Unpacking Mixed Fragility
With the events of the past week still whirring in my mind, I thought it best to put pen to paper so to speak, and talk about the mixed fragility that I have witnessed in response to the rightful retorts from the Black community highlighting the issue of colourism at play in the choice of host for an upcoming Channel 4 documentary exploring maternal health inequalities in the UK. Inequalities which result in Black women being 5 times more likely to die during childbirth.
Mixed fragility is a term I first came across in a conversation with other mixed folk. We had all committed to unpacking our mixed experience in The Bloom Room, an incredible program run by Sarah Lotus aimed at providing a space to reflect, develop and unapologetically own your own identity, a mixed race identity. When I heard it, it spoke to me, it seemed to encapsulate a feeling I had never quite been able to place or pinpoint. A feeling that was borne out of the confusion of centering my identity, of finding my place, and my space. It was fuelled by a lifetime of being viscerally and consciously aware of my own white passing privilege, and in this moment, having also chosen to lean further in and confront all aspects of that privilege with the help of Layla Saad's incredible book 'White Supremacy and Me'.
Much is spoken about white fragility, in fact since the flood of black squares on timelines it has become something of a buzzword on social media. Hashtagged with the purpose of exhibiting awareness of the issue, albeit often without the learning required to develop an actual commitment to action. White fragility is the desire above all else to be seen as a 'good person', to balk at the suggestion that your attitudes, behaviours and actions whether consciously or sub-consciously actively harm Black people. To shut down conversations of racism with a wave of the hand and an assertion that you apparently 'don't see colour'. To accuse Black people (women in particular) of bullying or aggression should they challenge your actions, behaviours or words. White fragility also likes to cry in an attempt to secure the role of victim in these interactions.
Mixed fragility is different, but unfortunately no less harmful.
To hold both blackness and whiteness within you can make for the strangest of internal bedfellows, a constant push and pull of the oppressor and oppressed each with a distinct internal narrative that can often feel like an ongoing conflict in my consciousness.
My own mixed fragility lays here, in this space in the inbetween. The grey space as I like to call it. It is awakened in the moments when conversations about Blackness focus on the very real issues of palatability, visibility, colourism, and safe spaces. It feels like a threat to my carefully crafted sense of identity, my need to be seen for all that I am, my experiences of racism, my hyperawareness of discrimination towards the Black community borne out of a lived experience of witnessing privilege in action in relation to my darker skinned family members, my overprotectiveness because of it, my desire to use my privilege to be an agitator in spaces, to speak-up, to call-out, to create changes in spaces my privilege affords me access to.
It feels aggrieved, uncertain, defiant and defensive and it sounds a hell of a lot like white fragility when it speaks, because it always starts with, 'yes, but'.
You see, to really explore, unpack and understand colourism, and the way in which I benefit from it as a mixed person requires listening, really listening to Black women and learning, really learning from Black women. My fragility will flare-up, I will want to show that I understand, that as a mixed person I too have faced discrimination, I will want to share in this experience of Blackness by telling my story, drawing my comparisons, talking about all the work I do as a mixed person in the middle to educate white people, including my own family members, and I will think that this means I have a right to be included in this conversation in Black spaces, I don't.
It's been a really, really uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary lesson to learn. At first it felt like a loss, a gut wrenching sense of not belonging, of not being 'seen, of questioning my Blackness and what it means to be a Black mixed race woman. But as I continued on this journey, I began to realise that my identity cannot be based solely on proximity to Blackness, that removing myself from spaces, conversations, and opportunities that are about a mono racial Black experience will not result in my DNA being revoked. I will still be mixed race, I will still be of blackness, I will still carry a culture and consciousness, but I will also now be an effective ally to the Black community.
My fragility fights me every step of the way, but in those moments I try to remember this. It is fired-up precisely because of my love for who I am, because of my ancestral pride, but to actually honour that pride and that love is to recognise that Black men and women are not my anchor, my pacifier or my lighthouse. I don't need 'the nod', the approval or the stamp of being seen.... I am black.... and I am white.
Speaking for Black women as a mixed-race woman isn't helping, it's harming, and it's hindering progress. The more we allow mixed-race to be utilised as the face of blackness, particularly in relation to women where colourism is at its most insidious, not only are we not passing the mic, we're effectively closing the door behind us. We're placating production companies, we're playing into division, and we're encouraging the erasure of Black women by allowing our fragility to tell us that we belong here too, we can speak in this space, it's the same experience, we're bringing attention, we have a large platform, we can raise awareness etc.
A mono racial experience is different from a mixed race experience. It's different from a cultural perspective, a familial perspective and a life perspective. My whiteness is as important in the formation of my identity as my blackness, it gave me the benefit of the doubt, it taught me its tone, its way of working, it's limits of comfortability. I know how to navigate it, my colour works as a compass. So to say that I understand the Black experience isn't true, and to speak on it is not my place.
I empathise, I advocate, I discuss colourism in spaces where I am invited, or where my voice will add to the nuance of the issue as opposed to detracting from the experiences of Black women. I speak from own lived experience and I centre my mixedness when I do, because I have learned that is where I can be most effective. I contribute to conversations of diversity and inclusion from a mixed-race perspective and even then I distinguish myself as white-passing, because it brings even more privileges. I fight my fragility often, I still sometimes fear the implications of further unpacking it in relation to the continued formation of my identity. It is in a constant state of flux and change and as in this moment, is susceptible to societal discussions, changes and challenges.
But shying away from owning my mixed fragility is a non-negotiable now, I have come too far and learnt too much to retreat in the very moment when it is finally being discussed in relation to colourism and the importance of centering Black women. For far too long we have provided a platform of palatable blackness to mixed-race folk, and I am not here to discredit the very real achievements they have all made in pushing the agenda for equality, but every time we are chosen as the face of Blackness we dilute the Black lived experience in the eyes of society.
The heartbreaking irony is that our mixed race fragility leads to discussions, promotions and programs that temper and soothe white fragility, that allow it to say... 'see progress is being made, we're amplifying Black voices'.
Except you're not. We're not. We must do better, we must talk about mixed fragility.