I’ve had this question roiling around in my head for years. Is being biracial the same thing as being black? (I hope it’s obvious that I understand this is about a mix where there’s at least one part black.)
Every time I bump up against this question, I get nervous. I’m uncomfortable with it, which is why I’ve avoided writing about it for so long.
But I’ve decided that I need to make a stand, for myself, if not for any other reason. And as a white mother to a biracial child, I’m going to say, no. No biracial is not the same as black.
I see this idea posted around the internet and have had multiple conversations (mostly with Toyin) on this topic where black people are generally insistent that it’s the same thing. In other words, they say, biracial means black when it comes to how they may be viewed by a racist culture. And to that I say, sure. Possibly. Probably in many cases.
For the most part, I have sided with the general consensus in the African American community, agreeing with them about racist acts and arguing for things even when I don’t fully understand them myself. Because I know that as a white person, I don’t get to decide about things that don’t affect me in negative ways.
I have come to the point where I believe that I fully comprehend the amount of privilege that has been bestowed upon me and my life just for the benefit of having white skin. And perhaps, it is that privilege that gives me the ability to speak up about this. Finally. Or maybe it’s that I finally understand the injustice of it all. Ironic, huh? That my understanding of injustice has led me to come back around to this.
So here’s my thoughts on biracial being the same as black. Every time I hear a black person say that, I feel angry. I feel a little betrayed. And I feel shut out of my own daughter’s life.
I know that isn’t the motive. But anyone who understands racism knows that lack of malicious intent is not a good excuse.
So here’s the thing. I get what they mean is that biracial people often have the same experiences as black people who are not biracial. I get that you are lumping biracial people in with the collective of folks who are the recipients of societal mistreatment and stereotypes.
But refusing to acknowledge someone’s choice of self definition or declaring with indignant fervor that “It’s all the same,” belittles and marginalizes all people who choose to self identify as biracial rather than black. In some cases, I read into the statement a “Don’t bother trying to identify with your other side. They won’t accept you.” Or, more often it feels like, “Why do you want to acknowledge them? Stay with us.” Why does it have to be them vs us? Feeding that notion just feeds more racism and I find it completely irrational when minorities perpetuate notions that don’t uplift a future that holds less racism, not more. (Kind of how I feel about gay Republicans. What’s up with that?)
This may sound a little crazy, but even when I read a random internet comment of some black person I don’t even know saying that biracial is the same as black, it leads me to feel marginalized and betrayed in my own child’s life. Just for a second. But when you start to add up the seconds, it starts to feel like a lot.
When my daughter was first born, I worried that as she aged, she would push me aside once she fully embraced the racial construction of American society. At the time, President Obama was just becoming president and I felt a little pained by his insistence at being called black rather than biracial. I wondered how that made his mother and grandparents feel.
Now that I’m five years into motherhood, I realize that part of that was my new motherhood insecurities. But still, it rankles me. It’s also possible that he did it for political reasons. Our own president, the most powerful man in the world, deconstructed by a racist society.
In a recent study, biracial and multiracial people were shown to have felt the need to “pass” as black in many instances to avoid rejection or derision from the black community and often felt just as much racism, if not more, from people of color.
The biracial/multiracial person does have many of the same experiences as the person who defines themselves as black or African American. Out in the world.
But at home, with family members who span all the races and colors of skin, it’s not the same.
Ergo, the biracial person may not experience many of the same issues that black people experience. They will, ultimately, be forced to view the world through the same lens in some instances. But I think that at the biracial and multiracial population grows, we need to allow for broader definitions. Be okay with the idea that some people choose to embrace both sides of their culture. And who knows? Perhaps the worldview can change if we all start seeing things just a little differently.