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Mulattos Aren’t Mutts: Breaking Down the Biracial Identity

Mulattos Aren’t Mutts: Breaking Down the Biracial Identity: Luseen Leiber / Getty

Luseen Leiber / Getty

In case you missed it, Ivanka Trump wants to see a mulatto’s joystick. That’s according to the founder of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, who recently recalled a conversation he had with Ivanka at a New York event. During their exchange, Peretti claims Ivanka said she’s curious to see what biracial men pack in their jeans. Maybe she wants to know whether biracial men are more black than white below the belt? But really—who knows what she was thinking?

This kind of fascination is nothing new to biracial people. Ms. Trump is just the latest to engage in the long American tradition that is obsessing over a black man’s manhood. Of course, Trump called Peretti’s story a “total lie,” so, my fellow mulattos, please don’t consider this an invitation to send an unsolicited dick pic to Ivanka.

Still, stories about how biracial people are treated in America are not always so amusing. Around the same time BuzzFeed posted its story last week, it was reported that a teacher in Detroit was under fire because she called one of her biracial students a mutt. That’s not funny at all. That actually sucks. It’s flat-out hurtful, but more than that, it’s typical of the rhetoric biracial people face in America. Since us mulattos are neither one race nor another, we get compared to dogs. We’re mutts—definitively a “non-pure breed mix.” Ask any biracial American the question they’re most sick of hearing and in a beat they’ll answer, “What are you?”, just like Playmate Allie Silva did.

When you’re part black and part white, people tend to frame the issue in terms of blackness. This is due to the history of the one-drop rule, a sociological and legal guideline of race classification dating back to antebellum America. Like a drop of black ink in a glass of clean water, one drop of blackness irrevocably changes everything. The one-drop rule thus created degrees of blackness. There is the half-black mulatto, the quarter-black quadroon, the one-eighth-black octaroon and the one-sixteenth-black quinroon. Each is measured by their distance from whiteness.

Some say biracial people are “Tomorrow People.” To them, we represent the early stages of a post-racial world.

My biracial sister’s blonde, green-eyed, pale children prove you often can’t tell if someone is a quadroon. And people who are biracial and “pass” for white are further proof you can’t tell when someone’s biracial. You’d be surprised what those folks hear when others assume they’re white, just like them.

Some say biracial people are “Tomorrow People.” To them, we represent the early stages of a post-racial world. But that term feels silly, because that positive reinforcement feels like a racial fetish. It’s no better than a negative prejudice because we’re still being co-opted as a thing, an other.

What we are is misunderstood, precisely because we’re more racial than others. We’re literally double racial. Some are uber-racial. Though people try to distinguish us as one race more than others, we remain on the fence of America’s racial divide.

Consider the case of President Barack Obama. He’s biracial, but most identify him as our first black president. His presidency has not increased biracial visibility or understanding in this country. When Pew Research Center polled Americans about Obama’s racial identity, only a third of self-identified blacks identified the president as being of “mixed race.” The majority said he is just “black.” A majority of self-identified white people, however, said Obama is mixed race, with a quarter saying he’s “black.”

Black people are more likely to claim Obama as one of their own, while white people only do so at an arm’s length, thinking of him as mixed. When given the chance, only a third of blacks and a quarter of whites saw Obama as biracial—which he ethnically is.

This poll data is a perfect example of how biracial people often remain unseen, even in a racially charged political climate and a world where most entertainment comes out of liberal Hollywood. There are actually lots of famous biracial people. Did you know Louis CK is biracial? You know who’s also biracial? Vanna White. So is Vin Diesel, Mariah Carey, Dwayne Johnson, Rashida Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Alicia Keys, Bob Marley, Steph Curry, Norah Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Trevor Noah and Wentworth Miller.

Earlier this year, one biracial celebrity, Jesse Williams, addressed this at the BET Awards in an improvised speech that went viral. Williams has been outspoken in his support of BlackLivesMatter and often speaks against systemic racism and police violence against people of color. His speech served as a lucid analysis of race relations in present-day America. On social media, though, trolls pointed out that he’s half-black and thus, shouldn’t speak on the plight of “full black” Americans.

Here’s the thing: Jesse Williams is black. And Jesse Williams is white. He’s both at the same time. This concept remains difficult for people to grasp, which is exactly why biracial people continue to be misunderstood. But biracial people are now the fastest growing racial segment of American babies. Most black-white biracial people, however, will still know in their lifetime what it feels like to be neither one nor the other. Only themselves. As writer Stephanie Georgopulos eloquently states in her essay “Coming Out as Biracial,” “It’s the feeling that you belong nowhere, and not knowing what to do about that, and not knowing who to ask.”

The good news is that some media outlets are finally paying attention. It’s good that black media like Ebony discusses how a hugely popular TV show like Empire portrayed a conflict about blackness and biracial identities. It’s good that social media has allowed people to launch hashtagged visibility campaigns. It’s important that this week, author Roxane Gay held a conversation with three women on the topic of “being black enough” for the Washington Post.

We may be the future, but we can’t show you how to be post-racial. Yet, we are more deeply invested in race than most. Doubly so. We’re above race because we’re neither this nor that. We’re both. We’re uber racial. We’re proof that race can be a descriptor, but that it’s not a full identity by itself. And you are more than your racial label, just like we are.

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