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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On The Black/Bi-Racial Thing...

There has been some talk going around the Black Blogosphere on a little ditty called "I'm Bi-Racial, Not Black, Damn It!", a documentary about those of bi-racial heritage not wanting to be placed in the "Black" box. It has opened up an internet debate, of sorts, some saying that there is self-hatred involved, others saying that they empathize.

I have been doing some market research for a film starring Maya Rudolph, and I have found the situation a bit interesting. She is one of the leads, and her husband is white. Her being "Black" or even "bi-racial" never really comes up in the film, as it also is never an issue with Rashida Jones and her white co-leads. Their films are marketed to white audiences in general; think "Away We Go" and the comedy "I Love You, Man". Both films that I found very enjoyable.

For those of you that don't know, Maya Rudolph is the daughter of the late soul singer Minnie Ripperton, and Rashida Jones is the daughter of super-producer Quincy Jones. Unlike Halle, who is bi-racial but darker, their race never really comes up, and they assimilate with no fanfare. Do you think they get work that Black actresses seem to be pining for because of their complexion or because of their talent?

Just out of curiosity, as this has absolutely nothing to do with the film I'm working with, I have this little poll going. Please leave your thoughts on this whole new dust-up on the Black/bi-racial thing in the comments if can--I'd like to hear what you think.


Frank said...

I'm mixed race myself (half english, half ugandan) I guess I have a simimlar complexion to Mr President and I do not consider myself black. I am mixed race, I am brown. I believe it is ignorant to label someone black just because they have some black 'in them' as it ignores the rest of their heritage. There are millions of people from the Asian subcontinent who are darker than me who would not be labelled as black and yet I would be (by some)- deosn't make sense to me. Good post btw

msladydeborah said...

Hi IW,

I really want to see this movie.

Even though I am Black, a large portion of my family is bi-racial. I have siblings who are bi-racial. Also all of my grandchildren are bi-racial. I want to see the entire film before determining what is understandable and what is questionable.

Citizen Ojo said...

I just thought it was Hollywoods way of getting someone that played to both races. They can get a safe looking actress that can pass for white and when the NAACP complains they can say well she is Half Black. Nothing against the actresses because both of them are very talented and I'm glad to see them working.

es138 said...

I hear that amongst the strife of being 100%Hapa (bi-racial) are the playground days, and having strangers picturing your parents fucking. I guess there's a clause in the One-drop rule which states that people can be all up in your business... and you shouldn't get vexed because we're just taking "a genuine interest in getting to know you." If this film accomplishes anything, I hope it's making pure blooded individuals with concrete - taken for granted - notions of identity, feel stupid for a minute.

Visibility said...

Maya and Rashida are not Black because they say they are not Black.

And really, if you have a choice, why would you choose to be a part of the most historically underrepresented group in Hollywood? Black women. Halle had no choice. She was living in a different era where Bi-racial identity was just starting to gain a real foothold. Plus, she is brown skinned and had that really short hair cut. She read Black. Rashida is very, very light, with seemingly straight shiny hair. Maya is also very light and can "pass". I hate to use that word, but unless she tells people, most White people won't see her as Black.

If you want to be an actress, have a career in Hollywood, you do WHATEVER you can to get a leg up. WHATEVER! You get a nose job, chin job, boob job, take classes, spend money on headshots, buy expensive makeup, get weaves, color your hair, highlight and lowlight your hair, mani-pedis, you get my picture? And, in light of the current discussion of people who look Black not being Black, then certainly if you don't look Black, then you don't need to categorize yourself as Black. It would be career suicide for either of those women to be all "Hey, I'm Black and proud!" For sure, they aren't, but even if they once considered themselves Black, they probably quickly realized that being a Black woman in Hollywood is a liability.

And listen, I don't fault them. Let's not pretend that They are just doing what they need to do to have what they want for their lives.

The bottom line is that the whole Bi-racial rhetoric cannot be divorced from our country's racial history. It is human nature to want to put yourself in the best position for success. If you have an option of being something other than Black, it makes perfect sense to want to claim as much of your heritage as possible, especially if part of your heritage is more privileged than the other parts.

Karen said...

I'm biracial and I really enjoyed both of their movies! Rashida and Maya have the right to self-identity however they want and a person should be able to love and embrace all of their ethnicities.

Invisible Woman said...

@visibility: welcome. thank you for your comment, but the quote "they are not Black because they say they are not Black" seems a bit odd to me. I have seen them both rep their famous parents very proudly and with the utmost regularity. I have also never heard or read them claiming a racial status one way or the other, and I try to keep up with their careers.

Do you have any direct sources, links, or interviews you could list when they might have said this?

eeaster said...

The funny thing about that documentary clip and about this issue in general is that the biracial people who are so adamant that they are not just black, and who think they don't look black are always the Blackest looking people in the bi-racial bunch.

The really, truly ambiguous people I know all identify themselves as simply Black. Probably because they get to hear what white people really think about Black people.

Invisible Woman said...

@eeaster: ya know, that is exactly what i thought when i viewed it. people are free to identify themselves any way they like, but those that i saw in the clip seem to be setting themselves of for a lifetime of pains and disappoinments.

i also agree with your other statement; on my mom's side that is actually the case with all of them. for example, my grandfather was the head of a housing authority in new jersey. he had straight hair, gray eyes, and white skin. almost daily he heard from those who did not know him personally "those nigg*rs this, those nigg*rs that". i can only imagine how he lived through that, and he definitely always claimed black.

Visibility said...


So there was an HBO documentary called "The Black List". In that doc, Maya was interviewed and said flat out "I am not Black, I am not White". She does not self identify as Black.

Truthfully, I could be wrong about Rashida Jones, but I believe that she identifies as Bi-racial. To me that is distinct from Black.

Either way, in both cases, they have a certain privilege when it comes to being actresses because don't look Black.

Brigitte said...

Personally, I don't care if someone chooses to call themselves biracial or mixed or whatever. It's personal but I do wonder if these particular biracial people(in the documentary) get as upset when someone mistakes them for white or another non-black race.

NunaOni said...

I Away We Go, the race thing comes up least in the version I saw. Once she us asked how dark the baby will be and a second time someone uses the term you people or something like that. Did we see the same movie?

Invisible Woman said...

@visibilty: thanks for that :-)

@brigitte: very interesting point...

@nunaoni: hi there. the statement i think you were referring to is the film i am currently working with, not away we go.

i also said race was not an issue for her white co-lead, john krasinski, as it wasn't for paul rudd, rashida jones' co-lead. that's what i meant anyway....always good to get feedback tho.

Reel Whore said...

Do you think they get work that Black actresses seem to be pining for because of their complexion or because of their talent?

Maya Rudolph? It's talent. That's one funny lady. Rashida Jones? It's who she knows, i.e. Apatow et al. Sorry Rashida, but I remember thinking she was "Whew Hot!" when I saw her on the Chappelle Show, but then I heard nothing from her again until she got tied in w/ Judd and the boys.

Anonymous said...

i think people need to understand what black means. not african-american but black. i'm brown too.
i'm cool with them being seen as bi-racial b/c they are but this is just another way of absorbing these labels that were placed upon us.

i remember we discussed zoe saldana and about here being a black actress. i wanted to disagree. how is it hispanics can be black but not bi-racial people? i get the point they are making but it's true their issue is with being labeled as black among other things.

8thlight said...

I blogged about these 2 movies a little while ago and I know the whitewashing of the two characters really irked the hell out of me. Both movies in general were nice, but the whitewashing took a bit of the enjoyment out of them for me personally.