|Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-08-23 21:41Z by Steven|
In 10th grade, I auditioned for the role of Julie in the musical Show Boat, one of the most famous portrayals of the tragic mulatto trope. I was cast, instead, as Queenie, the mammy. I deserved the part of Julie. I had a good singing voice. But there were no black people in my school to play the part of Queenie.
My first personal tragic mulatto moment.
Playing the mammy in Show Boat made me realize something my black mother had always told me and I never believed: the world did not see me as Julie, trying to manage two different backgrounds. It saw me as black. Specifically, white people saw me as black.
On Wednesday, I spoke with Mat Johnson, the author of Loving Day, a new novel that explores the mulatto experience—one that Johnson sees as a subset of the black experience. And one that the United States didn’t recognize until 2000, the first year the Census collected data on people of more than one race…
…CM: I don’t personally pass as white. And I’ve always wondered about others who can. Do you ever choose to intentionally pass as white?
MJ: Every single time I get pulled over by a cop. And I feel guilty as I’m doing it, but you have never met a whiter man than me pulled over by a police officer. I mean, I sound like Gomer Pyle.
When I moved to New York I wondered what would happen if I stopped playing up my black identity. And I basically just let that go. I didn’t cut my hair in a way to look blacker. Didn’t have facial hair in a way that made me look blacker. I wore clothes that were more ethnically generic, just generally bland preppy. And I went through this whole period. It was maybe like a month where I just let that disappear…
Read the entire interview here.