Cyndie Spiegel has a mission to empower 100,000 women by 2020. Her website’s tagline describes her as a “Brooklyn-based small business consultant, speaker, and all-around truth-telling powerhouse” - and after meeting her, we can confirm she rules at all of these things. She’s also half black, half white and Jewish. And she is just as clear, bold, and brilliant about her identity as she is about her business acumen.
Here’s what we discussed.
MiXD: Tell me a bit about your family.
Cyndie: My mom is white (German and Russian), and Jewish. My dad, who has passed away, is Black, African American from North Carolina. I was the first in my family to go to college and get a Master’s degree, although my amazing mom went back to school and received her Bachelor’s degree at the age of 60!
I grew up poor in New Jersey. We were raised Jewish until I was around 7 years old, when my grandmother passed. The rest of my mother’s family disconnected from us long before - they didn’t want anything to do with the Black (and poor) stuff we had going on. We stopped celebrating Jewish holidays, and I lost my connection to “whiteness,’ really. I often say I grew up in a black household with a white mother. We lived in a Black and Latino community, and always had someone staying with us (you have to pay the bills somehow!) I was surrounded by people of color and very few white folks growing up.
Today, I suppose I live a life of privilege; I’m educated, I travel. I built this life on purpose. I’ve seen both sides and made a conscious decision to go down a path that would bring me success. Poverty was never an option in my mind. And a part of me always wanted my mom to know that her choices were worthwhile afterall.
MiXD: How do you identify yourself? Do you go out of your way to share your mixed background, or do you let it come up organically?
Cyndie: I definitely identify as biracial. Since I live in NYC (Brooklyn), it’s been a while since someone asked me the “what are you?” question. For me, it’s obvious that I’m part black so it doesn’t have to come up explicitly. But, when I travel, people in other countries always ask, and when I say I’m Black they want to know what part of Africa I’m from.
Outside of the U.S., I find that people aren’t asking what your skin color is, they want to know where your family heritage is. The way we think about race is strange to them.
MiXD: How has your mixed race background influenced who you are as a professional?
Cyndie: In a lot of ways, and it’s not always positive. I once had a girlfriend tell me, “It’s not your job to cure racism.” She’s right and meant it with the best of intention. But, I have a platform, and I do feel responsible for being a mediator. That’s what I do for a living - I build communities. I coach women. I feel a lot of responsibility to be a unifier. Often times, that responsibility comes with guilt as well. To use my privilege, and pull the race card when I’m the only person of color in the room and it needs to be done. So, in some ways, it’s become my job to be neutral, and bring people together.
MiXD: What else do you want other people to know about the mixed race experience from your perspective?
Cyndie: We haven’t talked about love yet. I want people to know that choosing your partner needs to come from your heart. As mixed folks we have to love who we love and give ourselves permission for that. We have to respect love for what it is, and not tell ourselves we have to love a person of this or that background. Who we love doesn’t change who we are or how we identify.
And lastly, I think it’s so badass and important that MiXD is bringing people like us together. We are the future of what this country is going to look like; whether folks like that or not.