Why Do Black-White Biracial Folks Always Represent Mixed Identity?
By TaRessa Stovall
It’s a popular question in Mixed-race spaces: why is the Black-White Biracial mix so often presented as the most common or representative combo in the vastly-diverse universe of Multi-racial people in the USA?
Especially when research suggests that it’s not even in the top three of most popular mixes?
This is a legit concern that needs to be addressed.
First, it’s vital to state that I offer this column as a contribution to the conversation in the form of an explanation—NOT an excuse or justification—of this dynamic. It’s yet another aspect of racial identity in general and Mixed-racial identity in particular that we must grapple with on our journey to wholeness.
Here’s context from the Pew Research Center’s study on interracial and interethnic families released on June 12, 2017, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Loving v. Virginia case that made interracial marriage legal across the U.S.
One in seven infants born in the U.S. (14%) is multi-racial or multi-ethnic. In a Pew study of infants living with two parents in 2015:
- 42% are Hispanic and White
- 22% are Multi-Generational Mixes (MGM), with one or two Multi-racial parents
- 14% are White and Asian
- 10% are Black and White
- 5% are Hispanic and Black
- 3% are Hispanic and Asian
- 1% are Asian and Black
There you have it: the Black-White Mix (first-generation) is firmly in the middle of the seven categories. And its 10% representation in the study seems downright puny compared to the 42% Hispanic-White and the 22% MGM folks.
If the first-gen Black-White folks aren’t even close to making up the majority of Mixed-race folks in our nation, WHY do they continue to be spotlighted as the face(s) and voice(s) to symbolize Biracial identity?
Let’s begin with the fact of the USA’s core truth: That the White vs. Black dynamic is at the core of the very foundation of life, politics, government, culture and identity. That the very term “race” is code for “Black” in most attitudes, perceptions and conversations. That this nation was built from the ground up on pillars of White Supremacy and White identity defined primarily in relation and contrast to Black identity being perceived and marketed as inferior and sub-human. And every other group of color—including the Native Americans whose exploitation by White colonizers is the first rung of this country’s history—gets relegated to the sidelines of too many conversations about race, racism and identity. Again, and again and again.
The Black-White historic dynamic from plantation rapes during enslavement provides the primary representation of Black-White Mixed folks and drives a major part of the backstory for so many African Americans with ancestors forcibly brought here through the Trans-Atlantic African Slave Trade. In last week’s column, I wrote about some dynamics of being “raped into existence.”
Hysterical warnings about the specific threat of Black-White mixing were core to the propaganda of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. It was widely used to stoke fears of integrating society and desegregating schools. And throughout, it is primarily the Black-White mix that is pushed to rep all of the unimaginable “tragedies” of “miscegenation.” Not Hispanic-White. Not Asian-White. Not MGM.
Even today, first-generation Black-White Mixed folks tend to be the default symbol of race-mixing throughout popular culture. For instance, the current web series, “The Loving Generation” on Topic.com, features identity sound bites from several Black-White (and Black-Jewish) first-generation Biracial folks born in the half-century since Loving. In 10-minute online videos released during each week of Black History Month, Topic.com states,” ‘the Loving Generation’ tells the story of a generation of Americans born to one Black parent and one White parent. Their narratives provide a fascinating and unique window into the borderland between ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness’, and, in some cases, explode fixed ideas about race and identity.”
This is the mix that is often the first considered when discussing babies born from interracial relationships. But this focus is short-sighted and misguided and it’s time to look at ways to do better.
The existence, experiences and journeys of people representing other racial mixtures are just as important as Black-White and deserve full consideration and respect.
Any frustration that people of other mixtures might feel at this imbalance is understandable and justified. Perhaps one day we’ll reach a point of better equity and balanced representation in the public sphere. But in the meantime, the Black-White Binary dominates how race and racial/ethnic identity are perceived and processed in the USA.
I believe this will be the case until the deeply-embedded Black vs. White dynamics are much more fully acknowledged and dissected. Centuries of unhealed trauma and unresolved issues inform this entire topic beyond all logic, reason and statistical fact.
Perhaps the best solutions lie within the dynamics of the Multiracial community. We can look at ways to address this imbalance in our own spaces and push back against the automatic centering of one mix over the other. We can receive input from those folks on the sidelines with humility and respect and raise our own awareness.
We have a great deal of agency in this area, and the power to model the kind of openness we’d like to see in the general society. Let’s take this opportunity for leadership and use it to make a difference. Representation and accuracy are key to building healthy Mixed identities and pushing for more equality in the spaces we inhabit. And who better than us to get this party started?