I picked this trailer promoting the documentary Bi-Racial…Not Black Damn It up via Twitter on yesterday, and it immediately intrigued me. Originally, I was only going to inform you of the documentary and get your feedback on it. But as I watched and re-watched, the gears began turning, and my notes and comments bloomed.
But it all starts with the trailer and the brief sentiments expressed therein.
At one time, I believed that the race bi-racial individuals chose to identify with depended wholly on proximity. In short, whichever race they spent the most time around was the race they chose to identify as. But as I have evolved, so have my views on many things to include multi-racial subjectivity.
Since that time in talking in-depth with bi-racial individuals, I have come to realize the very complexity of the notion of identity for these individuals.
First, I notice the confusion of these individuals. Is confusion the right word? Perhaps not. It seems insulting. Let’s use ambivalence. First, I notice the ambivalence as to how one should identify his- or herself. Am I black? Am I white? Where do I fit in? Why should I even have to choose?
But our society and culture almost insists that you choose, that you identify yourself as one or the other even though whichever you choose, the narrative already exists that will invariably decide for you dependant on the amount of melanin present in your skin or the straightness or kinkiness of your hair. Just the very unctuousness inherent in one daring to try to identify oneself for oneself opens one up to ridicule from both sides of the racial divide.
At this point, I would have liked to inform you of the effect this has on bi-racial individuals. At this point, I had planned to discuss the mental stress it causes. But I find myself unable to articulate this simply because I am not bi-racial; I find it hard to argue from that subject position, one that I am not familiar with. But I am an African American, and I find the two subject positions similar, so I will continue my argument from that subject position.
African American is what we most widely identify ourselves as now. Implicit in this notion is a split subject position. We are Americans, but ultimately we can trace our ancestry back to the continent of Africa. In addition, skin color marks us as different, as somehow being outside the mainstream.
And this perceived difference extends to what is thought of as African American culture as well. Though it is almost impossible to comprehensively identify or to define African American culture, the culture too is defined as different, as outside the mainstream. In fact, it is most often defined in the negative.
But to enter into mainstream society and culture, we are asked to make a choice. We are asked to subscribe to either one culture or the other, but as with bi-racial individuals, the choice is a false choice. Whichever choice we make, we are always preceded by an existing narrative of deviance and depravity that will supposedly speak for us before we ever open our mouths.
And the result is confusion. And the result is the warring of two ideals, two selves, within the same body. The result is a distrust of those different from us. Who am I to trust? Who is really my ally, and who harbors ill will? The result is a self-loathing of sorts. We deny, we despise, we ridicule that part of ourselves, that part of our culture that would expose us as somehow different, that refuses to follow the rules.
And this effect is felt most acutely by those of us who have followed and continue to follow the rules of inclusion to a tee. Those of us with full faculty of the English language. Those of us who have spent years being educated at colleges and universities. Those of us who neatly trim our hair and beards, who feel most comfortable in button down oxford shirts, khakis, and loafers. Those of us who spend the bulk of our lives in the mainstream dealing with those who might or might not accept us, who might or might not hate us, who might or might not know us only through that narrative which precedes us.
Bi-racial individuals and African Americans share the same quandary although in differing degrees and contexts. But in all of this I must ask you, how do we reconcile between the two halves, the two selves? In all of this, how can we develop the half into a whole or is it even possible?
And it all starts with the trailer and the brief sentiments expressed therein.
[A. Spence uses the same video in positing a separate and different argument on her site, Blackology. Click the link and go over and check it out.]