My old man’s a white old man
And my old mother’s black.
If ever I cursed my white old man
I take my curses back.
If ever I cursed my black old mother
And wished she were in hell,
I’m sorry for that evil wish
And now I wish her well
My old man died in a fine big house.
My ma died in a shack.
I wonder were I’m going to die,
Being neither white nor black?
Growing up mixed is hard in America. There are no dolls, not too many heroes and no box to explain your identity on applications. As a child I was was called a zebra, half breed and a mutt. There are many stereotypes about being biracial, confused, mixed up the tragic mulatto. From a young child I was always forced to explain my ethnic make up. Are you Puerto Rican, Arab? What are you?
The term mulatto comes from the word mule. A mule is an ass, an animal bred from two separate species, a horse and a donkey, that cannot reproduce. Most biracials consider it an offensive term yet it is still freely used.
My father was a Jamaican Immigrant who came to the US to study at MIT. My mother was a refugee from South Africa who came to MIT to study after she was deported for conspiring against the apartheid regime. Growing up it was hard to find a group to identify with. I was proud of my diverse heritage yet insecure about where I fit into society.
America’s color coded racial identity system makes it hard for people of mixed race to choose a group to identify with. America is not like South Africa where people of mixed race were deemed colored and given separate social status under the law.
For years, biracials have been viewed as the bastard children of America, rejected by their white parents and accepted by black society. Biracials have always had a place in African American society while being cast from white society in the states. The same laws of slavery and Jim Crow applied to biracials as well as blacks. That is not to say that biracials were not given preferential treatment but they had the same status under the law.
It wasn’t until I read Barack Obama‘s book, Dreams From My Father, in 2004, that I really thought about my identity as a both a biracial and as an African American. His tale of struggle for identity paralleled mine, embracing his white relatives and white heritage while clearly defining himself as a black man. As a book, Dreams From My Father was as influential as Malcolm X’s Autobiography in terms of determining my personal identity. No longer were my options of success becoming a successful rapper or comedian.
Barack Obama had taken his biracial identity and incorporated himself into the greater American identity and opened up the doors for biracials and blacks to determine their own place in society.
Obama’s journey for identity led for him to believe that despite the fact his father was a foreign born African and that he was raised mostly by his white mother and family, he considers himself African American. Still Obama is part white. Historically being white was exclusive. If you had one drop of black blood, you couldn’t be white. Being black has ben more inclusive, as the black community has accepted biracials immigrants and latinos into their greater struggle.
Being biracial is a gift and a curse. The curse is having to struggle with identity and placement in society. Barack Obama struggled with the curse of identity but showed how beautiful the gift of being able to relate and connect with people of all races in his historic campaign.
When Barack Obama was born it was illegal in 16 states for blacks to mary whites. Today the product of a relationship between a black man and a white is the President of the United States.
If we were to give biracials a separate category from African Americans, we would have to take several pages out of black history. Several politicians, artists and writers who contributed to the struggle for African American human rights and dignity were of mixed race. If we were to take biracials out of black history it would be a disservice to both biracials and blacks.
When Barack Obama called himself a mutt at his first Presidential press conference, it was a self deprecating remark that reflected the new face of both biracials and America. The next time a mixed kid is called a mutt or half breed, he can say so is the President of the United States.
Barack Obama’s historic rise to the Presidency is a victory for biracials, a victory for African Americans and a victory for Americans as a whole. Although his experience are distinctly unique, there are parts of Barack Obama that every American can directly connect with. Our President is black, he is also part white, he is biracial, he’s an American. Get over it.