MWM Community Spotlight: Shanell McCoy
The MidWest Mixed Community Spotlight Series features local artists, educators, and leaders
reflecting on their Mixed or Transracial identities.
Shanell McCoy is a 24-year-old recording artist and songwriter from Minneapolis. In October 2017, Shanell released her debut album titled Live and Love, a personal journey through her own stories of heartbreak, recovery, and self love. The album is currently available at ShanellMcCoy.com and most streaming sites.
What is your very first memory of being identified as different (mixed or transracial)? How old were you and what was the situation?
When I was in elementary school I identified as half-Filipino and all American. At the time, on the playground with the other kids, race was not a significant factor in my friendships. When I got to middle school, it was like a switch went off and suddenly race was ingrained into everything. In the lunchroom, tables were separated by race. The Black kids sat with the Black kids and Asian kids sat with the Asian kids. At the time I remember having a difficult time figuring out where to sit. I wasn’t Black or Asian enough for either section of the lunchroom. That was my first memory of having to come face to face with my mixed-race identity.
Can you recall experiences you had where you felt understood or recognized in your identity/ies? A book, conversation or other interaction?
By the time I got to high school, I was still struggling with my identity. I always felt like I had to choose a side of me to be complete. I didn’t really fit in anywhere. It wasn’t until I was watching a reality TV show and a character was confronted with her mixed-race identity as a Black and Chinese woman. At one point she said, “I’m not Black or Chinese, I’m both.” Up until then, I didn’t realize that identifying with both sides of my race was an option.
How do you racially identify?
I identify as Black and Filipino.
Which cultural aspects (language, food, holidays) of your identity were you exposed to as a child? Were there aspects of your racial/cultural/ethnic identities that you did not have access to?
I didn’t grow up with my mom’s side of the family. My dad met my mom while he was stationed in the Air Force. They got married in the Philippines and moved back to the states before I was born. My mom was the only one in her family that left the country. Therefore, we didn’t grow up knowing my Filipino family (I have eight uncles and aunts and thirty cousins). I didn’t have access to my family because of technology and language barriers. However, my mom had a lot of Filipino friends that would cook the foods. I visited the Philippines at ages 10 and 23. Both times were vastly different experiences, but each time I was able to connect with that part of my identity on a deeper level.
Were you more accepted by any particular social groups? Were you rejected/excluded from particular social groups?
Up until I visited the Philippines again at age 23, I never fully embraced my Filipino side. In America, I am Black. I think that America is still grasping the experiences of mixed-race people. Even so, I still have a hard time identifying with other mixed-race people, being that I don’t share the same experiences as those that are mixed with white. Because of the detriments I’ve experienced being identified and looking more Black, I’ve always been more accepted by my Black side and Black people.
Do/have you altered your physical appearance to align yourself one way or another?
Hair has always played a huge role in my identity. I’m mixed race, but I have kinky, tight curls. I often have braids or weaves in my hair. When I went to the Philippines, I took my braids out and kept my hair in a ponytail to avoid questions about my hair. So, I’ve altered my physical appearance in that way to look more acceptable to my Asian family.
What are the positive aspects or strengths gained from being transracially adopted or mixed?
One positive aspect of being mixed race is that I am constantly looking for answers. I’d like to think I have a heightened sense of self because I’m always asking questions. I’ve grown closer to my family with the discussions we’ve been able to have.
What do you find most challenging?
The most challenging aspect is having family that is unable to identify with or validate my experiences. I’ve had arguments with family that have said my challenges with identity are not real. At the same time, those tough conversations have led to a lot of breakthroughs and have planted seeds for more.
Any advice for people like you who are navigating their identity?
Be patient with yourself. We so often try to fit ourselves into boxes. Forget the box. Forget trying to be one thing or the other. What do you like? What are you passionate about? Learning to explore who you are outside of the expectations of the world around you is so valuable.