Check My New Column! ‘Hold Up…Who Called the Mixed-Identity Police?’

Fam: I am SUPER-honored to debut my new column in the fabulous Multiracial Media blog run by Sarah Sarita Ratliff and Alex Barnett. Enjoy and be sure to let me know what you think!

Hold Up! Who Called The Mixed-Identity Police?

POTUS and his Mother. Do the Identity Police claim his as our first Black President...or nah?                                      Mama love for the first Black AND Biracial POTUS

Why are so many non-Mixed people obsessed with policing our identities?

Between media personality Crissle, actor Zoe Saldana, TV/film mogul Lee Daniels and zillions of other celebs and civilians, random folks invest mucho energy into trying to tell us who we are, how we’re supposed to self-identity and “choose,” and which tribes we are and aren’t “qualified” to join. (They especially love to do this to us Mixis who are any kind of Black-and).

Exhibit one: This week, Crissle, a Black woman who co-hosts the popular podcast “The Read,” and has appeared on MTV2’s “Uncommon Sense,” “MTV News” “Decoded” and Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” trended by climaxing her Twitter rant against Black men who swirl and don’t reciprocate Black women’s support with a pitiful stab at policing Biracial babies  Read More


Prince’s Gift to Multi-Racial People

I was honored when the new blog Multiracial Media invited me to pay tribute to Prince:

Prince coy side eye

            “Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”                                                                         –Prince Rogers Nelson

Let me get personal for a minute. My (Black) father and (Jewish) mother grew up in North Minneapolis, Prince’s home turf. My father was a jazz musician. He was physically abusive to his last (and longest-running) wife, but thankfully not to my mother. Before 1984, I liked Prince’s pre-1984 hits, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Little Red Corvette,” and I found his cute androgyny mildly interesting, but I was in no way a hard-core fan.

Then I saw “Purple Rain.” I had no idea what to expect. But that movie and the music spoke to me in a way that nothing ever had in my 29 years of life. I saw a representation of my own family onscreen, complete with “inside” local references (that was clearly NOT Lake Minnetonka, LOL) and an energy that had not been portrayed anywhere in all of USA art, culture or history. Ever.“Purple Rain” zapped me to my core and lodged itself inside of my consciousness in ways I hadn’t expected. Read more

Stop the ‘Cute Mixed Kids’ Madness

 stop fetishizing mixed children

For my 6 decades of life, I have been subjected to the “Biracial Beauty” propaganda pretty much nonstop. And I am here to publicly testify that it has continued without pause from the 1950s until today. Unless we do something to stop it, its going to continue to disable and damage any true progress in the movement for equality.

It’s such a popular, knee-jerk trope that if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “Mixed kids are so cute/pretty/beautiful,” I would be in the economic 1%. Even as a tot, I suspected that there was something wrong about that message.

Even in pre-school, this foolishness made me weary.

Even in pre-school, this foolishness made me weary.

See, I grew up in a community with many Mixed kids. Some of us (like my brother) were very-good looking. Most of us were average. A couple of us weren’t all that physically attractive. JUST like other group of people, right?

Except we were all subjected to the “Mixed kids are cuter” propaganda that threatened to skew our sense of reality and feed the widespread delusion that our non-Black Ancestry bestowed a superior level of attractiveness that basically became our brand, whether we wanted it or not.

As I grew older, countless people—White and Black alike—shared with me that they “want to have Mixed babies because they’re so pretty.” I think they were surprised and disappointed when I didn’t encourage the pursuit of that goal

Wait What

I would roll my eyes, shake my head and sometimes hope that those particular people would not procreate interracially because they did not seem to possess the appropriate mindset and attitude to rear a Mixed kid with a strong, healthy sense of identity.

franchesca pic

Check out cultural commentator Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey, a Black woman married to a White man, who has a decent level of clarity on the topic. She challenges the popular notion of Biracial Beauty in its proper context. Click on her name above to watch the video.

Let Us Be Clear: I love being Mixed. I love being Black. I love being #BLEWISH. I love being me. None of which has a damn thing to do with anyone reflexively deeming me attractive because of those things. I’m a’ight looking. As in AVERAGE and completely good with it.

And you wonder why I had attitude at such an early age?

And you wonder why I had attitude at such an early age?

I don’t need to feel better than ANYONE to be happy with myself and my complex complexion and identity. I don’t need to be or think that I represent some form of superior physical species to have a healthy and realistic sense of self.
It is never flattering.
It is never comfortable.
It is never positive.
And it is never welcomed or appreciated. Ever.

i am perfect

What NOT to do. How about we let the child be as gloriously imperfect as every other living being? Nobody needs this kind of pressure!

Because this fetishizing is simply another way of denying our humanity.
The way the humanity of ALL people of color is routinely denied.
It is a way of fishing for something “positive” to say about us to cover up the fact that our very existence makes folks so very uncomfortable.
Because they can’t see us without thinking about what it took to create us.
And that’s just too hard to contemplate, so they try to cover it up with the whole “Mixed = beautiful” propaganda.

Stop Disabling Mixed Kids
Here’s the thing: When anyone–especially the parents/grandparents, family members and other influential adults heap that notion onto Biracial children, they are actually creating a psychological disability in that child–even if their intentions are innocent and well-meaning. AND even if the child is legitimately gorgeous.

Because if the main or only message a Biracial child receives from adults about their identity is linked to their over-hyped physical desirability, the child is at risk of buying into this madness and having it dominate their budding sense of self.

And then–because this propaganda is also spread widely in Black spaces as “Mixed people think they’re so cute,” and variations on that mutually-destructive theme–the child unknowingly steps into an existing hostility that they neither created nor fully understand. But they will feel the full brunt of the obsession.


Hello, Colorism!

I suspect this also makes many Mixed-race people feel confused and like they have to struggle with defining and interpreting their own identities, because the foundation they are given to work with is so very shaky and problematic.

Guess what? When we’re set up as somebody’s oppressive standard of “beauty,” lightness is prioritized over darkness, thin or “keen” features over rounder ones, and hair with the least amount of visible kink is famously referred to as “good.”

And that’s nothing but good old-fashioned racism.

And this is the result.

And this is the result.

Some of us fall for this popular propaganda because, frankly, this world doesn’t often give us much to work with. If nobody in your environment is saying anything else positive about you, then you’re at risk of internalizing the few crumbs they do throw your way, and mistaking those crumbs for substance and sustenance.

Few of us understand the game and how insidious it is, and the need that some folks have to pit us against that part of ourselves that moves us away from “the light.”

everyone loves mixed babiesMaybe the “Biracial Beauty” proponents are hoping that we’ll be so enamored of our alleged physical superiority that we’ll forget about all of the mind-bending nuances, complexities and traumas of racism. Or that we’ll somehow believe it doesn’t impact us, at least not as deeply.

But deep down, most of us know better.
We know that we are NOT cuter/prettier/handsomer or more beautiful.
We have no desire to be defined by our looks.
We are well aware that being Mixed does not make us special.

We get that this whole thing is based on the notion that White(r) is better and Black(er) is worse.

So please stop acting/thinking/believing and saying that we’re:
Beautiful. Gorgeous. Cute. Repping some “special” form of beauty.
The answer/antidote to or cure for racism.

end racism have mixed babies“Mixed kids are so pretty” is NOT a compliment. It’s unhealthy and divisive and an impediment to the evolution of the human species. It also sets up People of Color to continue perpetuating a no-win dynamic.

If you THOUGHT you were performing this act of kindness on my/our behalf, I am not just requesting, but IMPLORING you to cease and desist immediately.
Let us be regular.
Let us be average.
Hell, let us be ugly.
Stop making us out to be “more” or “less” ANYTHING.
We’re only human.
Let’s work together to get to the point where we’re seeing and acknowledging each other’s fully-blown, multi-faceted, gloriously flawed humanity.
Stop consigning us to a pedestal that is of no assistance.
We need mirrors that reflect everyone’s truth.
From the soul to the bone to the flesh that covers us all.

On Creoles, Colorism and Confronting our Triggers

Beyonce Formation

By now everyone with media access knows of (and likely has an opinion about) Beyoncé’s new “Formation” video and Super Bowl halftime performance. She dropped the video on an otherwise slow news Saturday, February 6, and on the very next day, she symbolically won the Super Bowl by eclipsing headline halftime performers Coldplay and adjunct Bruno Mars, generating more headlines and conversation than the actual game.

The first wave of responses was a fairly unanimous rave by Black women for the I Love My Black Self, Family and Culture symbolism that season “Formation.” The second, post-Super Bowl, was dissecting Bey & Company’s performance nods to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, which shares a 50th anniversary year with the Super Bowl and took root in the Bay Area, near the Super Bowl’s stadium in Santa Clara, California on the day when Trayvon Martin would have turned 21 and the weekend when Sandra Bland would have turned 29 had they not been victims of brutally racist murders.

Beyonce Halftime

When Bey and her gorgeously long-limbed, Afro’d backup dancers with their leather hot pants and fishnets rocked Panther-esque berets, included an X formation in their choreography, and thrust their fists into the air to honor Huey and ‘nem, it sparked praise from a rainbow of fans. It also provoked hostile backlash from the White right wingers, who are so peeved they’re actually planning an anti-Beyoncé protest next Tuesday, February 16, at 8 a.m. in front of the NFL headquarters (345 Park Avenue) in New York City. A Black Bey-hive counter protest is planned as well.

Beyond all the pro-vs.-anti Bey brouhaha, what got my attention was when Dr. Yaba Blay, a well-known expert on Black racial identity and colorism, shared her own responses to “Formation,” in Colorlines, and outed a truth with which many of us wrestle: how to balance our awareness of blatant Black-on-Black colorism when it’s embodied in otherwise enjoyable African American and (at least somewhat) affirming popular culture.

While we all know intellectually that colorism is global and in no way specific to African Americans, it doesn’t lessen the pain felt by those on the receiving end. My own admitted obsession with colorism moves me to call it out and confront it more often than is popular. I feel a strong kinship with Dr. Yaba, a respected leader in this realm, and others who believe the only way we can move past this internalized oppression and dimension of racism is to confront, wrestle with and move through it.

Some of Dr. Yaba’s initial posts about “Formation” were quite celebratory and in-crowd, since she grew up in NOLA. While the colorism in the song/video hit me upon first exposure, I held back on mentioning it because, frankly, I sometimes get weary of always feeling like the party pooper. Plus, I figured that if folks who don’t look like me seem good with Beyoncé’s nonstop flipping and flinging of the long blonde weave, the jarring visual of a smirking, stylish Blue Ivy flanked by two darker-skinned girls with stern expressions and unfashionable attire, and references to mama Tina’s Creole background, I should have a seat and STFU. And nobody else in my feed was bringing it up.

So, bolstered by Dr. Yaba and other politically, culturally and spiritually super-conscious and forward-thinking sistas, I back-burnered my reservations and joined in the revelry, exchanging fiber-optic high-fives over Bey’s celebration of Black noses, hair and Southern-fried genealogy. We were having a fine old time, especially in the post-game analysis of Black Panther, Malcolm X and other activist references. And then Dr. Yaba did what true progressives do—she wrote the Colorlines piece examining her own responses to this multi-layered explosion of messages and symbolism that had the world agog:

Blue Ivy

“While Bey let all the folks who’ve been talking crazy about Blue Ivy’s hair have it with, ‘I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros,’ I can’t help but wonder why the two little girls in the video playing with Blue are significantly darker than her and dressed like old women afraid of the sun while Blue shines, hand on hip, in a sundress.

“I cheer Bey on as she sings, ‘I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.’ But I cringe when I hear her chant, ‘You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma’ about her Alabama-born dad and her mom from Louisiana. This is the same reason I cringed at the L’Oreal ad that identified Beyonce  as African-American, Native American and French and why I don’t appreciate her largely unknown song ‘Creole.’

Yaba pic

Dr. Yaba Blay

“Having grown up black-Black (read: dark-skinned) in colorstruck New Awlins, hearing someone, particularly a woman, make a distinction between Creole and ‘Negro’ is deeply triggering. This isn’t just for me but for many New Orleanians. For generations, Creoles—people descended from a cultural/racial mixture of African, French, Spanish and/or Native American people—have distinguished themselves racially from ‘regular Negroes.’

“In New Orleans, phenotype—namely ‘pretty color and good hair’—translates to (relative) power. In this context, people who are light skinned, with non-kinky hair and the ability to claim a Creole heritage have had access to educational, occupational, social and political opportunities that darker skinned, kinkier-haired, non-Creole folks have been denied. In many ways, among those of us who are not Creole and whose skin is dark brown, the claiming of a Creole identity is read as rejection. And I’m not just talking about history books or critical race theory. I’m talking about on-the-ground, real-life experiences.”

Dr. Yaba wrote from a place that was both deeply personal and political, raising the question of what drives an artist’s aesthetic choices and how we process those choices through the lens of our triggers as well as the historical, political and social realities that cause those triggers to exist. One issue that her Colorlines piece raised for me is how we interpret and respond to the implicit and explicit colorism throughout Black American pop culture and entertainment. I’ve always considered Bey to be colorist—from early Destiny’s Child days when she was clearly positioned as the dominant golden goddess flanked by her brown-skinned court, to the afore-mentioned mane-tossing—yet no more so than most mainstream entertainers and their products. That doesn’t make her exceptional; it simply makes her part of the rule.

Think of all the times you’ve struggled with wanting to simply enjoy and celebrate something “Blackety-Black,” but couldn’t help cringing at the colorism. Insert your own list of never-ending examples, from movies to television series to music videos, advertisements, etc. 

I remember going crazy in 1974 when Stevie Wonder’s iconic song, “Living for the City” was released on his awesome “Innervisions” album. The song went on to win a Grammy for best R&B song (well-deserved). I loved it and jammed to it but was deeply bothered by the colorism I heard in the lyric, “My sister’s Black, but she is sho’nuff pretty…”

innervisionsIt was the “but” that got me. Here I was, in my early 20s, trying to figure out how to get Stevie to change that “but” to “and.” I fussed and fumed about it to my family and friends, all of whom looked at me like I needed to be institutionalized for losing my natural mind. Nobody said it aloud, but I distinctly felt their weary disapproval at my need to point out colorism at every opportunity. I wasn’t yet ready to have that proverbial seat and STFU, but the seeds for those later behaviors were certainly planted then.

lupita most beautiful

From music to TV to movies, colorism is so normative that its absence generates more headlines than its presence. Let’s face it, Lupita Nyong’o’s rapid ascent to fashion favorite and style icon was not based solely upon her breathtaking performance as Patsey in the movie “12 Years a Slave.” And while she is unquestionably gorgeous, her type of look is in no way unique. Lupita fever swept the nation because her fame and deep-Black beauty, grace and elegance leapt over the aesthetics of White Supremacy, causing the fashion and beauty worlds to bow to her visual glory. It made news because she basically looks the opposite of what mainstream pop culture defines as beautiful and desirable. Her brand of physicality is politically charged, though few will acknowledge that publicly. It is her status as the exception that drives the mainstream adoration. Yet nobody is lulled into thinking that her popularity in any way signals a change in the status quo.

Colorism is as embedded in global notions of value and desirability as it is in the Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome dancing through our DNA. And that shows up in most of our arts and entertainment. The sheer dominance of colorism makes it feel normative, which is why I believe more folks don’t complain about or challenge it. To confront something so ubiquitous can be exhausting. Just like fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., being awake to and aware of colorism 24/7 feels like a Sisyphean struggle. It’s so pervasive and all-encompassing that fighting it can feel like a mere drop in the ocean of injustice.

And yet it’s not going to go away on its own…

About that Creole thing…

The other issue that Beyonce’s recent work—and Dr. Yaba’s response—bring to the forefront for me is the question of whether spotlighting those parts of our identity not considered to be “Regular Black” are indicative of buying into and practicing the principles of White Supremacy, or a simple acknowledgement of the many aspects of our complex backgrounds.

For instance, I recently confronted a (former) FB friend when she fussed about a young rapper calling herself “Miss Mulatto,” and the commenters on her thread automatically attached the term “Tragic” along with their presumptions, assumptions and disapproval. Believe me, I am WELL aware of all of the issues around the word Mulatto (deets in the memoir), and how many Black people find it triggering. Hell, some Biracial people find it triggering. I asked the former FB friend why she and her commenters were so upset about the term “Miss Mulatto,” hoping to spark a mutually beneficial and honest dialogue. Rather than respond to my query, she chastised me for my “tone” and blocked me. And that isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this kind of response from Black women on social media.

swirl girl artThat got me thinking about Black intolerance of Mixed-race people self-identifying and self-affirming, even with the use of triggering terminology. Does a young woman claiming “Mulatto” mean that she thinks she’s better than Black folks who don’t have a non-Black parent? Or does it mean that she is simply claiming her entire heritage in a healthy way, albeit with a loaded term?

THIS is the discussion I want us to have, once we’re tired of dissecting “Formation” and King Bey’s various images and messages. I understand Dr. Yaba’s triggered response to “Creole” (the key migratory pattern of Blacks in Louisiana was to my hometown of Seattle, so I grew up familiar with their blatantly colorist dynamics). Yet I wonder whether Bey’s L’Oreal ad, which lays out various models’ Ancestral mixes, and the reference to Bey’s mother’s Creole identity, was intended to promote colorism and send triggering messages, or whether they’re a simple Ancestral shout-out with no other agenda.

beyonce loreal ad

Beyoncé’s L’Oréal ad

Can we ever publicly acknowledge out our “Black and…” lineage without it being interpreted as anti-Black? For instance, if I say I’m Mulatto and a Black person chooses to interpret that as my saying I’m superior to them when that was in no way what I was thinking, feeling or trying to express, how do we address that? What do we do when Black people use Mulatto or Biracial or any variation thereof as a pejorative reference and we’re triggered?

If Dr. Yaba or her equivalent could sit down with Bey and ask exactly what she intended to convey with the colorist imagery and Creole references, how might the superstar respond? If she denies any conscious awareness or intent of the offense, does that lessen the sting? Does that make it less offensive? More acceptable?

How do we measure intention versus impact?

Tina Creole

Beyonce’s mother, Celestine, known as Tina, IS Creole. Is it the acknowledgement of this fact that’s problematic, or the fact that the history and racial dynamics are so loaded in the collective Black psyche that we need to avoid mentioning it because of the potential for triggering very real responses based on societal attitudes?

And if the offender genuinely does not mean to trigger or offend, is it any different than public acts of racism…where the offenders rush to claim that they did not INTEND to be racist, yet refuse to acknowledge the damage they inflicted regardless of their stated intention? Does the absence of intention give us a pass, or is the offense unacceptable no matter what?

I am racially mixed, high yella, Mulatto, #BLEWISH, etc. and each term with which I can describe myself is problematic to somebody, often many somebodies. In choosing how to describe myself, how responsible am I for being aware of everybody’s triggers? Especially since nobody has EVER in my lived experience made any effort to be aware of or keep themselves from using terms that are triggering for me. When I point that out, people of all races insist that their right to expression trumps my feelings, and often respond in hostile ways. They also insist that their beliefs are inherently more valid than my experiences. Ironically, much like White people do when confronted about racism, or patriarchal men when confronted about sexism…

For me, what is problematic about ALL of this is the presumption of superiority, which is always triggering for the person being deemed inferior. While Creole, Mulatto, et al, might not be used to convey superiority, their history makes it difficult to detach that baggage at the gate.

Equally problematic is the presumption of the presumption of superiority which is what we experience when someone presumes that their definition of my use of Mulatto, for instance, means that I am saying I’m better than them versus asking me whether or not that is the case. They privilege their definition over mine, override my intention with their assumption, and choose to focus on mutual resentment.

If we always fall back on our assumptions and never make the time and take the trouble to sit down together and create an actual dialogue to better understand each other and change how we respond, we’ll be in this cycle of hurt and harm forever. Meanwhile, the racists chortle at having us on self-destruction cruise control while they keep winning.

Now what?

My People, for anyone who truly cares about evolution, it is time to move beyond bludgeoning each other with our intertwined pain and take a serious look at how to start healing.

Thanks to racism and its countless manifestations, we are ALL deeply wounded human minefields of triggers. If you tell me about yours and I respect you and care about your opinion, I will probably make an effort to avoid those things that are triggers for you. There are other times when I deliberately aim to trigger as many folks as possible—hence #BLEWISH—to further my own agenda, with absolutely no apologies, justifications, or tolerance of being policed. After all, much of America is triggered and even traumatized by the fact of my very existence and in-your-face refusal to bow to anyone’s labeling or definitions.

As a living human trigger to not just Black people, but people of many other races, I don’t have the luxury of not thinking about these things all the time. And THIS is the conversation we need to have—honestly and authentically—with full knowledge that it won’t be easy or comfortable to wade through these thorny yet essential issues. Everybody is guaranteed to be triggered in the process. Everyone’s wounds will be exposed.

We can’t change what we won’t confront—in ourselves or in each other. When we set each other off, one person’s triggers often activate another’s, until we’re locked in a cycle of responding from our wounds and pain. We’ve been doing that for centuries, with no end in sight.

But I’m tired of this loop. I want more. We all deserve better.

varnette anti colorist sistas

Where do we go from here? Can we agree to work together to figure out how to neutralize or deactivate our mutual triggers and break this endless cycle of trauma drama that we neither created nor truly benefit from?  Can we find a way to be more aware of each other’s tripwires and sensitive to the need to reprogram the internalized racism with which we are all infected? Can we express our triggered pain without activating more? Or do we accept that we’re going to activate each other and endeavor to move past that to a more productive space?

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I am committed to examining the questions in a search for solutions. I respect Dr. Yaba for publicly wrestling with, as she said, her own contradictions. I am ready to wrestle with mine. And yours. And–most importantly–OURS.

But this is not an individual exercise. Acknowledgement without action never moved anyone forward. Healing and progress can only come from collective action. This is much more than a song-and-dance or pop culture phenom. This is our lives, our souls, our sanity and our survival. And so I lovingly invite–and challenge–you to get in whatever sort of Formation works for you to begin the process now.

Stop Promoting Racism with Your Tragic Mulatto


miss mulatto

So I’m scrolling through Facebook minding my own Biracial Black and Blewish bizness when a Black woman posts subtle snark about a contestant on Jermaine Dupri’s new rap competition show who calls herself Miss Mulatto.

The commenters weighed in with presumptuous slings of #TragicMulatto, along with virtual side-eyes, teeth-sucking and freely expressed contempt at the young rapper’s choice of label. Which made me realize that it’s time to speak up and out against Black people identity policing us. Not because it’s offensive or hurts our feelings, but because when Black people perpetuate the #Tragic Mulatto stereotype and disdain our claims to self-identify, even with the locked-and-loaded, perpetually controversial M-word, they are inadvertently feeding White Supremacy.

Dear Black People:

I am reaching out with love and respect to request that you STOP identity policing us Black/White Biracial people. We are all well aware of the history of folks like us in this country, and throughout the Diaspora of Africans who were enslaved by White people. We know that most Black women were routinely raped by White oppressors, and that many Biracial/Mixed/Mulatto children were born from that horrific trauma. We know this created the hierarchy of light-skinned privilege—as in, often we were assigned to work in the Big House rather than the field—that still exists today. We are fully aware of colorism and how it appears to operate in our favor when in reality it works against us—the Biracial us, the Black us, the global us. Those deeply-rooted, underlying tensions are part of what keeps us from unifying and truly joining forces, working together for the greater good.

So this is a plea to just stop!

What I’ve experienced for the six-plus decades that I’ve been speaking up from my POV is that people in general and Black people in particular (because, truthfully, unless and until the topic bumps up on them in a personal way, few White people pay us much attention or care about how we self-identify), are accustomed to and therefore comfortable with being in charge of our identities.

And the problem with this is?

one drop rule

On the one hand, Black people like to cite the slavery-based “rule” that anybody with a single drop of Black blood is Black to demand our allegiance. On the other hand, a great many Black/White Biracial people are insulted, chastised, challenged and often rejected by Black people in their youth as “not really Black,” or “not Black enough.” When these mixed messages (pun intended) cause us to experience some very real cultural dissonance and/or ambivalence, we are quickly labeled “confused” about our identities. Of course, we’re not the ones who are confused—but you can read all about that in my upcoming memoir.

We’ve never been in charge of the language that is used to identify us in the USA. I grew up with the term Mixed which I still prefer because it is inclusive of any and all Mixed folks, and unlike Biracial, it doesn’t sound like a failed science experiment. I use the term Biracial because it’s popular in the lexicon, but I hate it, mainly because nobody asked ME what I wanted to be called or gave me a list of potential labels from which to choose. Which brings us to the uzi of Mixed-race labels: Mulatto.

I discovered the term Mulatto in my youth, back when research took place in libraries. I loved the musicality of the word, and the feel of it rolling off my tongue. And the first thing I read was that it is said to be a derogatory Spanish term comparing us to little mules, or asses. M’kay. Nothing surprising about that, considering the overall context of enslavement throughout the Diaspora, and the racism that fueled it. I wasn’t insulted; my feelings weren’t hurt. After all, White people the world over believed themselves superior to me and other folks of color. I tucked the word away like a delicious secret, loving its complex, painful backstory as much as its pretty sound.

The history of Mulatto, the caste system it represents (still in full force whether or not we want to admit it), and the rapes that created it make it easy to understand why so many Black people reflexively disdain and push back against the word. It’s painful, it’s ugly and to many, it’s divisive, at least when WE use it to refer to ourselves or others like us.

Interestingly, Black people are okay with using the term when talking about or at us, most always in a denigrating manner. So when a Mixed-race person has the audacity to claim the term and flaunt the specifics of their conception, all kinds of triggers are activated.

not tragic mulatto tee shirt

And the first thing that far too many Black people like to spit at us is the accusation that we are Tragic. I’ve been fighting that stereotype for decades. As a young child, I sent a reprimanding letter and poetic clapback to my literary hero Langston Hughes upon discovering that he was promoting the Tragic Mulatto stereotype. So I have had decades of experience in this realm.  (You can read all about it in my upcoming memoir, SWIRL GIRL: Confessions of a Racial Outlaw).

It seems that the concept of the Tragic Mulatto was created by White novelists and filmmakers in the early 1900s, promoting the idea that we are inherently tragic because we  are only half and not fully White, and defined by the fact that dwe hate and are repulsed by Black people and culture.

The Tragic Mulatto caught on with both Black and White folks, and was further popularized in White author Fannie Hurst’s novel, Imitation of Life, and the two hit movies of the same title—even though the allegedly Mulatto character was told by her Black mama that she was NOT Mixed—her daddy was “just real light-skinned.” But details be damned–the much-beloved stereotype was in full effect.

The problem is that obviously these White folk created and were promoting a super-racist stereotype that has, until the last couple years, been the SOLE interpretation of Black/White people—especially women—in American history, literature, culture or art.

But the mold was set, with White and Black Americans alike swallowing the propaganda of our deep misery hook, line and sinker. This allowed both groups to make prejudicial assumptions about any person born of a Black/White union, while distancing us as inherently problematic, and looking down upon us as naturally inferior. And many Biracial people, not having any other representation or point of reference, end up embracing it for themselves. Racism and White Supremacy shoot and score!

You see, the real tragedy deep down in the hearts and minds of both White and Black  Americans, is that in the present context and discounting instances of rape, our parents CHOSE to come together, were mutually attracted to each other and decided to have sex, knowing they ran the risk of procreating.


cheerios family

Cheerios knew that showing a Black/White interracial family would push buttons and create controversy.

Despite many Americans’ claims that they are all kumbaya with Black/White interracial couplings, there is still a lot of resentment and discomfort around the actual fact of it. This is proven when a child comes into the picture, and people immediately start projecting their prejudicial notions, fears and fantasies upon us. Then they want to claim that WE are confused, rejected and Tragic. Mind you, this is a conversation they have only with themselves and others like them. Rarely do they ask us to share our stories, our truths, our realities, or respect our right to self-identify, since it collides with their preconceived notions and rules about what we are supposed to do.

So the FB friend and her friends’ sophisticated, educated snark about a 17-year-old Biracial rapper forcing folks to deal with the realities of her conception and identity by calling herself Miss Mulatto (which seems to me a pretty tame moniker in the overall rap/hip hop genre) reveals a few things:

  1. Most Black people believe they are in charge of identity policing us Mixis, determining what we should be called and how we should self-identify
  2. These same Black people would not like it if we tried to do the same to them
  3. Blacks and Whites are so accustomed to centuries of talking at and about us that the notion of our speaking up is strange and uncomfortable for them. It’s so rare, in fact, that sometimes it’s uncomfortable for us too!

But My People, we are in the 21st century.

It is time for Black people to stop feeding racism and White Supremacy by perpetuating the Tragic Mulatto mythology. While we might not have spoken up in the past, we are here now and we will not be backing down or shutting up. Newsflash: you no longer have to police our identities. We’ve got this. Trust me. You might not like how we go about it, or the dynamics of each individual’s life and identity choices, but it’s time to cross that off your list of what you’re responsible for overseeing. Take us or leave us on an individual basis—based not on what you presume because of some racist stereotypes from days long past—but on the truths, however uncomfortable and seemingly convuluted, that we bring to the table.

If and when we use the term Mulatto, understand that we have our reasons. Maybe ASK us about that rather than assuming you know and comin’ for us based on your assumptions. Chances are, we’ve been waiting a very long time to be invited into the conversations about us. Even if you disagree, it’s past time to turn a monologue into a dialogue.

mutts like me

AND…unless you were upset when POTUS Obama—in his very first news conference after the 2008 election—referred to himself and by extension, the rest of us Mixed folks as mutts, then you are disqualified from getting riled up about our use of Mulatto. (That historic moment is why I’m writing the dang memoir in the first place. Read the first few chapters for FREE! ).

Speaking of POTUS Obama, you might have noticed that our self-identification is not always one-dimensional. We can be Mixed/Biraclal AND Black, or any other thing that suits us. Our doing so does not mean we are in denial, delusional or rejecting any part of ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we think we’re cuter/smarter/inherently better than Black people, despite propaganda to the contrary.

Just as there is zero consensus in the Black American community about whether folks prefer to be called Black or African American, we can all learn to live with the ambiguity and fluidity of Mixed-race identity and the various terms we embrace (with the exception of mutt). Maybe next time, rather than assuming, you’ll ask. Maybe rather than flinging your presumptions at us, you’ll listen when we speak. And maybe you’ll stretch your worldview to accept that one young woman calling herself Miss Mulatto is not proof of anybody’s tragedy anywhere, nor is a threat to the strength, beauty or value of Black people in the USA or anywhere on the planet.

We need you to stop identity policing, because it is distracting us from coming together to work on the far more urgent issues around those other kinds of policing. Let’s not alienate each other when solidarity could mean the difference between life and death. If I didn’t accept it from Langston Hughes, I’m damn sure not gonna let anybody else–icon or mortal–get away with it. He didn’t know any better. I’m willing to invest in the possibility that others can grow into greater awareness and help us move forward.

Because the only tragedies that matter are racism and White Supremacy. And we can never slay those dragons if we’re sweating the small stuff, assuming rather than asking, and contributing to petty divisiveness in service of the forces that refuse to recognize our humanity, no matter what we’re calling ourselves or each other.

Onelove. ‘Nuff respect. Peace out.

TaRessa in red

If you liked (or hated) this, PLEASE contribute to my crowdfunding for the SWIRL GIRL memoir. It is time for ALL of us to tell our truths, share our stories, bring our voices and our visions to the world. Your support would mean absolutely everything!


What Everyone Needs to Understand About Taye Diggs Saying He Doesn’t Want His #BLEWISH Son to Identify as Black

taye and walker

Okay, so actor Taye Diggs says that he doesn’t want his young son, Walker, 6, to self-identify as Black and the internet explodes.

Why is that?

Biracial identity is often a hotly contested topic—especially when the Biracial person in question is a mix of Black and White in the USA. (Walker’s mother and Diggs’ ex, singer Idina Menzel, is Jewish and I don’t technically count Jews as White, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll group her in that general category).

Black/White Biracial identity is ALWAYS controversial in a racist environment (pretty much the whole planet). It’s frequently a big deal, and many people—especially Black people, White people and B/W Biracial people—have strong opinions about how we Mulatto types choose to self-identify.

Firm, forceful opinions that often collide and clash and sometimes cancel each other out in the perpetual warzone of Black vs. White that is the foundation of this nation’s cultural and societal dynamics.

Some ridicule any suggestion that we are other than Black; others consider those who do identify as Black as rejecting their White side. Neither of these notions is completely accurate, but they’re popular because the people expressing them don’t understand the real dynamics that go into shaping our identities.

mixed me

So Diggs makes this statement, guaranteed to generate headlines, and perhaps not coincidentally, promote his new children’s book, Mixed Me! Controversy sells, and this brouhaha over Diggs’ stated preference about his son’s identity obscures the fact that he is in NO way qualified to be writing a book or even talking about being something that he has never experienced and cannot possibly understand. Being the parent of a Mixed child is one thing, but it doesn’t confer any expertise upon the parent related to how said child might choose to culturally affiliate or self-identify. It simply means that, assuming that Walker is Diggs’ only Biracial child, he has a few years of interracial parenting under his belt. So he is qualified to write about that. But not anything about being Mixed.

chocolate me

It was appropriate for him to write his earlier children’s book, Chocolate Me!, about his own life experience. He mentioned this when responding to the backlash about his statement that for Walker to self-identify as Black means he would be rejecting or ignoring or disrespecting his “White” ancestry.

He also mentioned that he made that public statement about Walker’s potential future choices because he had LISTENED to Biracial people talk about their experiences and choices. I want to pause and give Diggs a STANDING OVATION for that alone. Because very few people of any race or background—particularly Black or White—want to hear what we have to say. And while they feel free to beat us over the head with their feelings and views, they rarely ask us questions or seek our opinion, even though this topic is clearly all about us and our choices.

I realize this is because our speaking up is so new and unusual as to cause cultural dissonance, even among those who are closest to us. They’re accustomed to talking about us and to us, and most of all AT us, having appointed themselves the authorities on the topic of our identities. But the notion that we might not only talk back, let alone insist that we are in charge of our identities without any input or permission from them often seems to cause shock and dismay. And sometimes even anger.

So YES, we are pausing here to give Diggs all the credit and love for not only listening to people who represent his son’s experience, but factoring what they shared into his own public opinion.


What Diggs—and many of the people sharing their very strong opinions about his very strong opinion—might not realize is that it is simply not his place, nor his parental duty, to try to impact how Walker self-identifies, regardless of the choices that the boy makes as he grows up.

Yes. I. Said. It.

Many of the Blackfolks in my FB world reacted, predictably, by slamming Diggs as a self-hating denier of his own Blackness. But here’s the thing. In my life experience growing up in one of our country’s leading havens of Black/White interracial coupling, I assure you that it is not unusual for the Black partner in such a union to express these feelings. I’ve never seen or conducted official scientific research, but many folks view themselves as having created someone who is “more than Black” while being “less Black.” Yet the fluidity of their child’s identity choices seems something they want to clamp down on and control.

Let me emphasize here that this is some Blackfolk who mate and procreate interracially—NOT all of them. But I grew up hearing the popular notion that there was something inherently wrong with self-identifying as Black if you’re Mixed with non-Black ancestry on one hand, and that you were in denial and contributing to the national erasure of blackness if you did acknowledge that other ancestry.

So for me, it’s an old familiar song, one that young Walker Diggs will likely come to know well. And yet it is SO not the focus of the conversation. As my son, a Multi-generational Mixie, shared with me, Diggs is well-intentioned but missing the point because WHATEVER form of self-identification either parent pushes, Walker will predictably rebel against it as a normal, natural and healthy part of individuating as he grows into his own person.

That is the takeaway I offer here for parents of B/W Biracial children: while it might seem like a good idea, trying to impact, define, control, influence or police your child’s racial identity and cultural affiliation not only isn’t your job, it’s really none of your business. And it’s pretty much guaranteed to backfire and work against you and your relationship with your child once they’re grown.

You see, we don’t fashion our sense of self based on what our parents—or anybody—instructs us to do. Nor should we! As the authors of our own identities, we are the only ones who really have a say, and our decisions are ours alone to make and to live with. As any parent with children in or past their teens knows, the only thing that all children are guaranteed to do is to push back, reject, and rebel against whatever you try to force down their throats.

BUT WAIT, many of you are thinking…Walker is/will be viewed and treated as Black in a racist society.

Yes, that is a true and obvious fact. Even if he’s light-skinned with the “awesome” hair (pause here for an eye-roll) which Diggs mentions first thing in the book. And that is the other part of the equation that is so vital for parents, caregivers, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, etc. of B/W Biracial people to know: how they might self-identify as they grow and once they’re grown never negates the fact that they MUST learn to understand the political realities of navigating racism as someone who is part of the Black collective in a racist environment.

Even if they don’t visually appear Black or choose not to affiliate in any way with Black people or culture once they’re grown, they absolutely need to know the truth about racism, to understand it as an objective reality. They need to know how to navigate the complexities, nuances, contradictions, booby traps and hidden bombs in the minefield of racism. Period. No exceptions. THAT is where Diggs needs to focus.

Fortunately, my #BLEWISH sisterfriend, Lisa Williamson Rosenberg, a psychotherapist specializing in these issues, appeared on NBC in New York to lend some real expertise to the chatter, along with famously #BLEWISH filmmaker Lacey Schwartz. So at least one media outlet had the good sense to go to the source for an opinion, though their inclusion of Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux suggested that they didn’t quite consider the opinions of two brilliant and accomplished Biracial women sufficient without also repping the “official Black” point-of-view.

If Diggs is wise he will realize, as all parents do, that Walker is here to teach him, and not the other way around. And maybe Diggs will learn that the best thing he can do for Walker is to write and speak and honor HIS truths and experience rather than trying to influence how the world sees his son, or how his son views himself.

We look forward to seeing how Walker schools his daddy when the time comes. Meanwhile, I might send the kid a #BLEWISH tee-shirt to help that process along.

Qualifying for the Slurs

“I’m embarrassed by how race is treated in the Jewish community.” –Ben Faulding


Ben Faulding wears the word that expresses his identity insecurity in Steve Rosenfield’s provocative “Jews of New York What I Be Project.”

Sometimes your Ancestry collides with life in the nexus of conflict and contradiction.

And the force of that collision is summed up in a single word.

“The potentially inflammatory pejorative ‘schvartze’ — the Yiddish word likened to the N word — was scrawled across the forehead of … Ben Faulding, a 30-year-old Biracial Hasid from Crown Heights whose father is Black,” wrote acclaimed #Blewish journalist Simone Weischselbaum, for the New York Daily News.

The image of Ben Faulding, with schvartze painted on his forehead, is the question, the answer, the thesis, antithesis and synthesis. It’s bloody chains and swastikas. Middle passage and pogroms. Holocausts–plural--blossoming into the PTSD that snakes through our DNA.

When you are born and live at the intersection of two contested tribal identities–African American and Jewish–you know that even though some Jews fought in, supported in and died in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the one core rule to attaining the “White” status granted to immigrants who play the assimilation game is that you must consider Blackpeople less than whatever you happen to be. And your password into the club is a slur.

Ben Faulding wasn’t attacked—he volunteered his forehead as canvas for Steve Rosenfield’s “Jews of New York What I Be Project,” featuring photos of young people with provocative words and phrases written on their bodies. Rosenfield selected the messages based on interviews with each subject.

Schvartze” on Faulding’s brown forehead captures the “squeeze” of being born to warring tribes. In the hierarchy of Jewish religious practice, Hasids are at the top—considered the most devout, literal practitioners of the faith. Though Faulding identifies as Hasid, he can’t escape the racism in his tribe.

The image, Faulding told the Daily News, “’[Is]…about me expressing my insecurities. I am embarrassed how race is treated in the Jewish community … It’s completely personal,’” he added. “’I didn’t expect it to spread.’”

It spread because it represents not just Ben Faulding’s situation, and the well-documented beef between Blacks and Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn over the years. It also represents Israel’s apartheid-like treatment, of Ethiopian Jews and Black, non-Jewish migrants from other parts of the African continent hoping for asylum in “the Holy Land.”

As Haaretz Jewish World News reported in the piece, ‘A Schvartze is a Schvartze is a Schvartze—Affirmative Action for Ethiopian Jews, “4000 Ethiopian Jews died in 1983-85 trying to reach Israel. Some were murdered. Many starved to death. Many more died of dysentery and other diseases … Still, to Orthodox Jews (except for parts of Bnei Akiva and Shas), especially Israeli haredim and American Orthodox Jews of all affiliations, Ethiopian Jews are simply schvartes, with all the negative connotations that word implies.”

Some Israeli people aren’t too happy about non-Jewish Black Africans either. As Independent journalist and filmmaker David Sheen, who documents anti-African racism in Israel, reports, “…May 23, 2013, marked exactly one year to the day when a thousand Jewish Israelis ran rampant through the streets of Tel Aviv, smashing and looting African-operated businesses and physically assaulting any dark-skinned person they came across. Sadly, the Israeli economic, political and religious establishment – who were in large measure responsible for the pogrom – did not respond by working to quash the racism, but rather ramped up their efforts to expel all non-Jewish African people from the country.”

Watch the video

I feel squeezed to near-suffocation when I see news reports of Israelis acting like they’re in the Ku Klux Klan, screaming, “I’m proud to be a racist. It is our right to be racist,” and “We don’t need to wait…round them up!” at anti-African rallies.

And the few Israelis who stand up for the Black Africans are met with comments like, “May you be raped!” “I’ll stick a pole up your ass,” and “You’re married to a nigg**–get out!”

None of this is surprising, given Israel’s relationship with Palestinians or the United Nations’ occasional claims that “Zionism is racism.” But I view that conflict through a political lens, knowing that my financial support as a US taxpayer trumps any opinions I might have about that apartheid. I feel Israel’s treatment of Ethiopian Jews and non-Jewish Black Africans much more personally.

Wherever I go, just as in America I am branded nig***, in any Jewish context on the planet, I am a schvartze. While there are levels of Judaism, I don’t see levels of nig***-ism—not here, not in Israel, not anywhere in the world.

Those universally recognized code words for White Supremacy have only one meaning:

“I  am better than you, I am in power, and I always will be. You are dirt, you are scum, you are less-than-human.”

These slurs words contain the whistle-and-sting of whips, the clang of chains, the hiss of skin split open, and the collective agony of unhealed wounds. We are branded by every letter, every syllable, and every message they bear. Ben Faulding has the courage to broadcast the “squeeze” he finds in his personal crossroads and contradictions.

So while folk on both sides debate whether we #Blewish folk qualify to self-identify as Black or Jewish according to their ever-shifting “rules,” one thing is clear: we sho ‘nuff qualify for the slurs—undiluted, uncut, unambiguous—each and every time.