When the trailer for “mixed-use” dropped there were two criticisms. 1. How did Rainbow’s mama get so dark? and 2. Do we really need a story detailing the struggles of biracial children? Both of the questions were valid.
It was like a reverse Aunt Viv situation. In “black-ish” the modern day version of the Johnson’s family story, Rainbow’s mother is played by Anna Deavere Smith, a very light complected Black woman. And in “mixed-ish,” which takes place in the past, she’s Tika Sumpter brown. There were some who thought it was pandering. Like perhaps it was used as a device in order to contrast the difference between her Blackness and her husband’s Whiteness. I’m not sure and personally I wasn’t that bothered.
The criticism that I felt deserved more time and consideration was whether or not we—the Black community and Americans at large— needed to hear about a child with biracial identity.
We have to acknowledge that many biracial people, with light skin and acceptable natural hair are the often seen as palatable Blacks in the larger context of American society. They’re the acceptable representations of Blackness. They’re the first chosen for roles in Hollywood. Their hair has been the standard in the natural hair movement. They’re the Black people seen as the most beautiful. We can thank the hierarchy system based on skin complexion established during slavery for that. And if we’re keeping it hundred percent honest, the standard we’ve adopted and perpetuate in our own community. (That part we’re not always ready to talk about.)
Because of this level of privilege biracial people enjoy, Black folk weren’t entirely sold on “mixed-ish.”
Especially when the trailer dropped and it seemed that Rainbow and her biracial brothers and sisters would be bullied by other Black children.
Like Black children calling them “weirdos.” I get it Black folk didn’t and don’t want to be portrayed as the “bad guys” against a privileged class. But I think it’s important to make room for these stories. Because biracial children are a part of our community. And I think it would do a disservice to them and to ourselves as a community to turn our backs on them and their experiences because they have “acceptable” skin and hair texture.
I grew up with more than a few biracial kids and I knew they faced challenges that were unique to them. I’m always reminded of the story a good friend of mine told about a recurring dream she had as a child where the KKK broke into her house, killed her Black father, took her White mother away and asked her to choose which race she was.
It was a question I saw reflected in the first episode of “mixed-ish” where Rainbow and her two siblings don’t know where to sit in the lunchroom. Not only do they not know where to sit, they don’t even know that they’re considered mixed. But children are adaptable. They learn quickly. And with the help of television—which they’d never been exposed to— Rainbow’s siblings realize that they’ll have to decide quickly if they want to be able to assimilate to their new, socially segregated, suburban environment.
Her brother chooses a more visibly Black aesthetic and her sister gravitates toward Madonna. Another sentiment I’d heard from a biracial friend in college who said her two eldest sisters and made similar decisions. One was more comfortable with White people, one with Black and she, the youngest of her sisters, got along with everyone.
There was a tease to White relatives being racist despite having Black family members, which I’d heard from biracial friends.
And as a Black woman, who has watched biracial children being raised in ways that both embrace, ignore or completely alienate their Blackness, I identified with the Aunt Dee Dee character who kept it real with her biracial nieces and nephews who said, “You can try to get away with the we are the world foolishness but the world is going to smack them in the face.”
I shook my head when Tika Sumpter’s character asked her White husband if they’d made a mistake by not talking to their children about race. (Yes, girl!) But I also understood why she might not have wanted to burden them with America’s original sin—especially when she thought she and her family would be able to avoid it entirely living on a commune away from the rest of the mainstream and racist world.
And while it would have been easy to be apathetic or even angry with Tika’s character for sending her bleeding children into shark infested waters, I admired the fact that she didn’t live in the expired fantasy of the commune for too long.
She, doing what Black have always done, went about the business of taking care of her family. She told her husband that because he’s a White man he can be who he is anywhere in the world, without consequence but she said, “I can only be the way that I was on the commune anywhere else I’m a Black woman.” And when her husband criticized her for conforming or selling out because she went back into the capitalistic work force, to provide for her children, she told him, “I can’t wait six months to eat,” as he attempted to grow food to feed their three kids.
Yes, biracial people are privileged. And if the writers know what they’re doing, they’ll address that and the tensions that exist between biracial and Black people with two Black parents because of this. But from the very first episode, “mixed-ish” seems authentic. It speaks to the identity questions these children have, the realities of our world, and the differing experiences for White men and Black women.
I’ve never subscribed to the idea that we alienate or isolate a member of the Black community because they enjoy a level of privilege not available to most of us. We say all the time that we’re not a monolith, then we have to be ready to hear or at least accept stories from varied perspectives. And while biracial people have often been used to represent the Black community, we’ve never seen their experiences reflected on network television authentically.
If the stories continue to be told with integrity, honesty and in a way that calls all of us in, then I’m here for that.