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"My Grandma Said, 'Thank God You Came Out Closer To Your Dad's Complexion'": 32 Mixed-Race People Get Candid About Their Experiences Growing Up

"The experience of being part of a mixed-race family is ever evolving."

Hi, I'm Victoria. I'm Greek and Korean, and I get a good laugh whenever someone says mixed-race kids are the future or will "cure" racism. In reality, the nuance of being mixed race is often overlooked. Sure, many of us have similar experiences (like the constant questions from strangers). Still, like anyone, our identities are shaped by our experiences with our parents, peers, environment, and so on.

The author and both sets of her grandparents

Needless to say, some families blend seamlessly, and some reject each other. One parent might make an active effort to embrace their partner's culture, while another might struggle to maintain their child's hair. To help increase the visibility of the mixed identity, I asked mixed-race people in the BuzzFeed Community to share their experiences growing up. Here are 32 of their stories:


1. "There's not always a culture clash — not in my family. The labels of white and Black didn't exist. It's probably because my parents and family came from the same place, Belize. So despite their skin colors, they all loved the same food, music, and having a good time."

Comment submitter with their family at Disney

2. "Growing up, I was an ambiguous brown kid with an odd last name that no one could pronounce. My mother, a first-generation Texan from Mexico, tried to raise us Catholic. My dad, who was born in Iran, came from a Muslim background and never converted. In the end, my sister and I didn't get the whole religion thing; we just got into being good, moral people. It's worked for me so far, but I've been dating a guy with extremely traditional Muslim parents who disagree with my interfaith upbringing. I'm the product of love over religion, and I've got to say, seeing how his family is, I don't want it any other way."

An American and Texan flag in Austin

3. "Your kids will notice if your spouse's family mistreats you or is racist. My dad immigrated to the US as a teenager and immediately joined the military to fast-track his citizenship. He met my mom through a friend, and the rest is history. He was the first in his family to marry outside of his race, and the second to reject an arranged marriage. His parents were furious with him and took it out on my mom for most of my childhood. My aunts and uncles were no better, constantly sniping at my mom about her weight or talking about her in Hindi when she was in the same room. They were not unkind to us kids, but it affects you when you see someone making your mom cry and no one is doing anything about it."

An American flag on a Marine's helmet

4. "There's an occasional disconnect between me and my mom. She's also mixed but looks white. While she didn't have answers or advice for me when I was a child, she gave me examples to avoid internalizing things. She often cited the song 'Carefully Taught' and showed me old movies that involved similar situations and stereotypes. I can tell she feels at a loss for words when she's treated better than I am in some places, but depending on the situation, we've learned to vouch for each other — something we shouldn't have to do in the first place. Now I'm in an interracial marriage. When people meet my husband before me, they're always surprised to learn that I'm of a different background. (He's from the South, and some have ideas about him.) My heart fills with pride when he answers my questions in Spanish, somehow vouching for and validating me in a space I'm not always welcomed in."

A scene from South Pacific during the number "Carefully Taught"

5. "One thing I don't see people talk about much is having completely different experiences from your siblings. You can look completely different from them and witness how it impacts your lives as you grow older. It can forge your bond or create resentment. For me, it's done both. I have good relationships with both of my siblings today. Still, I've had several conversations with my white-passing, heterosexual brother about why he might not understand certain things. Each of you might closely identify with one ethnicity or culture more than the other. I think our differences make us unique and stronger, but I say that now as an adult. When we were growing up, it was sometimes tough to relate to your own family, while at the same time not."


6. "My dad is Black and Native American, and my mom is white. My two sisters and I have tan skin, brown eyes, and dark hair. However, we all have different hair types, ranging from straight to curly. I was 15 when I finally figured out how to do my hair. In middle school, I had an identity crisis. The white kids kind of accepted me but would make racist jokes. Some of them were also bullies. On the other hand, the Black kids didn't accept me unless I talked and acted like them. When I finally broke away and started hanging out with nice girls, I was happy."

Desks in a classroom

7. "I was born to a Black dad and a white mom and grew up in a predominantly white town. When I was young, my parents split up, and my mom remarried a white man. On the playground, kids who hadn't seen my dad often told me I must have been adopted. From a young age, I had to explain my heritage, my parents' divorce, etc., to help others understand how I fit into their worldview. Despite being equally white, I was only referred to as Black — something I always found odd, as though society would never see me as equal. I automatically felt less than because Blackness is seen as less than and used as a label. I even had a white guy tell me he 'couldn't bring a Black girl home to [his] family' when I was in university."

A playground

8. "As a white and Native kid, I thought everyone's grandparents spoke another language and were darker — part of the aging process, you know? Now it makes me sad to look back at how my great-great-aunts played with my light-colored hair and talked about my light eyes. It meant I would be safe in American society and not face the violence and segregation that they did as Native people in the Southwest."


9. "Many times, I've had people mistake my white biological father for my husband (I'm Filipino, Scotch, and Irish). I'm not ashamed of my dad — he's the best human being I know — but I also don't want people making gross assumptions about us. When we're out in public, I say 'dad' much more than I probably should. Numerous people have also told me about how terrible white people are because of racism and white privilege, and it breaks my heart."

"As I said, my dad is one of the best people I know. He's honest to a fault, works hard, has provided for our family our entire lives, and has accepted my mother's culture to the point where he's collecting antiques from the Philippines. I think the phrase 'Don't judge a book based on its cover' should apply to everyone." 


10. "When I was growing up, my white mom was the one trying to teach me about my Chinese heritage. It was through little things, like giving me red envelopes on Lunar New Year and reminding me of my Chinese name (given to me by my dad's parents). My dad wasn't interested in teaching me because he grew up being 'othered' and feeling isolated for being Chinese. He also isn't close to his side of the family. However, that's not to say he taught me to be ashamed of being Asian."

Passing a red envelope for Lunar New Year

11. "Both sides of my family hate each other and have no contact. I'm also the only mixed person in my entire family, as everyone else is either Black or West Indian."


12. "From a very young age, I learned to try to blend in because we always stuck out. I was also very resentful of my Indian heritage because it made me feel so 'other' rather than making me feel that I belonged. I wouldn't change my parents, but I wish I could be one race to belong somewhere. It's exhausting to explain how I exist whenever people ask, 'What are you?' Refusing to engage only prompts more questions. I then feel conflicted about how to raise my kids. They're white, German, Japanese, and Indian but present as white. Do I teach them about our various heritages, though they caused me pain? Is it appropriate if they celebrate Diwali, since they look white? Is it disrespectful to let them pass so their lives will be less difficult? Is that cheating them of important experiences? Are we at a point in society where race is more than just fitting into a box on a government form? Am I destined to belong anywhere?"

Treats for Diwali

13. "My mom is white and my dad is Black. My mom had no idea how to handle my very big and curly hair, so she would treat it like straight hair. My hair is very unhealthy now. I also got many weird looks whenever I was out with my mother. People couldn't grasp the concept of a white woman having a Black child. Otherwise, there are always subtle slights from both sides of the family."

"It was mainly from my mom's side, though, from the hair touching to the dirty looks and the use of the n-word around me, since I'm 'only half Black.'

"Overall, I always had trouble with my racial identity. I'd always feel that I never belonged; I was always too light-skinned or too tan. I love my family very much, but they don't understand how hard it can be sometimes. I always feel left out."


14. "You're half of two things, which is great because you get twice the cultural exposure, but in my experience, you also never feel whole. I attended an international school that would spend an entire semester planning an annual event called the 'global picnic.' You were supposed to form a country-based group with others of your heritage to organize food and perform for the event. I never knew where to go. I didn't speak the language of either group and never lived in either country. It was very isolating. I ended up sneaking into the USA group. Everyone there spoke English, and we just talked about TV."

Small national flags on a desk

15. "My family was great about my identity. However, I often wasn't 'Black enough' for some or 'white enough' for others. People wanted to put me in a box to make themselves feel comfortable. It was frustrating to feel as if I had to prove myself just to fit in."


16. "If you have mixed kids, I urge you not to raise them in a colorblind household or lie to them about their heritage. You might think it doesn't matter and write it off as 'identity politics,' but that can lead to confusion, resentment, and therapy co-pays. I'm a mixed woman who grew up in a colorblind family. My mother's family is Western European, and they were my primary family growing up (my dad is estranged from his). We never discussed race; whiteness was the default. My siblings and I looked ambiguous, if not white-passing. Whenever I asked my father about our background, he lied or insisted it didn't matter. Since my parents viewed race as unimportant, I had to do a lot of identity work on my own to answer awkward questions from strangers."

"I only learned the whole truth about our heritage in my 20s. One of my father's relatives contacted me on Facebook, and I learned that my father comes from a long line of mixed Black folks dating back to enslavement in the US. Our last name comes from a white enslaver who had a second family with an enslaved woman. As an adult, I feel a deep sense of loss because I grew up disconnected from the Black community."

—Mel, 34

17. "I grew up in California with my Hawaiian mom and Euro-mutt dad (he's mostly Norwegian, Irish, and English). They met during a rival high school football game in the '70s. My mom's side of the family has dark brown eyes and Polynesian hair; my siblings and I came out white as snow with my dad's blue eyes. My dad didn't know his culture, so I grew up with Hawaiian traditions, foods, and folklore. My grandma spoke pidgin and Hawaiian, and we had rice with everything. But both sides of my family rejected us — my mom's side specifically because we were 'too white.' I was so excited to live in Hawaii for a time, but I was never included in anything because I was just 'another white girl trying too hard.' As an adult, I'm now a proud hapa, but never knowing where to fit in hurt as a kid."

Hawaiian food, including lomi lomi salmon and kalua pork

18. "I have white-passing privilege, and this is something I've realized years later. Though some say otherwise, I don't really look like either of my parents, and I never fit in on either side. However, I look more white, so I assimilated with my white peers and sometimes felt more English than Malaysian Chinese. I definitely ate a lot of cooked breakfasts; I just never related to my Asian side as much. But when I hear people share their stories of oppression, I feel guilty for feeling as if I don't completely fit in. Now I'm trying to connect with my Asian side by learning Mandarin and embracing the culture."

Streets of London with buses

19. "The biggest thing is growing up thinking your family structure is 'normal' because it's all you know, and then stepping into the outside world and being told by extended family, strangers, and media where you do and don't belong. You get microaggressions, subliminal hints, or even overt comments. Even when people mean no harm, it still makes you feel some type of way. For example, I recently went shopping with my mother, and the cashier put a plastic bar between our stuff. I laughed, hugged my mom, and said, 'No, I'm with her.' It's an innocent misunderstanding but still communicates that we do not look alike."

Cashier at grocery store checkout

20. "Being multiracial is wonderful. However, I've always been subjected to ignorant comments from white and Black people, like the infamous question, 'If you had to choose, what side would you be on?' Stop asking dumb questions. My Black peers didn't accept me because I was too light; my white peers were just confused. When I was in middle and high school, Black kids were mean to me because of my hair texture and length. Now, as an adult, I've noticed that many forms still lack a proper selection for my race. I'm mixed; I'm not going to choose either-or."

A form requiring one to select one box

21. "My mom is Mexican and darker; my dad is white. If I could give people any advice, it would be to mind your business. You are not entitled to know the family origins of a stranger. It's also not okay to invade a family's personal space and accuse them of dishonesty because they don't look how you think they should. Families come in all different ways, and they are all valid. Growing up in California, my family was often approached by invasive strangers who assumed that my mom was my nanny and asked things like, 'Do they have the same dad?'"

"It's also super racist to 'compliment' brown people for their lighter-skinned kids. It's 2023, people. Keep that colorist shit to yourselves."


22. "I'm mixed Native — Cherokee, Lakota, and white — but I'm mostly Native. My birth dad skipped out before I was born, and my mom grew up in a Catholic orphanage. My older half brother's family, who are white, ended up adopting me. There was very little racism, for the most part, and they tried hard to help me connect with my Native side while living in an all-white town. However, I was constantly made to perm my 'typical' Native hair, which is nearly black and stick-straight. I'm in my late 40s now and still coming to terms with the paleness of my skin and my inability to 'pass' blood quantum. The Native community is generally tight-knit and unwilling to let outsiders in unless you can prove yourself — rightly so, but it still sucks for those of us adopted by white folks."

"Between ages 10 and 18, I'd only met three people of color, including a Black man who hid his racial identity to avoid being hurt. Though I'm paler, I was the darkest person in school. That messes with your head a bit; it's a lot of internalized racism to work through as you get older.

"As for my hair, I got to my 20s before I decided not to keep perming it. The funny thing is that it's started curling on its own now. It's actually starting to look like my birth mom's hair, but I have no idea how or why."


23. "My mother is from the Philippines, and my father was a white American. At times, it wasn't easy growing up. I never fully felt that I belonged to my white side. My grandma also favored my full-white cousins and used racial slurs. Some of them would even make racist jokes like, 'Does your mom's family eat dogs?' My dad never put up with any of that when he was alive. It was hard. Now I don't put up with any of that as an adult, and no one says anything remotely close to that anymore."


24. "Being Colombian and Persian, I was always asked how I looked the way I do and why I'm not 'tan.' Genetics are weird, people. At the airport, TSA would stop me and my grandpa because they thought I was being kidnapped. Even now, people like to ask about my family history and why I speak Spanish but not Farsi. Ma'am, this is a Starbucks; I'm just trying to get my drink, not do a bit on generational trauma."

Story commenter as a child with their grandparents

25. "I look ethnically ambiguous, so I'm often asked, 'Where are you from?' — even from employers. My mom is Nicaraguan and my dad is white. Many people speak to my dad before addressing my mom. I didn't know I had naturally curly hair until I was 22 because my white relatives always said it was just tangled. My paternal grandmother once said, 'Thank god you came out closer to your dad's complexion than your mom's.' There's a real identity struggle because I'm too white for my Hispanic family and too Hispanic for my white family."

"However, I will say that there are plenty of mixed people out there, so you can create your own group in which you are enough and share the bits of cultures you know with each other so you never have to celebrate them alone!"


26. "I'm half Chicana with white and Indigenous heritage and don't speak Spanish. Mixed folks are just not defined the way society likes to define race and ethnicity. The problem for me was never really that I didn't know how I saw my identity but more so how others saw it."


27. "My mother is Samoan, Tokelauan, German, and many other ethnicities (including French and Cook Islander Maori). My father is Filipino, specifically Ilocano, from the Pangasinan region of the Philippines. I grew up in Hawaii, where being 'mixed race' meant existing and navigating multiple ethnic identities and cultural contexts. When I moved to the mainland, I found it wild that people could not fathom that being 'mixed race' could mean identifying with more than two ethnic identities. There was always this push to simplify and reduce my identity because I had 'one too many backgrounds,' which was abnormal. It's as if having multiple ethnic identities was completely absent from Western cognition and hard for people to grasp. In general, the US has backward misconceptions of race and ethnicity. Frankly, it's exhausting to qualify, educate, and explain myself constantly."

View over Kahala to Koko Head on Oahu, Hawaii

28. "My dad emigrated from Iran, and my mother's family has lived in the US for multiple generations. I don't speak Farsi, but when people realize I'm Persian, they always ask me if I do, and I feel like a fake. I also struggle with knowing how to define myself. As a white-passing woman with some ethnic features, I've never known which box to check or which culture I belong to."


29. "I'm mixed Quechua and German. I'm never white enough for one side or South American Native enough for the other. My father never taught me his language. He would tell me that I was never going to be white because the white people had committed genocide on our ancestors, so I was not white."

"Fun times."


30. "I'm Black and white. My mom couldn't deal with my hair when I was a child, so she would keep it short. When I was 10, I refused to cut it and started growing it out, but my mom thought it looked bad and I couldn't handle it. She then had my dad put a relaxer on my hair, which began 10 years of relaxer use. I'm now 35 and have been natural since I was 26. Interestingly, white Americans think my sister and I are twins, but Black Americans don't think we look much alike. When we tell white Americans we're just sisters, they ask if we have the same parents. Mind you, these are strangers. We do, but it's none of their business."

Brush on a sink counter

31. "I was raised in a rural village in the UK by my white mother. My father is Sri Lankan but was out of the picture before I was born. Because of the time my mother spent in Sri Lanka, she'd always talk about how she 'felt like [she] was Sri Lankan' and was 'shocked when [she] looked in the mirror and saw a white woman.' I felt as if she was completely out of touch about what it's like to be a person of color in a predominantly white area — all while boasting about her stories in Sri Lanka for clout. It took me until my mid-20s to rediscover my history and learn about my beautiful heritage without any whitewashed input. However, I wish I could truly appreciate myself without the stains of my mother's 'bragging rights.'"

—LMJ, 28

32. "The experience of being part of a mixed-race family is ever evolving. I went from having people assume that I was being kidnapped as a kid to having people think that my (darker-skinned) father was my sugar daddy as a teenager. I went from having people assume that I was adopted while traveling with my (white) mother to having them think I was a trafficking victim while overseas with my (darker-skinned) uncle. While the assumptions and false accusations changed with age, one thing that remained constant was people trying to reconcile the fact that our family 'didn't match.' As a mother of a mixed-race child (who is Irish, Trinidadian, Black, and Puerto Rican), I've found that the base experiences are the same, but how we handle them are very different."

"This is one of the reasons I started my own small business catering to mixed-race individuals. We need a place where we can be 100% of ourselves and not be forced to choose a side." 

—Brittany, 36, New York City

If you're mixed, did any of these experiences resonate with you? if you're not mixed, did this inform your perspective a bit? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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