Biracial Divide

“I find [the term biracial] offensive,” Paula Patton told Women’s Health. “It’s a way for people to separate themselves from African-Americans….a way of saying ‘I’m better than that,’” she said. “I’m black because that’s the way the world sees me. People aren’t calling Barack Obama biracial. Most people think there’s a black president….People judged me because I was light-skinned. [They’d assume] I didn’t want to be part of the black race,” she said.

I have given a little more thought to Patton’s comment.

Thanks to Patton and Obama, Americans are having a new conversation about race. It is no longer just a matter of black or white. We are now concerned with identity. The U.S. Census Bureau will flood mailboxes with a survey in the coming weeks, which for the second time, will allow Americans to identify themselves as more than one race.

If you can identify yourself as two or more races on a federal survey, why is the term biracial a problem? It is not derogatory. It is not a racial epithet, and it does not cast aside anyone’s heritage.

It is simply a word embraced by parents and children of a different time. When Patton was coming up, biracial and multiracial children had to choose. They had to be one or the other, not both. The one-drop rule was in effect. In many cases, children of mixed heritage who appeared black, chose to identify themselves as black.

That’s what Patton and Obama did, and that is fine. I wonder, though, whether one of their parents was heartbroken.

I know I would be. I am the mother of two biracial little girls. I see myself in them: my curly hair and my brown eyes. I also see my white husband in them: his skin tone and the bronze highlights in his hair.

If my daughters, who are 5 and 2, identify themselves as white when they are older, I will feel like I failed them as a parent. If they identify themselves as black, my husband will surely feel left out.

Descriptions evolve as people evolve. We can’t expect everyone to shed their identity every 10 or 20 years. We can’t ask people who have identified themselves for years in one way to suddenly view themselves as something else. Identity is the one place where people can draw the line. We each get to choose who we want to be. I will not shout down people who identify themselves a black, white or human. All I ask is that they do the same.


  • I don’t understand how biracial is offensive, but to each their own. I feel the same way as you do. I would feel left out if my children identified as one or the other, and I’m sure my SO would as well.

  • I am so interested to see where this all goes. If I had been in an IR relationship in the 70s or 80s, I would have encouraged Betty to identify as black. Now I plan to heavily encourage her to identify as biracial and not worry about “how others see her.” If other people can’t hold that concept in their head, then that’s their problem. But I have a feeling that this is fixing to be the source of MUCH conflict between older and younger biracial folk. We’ll see…

    • I agree. I would have done the same thing.

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