To be or not to be Biracial

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I am white. I've never been confused by this - never doubted my ultimate whiteness. [In fact, my husband frequently points out how very white I am - in a whole host of ways] A heritage of nearly all Eastern European people, sprinkled with a Native American about three generations ago insured that I am as non-specific White American as one can get.

Terrance is Black. Like most Black American families, he can claim heritage from nearly every race. His paternal grandfather Josef was Creole/Cajun - very light skinned with a white grandfather. His paternal grandmother, Queenie, was a very dark skinned woman from Alabama. Terrance's Mom is fairly light skinned, and from the pictures I have seen of Her mother - so was she. The members of his side of the family vary from being as dark as Queenie, to as light(or lighter) than my daughter.

Terrance and I knew when I was pregnant that our baby could have skin as dark as his - or skin as light as mine. You just had to wait and see.

Emily is, undoubtedly, light skinned. She has a lovely caramel tone to her skin, which darkens to golden in the summer. Her hair is more like mine than her fathers, and it too gets golden in the summer time.

When Em was an infant when her father was not at my side, little elderly ladies might gently probe as to whether or not my child was "Italian" or "French" - which I came to understand was their way of trying to figure out why this baby was obviously duskier than her mother. I tried to be patient with them - usually finally stating that her father is black before they dug themselves deeper into any cultural stereotypical hole.

Usually that - plus the sight of my liberal white, breastfeeding nipple coming out of said babies mouth - was enough to stop the conversation.

Terrance has always been unequivocal. Emily is Black. I too have understood that in American society, Emily is and remains Black. For the purposes of teaching her how to defend herself and maneuver in our society, she must think of herself as a Black woman.

That has not stopped me from referring to her as bi-racial too. In fact, it is a term that Emily also uses when asked by her classmates what she "is". Now that we are in Montreal there are so many more variations on the racial and cultural theme that Emily is more often than not told that she ISN'T black by her peers. She assures them that she is - she has a black dad and a white mom - that she is bi-racial.

Poking around the internet, I found this article at Jack and Jill Politics. I deeply understand the point of the writer of this blog article. The idea that it makes some of the American populace/electorate more comfortable with President Obama to think of him...and his children as bi-racial is not shocking to me. The idea that the issue of skin color politics within the black and white communities are still alive and rearing it's misshapen head does not surprise me. I have been by my daughters side when an elderly friend in Detroit might comment on how "pretty" my child is...or what "good hair" she has.... Yes. These are the code words for "whiter" in these contexts and it needs to die out. The idea that a child or person is more attractive or able because of the pigmentation in their skin is something that lies in such a deep dark place in our collective American psyche that it will have to be physically exorcised out to fully uproot it.

But where does that leave my child? Where does that leave me, her white mother?

"I think “biracial” is being pushed around by white people to divorce their non-white offspring/non-white person they like from the “undesirable” minority group they came from."

Hey. I take issue with that.

My use of the word "biracial" comes from a place of trying to honor my side of the family, much like my decision to not take my husbands last name at marriage. To simply say that Emily is Black - end of story - effectively erases me - and all my heritage - from her persona. To say that her Educated Black father chose a White prize wife and therefore turned his back on his side of the family is equally inaccurate.

It is time for the discussion to move away from the Jungle Fever stereotypes of Black men and White women, just as much as it is time to move away from the Tyler Perry stereotypes of black families. Not because we don't acknowledge those pieces as authentic points of reference to " A not wholly accurate but still touching upon some pretty deeply held beliefs" - but because it is time to scrape all the pus out of this wound and let it scar over.

I call Emily bi-racial...because she IS and to deny one side of her heritage is as bad as pretending she isn't black.

18 Baleful Regards:

Knot said...

I've always found this topic fascinating. I think parents and those around the child have more problems with it than kids.

What makes someone white?

What makes someone black?

If a white person acts black, is he still white?

If a black person acts white are they still black?

If an Irishman and an Italian have a baby, is it Irish or Italian? Or is the child just a child with red hair and olive skin?

What if your bi-racial child were around middle-easterners? Would they say she looks Iranian, Israeli, Saudi?

I don't have a clue, but it is an interesting topic to see how we define our race.

Knot

SUEB0B said...

I feel as you do. I know that most of America sees Obama as "Black." But that isn't the whole story, and I think "Bi-racial" is a better descriptor and that it does not deny his Black heritage. I find it interesting the no one ever refers to him as "White," because that is as true as his blackness. But I know how the world sees things...Personally, I always say that he is "Hawaiian" because I think that says more about him than Bi-Racial or Black.

TB said...

So weird that you wrote about this today. I was literally JUST thinking about you and this specific topic while reading an article in this week's (Feb. 2 with the Obamas on the cover dancing at the inauguration ball) issue of Newsweek. The author is black and her husband white, but her sentiment is much the same as yours. Check it out if you can. Article by Raina Kelley on p. 41.

Fraulein N said...

I totally agree with this. Very well said, Dawn.

Janine said...

I so, so relate to this. I am a white mix, like yourself, and my someday-husband is full Korean. Which makes his genes totally dominant over mine when it comes to how our children will look, or so it seems. Have you ever seen Jon & Kate Plus 8 on TLC? Their dad is *half* Korean, yet the children could easily pass as full Asian.

I know this is sort of different that your situation, but the truth is, even if my kids look precisely 50/50, they will be lumped in with Asian, and likely relate to that race more than to mine.

Very interesting post!

cakeburnette said...

I agree with you...I am Asian, my hubby is white. The kids look predominately Asian, largely because of their almond-shaped eyes and dark hair. But it offends me to call them only Asian, since that totally ignores 1/2 of their genes. I use the term Amer-Asian for mine and think bi-racial is just fine. BTW, I think that bi-racial children are the most beautiful. God knows what He's doing when our children are so gorgeous--He doesn't think that the races should "stick to their own" does He?

the joy said...

Wow. I just came from la bells vita because I wanted to see what your title referenced. As a black woman I think biracial is totally acceptable. Its also yall's choice and I think letting your child see all of her heritage is a beautiful thing. I have a coworker whose daughter is black, but very light because of her grandmother's tone, and a woman said to her, in front of me, "your daughter has such a beautiful skin tone!" I have to admit it made me feel some type of way. It just had a "way" about it that I didn't think she'd say the sar about a kid my shade.

los cazadores said...

I totally agree with you. I am half Mexican and half Caucasian. I consider myself biracial. Or biethnic. And I always identified more with saying Barack Obama is biracial and I'm pretty sure it doesn't stem from anything sinister. I don't say I'm Mexican because I have a white father. And I don't say I'm white.

Why can't someone be both in terminology? Why do we have to compartmentalize? The world is too colorful and so many beautiful shades, all of them dark-light-in between, why can't our labels/mentality evolve...

Cindy

filoli said...

This is a great post! I found your blog through Cindy's link.

Biracial is such a kicker isn't it.

I don't know what to say. I keep going back and rereading your post.

Great post, great thoughts...

We have friends that the dad is Indian and the mom is Irish (redhead, pale and with freckles Irish) their first child they named after the dad...very ethnic name...at delivery they get a very Irish child, then she is pregnant again, they decide to name this child after her grandfather, this child looks exactly like his father. We talked endlessly about how the boys are going to struggle with people questioning whether they are brothers...and about how although neither child may "look it" but both are in fact biracial and how that will impact them...

again, great post...

-C said...

I too linked her from Cindy's blog- and am so happy I did. As a mom of a biracial kid this is a subject I often think about and apparently my 5 year old daughter ponders this issue too. I blogged about this very subject a while back, but you have hit the nail right on the head with this post.

If you need me you kind find me in your archives...

Charlotte

-C said...

Oh and I forgot to ask if you would mind if I link to your blog on my blog sidebar?

And also wanted to tell you to check out lightskinned girls blog. She is a biracial adult, who blogs and podcast's about growing up mixed and is authoring a novel about this very subject as well.

Charlotte

adil said...

I think we all have the right to identify ourselves as we see fit. I know that Obama calls himself black, so that's the way I'd describe him as well. At the same time, I think he's done a great job of honoring his white mom and grandparents, and he absolutely understands who his family is and where he comes from. I don't know whether or not he referrs to himself as bi-racial. But if he doesn't, I defintiely wouldn't see that as evidence of him trying to deny the importance/significance/relevance of his white mother.

iamagrownup said...

Just found your blog, as it was recommended to me in my Google Reader. I think I've fallen in love with your blog.

This entry was especially well written and enlightened me on the topic of what it is like to be bi-racial or in a bi-racial couple. Very interesting. thanks for sharing your experiences.

Anonymous said...

I, being Habesha and African American, can understand and appreciate your message; however, leave Tyler Perry out of the discussion...I fail to see how you see "one" family as sterotypical.

Stick to the subject you know about; thus post about. Just because you don't see your huband's family in any of Tyler Perry's plays or movies, doesn't mean he isn't speaking to issues that run like red thread in many African-American familys.

When my fellow collegues get together, yes, we laugh at the family members we see in Tyler Perry's movies. No, it's not a "black" thing that you have to understand, but it's a subject where you've gotten out of your lane.

neill said...

great post...all things i have though about too. (i have bi-racial kids myself)

Beth said...

great post...I too have Bi-racial kids. I feel your pain.

Rana Sinha said...

Very interesting post and good thoughts.Thanks. I am biracial as my father is Indian and mother Finnish. I find that being biracial or biethnic, as I'd preferably call it, doesn't automatically bring anything but people's prejudices into the picture. The person in question has to capitalize on it.

Felix Frick said...
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