Eight years ago, I fell in love with a musician who had a great smile, strong convictions, and proved he was a kid at heart by climbing trees with me on our first date. We married in 2011, have two children, and are still best friends to this day. It just so happens that I’m Caucasian and my husband is Korean, African-American, and Cherokee. His skin is the color of dark caramel and his eyes do the coolest crinkly thing when he laughs. I, on the other hand, very closely resemble a peach Crayola crayon with brown, curly hair.
Needless to say, meeting our kids for the first time was AWESOME.
Of course, it would have been, no matter what we looked like. But one unique element about our family is that our son and daughter both represent four entirely different ethnicities from four different continents. History class will take on a whole new meaning for them.
Honestly, skin color doesn’t come up very often in our house, unless we’re having a specific discussion or teachable moment together. It simply isn’t a “thing.” But when I stop and see my life from the outside, I’m reminded that there really are differences in being a white mom with multiracial kids. Some of them are hilarious. Some of them are sobering. All of them are a privilege to experience if it means I get to spend one more day being my children’s mom.
You’re probably waiting for me to dish the dirt on all the terrible things strangers have hissed in my ear in the grocery aisle. We do live in a messed up world, but honestly, most people just stare.
Will my children face some of the persecutions their father faced as a child? Will they face things that their white classmates and cousins won’t understand, and, to a degree, I won’t fully understand? Yes. But every family faces challenges, no matter their skin color. Every family is made up of completely unique individuals. Every family has their “weird is the new normal” moments. Here are a few of ours.
1. Your kids may not look anything like you.
In my case, my kids look like their daddy. It’s just the nature of the dominant genes. That’s fine. I happen to think he’s adorable, so bring on the adorable descendants. We didn’t fall in love because of our skin color, or decide to have children because of that. The byproduct of our different races means that the kids simply don’t look like me very much.
Still, I see similarities flash by — like when my daughter speaks in a gentle voice to her stuffed animal when it’s “injured,” stroking its fur and giving it hugs. Or when I saw my 1-year-old son toddle out of his room recently. His eyes darted around as he tried so hard to hide the little quiver in his chin, and when his eyes locked on mine, his face wrinkled and his eyes welled with tears as he raced into my arms. It’s in those little moments that I see it. The gentle hand. The shape of the quivering chin. That’s when I see me.
2. People regularly ask, “Are your children adopted?”
My uterus gets a little angry every time someone asks me this question. I can’t fault them for their assumption, so I’m not offended, but the devil in me always wants to answer with something like, “No, after two pregnancies and 41 total hours of labor, I birthed both of these children straight from my Caucasian loins.”
3. People don’t know how to ask about your kids’ ethnicity.
I hear things like this a lot: “Aww ... these are your kids? Wow! So, what’s their … um … who … uh … ”
Meanwhile, their hands flail about, searching for the right words in mid-air.
It usually ends with a benign, “W-where is their dad from?”
So I answer honestly. “Virginia.”
“ … ”
“I’m just messing with you,” I say. “You’re really asking what his ethnicity is, right?”
A sigh of nervous relief tumbles out of the other person. “Yes, yes, that’s what I was asking.” ::vigorous head nodding::
The thing is, I totally get the curiosity. My husband has dealt with this his whole life — sometimes with far less polite inquiries and assumptions made of him. I’ve tried to reverse roles and picture someone doing that to me.
“So, you’re German and English right? Can you say any German phrases? Can you sound like My Fair Lady? Do you know any good sauerkraut recipes?”
(I don’t, by the way.)
According to my husband, this video accurately depicts the hilarity of what his whole life has been like:
4. Everyone in your family is tanner than you … dang it.
My daughter was born during a Midwestern winter when the light-skinned world is at its pastiest. My little newborn was like a sweet caramel candy in my arms.
Don’t even get me started on how long it takes them to tan each summer. When my husband and kids wear sunblock, they still come home three shades darker. It’s cool. I can be the pasty mom. It’s cool… ::sniff::
5. People might think your baby’s birthmark is a bruise.
I had no idea what a “Mongolian spot” was before I became a mom. When my daughter showed up on the scene with a birthmark that looked like an ink stain on her lower back, I immediately asked my husband about it. His reply was, “It’s an ‘Asian baby’ thing.” Turns out, more than 80% of babies from Asian descent are born with the bluish gray birthmark.
It’s not even just Asians, though. According to the US National Library of Medicine, “Mongolian blue spots are common among persons who are of Asian, Native American, Hispanic, East Indian, and African descent.” Less than 10% of Caucasian babies have it.
So basically, this is a completely normal birthmark for nearly everyone except white people.
When my son was born, his Mongolian blue spot looked like a splotchy map of North and South America stretched across his lower back, right hip, and buttocks. I totally bragged about it to my family ALL the time. “Look at my baby’s cool birthmark.” (Sorry, son. I stopped, I promise.)
That was until the day we were told that an incident report was filed while he was in a child care facility. One of the attendants changed his diaper and noticed the bluish marks, completely unaware of its origin. Out of concern and to make sure proper paperwork was filed to prove that he wasn’t injured while in their care, the attendant filed a report about the mark and gave it to the director … who showed it to me.
The whole matter was cleared up because we’d been friends with this director and many of the people on his team for years. They knew we would never abuse our children. Still, the danger of other caregivers mistaking our son’s large birthmark for injuries and calling CPS unnerved us. We decided to photograph the birthmark and file a signed statement from his pediatrician that it was, in fact, a birthmark (which led to the most embarrassing trip to the Walgreens photo lab I’ve ever taken).
6. Every day with your partner would have been illegal not that long ago.
My husband’s entire existence represents his parents’ interracial union and the progress this world has made. Our union is one step even further down that path. Things weren’t so rosy in the United States 50 years ago, however. Interracial marriage wasn’t even legalized until 1967.
I’m so grateful to live in a world that doesn’t hate my family or hunt us down or persecute us. Again, I’m not saying these things won’t ever happen, because people are people, but I’ll take every good day as a gift. Our ancestors made their choices. Now it’s up to us to make ours.
7. Your kids will ask you some day, “Mommy, why doesn’t your skin look like mine?”
I think about that one quite a lot. Everything I read and watch and listen to makes me think about my children and the world in which they’re growing up. I’m sure that’s the same for all parents. I cannot do anything about other people’s prejudices or misguided beliefs on race. What I can do is show acceptance in my own home.
My children will know that I love them. They’ll know that I love their father. They’ll know that we accept each other’s families.
My husband and I talk openly about racial issues with each other, gaining a better understanding each time. We’ll watch a movie and discuss why a person of a certain race was cast in a certain role. We’ll reflect on our childhood and compare the moments when we felt like outsiders, often for very different reasons.
I don’t think we meant to do this, but all these conversations are preparing us for the day when our children ask us that one question, “Why doesn’t my skin look like yours?” “It’s actually a beautiful story,” I’ll tell them. “Your own little history.”
Until that day, I will patiently wait, pray, and prepare for my babies to ask their questions and find their voices in this world.
‘Identity’ is the Dictionary.com 2015 word of the year
Identify: to associate oneself in feeling, interest, action, etc., with a specified group or belief system (usually followed by as or with).
Who do you think you are?
It’s been an important question in 2015. From Caitlyn Jenner to Rachel Dolezal, the idea of self-identification played a prominent role in some of the biggest news stories of the year.
Race, sexuality and gender are the live-wire topics that inspired Dictionary.com to pick “identity” as its word of the year for 2015.
“Our data indicated a growing interest in words related to identity, as people encountered new terms throughout the year based on events tied to gender, sexuality, race, and other key issues,” Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com, said in a news release. “Many words surrounding these topics trended or were newly added to our dictionary this year, making identity the clear front-runner as the Word of the Year.”
Actor and singer Taye Diggs might be black, but he wants folks to understand that his son, Walker, isn’t — at least not entirely. That’s the message he’s been shopping around as part of a tour to promote his new children’s book, “Mixed Me.”
The tome is both inspired by and intended for kids like 6-year-old Walker, whose mother — Diggs’ former wife, Idina Menzel — is Caucasian. As Diggs sees it, Walker isn’t black, he’s biracial. And both whites and blacks seem equally invested in denying it.
A similar situation befell President Obama — whose mother was white and who decided early in his career to opt in to blackness at the expense of his white half.
Diggs’ decision to embrace his son’s biracial identity is brave — particularly for an African-American. For while America’s “one-drop” rule may have been established by white segregationists, it’s often been embraced by blacks themselves.
Stung by racism and seeking political potency (and safety) in numbers, blacks want to keep as many folks in their fold as possible — all black, half-black or whatever. How else to explain why black leaders were some of the most vocal opponents of the introduction of a “multi-racial” category in the 2000 US Census?
Then there’s the common black contention that all African-Americans are of “mixed” ancestry as a result of miscegenation during slavery. That might be true, but Diggs is speaking of his son being “biracial” — not “multi-racial”; his book focuses on kids whose parents are of two entirely different races, not mixes of many.
For whites, meanwhile, “one drop” helps them do what they’ve always done best — protect their privilege by any means necessary. To them, it’s not so much about who is Caucasian, but rather making it clear who isn’t. This is where “one-drop” comes in — to shut their biracial brethren out of the cultural, historical and economic benefits of whiteness.
Diggs is challenging both of these sentiments and should be applauded for doing so — particularly with nearly 7 percent of Americans describing themselves as mixed-race, according to a June Pew Research study.
No one is suggesting children like Walker should be described as white. But Diggs rightly demands that it’s time folks stop denying that his son is, ultimately, as much white as he is black.
Or, perhaps, even more so — I know from personal experience.
For the first four decades of my life I assumed my genes were equally derived from my white Jewish mother and African-American dad. Sure, like most black families, we knew history had “whitened” my father’s blood line. A great-great-grandfather, for instance, was an Irishman who had almost certainly married his slave (my great-great-grandmother) in antebellum Texas. But it wasn’t until I took the simple genetic test from 23andme that I found out just how whitened our family had become.
The test’s results ranged from the obvious — a predisposition for myopia and overeating — to the startling. For it turns out that genetically, at least, I’m actually 50 percent “more” white than black — 39.1 percent “Sub-Saharan African,” to be precise, compared to 59.1 percent “European.” My mom’s line, as expected, is pretty pure — virtually 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. But along with bits of Native American, my father was nearly 20 percent white — far more than we’d ever imagined.
Of course all of this data was just that — numbers and graphs and charts. As cases like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin illustrate, my 23andme test isn’t going to protect me from racist vigilantes or shield me from bigoted cops. Nor might my newfound “whiteness” exempt me from the history of injustice and inequality that continues to define much of the contemporary African-American experience.
But the results did upend many of the racial preconceptions that had guided my life, causing me — like Diggs — to further question the very notion of racial categorization itself.
Critics of Diggs have dismissed the actor as attempting to “deny” his sons’ blackness, which is both simplistic and untrue. Diggs hasn’t “invented” a white identity for Walker — he hasn’t had to, the kid’s mom is white. Rather, he’s demanding his boy be allowed to claim what is merely a biological fact.
Progressives of all colors insist they respect the right to ethnic self-determination — but that respect seems to wane when it comes to being biracial. In Obama’s case, “choosing” blackness probably helped simplify what was already a complicated and combative political journey. Saying he was “black” — no matter the half-truth — made it easier for Americans of all colors to contend with his historic candidacy. And with (sadly) none of his white family at his side to muddle the message, Obama’s “all-black” narrative was easy to maintain.
Two generations later, Diggs seeks to spare his son from a similarly small-minded fate. America may not yet be truly “post-racial.” But perhaps, as Diggs discusses, the country can begin to accept that biracials are here to stay.
In the 2008 election, American voters selected a black man to be president.
American voters selected a biracial man–not a black man–to be president. Barack Obama identifies racially as black, but most Americans see him as black-white biracial. According to a Pew Research Center survey, only 27 percent of Americans see Obama as black. This distinction is not trivial. Some people could not vote for Barack Obama if they saw him as a black man, but they could vote for a biracial Barack Obama. One white woman said that the reason she reluctantly voted for Barack Obama was because her sister told her, “You don’t understand–he is white too. He has a white mom and white grandparents.” Obama’s white mother and white grandparents were a prominent part of the narrative of the Obama campaign, so it should not be too surprising that these facts deeply inform how Americans think about Obama. Additionally, some Obama campaign volunteers emphasized that Obama is biracial when they canvassed. One volunteer stated,
If this issue [Obama’s race] comes up, even if obliquely, I emphasize that Obama is from a multiracial background and that his father was an African intellectual, not an American from the inner city. I explain that Obama has never aligned himself solely with African-American interests — not on any issue — but rather has always sought to find a middle ground.
‘Mestizo’ and ‘mulatto’: Mixed-race identities among U.S. Hispanics
For many Americans, the term “mixed race” brings to mind a biracial experience of having one parent black and another white, or perhaps one white and the other Asian.
But for many U.S. Latinos, mixed-race identity takes on a different meaning – one that is tied to Latin America’s colonial history and commonly includes having a white and indigenous, or “mestizo,” background somewhere in their ancestry.
When asked if they identify as “mestizo,” “mulatto” or some other mixed-race combination, one-third of U.S. Hispanics say they do, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic adults.
The term mestizo means mixed in Spanish, and is generally used throughout Latin America to describe people of mixed ancestry with a white European and an indigenous background. Similarly, the term “mulatto” – mulato in Spanish – commonly refers to a mixed-race ancestry that includes white European and black African roots.
Across Latin America, these are the two terms most commonly used to describe people of mixed-race background. For example, mestizos represent a racial majority in Mexico, most of Central America and the Andean countries of South America.
Mulattos make up smaller shares of the populations in those countries – at most 4%, according to national censuses or other surveys. In Caribbean countries and Brazil, where populations with African ancestry are larger, mulattos make up a larger share of the population – 11% in the Dominican Republic and 47% in Brazil. (A 68% majority in the Dominican Republic identifies as “mestizo/indio.”)
Concepts of multiracial identity have been present in Latin America since colonial times. The Spanish caste system outlined all the different ways the native peoples in New Spain had mixed with Africans and Europeans – and the names and rights associated with each combination. In the early to mid-20th century, a number of countries in Latin America adopted the concept of “mestizaje,” or mixing and blending, and declared their populations mestizo in an effort to eliminate racial conflict and promote national identity.
According to the Pew Research survey of U.S. Hispanics, those who identify as mixed race, mestizo or mulatto are more likely to be U.S. born than those who do not (44% vs. 37%). They are also more likely than Latino adults who do not identify as mixed race to be non-Mexican (45% vs. 36%) and to have a higher educational attainment (45% have some college or more, versus 27%).
The use of these labels to describe mixed-race ancestry is an example of how racial identity among Hispanics often defies conventional classifications used in the U.S. For example, among Hispanic adults we surveyed who say they consider themselves mixed race, mestizo or mulatto, only 13% explicitly select two or more races or volunteer that they are “mixed race” when asked about their racial background in a standard race question (like those asked on U.S. census forms). Instead, about four-in-ten of Hispanic respondents identifying as mestizo/mulatto say their race is white, while one-in-five volunteered their race as Hispanic.
These findings reflect the challenges the U.S. Census Bureau faces when measuring Hispanic racial identity. When asked about their race in census forms, a significant number of Hispanics do not choose a standard census race category such as white, black or Asian. Instead, about four-in-ten select the “some other race” category. This is coupled with the fact that two-thirds of U.S. Hispanic adults consider being Hispanic as part of their racial background, not just an ethnicity.
Geneticists Just Discovered a Shocking Truth About Race in White People’s DNA
As it turns out, many white people may not be so “white” after all.
In fact, millions of Americans who consider themselves white actually have mixed-race roots. A study offers yet more evidence that race is no more than a social construct.
Our “hidden” African ancestries. Population genetics scientists from institutions including Harvard University analyzed DNA from thousands of Americans who described themselves as being part of a singular racial group. The results, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, revealed that almost 4% of participants who identify as white have “hidden” African ancestry.
“For a generation, historians have been writing books about how race is culturally constructed,” said Claudio Saunt, a University of Georgia historian, commenting on the study. “This article uses another tool, DNA analysis, to get at the same question.”
The study: Thousands of customers of 23andMe, a genotyping company, submitted saliva samples for DNA analysis and answered questionnaires about their racial and ethnic identifications. One questionnaire asked participants about geographic ancestral origins while another asked about racial affiliation. Only customers who said they identified with a single racial or ethnic group were included.
The study included 150,000 white participants and several thousand Latinos and African-Americans. They collectively hailed from 48 states. Researchers used participants’ DNA samples to render their genetic profiles and compared the results to their self-reported ancestries.
There’s a link between racial identity and geography. The frequency with which self-identified white participants had African ancestry varied significantly by region. And ancestry patterns appeared to mirror major population shifts tied to historical events in American history.
For example, researchers found white people with African ancestry at much higher rates in southern states. As much as 12% of self-described European Americans from South Carolina and Louisiana had African ancestry. And in other parts of the South, it was about 1 in 10. Researchers estimated that this interracial mixing, which geneticists call “admixture,” started about six generations ago (roughly 180 years) — before African-Americans migrated to the northern states.
Oklahoma, the study revealed, has the highest proportion of self-identified African-Americans with Native American genes. Oklahoma also happens to be where Native Americans and African-Americans first crossed paths, so to speak, when Native Americans walked the Trail of Tears in the 1830s after being forced out of the South.
How people describe themselves, it increasingly seems, has less to do with genetic makeup than the influence of social norms.
“Many Americans claim ancestry they don’t have or don’t claim ancestry that they do,” said Saunt. “In my own state of Georgia, for example, where I teach Native American history, numerous students tell me they have Cherokee ancestry, but in fact whites from Georgia have less indigenous ancestry than whites from just about any other state.”
The study is not without controversy: Personal genotyping companies like 23andMe have come under fire for cherry-picking the genes they analyze (millions out of billions) for participants’ DNA profiles. But, 23andMe codes for genes that are pretty well-established in tracing ancestry, according to a company representative.
And while there’s potentially bias in studying only 23andMe customers, both study authors and other experts in the field said it would be hard for a single research institution, or even a government agency, to perform a study of this magnitude and complexity.
“We needed many, many people,” said lead study author Kasia Bryc, “so it wasn’t possible just a short time ago. 23andMe was the first source that could offer this kind of data.”
Overall, and perhaps most importantly, the findings speak to the thorny relationship between biology and identity.
“Individuals who self-identify as white will respond in diverse ways to genetic testing showing that they have recent African ancestry,” said Saunt. “Some will embrace the findings, and others will deny them, even in the face of the evidence. The insistence on racial purity is part of a long American tradition. Even before DNA analysis, families repudiated relatives they knew were theirs. That tradition is waning, but it is, unfortunately, far from extinguished.”
Study: Majority of Americans think that President Obama is biracial
A new study shows that a majority of Americans think that President Obama should present him not as black, but as a biracial. This interesting finding has implications for the policy of racial identity in the United States.
American inhabitants are racially categorized. Traditional categorization into white and black citizens was implemented as a tool to maintain the social hierarchy. But after successes of the civil right movement, this division started to serve as a tool to allocate resources for disadvantaged groups. However, more and more individuals have mixed racial background.
“There is evidence of widespread discrimination against multiracial individuals by both whites and blacks,” the scientists say. Present census allows identifying oneself as a multiracial person. But what is the public opinion on such identification? This question was explored by Jack Citrin and his colleagues at the University of Berkeley.
Interestingly, their research design was inspired by one controversial decision of Barack Obama. “When President Obama classified himself on the 2010 Census as “black” rather than biracial the New York Times proclaimed: It’s Official: Barack Obama Is the Nation’s First Black President,” the sociologists say.
However, it is well-known that his racial background is mixed. Obama is a son of white woman and black man. Many critics argued that U.S. president missed a very good opportunity to support citizens having multiracial identity. His supporters replied that this choice mirrored expectations of most Americans who perceive biracial individuals as black.
Citrin and his associates tested this hypothesis empirically. “Respondents were randomly assigned to three conditions—a control, a treatment that described the president’s biracial ancestry, and a treatment that combined the biracial ancestry information with a statement that Obama had in fact classified himself as black only. All respondents were then asked how they felt Obama should have filled out his Census form,” the researchers explain.
Results were somewhat surprising. Most of the participants indicated that Obama had to identify him not as black, but rather as biracial. “Mixed-race politicians may come to perceive this public acceptance and more frequently embrace multiracial identities that could chip away at racial polarization,” the authors of the study published in Social Science Quarterly think.
Article: Citrin, J., Levy, M. and Houweling, R. P. V., 2014, Americans Fill Out President Obama’s Census Form: What is His Race?, Social Science Quarterly, 95: 1121–1136, source link.
Multiracial students discover identities in college
College offers multiracial students the chance to have open conversations about race, allowing them to embark on a quest that is crucial in developing their identities.
When Sam Ho receives a form where he must select his race, he has a decision to make: Will he choose “white,” or will he check “Asian”? The trick, he has found, is to alternate.
Raised by a Caucasian mother and a first-generation Chinese immigrant father, Ho, a junior at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, grew up in a multiracial household. Although he lived in predominately white Topeka, Kan., he was frequently exposed to his Chinese heritage. But because of his physical appearance, Ho finds himself identifying more strongly as a white man.
“My outward features aren’t particularly Asian, and living in a majority white society, that’s culturally just what has been around me for the most part,” Ho says. “I think most people assume I’m 100% Caucasian, so I think the treatment I get from others is with that assumption.”
It is those assumptions that form the early identities of biracial or multiracial students. But once those students are in college, they reach a point in their lives when they can have open conversations about race and are able to embark on a quest that is crucial in developing their identities.
“Your identity is not only impacted by how your racial group might perceive you, but how the dominant culture perceives you as a member of a different racial group,” says Belinda Biscoe, associate vice president for University Outreach at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and an coordinator of The National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE). “Regardless of how we may see ourselves, part of our identity is also inextricably woven with how others see us.”
For better or for worse, race still plays a prevalent role in our society, Biscoe says.
Take the “one drop” rule, for example, which suggests that if you have “one drop” of African-American blood, you must identify as black. So for multiracial students who grew up in two or more cultural worlds, they had to learn to define themselves in a society that was frequently asking “What are you?”
“A lot of the biracial students would hear, ‘I’m not black enough to be black, and I’m also not white enough to be white, so where does that leave me?'” says Willie L. Banks Jr., associate dean of students at Cleveland State University in Cleveland and author of the study “Biracial Student Voices: Experiences at Predominantly White Institutions.” “So that’s always the conundrum. That’s the question that’s always addressed to these students: Where do you fit in?”
In the study, Banks explores the different stages a biracial student experiences in his search for identity, culminating in his self-discovery once he reaches college. It is here, he has found, that students could find their voice
Additionally, with the emergence of ethnic studies programs, students are able to meet other multiracial people who can relate to their journey.
“The reality is, an awful lot of times within university campuses, students don’t have the opportunity to talk about race, just sit and talk with one another to hear each other,” says Jeanette Davidson, director of African and African American studies at the University of Oklahoma and another coordinator of NCORE. “I think that is one of the benefits of having programs like African and African-American studies, or ethnic studies or Native American studies — that students can actually be prepared for the real world by talking about important matters of race.”
But despite the programs and accepting social environments found at most schools, there are still ways that universities are disregarding multiracial students’ identities. Ho, for example, must choose which race to select when “multiracial” isn’t an option. By paying attention to these small details, universities can create a more accepting environment.
“Colleges and universities really have to pay attention to that,” Banks says. “That’s sending their message that they understand that it’s just not black and white, but there’s many shades of gray and brown and other colors in between.” Source: USA Today /Taylor Lewis
Annette John-Hall, Inquirer Columnist Friday, December 7, 2012, 3:01 AM
No surprise that Black in America, Soledad O’Brien’s documentary series on African American life and culture, was among CNN’s most-watched programs. No other show has offered a deeper look at what it means to be black, in all its complexities.
As provocative as the previous four broadcasts were, I dare say that nothing will cut to the core of black identity more than O’Brien’s fifth installment, Who is Black in America?, at 8 p.m. Sunday on CNN.
If you know Philadelphia, you’ve got to tune in. The documentary is flush with Philly folks. Students Nayo Jones and Rebecca Khalil of the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement explore racial identity, sometimes painfully, under the compassionate guidance of instructor Perry “Vision” DiVirgilio. Drexel professor Yaba Blay – whose (1)ne Drop project gave O’Brien the impetus for thedocumentary – shares her own story.
Along with O’Brien, all attended a packed screening this week at Drexel. Like any good documentary, Who Is Black in America? left me pondering fundamental questions: Just who is black in America? Is blackness predicated on skin color or a cultural state of mind? And who gets to decide?
One little drop
Through the years, skin color has been politicized and racialized. Just look at President Obama. Even though he identifies as a black man of mixed race, his identity is the topic of endless public debate. As if he’s going to change his answer.
After all, the “one-drop rule,” a law adopted by some Southern states in the early 20th century, designated a person black if s/he possessed even a trace of black heritage – in effect, only one drop of black blood. By that rule, our biracial president would have had no chance to enjoy the privileges conferred on pure-lineage whites.
Today, multichoice census forms allow us to check off what we truly are. Yet colorism continues to shackle us in a racialized society.
Fortunately for O’Brien, her parents made it easy for her. Growing up in a white community on Long Island, María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien, fair-skinned, freckle-faced, big-Afroed daughter of an Afro-Cuban mother and an Irish-Australian father, never had to grapple with the “What are you?” questions.
“My parents made it very clear: Do not let people tell you you’re not black and not Latino,” O’Brien, 46, told me. “They understood the hostility of the environment. … You needed to be steeled.”
The identity dilemma
Through photographs and personal stories of biracial subjects, Yaba Blay’s (1)ne Drop project distills questions of racial identity into beautifully human narratives.
Blay, a professor of Africana studies, concedes she started (1)ne Drop to answer questions of her own.
After all, she is a seal-brown daughter of Ghanaian immigrants – not only a dark-skinned African American, but also a dark-skinned African. Research told her that people like her are almost always at an economic and social disadvantage simply because of that darker complexion.
Her share of social rejection embittered Blay with the belief that “lighter-skinned people lived these glorious lives.” But with (1)ne Drop, Blay learned that multiracial people suffered a different brand of rejection.
“I’ve never had to defend my blackness,” she says. “I can’t imagine what it feels like to have people say my [identity] is not mine.”
Fascinating stuff. Who Is Black in America? triumphs because it eagerly dives into uncomfortable truths that all too often get ignored.
“The only way to move forward,” O’Brien says, “is to take these subjects out of the darkness and into the light.”