Is Biracial Still ‘Black’?

I spend a lot of time thinking about people, and I know that in our modern society that’s not considered a “good thing”. The general feeling is that we all need to concern ourselves with ourselves and let “me do me”. I can’t help it though, so there you have it.

I’m about to take three or four rabbit trails, so follow along if you can.

An old school mate of mine recently made a request on Facebook, asking her contacts not to post pictures of her children online. She was apparently met with backlash for that request, and then put the question publicly about whether or not she was wrong for making that request. Anyone with a child jumped to her defense: she birthed them, and it was HER right to determine if or how much online presence they should have. I have never seen her children, whereas in contrast, images of my kids are all over the interwebs. Some of you guys know more about my kids features than I do!

Suddenly, I was curious. What DID her kids look like? I know they are light skinned from clues she’s provided. Images of their feet and the backs of their heads and so forth, but that’s all I know. And then I began to wonder: How is she raising them?

This particular friend of mine is of mixed heritage. She’s half Polish and half Ghanaian. Her husband is English and they live in New Zealand. So what does that make her kids?

I have come to understand that in America, this beautiful country that is lagging behind the rest of the industrialized world in all things academic and social, is also delayed in the concept of what it means to be someone of mixed racial heritage. As a society, we still operate by the so-called “One Drop Rule”, a term coined during slavery meaning if you had a single “drop” of Black blood, you were “Black”. This meant those born as a result of miscegenation were afforded all the ‘rewards’ of Blackness as well. I have many mixed-race friends and relatives who identify as “Black”, but I have long held the belief that it’s because they were forced to do so.

I’m not bi-racial; there is nothing ambiguous about my physical appearance. However as someone who often has to validate her existence as one culture or another – and sometimes am forced to pick sides – I wondered how my friends and their children of mixed racial heritage navigate this world. Have our views as a global society shifted in any way for better or worse as far as mixed race persons are concerned? This is the 21st century after all. Whole civilizations have died out, and we could very well be looking at the emergence of new demographic with its own distinct culture. I set out to ask my multiracial friends about their thoughts on the matter.

I started with my younger cousin who lives in Ohio. Her father is White, and her mother is Black*. I put an asterisk next to her race, because her grandmother was Irish – resulting in her mother being very light – and her father is mixed with something (I don’t know what). All of her children, which includes my younger cousin are extremely light, and if it were not for the texture of their hair, they might very well pass for white if they stayed out of the sun long enough. One day, when my cousin was about 12, tucked away in her room strumming on her guitar or weaving a potholder, her mother confided in me.

“Nicole thinks she’s white,” she said, her voice just above a whisper.

“Oh, yeah?” I replied. What was I supposed to say? Genetically, the child was more White than she was Black.

“Uh, huh,” she nodded.

That was the end of the conversation, because I had nothing else to contribute. I wasn’t indignant in the face of that revelation. I knew why my older was concerned. The world that Nicole lived in would see her as “not White”, which made her “Black”…and she was not playing her role as a Black girl very well.

Nicole, who is now 25, honored me on her thoughts on what it’s like to be a mixed race person, and gave me leave to edit her thoughts at will. I couldn’t bring myself to change a single phrase. It was so eloquently and sincerely written.

FYI: I’m dedicating the remainder of the week to the topic Is Biracial still ‘Black’? and will be exploring what being bi-racial means depending on where you live geographically. I hope you enjoy the discussion.

 The New Race: By Nicole

As a biracial child growing up in the 90’s and in the Midwest , it wasn’t very hard to find a spot for myself somewhere in society, whether it’s “social class” or rank of “hotness.” There will always be a space for someone somewhere. Where the problem sometimes lies with other multiracial people is understanding what exactly you’re expected to be. Should I be urban and listen to rap and engage in the classic black activities in the community? Should I listen to punk and metal and “mosh” around with friends after school? Should I be the quintessential queen of excellence and squeeze my curvy, “nappy”, light skinned, confused being into a mold that I will never fit in?

I struggled with these questions and more on top of everything else going on life, like chores, schooling, future mapping. I just fell in where I felt welcomed and accepted. I found myself surrounded by like-minded people who saw passed race and color and demographics as I unavoidably did. They showed me that who I am is awesome and different. But at the same time, they showed me that we’re all on this spinning rock together, just trying to get home to that Mac’n’cheese and corndogs after school.

Most kids, no matter what the decade may be, have always had more than enough to worry about without having the prestigious honor of having to bear the weight of accommodating multiple cultures on their still growing shoulders. Whether it’s the clothes you feel you must don or the hairstyles you feel you must wear to at the least blend in, something’s always got to give and there will always be sacrifices which may conflict with your own sensibilities. There will be many times in adolescence and very early childhood when you look in the mirror and decide you’re just not one of “them.” “Them” being “everyone else.” It is true that not one person in the world is the same but some parents and mentor use it as the most presumptuous and evasive way to mediate children and their fears of non-acceptance when it comes to their color or creed. Our elders teach us that we’re perfect, just the way that God made us, and in the same breath explain that we may be told that we are too dark for our white friends and too light for our dark friends. I found myself constantly scraping images and internet galleries on google to find another person who looks anything like me. At all. Just so I didn’t feel so alone. Just so I knew there was a place for me somewhere that I could call home. You couldn’t imagine what it feels like to not be able to relate to a crowd of strangers on the physical level. Like an alien on your own home planet.

Is this what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. meant by his “I had a dream” speech? Did he mean that only little black girls and black boys could play with other little white girls and white boys? Only pure breeds of people were affected by discrimination? Even the kids at Hogwarts discriminate against “mudbloods,” which is one of the most hurtful words to call another in the world of Harry Potter( half magical person/half human).  I would be 100% in support of the worldwide movement of blending races and cultures and principals to bring the best out of ourselves and each other. Perhaps that front is coming. I think that’s what Dr. King Jr. really dreamt of. Maybe the introduction of a biracial President of our free world will broaden the lens on racial profiling, given his horrendous treatment and slander throughout his presidential campaign. But I can only speak for myself and my feelings.

You might think after hearing all of this you’d have to imagine I’m a bitter freckled faced, light skinned, coil haired, wide-hipped, brown eyed cynical. In all reality, I couldn’t have chosen a better blend to be for my years on Earth. Without the strongholds and oppression of expectation and pre-determined worth in my society, I am able to freely express who I am under all this scrambled mass of flesh and hair. They’ve told me I’d be discriminated against, written off, cast out, stereotyped, profiled. To which I’ve always thought: I hope they do. I hope they discriminate me with honor and grace against my peers. I hope they write me off as not a bad person after they’ve met me and know who I am. I hope they do cast me out from any bond to any race, color, creed, religion- anything that ties me to any other person on the planet and paints me with the same brush.  I hope that when they see me and my natural hair, bright complexion, large lips with small doe eyes that they can stereotype me as a queen in my own right, gettin’ it everywhere I go. I feel beautiful on the inside, after years of hating my outside. I’ve come to find that there’s no way you can stereotype me. I’m one of a kind. And I hope the profile they see is one of strength and transcendence. Wealth of wisdom and humility. That is what I can now strive for in life without all that superficial gunk in my way. I am me, and there’s no one like me. And I feel blessed.

With every birth of a multiracial baby, no matter what the beautiful combo, we are creating what I believe we were intended to be from the beginning: One Love, one spirit and one people.

My answer in summation is no. It’s like asking the color green if it’s blue or if it’s yellow. It’s both and it’s a new color completely. Ask a random bi-racial person if they identify better with Blacks or Whites or what have you and they’ll most likely either identify with their environmental influences or what their facial composition the most similar to- what the outside world thinks they are. If you ask me however, I empathically identify as the new race.

  • grantmx

    Somehow I think even the term, “Bi-Racial” isn’t enough. I think most of us Black Americans are already multi-racial, and throwing a so called, mixed marriage producing mixed-kids in to the soup would no longer represent even 2 races. but a poly-race. Poly-Races Arise!

    • Maybe that will be a new box on the census/job application forms: Poly race.

      In terms of blackness and being biracial, I have heard people say that identifying as black has more to do with experience than physical color. Blackness is political, not just an expression of skin color. I’d love for someone to expand on that!

  • David S.

    Maybe instead of check boxes on the census, they should just have a space for a percentage or a fraction, then they can just compute the average for their statistics

  • menelic

    As a so-called bi-racial AfroPean who has lived, learned, loved, studied and worked in Western Europe as well as West Africa I feel that this debate is important – but often confused. My feeling is that this is in no small part due to the legacy of the one drop rule in the US and the ridiculous overrepresentation of a monolithic, market-ready, reductive image of US Blackness as well as US debates on race, political correctness etc across the globe. Blackness is political, it is rooted in a collective experience of People of African descent (and in places such as “Black Consciousness” era South Africa and the UK has at some point included Asians and other “non-White” people who experience racism). In the US, race is often confused with culture and constructed as monolithic, despite the fact that there are very obviously many different Black Cultures in the US, with distinct languages (eg Gullah, different varieties of Ebonics etc). The racist move of making this diversity appear as monolithic and negative then creates the need for some to leave this straight-jacket. I understand that, but would invite people to dissociate their personal identity choices from their political ones. The US census shows why this is important: You can tick as many “race” boxes as you wish, but if you tick more than one, you won’t be counted as a minority when it comes to the allocation of affirmative action percentages and funding. The liberal idea that everything that has to do with race must somehow be about personal identity and a supposedly liberating “choice” then creates de-solidarisation ad weakens one of the few instruments necessary to ease the heavy weight of structural and institutional racism.

    The latest tiresome fad in this “bi-racial” celebration tirade is the idea that we are somehow the future of the West of of humanity, that we are “more”, “different” and “culturally richer” – I read some of that between the lines in the above….and I think its a trap. It presupposes the same racist monolithic blocks that it claims are now obsolete because we exist. Yes, our experience has the potential to give us some insight, but that does not make us special, cosmopolitan or culture-bending. The labels of music and style associated with Blackness in the article above are easily bent by millions of Black people around the world, see for example Black Death metal in Brazil. Just because US race marketing and imaging has constructed something a contradiction in terms, does not mean one needs to be “bi-racial” to transcend it.

    Race works differently in different places, but so called “bi-racial” folks, esp African descendants, are routinely used for divide and rule tactics. Whether its Brazil of Haiti, the categories may be different, the logic the opposite of the US one (with 128 or more words to describe shades of Blackness in Brazil as a means to create many groups that are not in solidarity despite a common history and common contemporary experiences of racism) – but the divide and rule effect is quite similar.

    Same difference in West Africa, where being fair or “metisse” or “half-case” (I do not use any of these terms as self designation, on close inspection, they strike me as as racist as the term “mulatto”) often brings compliments and privileges. When given the chance, I explain Africans and Black people who compliment me for my Bi-Racial “beauty”as “better” that being “just black”, that they are implicitly devaluing the beauty of my Black parent, my family – and of themselves.

    I think the history of so-called “bi-racial” people is full of lessons: Whenever “we” sought to gain advantage over our Black ancestry and family by allowing white rulers to make us into a buffer caste, we lost out. Whenever we did not allow this wedge to be driven between us, we were stronger. More often than not, we could integrate back into Black societies, but never could we fully integrate into white society. That is because Blackness is a rich spectrum (there are many shades in Africa and teh Black World – also pre-contact) while whiteness is a fantasy haunted by the fetish of purity.

    This of course does not mean that everything is Black or White on an individual level – many Black people have double or triple consciousness, we “get” both Black and white cultural norms, we recognise the glances, we read the unspoken assumptions from faces…but I think positioning ourselves in the rich history of global Blackness is what can give us the insight into the unspoken hierarchies, the global exploitation and teh everyday racism that impacts our people – some more, some less, often depending on place and shade. I for one would not want to miss this profound insight, the empowering knowledge of histories of resistance and triumph, the warning history of “bi-racial” betrayal and the failure to cut oneself off ones roots.

    It is for these reasons that I identify as Black. That does not mean I disavow the other part of my family or my heritage – but it also does not mean that I have to relinquish the privilege and the inspiration that comes with the identification as Black. It also does not mean that i can pretend to be “the same” as every other Black person – to the contrary, just like White people, i need to take responsibility for the privilege that many Western and sadly some African societies award me for being “fair”. I did not create or choose that privilege, but by stance means that i have to self critically reflect on it and seek to resist the lure of its privilege. A one time declaration is not enough, this is constant work, which rewards me with constant insights into the pervasive power of both racism and Black resistance.