I am a black father to a mixed-race daughter (my ex-partner is a white Italian woman). So, I know in the future, my daughter will face a challenge or maybe even a crisis of identity. Neither her father nor mother would have ever experienced this type of predicament before. As she reaches a certain age, she might naturally begin to ask herself:
Is she British Nigerian or Italian? Can she call herself a black woman? Can she ever claim to represent or stand for black women?
Personally, parents who shield their children from the darkness and complexities of the world are doing them a disservice. I won't be that type of father. At some point, I will need to help my daughter navigate this difficult period as a mixed-race girl. Challenging as it will be, I must show some understanding of the identity crisis she might struggle with.
So this post serves two purposes. Firstly, to analyse the question "Are you black or are you mixed-race" purely from my perspective and opinion. If I cause offence in any way, it was unintentional on my part. Secondly, this is my first attempt of addressing this issue as I might with daughter once she's realised that the pigmentation of one's skin is attached so much external meaning created by the world.
Is a mixed-raced person a black person?
It's such a loaded and sensitive question that, sometimes, I feel I should not even attempt to confront it. But now that I have a mixed-race daughter, I must face this question as I don’t have any choice.
In my opinion, we can examine this from two perspectives. Firstly, from a purely scientific standpoint, a mixed-raced person is not a black person. Biologically, you couldn’t make a logical argument that a mixed-raced person is the same as a black person who has two African or Caribbean parents.
The one-drop rule, whereby someone who has a black parent, or any kind of black heritage is automatically classified as black, is entirely absurd to me. An invention from the US (no surprise there), the one-drop rule was created and applied mainly in Southern America. Its primary purpose was to place children born to mixed relationships, and marriages into the lower socio-economic class. And I don't need to tell you what colour of people were considered to be of a lower class. While the one-drop rule is not recognised in law, it's still upheld by many people, both black and white. In 2011, Halle Berry infamously evoked the one-drop rule during a custody battle for her daughter. Halle Berry herself is mixed-race but identifies as a black woman.
The second perspective looks at the concept of blackness from a cultural and social context rather than from a purely biological rationale.
Now, this is where it gets interesting.
We can't argue with biology. If you were born to two black parents, you're black, regardless if you hate black culture or not. However, if you were born to just one black parent but your whole life evolves around black culture and working within the black community, then does that make you completely black by default? Can you reasonably stand up and say "Yes, I am a black woman" or "Yes, I am a black man" because all your friends are black, you consume black music, black films, black food, and sleep with black people exclusively? Do you have the right to play a black woman in a movie about a historically, biologically black woman or man, if you're mixed race?
What does it mean to black?
To answer those questions, I need to ask myself "What does it mean to be black?” How do we measure one’s blackness?
Of course, if you were born to two black parents, then the answer is clear. But as a mixed-race person, it all depends on the context. My daughter has the right to identify as a black woman, in that she is more connected to that part of her. After all, she is half black. Still, she must recognise that it could be culturally insensitive of her if she claimed that she is completely a black woman. Nor can she pretend she represents the lives of the average black woman.
Simply put, she does not. She represents the life of a mixed-raced woman. It's not the same. While my daughter can stand with black women and fight with them, she will not experience the full challenges of women who look completely black. Biologically, my daughter is not qualified to say she is a fully black woman and she should respect that fact.
I love Drake and I am a massive fan of his music. He has done so much for black culture, in both the US and UK, that we owe him so much. But even though he identifies as black, Drake would struggle to claim he was the face of black men. Even Obama cannot claim to be the epitome of the black man as he is half white and not completely black. Black culture will of course claim these great men as it should, but we must acknowledge that these men are half-white which makes them different from the black man who was born to two black parents.
From my own experience growing up in London, where there is a sizable mixed-race population (looking at you South London), and just my own observations, many mixed-race people with black heritage strongly identify with black culture. While the reasons for this are multifaceted, ultimately black culture is dominant and mainstream in London, so it's easier to be part of it. And black culture is just effortlessly cool, let’s keep it real.
Above all, love yourself as an individual first
Should the day come, in a few years, where my daughter asks me "Dad, am I black?" or if I see her struggle with this aspect of her life, I will say to my daughter:
“You are you.”
Nobody should be defined by or confined to the colour of their skin. Ultimately, we are individuals, and it's the various aspects of our personality which shape us, mould us and give us form. Of course, biologically speaking, my daughter is not a black girl. Still, if she chooses to identify with her blackness and have more solidarity with black people then more power to her. Conversely, she may decide to have more of a connection with her white, Italian side. It doesn't matter.
The question, then, needs to be re-framed. Rather than asking if someone is mixed-race or black, maybe we should be asking: "Do you know yourself and do you love yourself?"