Am I black enough?

Through a flippant comment in group therapy, writer Chloe Lovell felt her entire identity unraveling. She identifies as both Black and mixed-race, but has often found her Blackness called into question — not Black enough, not White enough, too posh, too ghetto. Here she unpicks a lifetime of memories and the challenges she has faced…

My chest tightens as hot blood rushes to my face. The tears have not surfaced, but I can feel them burning behind my eyelids. I breathe in deeply, ready to confront the notion that I am not Black enough. Words shared so casually, I whisper them back to myself, wanting to make sure I’d heard correctly: “But mixed-race people aren’t really Black”.

Resentment and sadness in the questioning of my Blackness was manifesting into a fierce anger, propelling me to fight my case as to why I am Black. Over a group Zoom call designed for Black British individuals to discuss racism and ways to heal from racial trauma, I pose the question: “If I’m not Black, where do I belong? What camp am I part of when both sides seem to reject me? No White racists stop to say, ‘hey she’s one of us, leave her alone’; and then when I want to surround myself with people who understand the impact of racism, I’m told I’m not Black enough to be in that space.”

“If I’m not Black, where do I belong? What camp am I part of when both sides seem to reject me? No White racists stop to say, ‘hey she’s one of us, leave her alone’; and then when I want to surround myself with people who understand the impact of racism, I’m told I’m not Black enough to be in that space.”

As I became increasingly emotional, I looked to the screen for virtual reassurance, for someone to say I belong here. The call went silent. Feeling incredibly vulnerable, I turned off my camera. On mute, I could cry. A cry I’d been holding in every time someone confronted me on whether I was truly Black and one that brought on a wave of memories measuring my Blackness, with words from my past at the forefront of my mind — not Black enough, not White enough, too posh, too ghetto.

“Racial imposter syndrome: A feeling of self-doubt/fakeness where one’s internal racial identity doesn’t match with other’s perception of their racial identity.” The Peache Project

The therapist on the call broke the silence, sharing that I wasn’t the only one to struggle with the notion of not feeling Black enough. I continued to listen while I sat in an uncomfortable state, tears rolling down my cheeks. Am I Black enough? Am I enough?

Spotting an abundance of messages in the group chat, I opened with caution, nervous of what I would find. I couldn’t believe it. Message after message thanked me for my honesty, told me I did belong in this group, while others shared that they could relate to every word I spoke.

I hold no grudge to the person who shared how they felt mixed-race people were not really Black. I’m certain they meant no harm. But it will remain yet another example of being told I’m not Black enough, despite identifying as a Black woman.

It was an idea cemented as a child. White friends would say, “It’s okay, you’re not really Black”, they thought it was something positive. Or when a Black person would call me a ‘bounty’ (Black on the outside and White on the inside). I heard similar sentiments from White people, too, as they joked about being Blacker than me because apparently I don’t act in a ‘Black way’.

White friends would say, “It’s okay, you’re not really Black”, they thought it was something positive. Or when a Black person would call me a ‘bounty’ (Black on the outside and White on the inside).

Perhaps if I’d only heard this once or twice, it wouldn’t be so triggering, but it’s been a recurring theme in my history. I started to question whether I was Black, despite my Ghanian heritage and visibly Black features, brown skin and afro hair.

To add to the complexity, I am both Black and White. I am mixed-race – and I refer to myself as so. Am I allowed to be both Black and mixed-race?

To add to the complexity, I am both Black and White. I am mixed-race – and I refer to myself as so. Am I allowed to be both Black and mixed-race? With my appearance, heritage and lived experiences in mind, I identify as a Black woman, too. It is also what many other people see first — especially racists. However, my interests, background, how I talk and my White mother mean my degree of Blackness is called into question and my right to say I am Black is sometimes challenged.

There is so much to unpack in this way of thinking, from dominant stereotypes of what it means to be Black that cloud one’s ability to accept individuals as they truly are, to the many faces and effects of racism, including racial imposter syndrome (feeling a particular race that others say you are not, or feeling as if you are faking being a particular race you identify with), colourism (the favouritism of light-skinned Black people over dark-skinned Black people) and internalised racism (being a person of colour and believing, consciously or subconsciously, the ideology that being White is superior) – all of which are tools of racism and the construct of race itself, designed to break the Black community apart, destroy the Black psyche and uphold White supremacy.

In terms of colourism, I must acknowledge how I have benefitted from this ideology, because I’m light-skinned and mixed-race. Understanding this brings me great guilt, shame and embarrassment, while it’s heartbreaking to know that my dark-skinned family and friends have suffered so much more racism and prejudice as a result. With this in mind, I have to ask myself, is it fair to call myself Black? Am I belittling the experiences of dark-skinned Black people by calling myself Black? Or does this highlight how being Black is multifaceted, just like any other identity?

With Blackness comes a recognised culture too, a Black culture, one that I’ve come to realise so many see as a must-have if you are Black. But what happens if your lifestyle does not match what people view as Black culture? Does this mean you are not really Black despite your Black heritage and ethnicity?

Culturally, lots of my likes and interests are deemed to be part of Black culture, but it seems as soon as I demonstrate something outside of this idea, my heritage and ethnicity (essentially my DNA) are thrown into question.

Culturally, lots of my likes and interests are deemed to be part of Black culture, but it seems as soon as I demonstrate something outside of this idea, my heritage and ethnicity (essentially my DNA) are thrown into question. Why is my race being determined by my personality, my taste in music, my favourite food or proximity to London? Regardless of all of these things, my heritage and ethnicity will never change. I will still have a Ghanaian father, Black in my genetic makeup and a rich amount of melanin in my skin. And I will always have White family and White friends, too.

In being more open about this feeling with my friends and family, it appears I am not the only one to feel this way and question: ‘am I Black enough?’ It doesn’t bring me joy to know that others have suffered with this inner turmoil, but I do feel a sense of relief, of knowing I’m not alone with this thought. That said, I am still nervous to share this all so publicly.

I fear people will use this as a way to continue to measure my Blackness and make their own conclusion as to what and who I am. My mind races over all the nuances of this topic, while being conscious that there is so much that can be discussed that I have not even begun to cover, nor have I looked at language and if using the phrase ‘mixed-race’ is problematic in itself – after all, we are all human and part of the human race.

I have also not covered the challenges in being mixed Black and White specifically, and how these two sides that make me have and continue to oppose one another in lots of spaces, from slavery to missed penalties in football matches.

This may always be a sensitive topic for me, but I’m thankful for feeling more confident in myself and knowledgeable of why this thought has dominated my mind for so long. Today I feel confident in telling you that (in this moment at least) I identify as both a Black and mixed-race woman. Sometimes I may fit your stereotype and other times I will not, but I choose to no longer be ashamed of who I am, how I feel and what I identify as.

I hope to pass on these lessons to my children, especially as they will have their own unique challenges due to their light skin and mixed-heritage. I hope to give them the strength, support and confidence to know who they are and where they come from, despite anyone else trying to put them in a box that does not fit them. I hope to teach them to be open and understanding in how others see them, while being transparent and realistic about the prejudice Black people – of all shades – are subjected to. I hope in sharing my internal monologue that I can help others feel a greater sense of ease with themselves and empower all to be whoever they choose to be. After all, you are the expert in you.