The Problem With Only Claiming Biracial People As Black When They Excel
Just last week, Veronica Wells posted a great piece about the controversy brewed by Crissle, one-half of the duo behind the podcast The Read, who was of the opinion that the children of White women and Black men “will never be black. mixed at best.” That turned out to be quite the popular opinion–to our disappointment.
You already know that we disagreed strongly with that thought process, as at the base of everything, telling someone who does have a Black parent how they can and can’t identify themselves is never a good idea. Divisive “at best.” I went back and forth with a few people about it on social media but planned to scrub my brain of such an uncomfortable conversation.
But then, as Jesse Williams shared his Humanitarian Award speech during Sunday’s BET Awards and pretty much tore the house down in less than five minutes, I was struck by the fact that at the very beginning, he pointed out his parents in the audience: a White mother, a Black father. His full speech about racial justice would leave the crowd at the BET Awards on their feet, and Black people all over the Internet incredibly roused and inspired. But after some of the comments I read about biracial children last week, I could only laugh: “Oh. Now he’s Black, huh?”
When I talked about it with one of my co-workers today, she dropped a word: “You know we love to claim them for their excellence.” All I could say was, “Ain’t that the truth?”
People can have whatever opinions they please, but one can’t help but to wonder about consistency. If you believe biracial children who identify as Black are just mixed, do you always identify President Obama as such? Halle Berry? Alicia Keys? Jasmine Guy? Sade? Faith Evans? Drake? Lenny Kravitz? Amandla Stenberg? Writer James McBride? Bob Marley? NAACP head Benjamin Jealous? Frederick Douglass? Booker T. Washington and a whole host of others? Now, how would you identify them to their face?
And what if your sibling had a child with a White man or woman? Would you look your niece or nephew in the eye when they say they’re Black and tell them, “No, actually, you’re not”?
I ask because the problem is, a lot of people pick and choose, but would embrace many of the people mentioned for their talents, for their accomplishments, and as my enlightened colleague pointed out, “for their excellence.” That’s not only incredibly confusing, but admittedly hurtful to those who are mixed race. Why we go out of our way to try and be authoritative, the gatekeepers of Blackness, when many of us don’t even know where we come from and can barely stand when people try and remind us on-screen and off, I’ll never understand.
Now, if these same well-known individuals just said “I am mixed race, and that’s how identify,” that would be one thing. But all of have identified as Black. And I’m sure they’ve been looked at, and more importantly, treated as Black by the rest of the world. And it’s that struggle of what comes with being treated in a certain way because of brown skin that we can all relate to, whether both of our parents are Black or just one.
And what many people may have missed in Williams’s speech, going back to his shout-out to his parents, was him thanking them for “teaching me to focus on comprehension over career. They made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us.”
Williams is as “woke” as people say he is because of the influence of both of his parents. Again, his White mother and his Black father. And the same goes for a lot of the aforementioned individuals. Those people, whom we value, whose accomplishments we applaud, and whom we identify as Black when we see fit, wouldn’t be who and where they are without the influence of their White and Black parent (or lack thereof). So if we’re going to celebrate Williams for his speech about the treatment of Black men and women in this country, I just hope those same people who pick and choose who they want to be Black and when they want them to be remember that he is a biracial man, whom through his experiences and educating himself, chose to identify as Black. If you embrace him, then I don’t want to hear too much more bootenchatter about “They’re just mixed, not Black.”
For the love of all things good in the world, the last thing we need to do is find more ways to divide ourselves. We do it enough already in the ways we tell one another that we’re not Black enough, and that we need to stop “trying” to be “African” when we choose to embrace certain styles of fashion, whether it be a dashiki, Kente cloth or Ankara print. Let’s not try to perpetuate such hatred of telling biracial men and women that they’re not one of us all because we’ve had our own identities questioned over and over. At the end of the day, how does that help anyone or anything? At a time when we need to do better about coming together, doing anything less is a waste of it.