Marra B. Gad: “I am not failing anyone by being Black, white and Jewish”
The writer on warm embraces (or a lack of) and why there's power in our stories
Hi, welcome back to Mixed Messages! This week I’m speaking to writer, producer, author and speaker Marra B. Gad. When I came across Marra’s memoir, The Color Of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl, I knew I wanted to share her story on Mixed Messages. Adopted by a white Jewish family, Marra grew up in ‘70s Chicago with a great aunt who couldn’t stand the colour of her skin. Her words are incredibly moving and had me in tears. Read Marra’s story below.
How do you define your ethnicity?
I have come to be very deliberate and clear about how I identify because people tell me who they think I am all the time. I identify as biracial, and clarify that I am Black-white biracial and Jewish. I include the Jewish part because the assumption is that I am not, and so unless I make that clear, I’m often invited into antisemitic moments to join in. People need to understand the groups that made me.
Even Jewish people are thrown completely, they can’t believe that I’m Marvellous Mrs Maisel, cursing in Yiddish Jewish. They look at me and it doesn’t make sense. Sometimes people ask, “well, what are you?” And the notion that I'm reduced to a what before I'm acknowledged as being a who is so awful.
Do you ever wish you’d spoken about your mixedness with your family?
I was fortunate enough to be adopted into a family for whom no subject was off limits. My mother, my late father and my grandmother would fiercely and vigorously make sure that I was as protected as I could be from the racism, hate and intolerance that surrounded us inside and outside the family. But we didn’t talk about it, not because I felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t, but because identity was not discussed in the same way then.
Have you ever gone searching for spaces of mixed people?
I have learned that one of the unfortunate commonalities that people who are mixed share is the sense of rejection from the tribes that made us. We are not wholly and warmly embraced. What I seek is people who see, love, respect and embrace me, and whatever form that comes in is perfect for me. I no longer seek specifics in terms of human beings.
You said ‘no longer,’ so has that changed over time?
I was desperate for a warm embrace from my tribes at certain points in my life, to be accepted, lifted up and seen as an integral part of the whole. But I’ve come to understand that that is perhaps not going to be my experience. There are these arbitrary checklists of what it means to be a member of any particular tribe, and if you don’t check those boxes, or cannot, in my case, you’re seen as divergent or like there’s something wrong with you.
Do you feel like people have put certain labels on you without giving you permission to choose for yourself?
Constantly. In America, there’s a term that’s started to be used for people who are non-white and Jewish – Jew of Colour. To me, it’s never felt right, although many non-white Jews like this term and I deeply respect their right to use it. If white Jews are not called “Jews of whiteness”, why should I be a Jew of colour? I feel that it creates a separateness.
Do you think the mixed conversation is stuck in any way?
We are just in the very beginnings of discussing what it means to be multiracial, so I believe there needs to be more speaking - there’s power in sharing our stories and showing that we’re not all the same. There’s room for all of us to be exactly who we are. There isn’t a right or wrong way to be made, I am not failing anyone by being Black, white and Jewish. People either get that or they don’t, and if they don’t, they can keep moving.
With my book, I wake up every day and am amazed that I was able to create something that allows people to say “I’m here,” because so many mixed people feel unseen and unheard. We shouldn’t feel like we need anyone’s permission to be here and speak our truth. That’s something I’ve come to embrace with age.
What’s one of the best things about being mixed for you?
It’s illuminating to see the world through my eyes. Few others have that experience, even when what I’m seeing is painful. When I was a teenager, I used to cry at night and pray that I’d wake up and look like the other white girls at school. I don’t cry for that anymore. I am grateful that I know how beautiful I am.
Can you sum up your mixed experience in a word?
Buy The Color Of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl here. Next week I’ll be taking a break before talking to Radio 1Xtra presenter Richie Booker. Subscribe to get Mixed Messages in your inbox on Monday 18th April.
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Mixed Messages is a weekly exploration of the mixed-race experience, from me, Isabella Silvers. My mom is Punjabi (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.