“kinds” of biracial

Fantastic commentary on something that I totally missed in the media.  I honestly don’t know who Drake is.  I’ll look him up in a sec…. Oh. I see.  Anyway, Whitney Teal makes such great points here (a fav being that one would never compare G.W. Bush to Eminem), and has me wanting to make a list of all the “kinds of biracial” that I can imagine.  And then I want to study the intricacies of the experiences that molded the various varieties of biracialness.  I love biracial.  It never gets old for me.  I suppose you can call me Captain Obvious for that statement.

Is One Mulatto the Same as the Next?


By Whitney Teal

Has the election of President Obama changed the way we think about biracial people in this country? I’d argue that it’s questionable. Especially when people are drawing comparisons between the prez — a half-white, half-Kenyan, Ivy League-educated lawyer — and Aubrey Graham, otherwise known as Drake, who is a half-Jewish and half-African-American entertainer from Canada. Yeah, I don’t see the similarities either.

Image of Thomas Chatterton Williams

thomas chatterton williams

But TheRoot.com contributor Thomas Chatterton Williams, who describes himself as the son of a black father and a white mother,” seems to think that the two mulattoes (his word, not mine) deserve a comparison. Yes, Williams thinks that it’s helpful to compare a Canadian rapper and the President (as he puts it, one of the “most visible mulattoes living and working today”). And he’s not alone, either. A few months back, a couple of my Twitter friends and I ripped Chester French band member David-Andrew ‘D.A.’ Wallach a new one for tweeting that he was discussing “all the similarities” between the two men. When I asked him to explain himself, he replied, “For one, I think they’re both extremely studied.” Womp, womp, cop-out. Lots of men are studied. President Obama and Drake are both, simply, biracial. And they’re not even the same “kind” biracial either, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference.

When I showed my sister the story on The Root, she screamed (via Google Messenger) and replied, “Obama and Drake in the same sentence? Do people mention [President] Bush and Eminem in the same sentence?” She’s right. White men are allowed to choose their own identities. Black men not so much, and biracial men certainly not. Which begs the question, why can’t we see that one biracial person is not the same as the next?

In general, polite company, we as general, polite people, recognize that a person’s experiences are not solely dictated by their race or ethnicity. For example, I don’t think people considering Lucy Liu, a famous actress, and Connie Chung, an award-winning journalist, would try and argue that the two have much in common, at least on the surface. The same with Denzel Washington and Reggie Bush, or Barbara Streisand and Heidi Fleiss. No comparisons. But people, general and polite as they are, still seem to view the experiences of biracial people in this country as singular in nature.

And often, as The Root essay explores, polarizing. “Mixed-race blacks […] are the physical incarnation of a racial dilemma that all blacks inevitably must confront: To sell out or keep it real? That is the question,” writes Williams, who spends the better part of 1,000 words waxing on about the definition of authentic blackness (or at least how he sees it). According to Williams, a mixed-race person must choose to be black, like the president and like Drake, who “both proudly define themselves as black.” A mixed-race person must then “act black,” which Williams sees as wearing loose clothes and playing basketball.

If blackness meant just one thing, and if mixed-race people were able to align themselves with just one part of their identity, then his essay might hold more weight. But black people don’t have just one identity, at least not to ourselves. Hollywood directors, novelists and journalists may see us as trash-talking, saggy pant-wearing basketball fanatics, but I don’t think that’s how we see ourselves. And by asserting that he can turn his black switch on and off, simply by altering the fit of his pants, Williams — though he may identify as black — shows how much he doesn’t understand the complexity of black culture.

Which is why I don’t believe that we should automatically label mixed-race people as black; they’re mixed-race. Being biracial may be similar to African-American culture, just as West African and West Indian cultures share similarities to black culture, but ultimately have their own dialects, dress, worship practices, food and courtship rituals. But biracial people etch out their own identities. Sure, they may be similar to that of African-Americans or other cultures. But it’s limiting to both black and biracial people when society automatically labels anyone with brown skin and textured hair black. Whether we’re talking about President Obama or anyone else, what it means to be biracial is an entirely individual question.

11 thoughts on ““kinds” of biracial

  1. Very well said. But it’s tough for individuals to continually assert themselves in the face of society shoving them into convenient boxes.
    As for the tendency for White people to link people of other race groups together. That may partly be a natural, if unsophisticated, tendency to ascribe similar qualities to people from a group with which you are unfamiliar. So, if you don’t know many mixed race people, your view will be shallow. Same for any other race group, or even any group – bikers, Irish people, whoever. You tend to highlight something distinctive you have encountered in one or two, and then project it onto all of them.
    Also – if the group in question is relatively small – or at least seems so – then people looking in from the outside give disproportionate weight to the qualities of the few people they encounter from that group. So an unjustified generalisation happens.
    I was reading about some examples of how Mzungus – foreigners – but really white foreigners – are viewed in Kenya recently. Similar sort of thing.
    Anyway… I don’t think what I’ve written above is the whole story. There can be unsavoury undercurrents present too.

  2. It seems like society expects us all to automatically have some sort of constant identity crisis. Sorry society, but not everybody can be a mindless drone guided by what are essentially ancient race lines. I am what I am, I’m not black, and I’m not white. I prefer to pave my own road and just bypass all the nonsense.

  3. You “mulattoes” are a confused bunch. I feel sorry for you. Despite the author’s brief journey into the realm of fantasy, there is no such thing as a biracial culture.

    Please allow me explain one of the main reasons many “mulattoes” feel so much anxiety over their identities. Blackness is a liability. Being “black” carries with it stigma and being associated with many negatives. “Mulattoes” would love to distance themselves from the negatives of blackness and understandably so. The easiest place for mulattoes to go to achieve that distance is to “embrace” and overemphasize their white heritage.

    Here’s the kicker and the reason for so much anxiety. No matter how hard the mulatto tries, white society overall does not embrace the mulatto back. White society as a whole will not say “look at the darked skinned white person.” They will say “look at the lighted skinned black person” or “look at the N-word.” White society will not see you as white, or even a subcategory of white. You will be seen as black with some so called caucasian ancestry, even if you are primarily of Euro stock.

  4. Sorry to disappoint you Dave, but there is a biracial culture, and it’s growing every day. We don’t consider ourselves white, and we don’t consider ourselves black either, we know exactly who we are, at least most of us do. When you’re a kid at school you don’t even give it that much thought, but by the time you grow up people (like you) always remind us of our colour. It’s just a colour, it does not define any of us. We are who we are, maybe a bit special ( as I sometimes consider myself) but certainly not afraid to say that we are black because of all the nonesense you said above, we don’t say we are blcak because we simply aren’t. And I’ll have more people than you would backing me up on this one.

  5. That was a good article. I agree; I wish people would realize that mixed race people are not one or the other, nor should they have to choose, nor should they feel like it’s possible to. I would say biracial people have more in common with each other than with one or the other of the racial groups they come from, but even that’s not black and white (no pun intended). And there are certainly as many kinds of biracial people as there are black people, white people, etc. I don’t know why any of this is new, though. Minorities are always lumped into one group. If an illegal immigrant from Mexico shoots someone, it’s because all Mexicans, all immigrants, and all “illegals’ are bad. If a white Christian man bombs a church, he’s just a bad egg. I see the two as similar.

  6. Dave…please, get over yourself!

    What is your “race”? Who are you to tell others how they should identify?

  7. girl20twenty, everyone is special. I agree with Dave. You don’t want to be black because it is associated with negatives. So called mixed people want to be on the winning(white) side.

  8. Pingback: “The Most Visible Mulattoes”: Drake and Obama Match Hip-Hop and Politics | I MiX What I Like!

  9. @Christina Hare…I know I’m a few years late in replying to your comment, but you sound ignorant.
    Most mixed people don’t want to be (as you so foolishly put it) on the “winning (white) side”. We don’t want to be on ANY side. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are as human beings, without having to choose sides based on race.

    And here is some more information for you…not all Black people are kind or accepting of mixed people.
    Maybe this is why some mixed folks distance themselves, not because we don’t want to be black, but because of people who resent us for looking a certain way and having non-black heritage.
    It is all too easy to be mad at mixed people without trying to understand us. You and Dave need to walk in somebody else’s shoes before you judge.

    *drops mic, walks away*

  10. Oh, and BTW…when you see a mixed person who identifies more with being white, there could be reasons for that.

    A) they do, in fact, look white

    B) maybe they haven’t been accepted or treated well by most Black folk they have encountered

    C) there is something called white supremacy that affects everyone. There are fully Black people who associate blackness with negativity (because of internalized racism) so please don’t talk as if it is something that only mixed people are guilty of.

    I’ve met very dark-skinned Black people who are quick to claim this and that in their family tree, but somehow it’s a problem when a person who actually IS mixed shares their experiences. Why is that?

  11. Pingback: "The Most Visible Mulattoes": Drake and Obama Match Hip-Hop and Politics - iMiXWHATiLiKE!

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