our entirety. We can often feel like a double minority that can’t please either side.
The sociological study of intersectionality (looking at how different minority identities interact, overlap, and intensify each other) forms the basis for this minority of minorities principle: because of the brokenness of the world, marginalized minority groups will have even further marginalized subgroups. While intersectionality usually is applied to the interactions between a person’s race, gender, sexuality, and ability, etc., it can also apply across subsets of ethnicity. Even traditionally recognized minority groups in the United States (such as African Americans and Asian Americans) have those who are further on the margins (such as Black folks of Caribbean descent or those who have refugee narratives from a Southeast Asian country).
A large part of the minority experience in the United States is one of being othered due to White folks measuring us against the majority culture. We mixed people experience this in a certain way, even when with a group of monoethnic minorities, and we may feel crazy or guilty for our frustrations. Our experiences of disprivilege are not lessened by an experience of privilege in other areas. It isn’t a math equation where the negative balances out the positive, or vice versa. But despite this truth, many monoethnic minorities will (understandably and even subconsciously) assume that our disparate experiences cancel each other out, and they will fail to see our legitimate hurts and needs.
The sad fact is that while colorism/racism is still a significant issue we must fight against, mixed folks are sometimes marginalized by siblings of color. Again, let me be perfectly clear. Because of the power dynamics inherent in racism, I don’t believe that minorities can be “racist against” White folks. I’m not claiming that when “full” minorities are hurting or rejecting multiethnic folks that it’s so-called “reverse racism.” As author Jemar Tisby reminds us, that doesn’t exist. In terms of our racially unequal country, it isn’t possible for an individual without inherent systemic privilege (due to the darkness of their skin) to be racist against another individual with high systemic privilege (due to the power inherent in their status as a lighter-skinned person). Prejudiced and angry, yes; racist, no. But I do believe that the harm against us mixed folks is real and that reconciliation in these cases should be part of the overall goal of affirming the value of the imago Dei in all humans. To be able to grieve and grow with us, monoethnic siblings must listen to our mixed stories of exclusion.
In a 2017 Code Switch podcast on National Public Radio, multiethnic cohost Shereen Marisol Meraji shared that she was called “off-brand” by her monoethnic minority friends. While this was meant as a joke, it was devastatingly clever in the simplicity of its message: You are not quite right. You’re a cheap knockoff of a brand name—you may be able to pass from a distance, but upon closer inspection, it’s clear that you don’t make the grade. You are inferior. Most of Meraji’s friends probably don’t mean to express that narrative when they affectionately tease her. But these moments speak nonetheless. For us mixed folks, many individual interactions with monoethnic people—in both minority and majority contexts—can add up to a sense of being “not quite right.”
So, what does this mean for those of us who are mixed minorities of minorities? We need and deserve greater community in three ways: with other mixed folks, with other believers, and most importantly, with Jesus. As we pursue holistic community, I believe firmly that we must first have our own spaces (in the same way that all minorities need safe spaces) where other people understand both the joy and the sorrow of being in multiple worlds. We need places where we can commiserate about displacement and the impostor syndrome, even as we celebrate our diversity and laugh about the awkwardness of code-switching. We deserve “tables” to sit at where we don’t have to check constantly to make sure we haven’t confused or offended folks who, by nature of their monoethnicity, have different shared experiences.
We need a place where we feel seen for who we are, which can be difficult. The nature of multiethnicity is often swallowed up by other cultures, and because of how phenotypes fit into the assumption that everyone is monoethnic, even we mixed folks may not realize when we meet other mixed folks. A willingness to be vulnerable and share our stories can help with this. We need spaces where we aren’t forced to choose one part of ourselves over another and where we can instead be authentic to the entirety of ourselves.
Many mixed folks feel like we’re ghosts doomed to inhabit liminal spaces—otherworldly existences of neither here nor there. For some, we feel twice-invisible, overlooked in two or more cultural spaces, out of sync with the rest of the world, and able to have only small interactions. Some of us feel doubly visible to a painful extreme, specters that haunt and disrupt monoethnic spaces. And many of us feel both—or neither—at one time or another.
We multiethnic minorities need to know that it’s okay to be frustrated and grieved when we’re excluded from monoethnic minority groups after being deemed, for example, “too White,” “only Middle Eastern,” or “not Black or Brown enough.” We need to hear that our experience is real and significant. This can free us to inhabit our blended skin faithfully while acknowledging the realities of our discriminated-against monoethnically Black and Brown siblings.
We all need to know that God delighted to make us just the way we are. We mixed folk deserve to hear, for example, that Creator can hold in tension what it means to be both Native and Hispanic. We have every right to be reminded that our Black and White heritage doesn’t have to be in conflict. We need to tell ourselves and each other that our Latino and South Asian heritage is a valuable part of who we are, or that our Asian and Middle Eastern background is a unique blessing. It’s so important for us multiethnic folks to hear these truths. Contrary to the lies that the evil one whispers in our ears, we are not cosmic mishaps. What joy when we can begin to believe that God designed us to be examples of the way that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15‑20). What beauty we can see in ourselves when we realize that the Lord of all creation showcases his power in the way that he balances all the parts of us in perfect harmony.
Not only are we mixed folks unique witnesses to how Jesus holds all things together, but we also are an echo of his new creation. As it specifically says in Colossians 1:17‑18: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” We need to be reminded that—like Jesus!—we aren’t a regrettable diluting of a supposedly pure bloodline. We need to know that we’re a needed, intrinsic part of the church universal, and that we are not alone.