Biracial identities – Who gets to be “black enough”?

In a country in which the question has historically been “who gets to be white?” there is a special irony in recent media backlash at many biracial stars participating in the Black Lives Matter movement, making the question of import in this situation “who gets to be black?”Taye Diggs, Zendaya, Alicia Keys, and other media stars have all been pressed to justify their participation in the movement, based on the comments of critics who question whether or not they are “black enough” as discussed in this article, which also notes the absurdity of the argument that biracial activists are somehow barred from participation in black social justice issues, noting that such an attitude “flies in the face of (biracial individuals’) history as noteworthy activists combating racial discrimination and segregation right alongside the generations navigating U.S. slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights and black power movements since the beginning”.

Whether or not media backlash against biracial activists is justified, it is worth looking into why exactly such accusations are made and the way that biracial identities are perceived in a country where race is such an all-important factor in the way that we categorize people into social groups, and therefore into the social movements in which it is appropriate for them to participate. To use one case study, Zendaya recently faced criticism for an article recently published in the magazine Complex where she was quoted as saying “But to literally be two races, it’s really hard to see color because I’m the grey area…” Ironically, though Zendaya has faced criticism for participating in the Black Lives Matter movement for not being black enough, critics were also quick to set her straight on just how black she is following the release of the interview, as in the tweets shown below, accusing her of disowning her black heritage.

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Though Zendaya immediately responded to the wave of criticism she received in response to the quote, saying that she identifies as African-American, and that the quote was taken out of context, the fear evident in twitter critics’ responses that it is possible to disown one’s black heritage, or be brainwashed out of a black identity says something interesting about the way that the presence of biracial individuals interacts with racial identities in the United States. It seems as if people are anxious to confirm an in group/out group identity regarding race for the purpose of racial justice, but at the same time concerned that the groups they have just confirmed will not hold in the face of individuals who are biracial and thus cannot be entirely “in group”, even if like Zendaya they identify as African-American. While I can’t really comment on the difficulties of forming a biracial identity for lack of first-hand experience, the media backlash over who gets to fight for the cause of racial justice seems to create an awkward middle ground for people of biracial heritage where they are reminded that they are black in the eyes of a white society, but not black enough to march with black people.

If anyone has actually made it to the bottom of this post, I would be fascinated to hear other perspectives on what biracial identities mean in the United States, since unlike the concept of race generally, which is pretty impossible to escape here, it doesn’t seem to be a very frequent topic in mainstream media.

 

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