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Amanza Smith: “I feel like I’m still catching up to being Black”
The Selling Sunset star on finding her identity, her heritage and her voice
Hi, welcome back to Mixed Messages! This week I speak to Selling Sunset star, Amanza Smith, who is of Nigerian and white heritage. Amanza might be best known for selling million-dollar properties, but she should be known for her nuanced perspective on ethnicity. Read on for Amanza’s experience, and how she’s raising her children to appreciate difference.
How do you define your ethnicity?
My father is actually 50% Nigerian and 50% a whole lot of different stuff, including Asian, Native American and European. My mother is German, English and Irish.
I grew up with my mom and my stepdad, who are both white, but I knew I was mixed. At one point, I started to say I’m a half-frican; I’m half-frickin’-white and half-frickin’-Black. I even have that word tattooed on me.
Now that I know my dad more, I like to be able to own that side of me. I’m so sick of people telling me that I don’t look Black and not realising that’s racist.
Did you connect to your Black cultural heritage growing up?
As a kid, the only soulful music I heard was gospel at the Pentecostal church, but it was a white church. My parents were hippies who listened to Pink Floyd. Only when my white older brother started listening to N.W.A in middle school did I start hearing those songs.
We had comfort food in the Midwest, but no soul food. I discovered it on my own as an adult for the sole purpose of being able to feed my kids soul food.
Do you think that’s as a result of being the only Black kid in your hometown?
In part. There wasn’t even a Black hair salon in my town. Even now, I struggle with taking care of my natural hair. I’ve tried so hard to make sure my daughter doesn’t have the same problem.
When I went to college, I started having Black friends. It was only then that I started to be considered pretty; in my hometown, I wasn’t the kind of pretty the other kids liked. It was also through my friendships that I started to want to embrace that side of me. I feel like I’m still catching up to being Black.
How are things different for your kids?
It’s almost the opposite for them – they don’t know their white side. They were very close to their father and his family when he was around, and now my own dad too. Reconnecting with my father has been cool, so I can show my children why I’m like the way I am and be proud of their Black side.
I never want my kids to feel different. Once, a white woman tried to touch my daughter’s afro puffs in a playground and I had to get out of there before I smacked her hands away. I want my kids to see and appreciate people’s differences, whether that’s in ethnicity, culture, religion or sexuality.
Have you ever been expected to act more ‘Black’?
I did a commercial once for a Brian McKnight album, and they wanted me to say something like “dang, this is good.” I was so uncomfortable trying to fake that slang, they just let me say it in my natural voice in the end.
Did George Floyd’s death and the events of this summer shift the saw you saw your identity?
I sometimes didn’t feel like it was my place to be so vocal, but I feel very strongly about standing up for Black lives. I got some backlash from people telling me I wasn’t Black and that my mom was a cracker, like suddenly I wasn’t Black enough to fight for Black people. Even if that is true, they’re missing the point – we all need to be in this together.
I felt like I should have looked more into other people who had been in the same situations as George Floyd, like I wasn’t doing my part as a citizen of the United States, never mind a Black person.
Do you think the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President will change the perception of what it means to be mixed?
Obama was mixed, and he was seen as Black, so we’ll see. I hope so. It’s harder for dark-skinned women, so it gives me goosebumps that my daughter can see someone like her in the White House.
If you could sum up your mixed experience in one word, what would that word be?
Proud! I’m proud to be Black. I think it would be boring to be just one race.
Next week I’ll be talking to comedian Tony Wright. Subscribe to get Mixed Messages in your inbox next Monday!
Mixed Messages is a weekly exploration of the mixed-race experience, from me, Isabella Silvers. My mom is Punjabi Indian (by way of East Africa) and my dad is White British, but finding my place between these two cultures hasn’t always been easy. That’s why I started Mixed Messages, where each week I’ll speak to a prominent mixed voice to delve into what it really feels like to be mixed.