Passing and the Problematic of Multiracial Pride (or, Why One Mixed Girl Still Answers to Black)

Passing and the Problematic of Multiracial Pride (or, Why One Mixed Girl Still Answers to Black)

by Danzy Senna

Chapter in: Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture
University of Michigan Press
416 pages
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-472-09840-8
Paper ISBN: 978-0-472-06840-1
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-472-02545-9

Edited By:

Harry J. Elam, Jr., Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities and Professor of Drama
Stanford University

Kennell Jackson (1941-2005), Associate Professor of History
Stanford University

I have never had the comfort zone of a given racial identity. My mother is a Bostonian white woman of WASP heritage. My father is a Louisiana black man of mixed African and Mexican heritage. Unlike people who are automatically classified as black or white, I have always been up for debate. I am forever having to explain to people why it is that I look so white for a black girl, why it is that my features don’t reveal my heritage. It’s not something I should have to explain, but in America, at least, people are obsessed with this dissonance between my face and my race. White Americans in particular have a difficult time understanding why somebody of my background would choose blackness. With Tiger Woods proclaiming himself a Cablinasian, multiracial activists demanding new categories, and Newsweek declaring it hip to be mixed, it strikes most people as odd that I would call myself a black girl.

But my racial identity developed when I was growing up in Boston in the 1970s, where there were only two choices for me: black and white. For my sister, a year older than me, with curly hair and more African features, there weren’t even these choices. There was only black. And my parents, smitten with the black power politics of the time, taught my siblings and me, in no uncertain terms, that we were all black. They saw this identity as armor against the racism beyond our front door. They also knew that my sister didn’t have a choice, and to define us differently would be damaging to us as a family unit. The tact that the world saw each of us as different (my sister as light-skinned black, my brother as Puerto Rican, and me as Italian) raised complications, but didn’t change the fact that we were all one tribe…

Read the entire chapter here. (pages 83-87)

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