When Being Biracial and Light Complected Means not Being Black Enough

If you are a fan of the late R&B singer Aaliyah, you know that the Disney Channel’s Zendaya Coleman was recently cast to play Aaliyah in the Lifetime Biopic. You probably also know that Aaliyah’s family is not only not excited about the casting, but they didn’t back the made-for-TV movie to begin with.

In short, they feel Aaliyah’s life story, short though it may have been, deserves to be shown on the big screen.

I’m not here to debate that; there are media outlets, media moguls, fans and lawyers already doing that.

No, I want to talk about the backlash that has ensued since Lifetime announced it cast Zendaya Coleman to play Aaliyah.

Maybe you’ve noticed they aren’t the same complexion.

Zendaya is biracial.

Aaliyah, although darker in complexion, was also of mixed heritage.

Maybe you’ve expressed an opinion.

These are some of the ones I have read in the comments section of articles and blogs as well as in social media:

“What makes you think you have the right or authority to one-drop her into the black race? She is not black!”

“She’s not black enough!”

“Lupita Nyongo represents true Blackness!”

“Biracial people Aren’t BLACK!”

And my favorite was from a guy in a Facebook group I belong to called Mixed Chicks. He routinely brought up the term “swirl” to prove his points. Here’s one of them, “U have every right to acknowledge ur swirl... ur cultural black ground relates to whites... so it sounds like u have a personal issue with a cultural identity ur unaware of thats ok.”

I only realized that many in the Black community was battling this one out at 7:30 this morning when I saw something my friend Jamie shared on her Facebook timeline from Mixed Chicks. No doubt Zendaya has felt the heat for days because she had this to say to her critics, “A lot of people say I’m not black enough. Half black is just enough. It doesn’t matter what color you are, it’s about how you portray the character. For those that don’t know, Angela Bassett and Tina Turner, they look nothing alike but she was that character so I think that’s what it’s all about.”

I have to say for someone who’s only 17 years old, she’s pretty mature to have responded this way.

My Views About Race

I am pretty outspoken on the topic of race. Anyone who knows me knows this. Know me for more than half an hour and you know that in spite of my very fair complexion, I identify Black.

Asking me to explain myself on this one is as complicated as trying to understand how I came to label myself an atheist.

My decision to be Black, despite having a father who was Caucasian, wasn’t one arrived at easily or quickly.

And no, it doesn’t mean I hate White people. How can I? My father was White and I raised to love every race and ethnicity there is. I was raised to embrace everyone…period.

It doesn’t mean I have denounced my Whiteness.

That’s not how it is for most biracial people. You’d have to walk a mile in my shoes; experience how others see both me and society at large and experience the kind of racism that only happens when someone lets all sorts of colorful language fly out of their mouths only to discover I am "one of those people." If I had a dollar for each time I saw the look on their faces when they made the discovery, oh rich I'd be.

But that's another topic for another blog.

Just because I am comfortable with my decision, doesn’t mean others are so comfortable with it.

I get the backlash Zendaya is experiencing.

To Caucasian people she’s Black. To Blacks, well this is a very complicated topic. Most biracial people end up choosing, the same way I did.

But it’s in the choosing and the continued choices biracial people make that make others uncomfortable—in particular other African Americans.

After a little explanation, and sometimes it’s not necessary, most of my White friends and family get it.

It’s the Black folks who make this complicated.

This is not to say I don’t experience racism from Whites. But it’s the backlash from Blacks that stings the most.

And why is this?

Following is my response in the Mixed Chicks Facebook page. Anticipating I too would receive tremendous backlash, at last count, my comment received 28 likes and a few comments.

History Repeating Itself Over and Over Again

For hundreds of years this battle has been waged. Ever since White slave owners started raping their slaves, thus creating the mixes of race, we have been fighting amongst ourselves.

This is, of course, exactly what The Man wanted then and continues to want today.

Divided, how can we and why should we band together to demand equality?

Field slaves angry that house slaves got the better 'jobs' and other instances of favoritism shown by Whites throughout history have caused this legacy of hate within our community.

This concept of swirl the brother I alluded to earlier, thus giving him justification to dismiss anything out of hand said by light complected members of this Facebook group underscores the divisiveness within our community.

His swirl concept smacks of Jim Crowe, but in reverse.

If I'm only half or quarter African American, back in the day this may have kept me alive or helped to emancipate sooner.

Today it gives some folks justification to tell me I'm not Black enough.

These are hangovers from colonization and slavery.

People, your beef, regardless whether you believe this actress should or shouldn't have landed this role, isn't with each other.

Casting calls for acting jobs, jobs in the corporate world, record contracts and even in the government and the military are not about qualifications.

They are about politics, agenda, and who holds the power in this country.

At the end of the day y'all can continue fighting amongst yourselves, but it's moot.

Hollywood, corporate America and those who control the money in the U.S. pull the strings. And as long as we fight amongst ourselves about who deserved this role, who should have gotten this or that job, whose hair is 'good' vs. whose hair has a kitchen, who's not black enough and who truly represents blackness, we are doing The Man's job that started the first time a White slave owner raped his first slave.

It's hard enough fighting against the historical ugliness of racism directed at us by The Man but to fight this uphill battle within my own community, feeling I need to justify whom I fell in love with and chose to marry, my word, clothing, music, career, hairstyle and hobby choices to the African American community to me is sadder and more destructive than anything The Man can dish out at me.

Dude, your swirl concept limits you. Of all the comments I read in this thread, yours are truly the most damaging: to yourself and to those of us whom you've directed your vitriol.

Instead of passing judgment, ask yourselves why we need to perpetuate the legacy of the past that we had no control over but that continues to define and divide us.


Photo credit: Flikr Melisarock1