“I am more complex than my complexion.” –Lasha Marie, Mulatto Empowerment
Welcome to The Complexion Chronicles, a twice-monthly column where we’ll explore the complexities that shape and color our lives.
Hold Up! Who Called The Mixed-Identity Police?
Why are so many non-Mixed people obsessed with policing our identities?
Between media personality Crissle, actor Zoe Saldana, TV/film mogul Lee Daniels and zillions of other celebs and civilians, random folks invest mucho energy into trying to tell us who we are, how we’re supposed to self-identity and “choose,” and which tribes we are and aren’t “qualified” to join. (They especially love to do this to us Mixis who are any kind of Black-and).
Exhibit one: This week, Crissle, a Black woman who co-hosts the popular podcast “The Read,” and has appeared on MTV2’s “Uncommon Sense,” MTV News’ “Decoded” and Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” trended by climaxing her Twitter rant against Black men who swirl and don’t reciprocate Black women’s support with a pitiful stab at policing Biracial babies:
Props to Veronica Wells of the Madame Noir blog, a Crissle fan with the savvy analysis, “Crissle Says White Women’s Children ‘Will Never Be Black’ And It Was Downhill From There.”’ Wells writes: “Yes, Crissle. Blame Black men for the way they’ve denigrated their own kind. Blame White women for the hyper-sexualization of our men. But I got lost when we started talking about the children … [who] have nothing to do with … those racial politics. And ultimately this same child will have to decide for him or herself how they will be identified.”
After Crissle got read for filth, she removed the policing Tweet. But she’s far from alone. Actor Zoe Saldana, a Dominican-American who has portrayed Black characters in movies and at one point appeared on the covers of Essence and Latina magazines in the same time span, has had her color politics and Black self-love severely challenged after accepting the role of musical icon Nina Simone for a White-helmed biopic, “Nina.” The movie hasn’t fared well at the box office, and Saldana has been dragged for accepting the role of a woman whose dark skin and Black features were integral to her identity, her work and her impact on the world. She donned a fake nose and muddy “blackface” style makeup to portray Simone—a move that has gotten her more attention than any of her acting roles.
This week, Saldana’s Allure magazine interview got eyeballs when she tried to clapback at critics by not only affirming her Blackness, but saying that her twin toddler sons with White Italian athlete/artist Marco Saldana (he took her name) will be raised as Black men. While more intimate, this is still Mixed identity policing. Even worse that Saldana tried to use her sons as political weapons in defending her own choices.
And in an episode of the TV hit “Empire,” the always-controversial Lee Daniels featured a Black rapper challenging Alicia Keys’ Biracial character’s membership in the tribe, echoing a sentiment I’ve seen dozens of time on social media.
These are just some of the higher profile incidents of non-Mixed folk claiming domain over our identities. I’m not as interested in the endless debates about what determines Blackness and who qualifies—it’s impossible to ever reach a conclusion on that topic—as I am in figuring out what drives so many folks to police who we are and how we choose to move through the world.
NOTE: We have varying opinions about Mixed and Black identity—but that’s not what this column is about. All views are welcome, but not in the form of policing.
Most of us have experienced policing as “you’re too much of this and not enough of that to be ______________.” Lately it’s popular to cite and challenge the “One Drop Rule” developed to ensure that the babies conceived by Massa’s rapes of enslaved Black, Mulatto, Quadroon and Octoroon women didn’t threaten their ownership and control of human property. Most of us were (or would have been) on the receiving end of Jim Crow back in the day.
We’ve also endured family, friends, lovers, strangers and public figures who appoint themselves authorities of our identities and feel the need to inform us of their thoughts and preferences. Even when it’s grounded in love and good intentions, it’s still identity policing. And it’s still wrong.
The very real historical context aside, this new trend of folks proclaiming what we can and can’t do with those parts of us that are Black is as outdated as it is problematic. Their arrogance blinds them to the fact that they have no say-so in how we navigate the labyrinth of our ancestry and allegiances in a shifting demographic landscape.
In my experience, Black people are far more invested in my identity than White people. Unless the White folks are tied by blood or love, I’ve found most to be mildly interested at best. One thing we Mixis have in common with Black Americans is that neither group has historically been in charge of claiming and maintaining our own identities, or the labels used to define and describe us. Some Black people seem eager to police our identities because we’re the only group to whom they feel superior about identity. It doesn’t occur to them that we’re more than capable of not only making our own choices without their “guidance,” but we can speak for ourselves.
Miz Chrissle certainly learned that lesson from her Twitter rant. But she won’t be the last to try to bolster her POV at our expense. She reminds us that policing our identities is a high-stakes game in the USA. Many are so obsessed with our choices they feel compelled to exert control. It never occurs to these self-appointed officers of racial law that we’re not buying their revisionist approaches to history or attempts to retrofit our senses of self to suit their agendas.
Meanwhile, another recent controversy stars Rick Tyler, independent candidate for Tennessee’s Third congressional district, and his “Make America White Again” billboard (gotta love how he beat Trump at his own game). Point is: Race—and racism—are America’s never-ending obsessions. Against that backdrop, no matter what our Mix, each of us must define ourselves as humans who personify America’s unresolved issues, unfinished business and untold truths. No wonder the fact of our conception makes some people go off. No wonder the very sight of us makes them long to smooth out what they see as our “tangled” selves. We understand and appreciate their positions. But we’ll no longer allow them to go unchecked. We need to let them know that they can focus on their identities. We’re more than capable of being in charge of our own.