The Not-So-Tragic Mulatto: What Growing Up Biracial Taught Me

Today I'm sharing my very first guest post! I am delighted to introduce you to my friend Alyssa Bacon-Liu. At her blog, All Things Beautiful, she writes about life, love, and her own cross-cultural marriage to her second generation Chinese-American husband. As the mom of a bicultural baby, I appreciate the story Alyssa shares of growing up biracial.

There’s this thing called the myth of the “tragic mulatto” and it’s the idea that multiracial individuals are constantly plagued with issues of racial identity and an overwhelming sense of ambiguity about their place in society. 

Obviously, it’s called a myth for a reason. But unfortunately, there are still people in this country who believe that interracial relationships should not exist and that by having children from these interracial relationships, you are dooming them to a life of burden and confusion over who they are and where they belong. That’s pretty dramatic if you ask me.

Now I’m not going to lie and say that growing up as both white and black in a predominantly white environment didn’t have its share of challenges. I’m not going to lie and say that my family looked a lot like other families or that people never thought my sisters and I were adopted. I’m not going to lie and say that I never wished my hair was straighter or skin was less freckled or curves were less curvy.

Yes, I struggled with my identity as a biracial person and I’m sure many other multiracial people have struggled as well. But now that I’m older, I realize the benefits of growing up biracial have far outweighed any challenges.

Being biracial taught me how to forge my own identity.When I was younger, I always got the feeling that I never quite fit in with either the white or black community. But as I grew older, I rejected this notion that I had to deny who I was in order be accepted. I am not a “diluted” black person, as someone once told me (people have such great manners, don’t you think?). I’m not trying to pass through life as a white person because I “don’t look that black.” I am both. I am biracial. I appreciate the history and culture of both of my parents. And I’m proud of who I am.

Being biracial taught me how to appreciate my own beauty. I used to loathe my appearance because I didn’t look like anyone else. I saw beautiful white girls and beautiful black girls, and always wished I could capture the beauty of one or the other. Now I understand that being beautiful is not about looking like everyone else, but about embracing the things that make me unique and special.

Being biracial removed racial boundaries in my choice of life partner. It’s always been devastating for me to hear friends tell stories of how their parents or other family members would not approve if they were dating someone of a different race. My parents, of all people, would have a pretty hard time justifying why they wouldn’t want me to date someone based on race alone. So now I have a Chinese-American husband and his ethnic background was never an issue or even a point of discussion. But it breaks my heart to hear of other interracial couples where backlash from friends and family is a part of their story. But in my family, race is not an issue and I’m so thankful. And let’s be honest: my future kids are going to look pretty awesome.

Being biracial gave me a heart for racial reconciliation. Being both black and white is interesting because of the distinct racial history and current tension between blacks and whites in this country. It’s not an easy thing to know that some people think my parents are traitors to their race. It’s not easy to know that some people might look at my family in disgust. But I see my family and I see hope. Hope that respect is not just reserved for people that look like us. Hope that trust can be earned across racial lines. Hope that love transcends all boundaries.

Being multiracial isn't a burden. Racism is. Prejudice is. Ignorance is. Being forced to define myself as “other” on standardized tests because it won’t allow me to mark that I am both African-American and Caucasian is a burden. Having complete strangers asking “What are you?” and playing guessing games with my ethnicity is a burden. Not having interracial families and multiracial people reflected in mainstream media is a burden. Societal and culture pressure to narrowly define ourselves is a burden.

So yes, the tragic mulatto myth is indeed just a myth. Because some people may see me as a tragedy, but I see myself the way God sees me: fearfully and wonderfully made.

Alyssa Bacon-Liu is a new wife, southern California native, and wannabe world changer who lives with her husband in Los Angeles. She is passionate about justice, equality, anything sparkly, and reusable shopping bags. She blogs about life, love, and the pursuit of all things beautiful at www.allthingsbeautifulblog.com. You can also find her on Twitter (@alyssabaconliu).


  1. That last full paragraph is where it's really at. I love the way you write out the real place of the "burden," Alyssa! Thanks for writing this--I'm now thinking of writing along these lines sometime soon.

    And your family is SO beautiful! Love the pictures.

    1. Thank you so much Antonia! I definitely look forward to a post from you along this same topic!

      And yes, my family is pretty good looking, aren't they? ;)

  2. Love it! "Being multiracial isn't a burden. Racism is."

    1. Thanks Randi! Those two sentences were the framing for the entire piece. I started with that and then built my way out. So I am glad that part is resonating with people!

  3. I appreciate hearing about experiences like this because I will be raising a biracial child in a matter of weeks. I think sharing your experiences like you have helps people understand it better and maybe not ask such ridiculous questions. I am white and my husband is a black Guatemalan, so I am interested to see how it feels if/when people ask me questions about my son who has the potential to look very different than me.

    1. Hi Deanna, thanks so much for reading & for your wonderful comment! It makes me happy to hear that my experiences are helping or encouraging other interracial couples & multiracial families. I am also in an interracial relationship, so my future kids are going to be black, white, and Chinese! Writing down my own experiences is actually helpful for me as well as I think about the values I want to instill in my future multiracial children. :)

  4. Maggi6:42 AM

    Very good post. I think that Multiracial families are rising and that is good, indicating that we live in a modern world, gobal, where all human are mixing and we are simply that, human.

    Be of any race or any mixture, it is never a problem, or cause identity problems, the problems come when others insult by this fact and mocked.

    That is the only cause of the problems of identity, but the racial mixtures are good.

    I hope so, that continue increased multiracial families and can be happy.

  5. I agree that it's fun to see more and more multiracial and multicultural families. While identity struggles are real, I appreciate Alyssa's focus on the things she's gained from her biracial experience. Beautiful, encouraging words!

  6. Julie Amy8:05 PM

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