8.09.2012

between black and white

Today I found myself in quite the kerfuffle on Facebook. I know what you're thinking: Why did you even try to enter into a debate with a stranger on Facebook? Last time I was in a full-blown Facebook fight it was 2008 and I was literally harassed by crazies for days. Like, these people would NOT leave me alone. I had to block them completely from being able to interact with me online, which until then had only been reserved for my cheating ex-boyfriend and his psychotic mistress (I lead a fascinating life, obviously). 

After that incident, I vowed to NEVER engage with strangers on Facebook again, no matter how absolutely insane their point of view was. No matter how much of a tragedy to humanity their opinion was. No matter how much I disagreed. Fast forward to today and I found myself in a precarious situation. Here's the story:

I follow this absolutely amazing blog called "What About Our Daughters." It is one of the most interesting and challenging blogs I have ever come across. The intent of the blog is to  advocate for and support black women. This blogger writes extensively about current societal and cultural issues affecting black women and girls. I have spent hours (hours!) on her blog, totally riveted by her insight. 

I also follow this blog on Facebook. The blog itself is on hiatus, but the author is still updating the Facebook page. Today the author posted about Olympic runner Lolo Jones's response to how she has been portrayed by the media, especially a particularly harsh New York Times article. (I'm not going to re-cap either of the articles, so please feel free to read those now if you want to know the full context.)

While the blog author maintained that the media attention given to Lolo Jones was sexist in nature, the comments were not so forgiving. Most comments suggested that Jones herself was responsible for all the bad publicity and that the media intentionally over-hyped her because she was pretty, marketable, and light-skinned as opposed to her darker-skinned teammates, despite the fact that she was not the best athlete. That's where the conversation turned to discussing how in mainstream media, black/white biracials will be highlighted or favored over perhaps darker-skinned black women and black women tend to be represented in society by lighter-skinned, biracial women. **I know that the term "biracial" is a general term used to describe all individuals of more than one race, but for the purposes of this post, it is going to be used to refer to those biracial individuals who are both black and white.**


At this point, I am on board. I don't disagree or take offense to any of those opinions. But then...it gets ugly. Fast. 

"Oftentimes, many biracial individuals do not want to identify as black until or unless it benefits them."

My mouth literally dropped open. Like, wait...what? Did someone just write that? 

I thought about not responding. I really did. But I couldn't get her comment out of my head. Was this lady some sort of sociologist? Did she have statistics? Did she perform some sort of quantitative study on all the biracial people of the world? Was there some sort of poll I missed out on? And c'mon, sweeping generalizations are super helpful when trying to have an intelligent conversation about a serious topic, right? (The answer would be NO, just in case my sarcasm is not translating well through the screen.)

It was just too wrong not to respond. So I did.

"With all due respect, I don't think your sweeping negative generalization of biracial people is 1. Accurate and 2. Relevant to the discussion at hand. I don't think you need to throw biracial people under the bus to make your point. I'm not trying to start drama over Facebook, but I don't think finger pointing is helpful."

Oh. Good. Lord. 

I became Enemy #1 in, like, five seconds. I pointed out one glaring (and offensive!) error in someone's logic and I became more hated than Lolo Jones herself. Lolo, I feel you girl. 

I started to tear up as I read the attacks against me, my character, and biracial women everywhere. 

This isn't about your feelings.

It might make you uncomfortable, but it's the truth.

If biracial women can't be the center of attention then no one can?

I am a black woman who looks like a black woman...

All you biracial people need to take a seat on this issue because you are already represented in the media.  

My favorite was the assumption that because I'm biracial, I automatically do not care about issues revolving around the representation of black women in society. I don't remember the exact quote, but it involved the phrase "you biracial women" so I'm sure it was super enlightened. My other favorite was by the woman who actually wrote that terrible comment. She justified it by saying that it wasn't a generalization because she used the phrase "many biracial individuals," instead of the phrase "all biracial individuals." Sure.

At this point, I feel like I need to throw in some sort of disclaimer: I know that the comments of these women (about three or four in total) do not represent an entire community's feelings, opinions, thoughts, and attitudes. Yes, I do realize that some people on the internet are just angry and don't really want to have a discussion. I do not want to negate or invalidate their emotions or point of views. But, I still find their comments problematic. 

I resent the fact that a group of women who are complete strangers decided that they had the right to tell me what my thoughts, attitudes, and experiences are and should be as a biracial woman. So I am not going to do the same. I am not going to speculate why these women felt the need to attack me. I am not going to put words in their mouths. Unlike them, I am not going to completely fabricate theories about their character based on a Facebook comment. 

All I can do is share who I am. That is my truth, and no one can tell me differently. I am going to address the three main points of concern I have with the unfair attacks that were written against me and biracial women starting with:

REPRESENTATION OF BLACK AND BIRACIAL WOMEN IN THE MEDIA

I don't have too much of an opinion on Lolo Jones, but I do know that mainstream media does have a problem with the representation of racial minorities in society. Period. I'm not a scholar on the subject, but proof of the lack of accurate, balanced, and non-racist portrayals of minorities in the media is not hard to come by. And I do believe this is very evident in the representation of black women. I know that there is a media bias towards people with lighter skin and "white" features.

Having said this, media/social/cultural bias that tends to elect biracial women (and men) to represent black women (and men) in general hurts biracial women (and men!) as well. I would argue that biracial women are NOT well represented in the media for the same reason that black women are not represented in the media:

Biracial women are being portrayed as black women, not as biracial women. When you see a biracial actress on TV or in a movie, do they have one white parent and one black parent? Not usually. How many shows are there on TV currently that have an interracial family as the centerpiece? I can't think of any off the top of my head. How many movies depict the daily life and wacky happenings of a multicultural family? Not many that I've seen. 

As a child, I grew up in a predominantly white community. So I didn't really recognize other biracial people when I saw them. As a kid, how was I supposed to know that many black actresses and singers were actually biracial? I saw them on TV, with a black family, in a black community. They were labelled as black individuals. So how exactly was I, as a biracial woman and the product of an interracial marriage, represented in the media? All I saw was yet another example of someone I couldn't really relate to. I can't even imagine what a powerful image it would have been as a kid for me to see a TV show or a movie that portrayed a white parent, a black parent, and a biracial child. 

And it's not fair. It's not fair that whitewashing has become a standard of beauty. It's not fair that biracial women have become the representation of all black women. It's not fair to black women. And it's not fair to biracial women. In this light, I see racism in society and a biased media as the culprits. Not biracial women themselves.

DO BIRACIAL PEOPLE PICK AND CHOOSE THEIR RACE?

I did a research paper on black/white biracials in college and I found that there are many factors that contribute to the identity shaping of a biracial individual. A main factor is environment and upbringing. In our racially segregated society, there isn't much wiggle room when it comes to forging your own racial identity. As a biracial person, there is often pressure to "pick a side." Depending on the ethnic makeup of their community, this pressure sometimes results in biracial people over-identifying with the race of one parent over the other. Biracial children might also be encouraged to suppress the traits or appearance of a certain race if it will gain them favor with the majority community, whatever that may be. 

For example, a biracial child who is only raised by their white parent in a white community where black people are treated with hostility might identify themselves differently than a biracial child who was raised in predominantly black community. 

Because of the way they are raised, are some biracial people racist towards black people? I wouldn't doubt it. Unfortunately, this is a symptom of our racist society. People are taught to be racist, and if a biracial person was taught to play up their white attributes to get ahead and distance themselves from the black community, then that is a symptom of a larger problem.

Some people argue that biracial people have privilege when it comes to fitting in with white society and I'm not disagreeing with that, but we still aren't white and do not have the experiences of a white person. Racist people aren't like, "Oh, you're half-white? Come be on our team!" I've been called a nigger. I've had racist jokes directed at me. I've been the only non-white person in a room (several rooms, actually) and had people stare at me. I've had to defend myself against ignorant comments. It's not like I've been exempt from racism my whole life. Again, do I pretend to have the same experiences as a black person? Absolutely not. But I wholeheartedly resent the assumption that "oftentimes, many biracial individuals" are ashamed to be black and only want to be black if there is a benefit for them and in all other situations want to be associated with whiteness. 

Growing up biracial in a society with so much racial tension and racial segregation can be really confusing. Every biracial person has their own experience. There isn't one overarching culture for biracial people. There is no right or wrong way to be biracial (I mean, unless you do turn out really racist. That just needs to stop). But then why does it feel like that sometimes? Why does it feel like, no matter what, I can't win as a biracial person? Instead of being pressured and pigeon-holed, biracial people should be allowed to forge their own identities and not be made to feel guilty or ashamed of not being enough of one thing or the other. We are enough being just who we are. 

BIRACIAL PEOPLE AS ADVOCATES AND ALLIES

I felt like the comment that I originally responded to totally crossed the line. So I said something. And it was not well-received to say the least. But the thing that hurt me the most was the assumption that because I was biracial, I was automatically against black women. What?? This absolutely breaks my heart. Is media bias my fault? Is our racist society my fault? Does being biracial mean I can't be an ally and stand with black women? I agreed with the point about black women being unfairly represented in the media. What I disagreed with was the literal throwing under the bus of biracial people in order to make that point. It didn't have to get taken to that level.

Being biracial means that I have a parent that is black. And extended family that is black. And I am both black and white, but that still includes black! My half-whiteness does not exclude me from fighting against injustices towards the black community.

As I read these comments, I thought that maybe I had gotten this blog all wrong. And I regretted even speaking up in the first place. Look where it had gotten me? Torn apart by complete strangers for trying to stand up for myself. 

But then. The author of the blog posted another status. It said many things, but this is what stood out to me (emphasis mine):

"Folks need to be very careful about jettisoning potential allies. I don't know what biracial black women have apparently done to some of you, but they are still human beings and there is no way to describe the New York Times piece on Lolo as anything other than a misogynistic attack. Do we even know if she is biracial? I know plenty of light skinned black folk with two black parents."

Yes. I am an ally. And I feel terrible if there was any indication that I'm not.

In the fight against racism, there can never be too many advocates. It takes understanding and respect on everyone's part in order to combat something so pervasive in our society. Biracial people need to be open to talking about privilege, power, and the politics of racism. It may be uncomfortable, but any change we hope to see in the world starts with a look at ourselves. 

Race relations are complicated and confusing and packed with so much history and context and sub-context. It is not an easy topic to discuss or think about or write about. I hope this post was not offensive in any way to anyone reading. And to the women who made those comments towards me: I'm sorry if you have not felt in the past like black biracial women are your advocates and allies. I will continue to be so. Because I may not be a black woman, but I'm still proud to be black. 



To lighten the mood, an awkward family portrait from the '80s!