Saturday, February 27, 2010
Multi-Racial Read #4
Unlike the other multi-racial books which I have reviewed, Angela Nissel’s autobiography, Mixed: My Life in Black and White, is a contemporary look at what it means to grow up as a light-skinned African American woman. The daughter of a black woman and a white man, Nissel was born and raised in Philadelphia in the last part of the 20th century.
With microscopic scrutiny, Nissel describes various events in her life as she struggled with her identity. One of her early memories is wanting to fit in with the white girls at her Catholic elementary school. When the nun asks the class to draw a self-portrait, she offers the black children a crayon marked, “Burnt Umber” Angela plans to ask her mother when she gets home, “….why I wasn’t gray like an ostrich, because don’t black and white combine to make gray?” When the nun offers the other African American children darker crayons to “make your faces darker too.” The children refuse and Anglea thinks, “Didn’t Sister Mary get it? We just wanted to fit in.” (p. 16).
As she grows up, Nissel flip-flops from the white to the black community. Her search to discover where she belongs leads to inevitable conflicts with her mother who informs her, “I don’t know who told you that you were better than anyone else because you have a white dad, but let me tell you, you’re just as black as me…One drop of black blood makes you black, young lady.” Angela, with unarguable logic wonders to herself, “How come one drop of white blood doesn’t make you white?” (p. 79-80.)
Each chapter of the book begins with a quote which addresses the issue of the multi-racial experience. In one Ursula Brown writes, “In a culture that idealizes whiteness and devalues blackness, black children frequently identify with the white dominant race. With the interracial person being half white and therefore closer to a white Euro-American frame of reference and privileges than uniracial blacks, becoming black is even more of a challenge.” This theme of “Euro-American frame of reference” has been repeated in the multi-racial books I’ve read. I wonder how many Caucasians comprehend the experience of living in a society where your skin color is less than ideal.
In Nissel’s quest to find her place in either the white or black community, she reiterates another theme which repeated itself in my research: “It’s not about the color of your skin-- it’s about the culture you’re identified with.” Nissel’s longing to belong to a community met with frustration at a white prep school; acceptance among fellow psychiatric patients; and challenge at a strip joint. Shopping for her stripper costume she was confronted with the frequently asked question, “What are you?” That question has followed, Elliott Lewis, author of Fade his entire life. His book is the next multi-racial book I’ll review.
multi-racial, light-skinned African Americans, Angela Nissel, Elliott Thomas Fade