Race has been a controversial issue since, well, the very beginning. Our country’s convoluted notions of race (and who is/is not one race or the other) have been discussed by some of the most preeminent scholars for years. The notion of race once again became a hot topic when President Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States (and later, when he decided to check the Black box on the 2010 census, instead of identifying as biracial).
The mixed up heritage of America’s people is legendary. Most of us, no matter how we look, have a little something mixed in for flavor simply because of the history of this country.
And it seems like that multicultural heritage has been fodder for the news lately. Many bloggers were extremely critical of the recent Time Magazine article, “Passing As Black: How Biracial Americans Choose Identity.” The article, which researched 40 young, biracial people in Atlanta, concluded that many downplay their White parentage in order to fit in.
Passing, in the traditional sense (as in a Black person, pretending to be White), is the subject of a forward to the newest edition of Jean Toomer’s seminal novel, Cane. Written by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the forward asserts that Toomer, an acclaimed Harlem Renaissance writer, “passed” as White many times during his life.
While I’m not sure why people choose to self-identify the way they do (other than because they can), the conclusions that the Time Magazine piece draws seem almost too simple, and their research subjects, too few to offer any real inroads on the subject.
The Time article made me remember a documentary I’d seen last summer at the 2010 Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival. The documentary, “Biracial Not Black Damn It,” explores biracial people, their struggles fitting in, and how they choose to self-identify.
Reading the article and watching the documentary both left me feeling like something was missing. The conversation around race and multiracial people is far too complex and too full of history to be summed up by one article researching one sampling of the population, or one documentary featuring like-minded people.
What is for certain is that we have yet to reach the “post-racial” America many thought we would reach after President Obama’s historic victory.
Watch the trailer for “Biracial, Not Black Damit It” and share your thoughts.