Dear Rashida Jones: The Truth About Our Trifecta

By TaRessa Stovall @taressatalks

Dear Rashida Jones:

We’ve never met, but we have a lot in common. We’re both #BLEWISH, light-skinned and racially ambiguous-looking. And we know what that means: many people feel compelled to discuss, debate, and dissect our identities in relation to our appearances based on their own prejudices, presumptions, and preconceived notions. I get it daily on a small, anonymous scale. As a successful actor / producer and the daughter of two superstars—Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton–you get it publicly, often trending and making headlines.

This time, it’s due to your role in the new Kenya Barris series for Netflix, “blackAF,” which seems to be a dramatized take on Barris’ real family Hollywood come-up to the echelons of the rich and bourgie. Social media and Black Twitter are pontificating about you, the way you look, and trying to challenge your identity. Again. 

While I never see ANY such chatter about the equally #BLEWISH actress Tracee Ellis Ross, who has long portrayed the TV wife of Barris’ alter ego on “black-ish,” you being cast as Joya, his latest onscreen spouse, has activated the Identity Police

The Identity Police are folks who are so thrown by our ambiguous appearances combined with our Mixed backgrounds that they decide they know more about us than we know about ourselves. They can’t wait to question, challenge, and / or criticize us based on their know-it-all worldviews. Like this Huffington Post article, which analyzes the roles you’ve held in the context of Hollywood’s legendary racism and colorism:

“Jones is what some white casting directors might describe as ‘ethnically ambiguous.’ Her hair doesn’t really curl, her skin is light, her eyes are hazel. The 44-year-old actor has often played characters who were explicitly white or whose ethnicity was sort of left up to the audience to figure out. On “The Office,” she played Karen Filippelli, an Italian American woman. On “Parks and Recreation,” she played Ann Perkins, a character described only as “ambiguously brown.”

Jones has played explicitly Black or mixed characters in the past — she guest-starred on ‘black-ish’ as Rainbow’s younger sister, Santamonica — but the majority of her best-known roles have either glossed over or actively avoided her blackness altogether. Racial ambiguity is seemingly so much a part of her narrative as an actor that when certain netizens took to social media to discuss “#blackAF” the day it premiered, many declared that they were genuinely unaware that she was mixed, let alone the child of legendary producer Quincy Jones.”

 

That context–within and way beyond Hollywood–impacts every aspect of life for ALL People of Color. It’s not specific to Mixed folks. Not specific to light-skinned folks. Not specific to racially ambiguous-looking folks. But for those like us who hit this genetic trifecta, it shows up in these, um, interesting ways.

Never mind that, as you’ve stated in interviews, you have never passed for White. You speak for all of us ambiguous types when you issue the reality check: “I had no control over how I looked. This is my natural hair. These are my natural eyes! I’ve never tried to be anything that I’m not.” The thing about acting is you take the roles you’re offered. (I love that, like your father, you’re also a producer with the power to create images and narratives, especially those beyond the status quo.)

Why are folks upset at YOU when Barris’ real-life spouse is another member of the trifecta: Mixed, very light-skinned and racially ambiguous-looking? And WHY are people pretending that they thought you were White when your name and face make it abundantly clear that you’re not? Never mind the ones who swear they had no idea of your lineage…yet feel entitled to judge-and-jury your identity by their standards.

We are born into this Black vs. White binary. We don’t choose our appearances, or the environments in which we come of age. Having Light-Skinned Privilege (LSP) wasn’t a choice—though we do have the option of deciding how to utilize this form of racialized currency, and the opportunity to weaponize it against racism. As for being racially ambiguous-looking, that is completely in the eye of the beholder.

Like most of us in this category, different people see different things when they view and assess me. Their assumptions run the gamut on a near-global scale. (My experiences are detailed in my new memoir). Thing is, these Identity Police are ultimately playing themselves. They don’t realize that their assumptions, presumptions, challenges, debates, and projections reveal everything about them, but nothing about us.

While they often have plenty to say, the fact is that these folks don’t want to actually see or hear our experiences or perspectives. While they’re comfortable talking about and even at us, we’re rarely invited or even welcomed into these conversations, even though we’re the point of discussion. They talk all the trash, but rarely ASK us about ourselves. And they almost never listen to find out where we fall on the identity spectrum. How we navigate a world that regards us with such consistent unpredictability. And where we find and maintain our footing on the shifting sands of definitions, categories, and cultural tropes.

The biggest irony, Rashida, is that these folks will swear on their lives that we’re confused. And the more confident we are, the less comfortable they seem to be when we do speak up. Which is part of the reason I insist on being in their faces all loud and proud. I bring that old-school dynamic: if you’re gonna say it behind my back, you’d best be ready to say it to my face. The work I do is designed to open up these conversations, to make them inclusive and reciprocal in pursuit of the greater good. And while you represent this overall dynamic, I do not presume to speak for you or for anyone other than myself.

What I appreciate about you is that, while I’ve grown up seeing lots of light-skinned actresses and a few that are actually Mixed (in real life and their roles), I haven’t been able to relate to 99% of them. I’ve never been quite as satisfied as I am seeing YOU, a rep of my specific trifecta, doing your thing. Because it’s not your characters that I relate to as much as the specificity of what you represent. It’s you being you and remaining unbothered about what the Identity Police have to say. Because truth rules, and representation always matters. Everyone deserves to look at a screen and be able to relate to what they see. You do that for many of us. And we thank you!

 

SWIRL GIRL BOOK COVER FINAL FRONTTaRessa Stovall is an author / blogger / identity activist. Her hot new memoir, SWIRL GIRL: Coming of Race in the USA is garnering praise for its bold, insightful take on how a Mixed-race girl grows to be a Black woman while honoring all of her Ancestry — living “AND” in a world of “EITHER / OR.” Check reader reviews here. Enjoy a FREE sneak peek of SWIRL GIRL here. 

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8 thoughts on “Dear Rashida Jones: The Truth About Our Trifecta

  1. Has it ever occurred to you that you’re insulting black people by hereby considering them the “Identity Police”? Realistically, it seems as though you’re taking on the supposed role of an identity police, whatever that actually is. You can’t speak for black people, you can only speak for yourself as an ambiguous multi-racial woman who is proud of whatever portion of black heritage you have. That’s understandable. I’m just unsure what benefit calling black people these horrible names because you genuinely don’t understand them, but yet, feel entitled to their space.. is going to give you?

    I’m saying this as a biracial woman. My mother is black and my father was Indian (Asian). Although I’m darker-skinned, I have always had privileges for being biracial and appreciated by the black community due to a blackness I lacked. Inadvertently, the praise I received was due to the self-hatred of black people, not genuine admiration from the race I identified as. It wasn’t until I had a younger sister who is black via both parents, that I saw first hand the reasons why this ‘race police’ notion exists.

    As for Rashida, I like her as an actress, but she has admitted multiple times and openly-that she had always identified with being white & Jewish more. There’s no shame to that because she is white and she is also black. She can’t help her heritage on either side as someone half Afro-American and half white (Jewish). That being said, the outrage is because she has said that over the years and only until recently started to try and play roles that will inch her in spaces of black people. Her father being Quincy Jones doesn’t make her a black miracle, it just makes her the daughter of Peggy Lipton and Quincy. She’s a talented woman and deserves a chance. To compare her with trace is dangerous though. Tracee has never shied away from roles of mixed-race women or at best, lighter black women. She also is Diana Ross daughter which I feel has always positioned her among other black women by default, whereas Rashida and Kidada do not have black mothers but black fathers. Obviously, this is a layered scenario. Well written article and I am only commenting because II am just expressing my views-not trying to be rude or argue with you. I appreciate your content. I think it’s just important we respect black people as well and not victimize ourself under the guise of being “terrorized” for our mixedness.

    • Greetings, Cantalia,

      What a lovely name!

      1. Thank you for reading and sharing your views–much appreciated!

      2. I’m not sure why you are assuming that my reference to the Identity Police includes only Black people. Maybe that is your experience? I have always been and am continually Identity Policed by people of ALL races including Mixed people, who are sometimes the most intense about the whole thing. I have also observed people of many races Identity Policing Rashida Jones in various public forums.

      3. That said, I am always MOST concerned when Black people DO Identity Police us because that is just one of the many ways that the White Supremacist system keeps us pitted against each other. Identity Policing doesn’t contribute to the unity and solidarity we need to fight racism.

      4. I have never claimed to speak for Black people OR for Mixed people. It states clearly in the post that I always speak ONLY for myself.

      5. Where did I “call Black people horrible names?” Where did I single out Black people or call them ANY names? And who is it you’re saying that I don’t understand? The dynamic is nothing new or unique to any group on the giving or receiving end. There is certainly nothing mysterious or hard-to-understand about it.

      6. I compare Rashida with Tracee because they are both #BLEWISH, both chosen by Barris to play versions of his real-life wife, AND because that super-specific identity comparison is a popular trope–it was featured on the series “Dear White People,” when a Black woman character told the Mixed character that her Mix played more like Tracee’s than Rashida’s. I also hear and see it often from Black and Mixed people.

      7. I have never ever thought of or referred to being Mixed as being victimized or terrorized. I just spent 5 (long) years writing a memoir that details my experiences and perspective. If you check it out, you’ll see that the whole victim / tragic trope is the opposite of what I’m about.

      I appreciate you sharing your background and story, and that my post inspired such a long and thoughtful response from you. That is the most any writer can hope for, and I thank you! These conversations are so important for us to have so that we can hopefully move past presumptions and assumptions and make room for our many shades of reality, opinion and truth. A luta continua!

      • Wonderful response! And Wonderful post! I too was baffled by the mentioned of mixed folks being “terrorized” WOW! and Really? I am in the middle of reading your book and so far so good! I am also #Blewish! And you know we ride in Our FB group together and what I have come to learn about you is OH so empowering to Mixed race Identity while at the SAME time elevating Black voices and Unity too! One of the reasons I enjoy your writing and Voice! Thanks for posting!

      • Thank you SO much, Sichelle! I deeply appreciate your support of my memoir, SWIRL GIRL, and of my work in general. YES, our FB group rocks! When I mention Mixed folks being “terrorized,” what I mean is the dynamic of having your identity, your journey, your identity questioned and challenged by people who have decided that they are the experts of your truth and experience. That is not “terrorism” like a hate crime or physical attack, but rather a drip-drip-drip that can wear at us over time. Perhaps I should have said torture instead of terrorism. But it has caused me moments where I fold up into myself rather than engaging with people–when I would really rather engage. It has caused me to avoid public and social situations because, just like trying to discuss racism, it ends up (at least for me) usually turning into an endless loop of frustration. To be gaslighted, to be condescended to, to be the target of anyone who discounts your truth and humanity, is a form of terrorism in my book. And listen: folks of ALL groups can be guilty of this, including other Mixed people. Part of the impetus behind my work is hoping to spark conversations that lead us to a more productive and progressive place. Thanks again for making my work count!

  2. LOVED THIS!!! This part resonated wth me when speaking about those oh so annoying “identity police”! “While they often have plenty to say, the fact is that these folks don’t want to actually see or hear our experiences or perspectives. While they’re comfortable talking about and even at us, we’re rarely invited or even welcomed into these conversations, even though we’re the point of discussion. They talk all the trash, but rarely ASK us about ourselves. And they almost never listen to find out where we fall on the identity spectrum. How we navigate a world that regards us with such consistent unpredictability. And where we find and maintain our footing on the shifting sands of definitions, categories, and cultural tropes.” YES!!! All. OF. THIS! Well said Taressa!

    • Thank you SO much, Michelle! Yes, that is the dynamic I am writing and working to challenge and hopefully encourage others to help dismantle. Everyone deserves to be seen and heard in their truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. I deeply appreciate you and your support of my work!

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