Fun Story! The working title of my book used to be “Story of a Mixed Girl” until an old professor of mine said, “But that term does not fully define you.” You are not only mixed, you are multi-cultural, though because of your adopted family not in the traditional way people think. You need to think of a new word describe who you are, and make it famous.
Hence, though I am mixed, I am a Mosaic, a more all encompassing word for the many ways I am mixed with races, cultures, and life experiences.
When the promos for Mixed-ish came, and my little Mosaic mixed-girl heart sang.
And then Mariah Carey sang the theme song for the show and I’m like “Hey Girl Songstress, Hey!” And of course, I was instantly ready for anything Tracy Ellen Ross was going to narrate.
I’m up to date on all the episodes, but here are my initial thoughts examining the family dynamics of the show, particularly the episode “Let Your Hair Down.” If you like this little diversion from my normal blog posts, let me know in the comments below!
First of all, the cast is beautiful As in they are attractive and pretty to look at. I mean, us Mixed kids know this. And as mixed woman married to a black man, I get told constantly how beautiful my future children will be. They’re not wrong… Can’t wait to play with and style my future babies’ hair!
Speaking of hair, I was floored by episode three, “Let Your Hair Down.” Mixed-ish the told story of young Rainbow Johnson learning how to love her hair no matter how she chose to wear it in a less than a 25 minute episode. The episode worked like a good sermon: to the point, drew me into the emotions of the story, taught me things in a kind way, left me wanting more of Rainbow’s story, and it didn’t run overtime (Hey Pastors, Hey! ;)).
(Warning: There will be slight spoilers below…)
Especially as a woman, I can relate to walking through a school hallway feeling as if everyone is watching me, for whatever reason. And as a woman, for that reason to be my crown of beauty, my hair- Ahhhh!
I felt Rainbow’s heartbreak when the teacher said, “Your hair needs to be neat.”
I could also feel the cringe of my heart when a student behind Rainbow said that her natural hair was blocking the view of the blackboard.
Rainbow’s experience cued a memory from my own life story. I can hear the voice of an Asian boy named Bobby saying I looked like I stuck my finger in a light bulb socket, referring to how my hair was frizzing like an electrified aura around my head. I didn’t learn not to brush out the curls until I was an adult. Also coconut oil is my friend.
I can remember a black kid named Josh who commented that the subtle hair growing on my arms made me look like a monkey. I still don’t like bananas, but I still got the hairs since God put them there.
I can remember a white girl named Dana walking away from me in a silent disdain when I showed her my new glasses. The joke’s on her because my husband thinks my glasses are sexy.
Not all of those examples are racially related, but that’s the power of the story-telling in Mixed-ish. Because we can all relate to Rainbow’s experience in that we all have these moments when we realize how cruel kids can be!
But to dive deeper in making us want to understand her more, we get to walk with Rainbow in these moments as she’s criticized and mocked by everyone around her, both peers and her teacher. And these are the moments many women of color deal with on a daily basis as the hair becomes a big reveal in their schools, places of work, and communities.
And the added layer of Rainbow being mixed, and not understanding why her hair was an issue for both the black and white world around her broke my heart. I wanted to reach through the TV and give her a giant Mixed Girl to Mixed Girl hug.
Rainbow’s lack of preparation for this guaranteed conflict of her life was the part of the episode that my husband and I spent discussing at length. Rainbow had always been told she was beautiful by Mom and Dad. She was told to “change the world.” But they did not prep her about the opposition she would face, and how the world had its own agenda to change her.
I let out a Hallelujah! when Aunt Dee Dee walked in to remind Rainbow’s parents yet again that the world also had no care, knowledge, or interest in accommodating for the needs of their interracial children. And thank Jesus that Dee Dee didn’t leave Rainbow in a natural hair identity crisis without letting her know just what the world was thinking. She kept it real and opened her eyes to the options of how to wear her hair, and what the cultural expectations were for Black Women. We all need those cool Aunties to step in and keep life one hundred when when Mom and Dad get stuck!
Rainbow decides to to rock a cute straight and flowy hair style with a hint of a bob, only to leave it unwrapped during a session of gym.
Cue my instant shock and wanting to stop Rainbow and warn her! And cue my frustration that NO ONE told her this before it happened!
During the sweat session of gym class, her hair curls into a half natural half rocker chick mullet mess. Cue the dismay of not having her celebrated “new-do” in the yearbook to be remembered as fabulous til’ the end of time.
I wish Mixed-ish had had more time to explore the reaction of Rainbow’s mother once her daughter’s perfectly straight hair bounced back to what was most natural. But like a good sermon, the show got to the point.
“It’s time to talk about this, now….When you change your hair, it makes me feel like I didn’t raise you to love yourself….Seems like everyone was so caught up in trying to fit in that they forgot to try and be the good black people they already were.”
“So I’m not a good black person if my hair is straight?”
Cue a long needed pause to let that moment sink in, because, wow. So much confusion and potential hurt regarding her identity is wrapped up in that innocent and longing question. Hurt and longing in the heart of every mixed kid that tries so hard to please the pieces of their cultures, and always comes up short, or at least rocker/mullet/messy/naturally confused.
How do I be a good Filipina, Black person, Latina… person of color if I don’t fully look like them? The struggle of a mixed Mosaic Woman.
Mom follows up with a, “Baby I’m sorry…“
I had been waiting for that apology. Because if I’m being honest, it felt like Mom was too late to the party. Her daughter’s hair had already half bounced back to its natural state. After her daughter got her hair done at the salon, I felt Mom should’ve had the sit down to tell her how to take care of her new do!
And at the same time, that’s also life sometimes. It hits us without warning.
Mom’s apology leads to her finally opening up about how her hair journey was not all natural, and certainly not easy. And that was the story her children needed to hear.
In a separate but connected storyline, I applaud the White father for taking the time to try and learn what he could and ultimately couldn’t achieve with his son’s long soft curls (so beautiful!). The was out of his element but understood that to figure out his son’s hair, the best chance he had was to go to a black barber. When that didn’t work, we see him trying to achieve looks himself, father and son together, in their home bathroom. He shared in the struggle. That’s the key. That’s where I want to set up camp today.
There’s something about our parents/ guardian’s/tribe’s willingness to participate in our journey that is incredibly important. Participating doesn’t mean being perfect. It doesn’t mean showing only the best version of yourself for your children to admire. It means preparing them for the struggles of the world by sharing your own.
Something that does frustrate me about the parenting of the show (and most shows nowadays with parental figures) is how Rainbow’s mother assumes that living her life with natural hair and confidence will somehow translate to her daughter naturally following suit. As a youth minister, this is a trend I see in parenting. Parents naturally try to act perfect in hopes that their kids will just “pick it up.” But when life comes and smacks the kids in the face, they don’t know what went wrong, because they weren’t prepared for the swing: the struggle.
When Rainbow’s mother says “I’m sorry…” I could feel her regret. She could’ve been the one to open up her own story to her daughter from the very beginning, being honest about her own desires to please others and feel accepted as a Black woman. She could’ve from the beginning not only preached, “You should love your natural beauty!” but opened up the vulnerability of her own story to say, “I’ve been there too, baby…”
It wasn’t enough for her children to only see the polished and confident Black woman she is. They needed to see her insecurities, her struggles, and how she became the mother they know. They needed to be able to learn how she conquered her own battles, so they could have all the information to make their own informed battle plans as trouble arose. I wish I could reach into the TV and sit with Mom to remind her that she has a growing teenager with all kinds of identity questions forming. And whether it’s Mom, or a village of other caring adults, that girl needs people to support her.
In our families, we have to realize that we are walking mosaics. We are a combination of pieces representing the cultures and races running through our veins. From a distance, all of these stories make up something beautiful, something glorious. In our glorious state, our mosaic looks like a confident black woman with vibrant and voluminous curls. It looks like a man of fairer yet ambiguously brown skin. It looks like the stereotypical white hippie guy that is obviously not the most attractive one on Mixed-ish. It looks like a short extremely mixed Filipina blog writer with long black wavy hair some with some faded golden highlights.
But, we are not only glorious finished products. For our mosaics are also made up of the experiences that have shaped us into who we are today. In order to encourage others to love themselves for who they are, we can’t only show them the glory of our story. Glory grows from something smaller, something difficult, something challenging, something only God could’ve carried us through. And we have to reveal those struggles. For it’s in those pieces of our mosaic that we have a testimony that serves as the framework of whom we have become.
For Mixed-ish, I dearly love the show so far. I relate to many of Rainbow’s stories. My critique not necessarily of the show itself, but perhaps of our culture as a whole, is how often it seems she stumbles across issues regarding her mixed-heritage for which she seems completely unprepared. Parents can’t prepare their kids for everything. However, whether it’s parents, the Aunt Dee Dees, or someone who is just a little further ahead than us, we all thrive when we can offer and learn from the experiences of others. But we have to be willing to share those experiences in vulnerability and love.
Dear Mosaic Friend, based on our chat on Mixed-ish, I challenge you to live a life that’s real before others. Walk gloriously. Let your hair down naturally no matter its journey. But let people in close for them to see why you can walk so confidently. Let them see and hear the stories of the life you’ve lived. For as you focus in on the pieces of your mosaic that have strengthened you, you’ll be that good sermon that teaches, draws people into your story, leaves them wanting more, and encourages them in the overtime of their own lives.
And if you see people living perfectly without letting others see anything real , be the Uncle or Auntie that steps in to remind them of all they had to conquer. Ask them questions that remind them of the testimony they are currently living. Be the one to kindly remind them that’s it’s empowering to others to show how broken pieces make something wholly glorious.
Mixed-ishly Yours’, Rebekah “RJ” Johnson
Mixed-ish is on ABC on Tuesday Nights.
2 Timothy 1:8, NIV: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.