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.
Sometimes you stumble across something by chance, and it turns out to be just what you needed. The Other Race is one of those things.
The Other Race is a 35-minute documentary by Terrence Flowers (AKA, The Mechanical Eye). The film features multiracial young adults adults talking about their experiences. There are two things about this documentary that stand out in just the first few minutes:
1) The intro: Terrence sets up the film by noting that the documentary is in response to the state of race relations in the U.S., and his perception that multiracial people are often caught in the middle of this tension. This is important, as mixed people often feel a responsibility to serve as a bridge, to mediate differences, and to step in when others don't. This is a theme MiXD has heard time and time again, and one that we'll write more about soon.
2) The subjects: The young people interviewed in the documentary are real. They are not among the privileged, like the biracial celebrities we put on pedestals and cite as mixed models. They are living the mixed experience in difficult circumstances, and they tell it like it is.
As the documentary goes on, you'll hear feelings and experiences that are all too common. The young woman who wanted to be like her white friends as a kid but learned she wasn't built like them. "I couldn't wear Abercrombie and Fitch, and I would never be that skinny." The person who felt Black people distrusted her because she wasn't as dark as them, and they were unapologetically skeptical of white people. Perhaps most telling, was the common experience of being told they were perceived as snobby, simply because they were biracial.
Watch the film and share your thoughts on our Facebook page!
There are a few things in this world that leave me speechless. A really good rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Some episodes of Black Mirror. Most political conversations on Twitter. But nothing paralyzes me like these little boxes:
For Latinx people, this is a complicated choice. A history of colonization and blurring of European, African, and Native American bloodlines mean that most of us don't fit into a clear racial category. And when you're half Latinx and half something else, you're mixed times two.
Some forms allow you to check Other. But, who wants to identify as "other"? Is there anything more isolating? A whopping 19 million Hispanics and Latinx people checked "some other race" in the census. How is it possible that the second largest demographic group in the U.S. doesn't have a box to check?
Other forms allow you to select multiple categories, which is cool. But, I'm still stuck because, as a person with Puerto Rican and Eastern European roots, am I white and Black? Nope. There's likely some Taíno, the indigenous Caribbean people, in my background - but can I really check "white and Native American" with a straight face? Don't think so. And I'm pretty sure I'm not Asian (although, I'll have to take a DNA test to know for sure - more on that later).
And then there are the forms that give you an out - a heartwarming box that says biracial or, even better, multiracial. Hooray! Now, I have a choice. I can answer based on skin color (white), genetics (multiracial), how people perceive me (white), or how I identify (depends on the day).
So, what box do I actually check? I'll save the big reveal for another article. For now, watch this 6-minute video on Latinx perspectives on race. Think on it. Then, let's discuss!
Today's post is a personal one from our founder, Jen - this is her parents' story. First you'll hear from Ralph, who was Puerto Rican-born and learned English after moving to New York with his mother in the 50s. His story is followed by that of his wife, Rona, a Jewish-American Brooklyn native.
Our story began back on March 9th, 1979. It was the disco era, at a club called Reflections. It was a time when interracial relationships were not accepted by society. My wife, Rona, is a Russian/Polish Jew. I myself am Puerto Rican.
But something beautiful happened, we fell in love. We both knew that some people didn’t have tolerance for our kind of love, but we didn’t care. That was their problem, not ours. We were both lucky with each other’s families, both of which understood our respect and love for each other and they supported our journey together. We have dealt with some bigotry in our lifetime, with people who have demonstrated unreasonable attitudes toward our love, but we dismiss them as idiots (it’s like some people have taken stupid pills).
We’ve been together 39 years - and some people thought we wouldn’t make it. It’s been a blessing knowing my wife. She has been my companion, my confidant, my lover, and my best friend. She’s also the best mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law.
I’ve had 5 great days in my life, and they’re all related to my wife and our love for each other:
We’re thankful for the many who came before us and had the courage to take the step forward, who went with their hearts, who turned their backs on taboo and traditions. They made the world a better place to live, and made our story possible.
I was born in the late 1950’s and raised in Brooklyn, NY at a time when there was not a lot of diversity. I remember the Civil Rights Movement and the integration of the NYC schools in the 1960’s. I was in the 5th grade and recall being tormented by my classmates because I befriended the 2 “negro” girls who came to our class. There was a lot of ignorance. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed in my lifetime. Being Jewish, my parents were raised to fear non-Jews. My neighborhood was 99% white, predominantly Italian with pockets of others. I can’t remember being exposed to people from many different backgrounds in the neighborhood or at school.
My home was different from most of my friends. My dad was a teacher and football coach. He befriended people of different races and religions. We were not taught, as many children are, to hate people who were different. Once I got to high school, there were teachers and students from different backgrounds but people mostly stayed with their own kind. I remember having interest in a guy from another race but was not brave enough to go on a date with him. My (mostly Jewish) friends would not have considered dating a non-Jew, never mind someone who wasn’t white.
Fast forward a few years, I was working at my first job in Manhattan. I had friends of all kinds. The barriers had broken down although there was still racism among the older generation. I met my husband in the late 70’s, the end of the disco era. He was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx. We danced together and there was magic. We started dating and didn’t care what anyone thought. We were defiant in the face of sneers and comments but we were lucky. Our families supported our relationship and our friends got on board even though they were skeptical at first.
I will never forget the pain I felt when I realized that we were not going to be able to rent an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. Every time we showed up the apartment that we saw listed in the newspaper was somehow “no longer available”. A helpful real estate agent steered us to Elmhurst which was and is one of the most diverse towns in the country. We blended in with people from all over the world.
Happily, things have changed for the better in many places, not all. I recently read an article that said in 100 years from now, everyone will look Filipino! What an accomplishment it would be if people would not be judged by their race or religion. I’m excited and hopeful that our daughter is helping to change the dialogue. That biracial couples can and do celebrate their differences. That we can now fly over the radar.