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Mixed Emotions: Kay Brown on Finding Her Place as a Multi-Racial Millennial

“I still have struggles and I still deal with all this regardless of whether I’m white passing or not, and I really hate when people use that phrase. I understand, definitely, to a degree, but in my head it just give the people who are biracial and multiracial even less of a place to be.”
Kay Brown1

You can threaten Kay Brown with a good time any day of the week. Originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Kay relocated to Los Angeles mid-pandemic after eight years in New York City, and within a week could be found coasting to the beach in her brand-new convertible. She doesn’t care if it’s cliché, because the woman loves driving, and what could be more fun than cruising around in a convertible?

Kay has an easy, readily-available smile, and an up-for-anything attitude that immediately endears her to most anyone she meets. Simply put, she’s easy to get along with and her laughter is contagious. Her sense of humor is millennially on point, which is not surprising given her five-year tenure as senior social media manager at Betches, a media and entertainment company run by women and known for snarky and unfiltered content. While there, she helped build their following from 3 to 7.1 million, and launched their political page, all their podcasts and their fashion line. Earlier this year, she made a big change, becoming head of social media for Gap Global, where she oversees a team that runs all of the company’s brand’s accounts.

Clearly, Kay knows how to craft an online presence, but when it comes to her personal account, what you see is, actually, what you get. The 32 year old is truly one and the same with her social media identity, Kayyorkcity, posting not only polished pool-side photos, but also gnarly play-by-plays of what it’s been like to prep her teeth for veneers. Her feed is without shame in a genuine, not show-offy way, which is why it’s no surprise she’s amassed an Instagram following of nearly sixty-thousand followers.

“I love it because it’s one hundred percent who I am, it’s not an alter ego,” she explains. “What you see on Instagram—I like to very much hold true to that—is me. I’m not always wearing makeup, I’m not always doing glamorous things, I’m usually in bed or drunk or out partying. This is exactly what my real life is and I just like to post funny memes and make people laugh.”

Rather than posturing as some unattainable influencer, Kay actively keeps it real, especially when it comes to things that matter to her, like her love for Chris Evans and her passion for social justice. As a biracial woman—her father is black and her mother is Caucasian—Kay knows what it’s like to not quite ever fit in, which explains why her social media platform is so relatable. She’s the girl next door, with a twist.

“I think that biracial people are sometimes the most beautiful people you see,” she says. “I get tons of compliments of like, ‘Oh my god, you’re so tan,’ and first of all, yikes, but also, thank you, I do love my skin tone.”

“I also love being able to speak about both sides and being able to connect with both sides,” she continues. “I think that’s really important, and not a lot of people get to do that or see that.”

Growing up, she remembers kids commenting about how she didn’t look like her mother, and waiters at restaurants sometimes bringing separate checks to their table because they thought her mom and her sister (who’s lighter toned than Kay) were a separate family from her and her father. Like many multiracial kids, despite being a close-knit unit, Kay didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t know how to talk about race with her parents. And they never brought it up with her.

“Maybe that was my parents way of being like, this is normal, you don’t need to make a big deal out of it, because I don’t think they wanted me to feel some type of way,” she says.

“I recently saw a TikTok,” Kay continues. “And it was this black girl and she goes, ‘Have you ever thought about the fact that when you were growing up in school, when they asked guys, are you into brunettes or blondes, they weren’t talking about you at all?’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god, because yes, I’m a brunette, but I’m not a brunette—I’m not who they were referring to.’”

Realizing that she wasn’t even a part of the equation has been the latest in a series of epiphanies Kay’s had as an adult, looking back at her childhood and young adult years. What’s more, being a different kind of brunette is not the only crisis of identity she’s experienced that’s hair related. She spent her childhood years in a predominantly white neighborhood and remembers feeling envious of her Caucasian girlfriends who could easily jump in and out of the pool without having to think twice about their hair. For years she begged her mom to let her get her hair relaxed, and at age 12 she finally agreed. Kay hasn’t stopped relaxing her hair since.

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“I’m so scared to wear my hair curly,” she says. “I don’t know how to do it. I don’t feel comfortable with it and I know that everybody’s gonna make a big deal out of it—you can’t just do something like that and have it not be unnoticed. I think that’s been hard for me cause I’m like, if my hair’s not straight I’m not pretty, which is insane.”

“One day I’ll do it and my life will change and I’ll have an epiphany,” she adds. “But until then, I don’t know.”

What she does know is that being biracial makes dating a lot more complicated. When she matches with men on dating apps she finds herself wondering, are they into mixed girls, and if they are, am I just a box that they’re ticking off, is it some fetish type of thing for them? There’s an extra layer that she knows isn’t there for her white friends. Pro tip to the world, if you want to go on a date with a multiracial human, don’t ask, “What are you?” right out the gate.

“I think it’s one of those microaggression that people don’t realize that that’s not something you just go out and ask people,” she explains. “Also, you don’t say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the beach, I might get darker than you.’”

“Comparing skin tones, that really irks my nerves,” Kay continues. “Or when people quiz me. People have done this before, like black guys I’ve been hanging out with ask me, ‘Do you know this song? Ahhhh, you’re not black if you don’t know this song, you got this right?’ I don’t like any of that, but the skin tone thing really bothers me because it’s like, if you want to be this dark are you willing to handle the repercussions that come along with it?”

Kay’s tired of acting like it’s not offensive when someone calls her an Oreo for the millionth time. She’s over sweeping racist bullshit under the table whether it’s as underhanded as someone asking her how she got so tan or as overt as a man wanting to date her so he can earn a black card. When talking about the things she’s put up with in her past, she gets understandably frustrated, both at others and herself.

“It was still wrong then, and it’s definitely wrong now, but why did we accept that then, or why did we not think about it in that way?” she questions. “Why did we let that happen? I mean, there’s probably a gazillion things that I’ve said wrong—there’s no limit to the stuff that I have probably said growing up, thinking that this is just what it is, but why didn’t we know that? Nobody taught us, you don’t say this. Why was that accepted?”

The reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer rocked and inspired Kay. She felt an expectation to speak up, which she welcomes, but she also wanted to make sure anything she spoke about and shared was relevant to her as a person—she really didn’t want to speak on behalf of other people. Kay works hard to strike a balance and talk about things in an informative yet digestible way.

For instance, as a host of the weekly “Betchelor” podcast, which alone has a 202K following, that recaps “The Bachelor” episodes in a way that laughs with, as opposed to at, the contestants, Kay makes an effort to also talk about the overwhelming whiteness of the show and how skewed the casting is. When the franchise condensed individual seasons into three-hour highlight-reel episodes last summer, Kay decided to perform her own data-gathering experiment.

“Guess how long a black woman was speaking on camera in three hours?” she asks. “Fourteen seconds—it’s disgusting. So we really brought that into our podcast and how we were talking about things. It’s like ok, since we’re here, if we’re gonna be the people that talk about the real stuff, let’s really talk about it.”

“I think it’s important to take whatever knowledge you have as a human and put it in a way that other people can relate to, whatever it is, whether it’s talking on a podcast or on your Instagram account,” she adds. “I don’t think that everybody has to be talking about every single opinion they have all the time, but if there’s a way to put it out there that is informational and unique and gets through to people I think you should just do it.”

Other than cruising around with her Mini Cooper’s top down, there’s no place Kay would rather be than exactly where she is, firmly planted between two cultural worlds. Her biracial identity has made her into the fun-loving human she is, and she believes it helps fuel her creativity. She chooses not to identify as black or white, solidly checking the biracial box wherever she goes.

“I think I would be considered somewhat of a white passing standard, but it diminishes the fact that I am still half black,” she says. “I still have struggles and I still deal with all this regardless of whether I’m white passing or not, and I really hate when people use that phrase. I understand, definitely, to a degree, but in my head it just give the people who are biracial and multiracial even less of a place to be.” 

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