Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Internet Speaks Back: What Advice Would You Give to This Tragic Mulatto Upset at My Critique of CNN's "Black in America" Series?

Thank you again for donating to our holiday pledge drive. I have learned that repetition is important with fundraising. We are on a nice and consistent pace here on WARN. Each day a consistent amount of funds are being thrown into the virtual tip jar. I would to thank all of you for such a kind gesture.

I would like to end my humbling exercise in having my hand open--as I do not advertise on We Are Respectable Negroes--as soon as possible. There have been more than one million page loads of We Are Respectable Negroes. By the end of January, there will be more than one million visitors. For a website started by friends after a casual conversation that ain't too shabby. 

I learn from all of you. I benefit from your comments. And I would like more folks who lurk and that I talk to via email,to chime in. You all have so much to offer. WARN is only as good as we make it. And yes, we are going some fun places in the upcoming year.

If you have not, and after the bills, kids, daily coffee or tea, and holiday shopping, do throw some change into the tip jar if you can. It will be very much appreciated.
Today, I am going to feature a few posts on issues related to mental health, race, and identity. There is a big question looming over some of our many conversations here on We Are Respectable Negroes that I have never engaged in the depth it deserves. Earlier this week, one of our commenters stated the puzzle and question very plainly.

It really is worthy of explicit engagement--and I would like remedy that oversight today

In response to the latest CNN Black in America special, I wrote an essay on how the most recent installment in the series was actually an investigative report about tragic mulattoes--and a spectacle centered on "outing" black folks' private business around issues of "colorism" and racial identity before a national audience.

Given that the black community has still not worked through such issues in private, I suggested that how a major network would make such matters a topic of public discussion was deeply problematic on any number of levels. Alas, as it always does, profit trumps good considerations of empathy or discretion.

As I wrote about here and on the Daily Kos, last Sunday CNN offered up a human zoo of tragic mulattoes who desperately want to "pass," and thus become "white." 

I intentionally used the phrase "tragic mulatto" because while it is a literary trope, said language does a great job of capturing the real human dynamics of how some folks choose to navigate the colorline in this country. 

There are in fact tragic mulattoes in the black community (as well as among other "raced" groups) who will make a "rational" calculation to overly identity with Whiteness (see: Clarence Thomas and Michelle Malkin), and in if possible to "pass" because life as a person of color is just too damn difficult in their eyes. 

They want to seek a novel and special identity as racial middlemen and middle-women. They understand that being a member of the "colored" classes can be both financially lucrative and beneficial in terms of day-to-day life chances. 

The joke is ultimately on them: "multiracial" identity is prefaced on a lie. Why this claim?

There are no "pure" races. Moreover, the multiracial movement in the United States is driven by a desire to be anything other than black, to distance themselves from the Black Freedom Struggle, and by implication, African-Americans (as well as other people of color).

This is especially true for those "mixed race" or "multiracial" folks who are the product of pairings between African Americans and whites--where the former is not present in the lives of their children. As research has suggested, white parents, especially mothers, desperately want to access some type of white privilege for the children they have produced with a person of color.

A broad, humanistic, and all encompassing understanding that black folks in the Americas are for the most part "multiracial" because of chattel slavery's legacy is an obstacle to that vision. Here, the rule of hypo-descent--or what is known in common American speech as the "one drop rule"-- is overturned. For many "multiracials" their location in the social hierarchy is now determined by one's relationship to Whiteness as opposed to their blood ties to Black America. 

I enjoy writing online because the Internet speaks back to you. Abstract sociological concepts become real in such moments. Libraries are great. Journal articles are essential. Empirical research is indispensable.

Having the sociological imagination quite literally email you is priceless.

When these concepts "speak" they can be authentic, i.e. a "real person" who is personally invested in these ideas because they are an actual member of the group being discussed. Online commenters can be frauds too: however, in their performance of a lie, they are revealing how some dimension of the public's collective consciousness understands said idea or concept.

A real tragic mulatto spoke back to me over at the Daily Kos. Out of almost 300 comments, their voice rang clear and true. I would like to share the exchange.

What advice would you have given to this person? Where is their pain coming from? In thinking through race in the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama, are tragic mulattoes, and others who will do anything to distance themselves from people of color, becoming more or less influential, "outing" themselves, and no longer hiding behind a mask of shame? 

A question. How does a person become a trope out of a Harlem Renaissance novel? What happened in "Miss my village's" life to make him act this way? Which parent failed? 

Do enjoy. I have added italics to the sentences which I felt were particularly rich and illustrative.


I am mixed race. Any further attempt to define myself as belonging to one group or another simply disrespects 1/2 of my heritage AND defines myself by the ham handed racial groupings of simpletons basking in the warm glow of the comfort of past history. I cant live in the luxury of a past, I am a precursor of the future. Tragic indeed.

According to the "math" presented here I can either be part of "blackness" (because my pigmentation defaults me into this), or "pretend" to belong to whiteness. As someone who was raised entirely in a white community that welcomed and nurtured me, and not by my black father who failed to show up or be around me growing up so he could hang out, may I say I find the "invitation" to be black a day late and a dollar short. Nor do I feel I belong to being white, but I do know in my experience who had my back. And and I bet there are a ton of bi-racial kids being raised by white moms who go through this same thing. I don't think your racial assumptions about how other people should approach this help(nor do the shows you cite), that just my opinion, thanks.

by Miss my village

textbook, can i borrow your story? 

an article on much of what we are talking about here re: tragic mulattoes, identity issues, and why so many try to opt into whiteness because of personal pain or the like.

the mixed race movement is being driven by white mothers who are trying to access white privilege for their children. your example is further proof of what the research suggests on the topic. thanks for sharing.

you are not a precursor of the future. you are part of a long old story. do some research; you may be pleasantly surprised.

by chaunceydevega

NO I do not belong in your predefined box 

I AM NEITHER white nor BLACK. YOU have the problem. MY research is my life, which you want to ever so intellectually suggest I discard in favor of your racial chains. You are simply wrong about me, my experiences and my motivations. The tragedy is the fact you think you speak for "real" biracial people, the "not confused"ones who have "accepted they are essentially black" which is as goddamned foolish as pining to be white. What I am saying is I identify with the way I was RAISED, and ALSO accept and LOVE the color of my skin because I have the ABILITY and right to do BOTH as a BI-racial human. Something you apparently are both jealous and afraid of. There is no "mixed race movement" this theory is being driven by your fear of being lower on the "racial ladder" you so despise, yet need to justify your own antiquated racial views(I don't believe in this ladder, but without it how could YOU write this stupid fucking post?).

White mothers and their biracial children have had to survive and define themselves WITHOUT the help and support of the black (or white) community in many(most?) cases, why does that piss you off/make you tremble so much? I don't need to ask a black person what to make of my bi- racial identity, they cant help me define it EITHER. Sorry you lose. Please just fuck the hell off, I think you want to make a case for the benevolence of the black race toward bi-racial people they helped create which in many cases is NOT REALLY THERE. Color IS only skin deep, after all. No reply needed, its your theories against my reality. Reality wins. Goodbye.

by Miss my village

suck my textbook brown dick. I'm proud of what I am and amused by your inability to accept it.

There are many white people that call me brother that will call you a n-word to your face, why is that?

There are many places I go where because of my mannerisms and speech I am welcome, and you are not. Why is that?

Are all of us deluded, because your theory says no? Jesus fucking christ NO, YOU ARE SIMPLY WRONG!!!!

Please get over your fucking opinion. Go tell bisexual people they must choose to be gay only, or something else constructive. You and I are not the same, we don't share the same racial societal acceptance (except for in the minds of race-fetishists like yourself, which counts for shit except when speaking to the like minded)and I'm neither lost or trying to merge with your identity.

I'm not looking to think or act like you, or any white person for that matter, why does that make you sad? I don't NEED your black culture to love myself. I don't NEED white culture either. Some of us CAN be fine without a definition to fall back on. Jesus Christ are you fucking stupid.

by Miss my village

you need some hugs.

bit more mature in discussing these matters. as I said you are a textbook case of what we are discussing here. please do share more. i am learning a great deal from you.

by chaunceydevega

in what way do you assume I am textbook? 

by Miss my village

These are your words:

"As an antidote to such tragic mulattoes, Soledad O'Brien's Black in America special also profiled some well-adjusted black people who understand that race is a fiction. Despite the "race" of their not black parent, they understand that the one drop rule prevails in the United States, and these individuals gain strength and grounding from their identities as Black Americans."

I submit these people cannot be black and are not black, any more than they can choose to be (tragically) white. Yo posit that only one can be legit. in fact you attempt to belittle my statement of my reality and experience by repeating the word textbook. your simply a black racist, the dark side of the overvalued coin.

by Miss my village

overvalued coin. you are really in self-hating 

tragic mulatto mode now. did you get that out of a Harlem renaissance era novel or something?

by chaunceydevega 


nomad said...

Oh, you po po mulattoes. This one nearly made me spit out my coffee this morning. 'Soledad O'Brien not light enough'.

"There is no word on what would happen to O’Brien and her trademark series, “Black in America.” But the move would be disappointing to those who enjoy seeing DARKER FACES on television."


chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. It is hard out there for the mulattoes in 21st century America.

Anonymous said...

Marsh Hunt made some interesting comments:

When Hunt came to live in Europe she found that people there called her an American, not an African-American or Black. She herself describes her skin color as "oak with a hint of maple", and notes that "[o]f the various races I know I comprise—African, American Indian, German Jew and Irish—only the African was acknowledged." Hunt invented her own word to describe herself, based on the French word melange (mixture) and the word melanin: Melangian.
Hunt said in 1991 that there is a pain inflicted by the black community on itself, which it fears to communicate openly. She also says that living overseas for most of her life has made her a foreigner in the USA. She said, "I'm scared to walk through Harlem... more scared than you, because if I walked through Harlem with the weird shoes and the weird accent, I'd get my butt kicked faster than you. In a way, I'm the betrayer."

- Buddy H.

The Sanity Inspector said...

So far as fund-raising goes, the greatest appeal pitch I've ever seen is this one, over at the website of expatriate curmudgeon Fred Reed:

Panhandling is not particularly pleasant, or I'd be sitting outside the subway jiggling a McDonald's cup seeded with bait change. Fact is, though, costs attach to producing these eruptions of outrage and sedition -- not much more than $1K a year in direct costs, but lots more in time which, for a freelance purveyor of lies and distortion, is money lost. Granted, you didn't ask me to do it. You don't owe me anything. On the other hand, these curiosities seem to amuse a lot of people, who of course may have too much time on their hands.

This isn't a strong-arm approach. The column will continue anyway. I'm not actually dying. Why, you might ask, should you pay for my hobby when I don't pay for your hang-gliding? Think about something else. But in a moment of reduced alertness, especially if you are filthy rich from exploiting orphans and oppressing children in iron lungs, a few small bucks would sure help.

The Sanity Inspector said...

As for the multi-racial experience, it seems to me that it's wrong to insist for them to pretend that they don't see, feel and know what they in fact do see, feel and know. That's un-American.

chaunceydevega said...

@Sanity. That is priceless. I wish I were that confident. Opportunity costs are the real issue. Even if you add up an hour or sometimes two a day it ain't cheap. But, you have to do it for love not money.

One of my friends who is far smarter with these business matters than I am said you should always advertise because it is a signal of perceived value which then snowballs for readers and other advertisers. We shall see.

Re: the "tragic mulatto" observation. I am not interested in forced identification. Wouldn't want them anyway as part of the team. But, the puzzle is fascinating. Many tragic mulatto types come "home" eventually.

nomad said...

"When Hunt came to live in Europe she found that people there called her an American, not an African-American or Black."

She didn't understand it because she had been (I assume) raised in America under its unique one drop rule. Every where else in the world mixed black/white people occupied a third intermediate racial tier. Not black. Not white. They were thought of as "mulattoes". And though Marsh may not have known what that was and invented the term "melange", the French did indeed have a word for racial intermediacy, as does every European language. Mulatre. Reminds me of the most famous of French mulattoes, Dumas. Why is he not thought of as a black writer? His skin color was of no significance. His descendants probably melted right into French culture and became white without a hassle. Why? No white supremacist one drop rule. Strictly an American invention. And yeah, Marsh would have been severely out of place if after being socialized in a three tier system, she had to once again operate under the one drop rule.

One of the jokes I like to tell in contrasting how mulattoes were treated in America and how they were treated in France. If the one drop rule applied in France the way it applied in America then one of the greatest artists of the 19th century, a favorite of mine, would be considered black, this man with a creole background and family connection to New Orleans. Edgar Degas. The greatest black artist of the 19th century.


CNu said...

All this crazy talk about melangians and other such peculiar coinages provoked a recollection of melungeons and a most peculiar backwater of radically autonomous mixed-race-ism that I have ever come across.

Have you ever come across Frank W. Sweet and the Backintyme and Study of Racialism aggregations?

Anonymous said...

Your mention of Dumas reminded me of Pushkin. He is considered the greatest, most revered Russian writer. And of course quite dark.

In this country, the greatest cartoonist of the early 20th century was Black (although he kept his kinky hair shaved short and wore hats as much as possible.) He created Krazy Kat, and found success in the "cartooning" industry that is, still today, stubbornly caucasian. He is worshipped to this day by white fanboys who probably don't even know his ancestry.

I don't understand the term "bi-racial" ... aren't we all bi-racial?? Who the hell nowadays is 100% of anything? My grandparents were immigrants from southern Italy in 1915. I never had a DNA test, but I have to assume I'm not 100% white. My wife has some Chinese ancestry mixed in with her African roots. My sons are "mixed" as the old folks say, but who isn't?

I agree with Mr. Devega, who wrote "there is one race - the human race."

- Buddy H.

Anonymous said...

Rhianna does not post the pictures like the ones you see on celebitchy. The illuminatti PR squad does that. Rhianna is a walking advertisement for sex brothels and crime against all black women in america. The illuminatti are linked to white supremacist groups who want the use of black women for sexual slavery and deviancy like during the days of slavery and reconstruction. It always starts with the mixed race ones and then when there is no one left to speak and fight they will come for the least of the these the dark black girls in the streets with no protection. The assult on mixed race blacks is the best way to get to the heart of black race. They conqueor and divide. It is working well under this first black president. Even he put Malia his own mulato daughter in the tanning booth to take the yellow out. Anyone notice. Don't worry whites will notice you turning on each other and you will end up at the bottom as always . You don't protect your women your children or the ones who fought for you(mostly mixed race black americans ) you always do the same old thing. As an asian studying american race, and gender issues it is a sad to see the black race constantly loosing at the same old race game.

CNu said...

um, er, ah..., this anonymous makes a WHOLE LOT of sense to me from a purely Nashian, game-theoretical perspective.

nomad said...

"Don't worry whites will notice you turning on each other"

Notice it? They counting on it. Why you think they installed a faux black president in the first place? said...

I need to tell you brothas something. First of all as a white guy I need to tell you how much this website means to me. I feel at home. I first starting logging on to get into black culture because I was sleeping with several black girls. I wanted to know what to talk about when I tried to pickup new ones. I know you brothas will love this and consider me a part of the crew when I tell you that so far I have bagged 715 black hotties!!! I know keep your congrats and your worries to yourself DONT WORRY ABOUT ME! I get tested regularly. I also mostly just date and ONLY sleep with the upscale girls (kerri washington types) who I know don't have aids. When I do bag a department store type or lower I demand she get tested first. It's hard to wait for these honeyies but it's worth it. Now I want you guys you black people to be okay with each other because in the end its true that most whites think you all look alike. Not in a racist way but in a beautiful black way!!! I am not racist because I sleep with black women so I think you need to listen to me to get some insight brothas. For example when I first watched the new show Deception it I sat down with one of the girls I am seeing and said that I thought that Alicia Keys looked great. I also said I didnt know she was such a good actress. My girl got really like offended She said that Alicia was light and Kerri was medium toned. I had no idea what she was talking about. She said it was important that Kerri was in the lead of the show because mostly when a girl is cast as smart and beautiful they pick someone "light" or mixed. I asked her what that meant. She said Alicia had a white parent. I said that Beyonce is considered beautiful and had two black parents she told me that didnt count because Be has white folks "back in there somewhere". So anyway she said that Kerri had played an african in the Last King of Scotland (which i didnt see) and that she looked african and that she identified with her. So to me a white guy I just see two great pairs of legs, great hips, a great ass on each, great tits, and a beautiful mouth. They both have long silky hair. I want to bag them both. Okay . You brothas know what I mean. The same thing happened to me back in the early 1980's when I would get Stephani Mills confused with Lisa Bonet. My black friends got mad with me I was one of three white guys on a mostly black basketball team.They said Stephani had a great voice and was cute but that Lisa was beautiful and fine. I saw two short girls with great hips , a full sexy mouth and saw the same thing. None of your friends will tell you this but unless a black has light hair and light eyes we don't think there is a lot of difference. Its probably similar to the way you guys think about asians. Unless a girl has light eyes like Vanessa Williams I don't see a lot of difference in you. and even then I thought that Vanessa Williams and Wendy Williams were sisters until another girl that I am sleeping with told me that they were not related. She said that Vanessa was high class and that wendy was from the "street". She said that Wendy's hair was a weave and that Vanessa's was real. All this talk of red, or light in the skin or hair being glossy or nappy makes you all sound like the ones who are mentally ill. You know what I say guys "whatever" "talk to the hand" okay. In the end You look a like for the most part in a good way.

Peace out,


chaunceydevega said...

@Buddy. Cosign on Pushkin. And where did you get that first citation? Would like to do more research.

@Eric. Either that is the most real thing ever or an epic fail of performance art. Do convince me either way.

Anonymous said...


Marsha Hunt came to mind because in the news recently a bunch of love letters written by Mick Jagger went up for auction. Marsha Hunt is the mother of one of his children, and the inspiration for the song "Brown Sugar" of all things.

George Herriman died in 1944; he is considered today to be one of the greatest cartoonists of the early 20th century:

- Buddy H.

nomad said...

Thx for the info, Buddy. Mulatto artists is focus of my study. I'm adding Herriman.