Paula Patton, during an interview in the March issue of Women’s Health Magazine, said the following:
“I find [the term biracial] offensive. It’s a way for people to separate themselves from African Americans… a way of saying ‘I’m better than that.’ 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.”
Which terms Patton is offended by and approves of isn’t really important (I’d be more offended by words like mongrel, mutt, or half-breed instead of biracial, but that’s a personal preference). Instead, what is important ins that she points out that the term biracial is a way for people to separate themselves from African Americans. This is true. But people who are biracial are not African American. Nor are they White. Or Asian. Or Latino. Or whatever other race they’re mixed with. They are biracial. Biracial is an identity all it’s own.
Yet it seems that Patton doesn’t want to accept her biracial identity at all. She wants to identify herself solely as Black, and not consider the White side of her family. While biracial children in America often do generally associate with their Black culture and heritage more quickly than they do the White (I mention white because Patton is mixed with Black and White, but there could be any number of other races an individual could be mixed with), it’s important to understand that there is a duality to their culture. They, in part, must identify with both races.
When Patton say that she identifies herself as Black “because that’s the way the world sees me,” we see the idea that race is nothing more than a social construction very clearly. It shows us how we quickly separate and classify people into groups and categories. When we classify and categorize, the job of separating and then reducing or elevating particular groups within a society is made easier, the dominant group can move the pieces around the board, do what they like, and remain in charge.
The problem is this — there’s no definitive way to categorize a white American experience or a black American experience. We can’t say, “You’re black because you do _______.” Nor can we say, “You must be white because you grew up _______.” Whenever we might try to, there will always be an exception — either a person of that race who hasn’t had that experience, or a person of another race who has had that experience — thus nullifying the idea altogether. We can’t define Black as the ghetto and White as the suburbs, as some traditionally would; there are Black people in the suburbs and White people in the ghettos.
We have a skewed way of socially defining “White” and “Black” behaviors that are based off nothing more than outdated, inaccurate stereotypes — many of which are based in the concept of White Supremacy. For example, when we use phrases like, “He or she sounds White (or Black),” what are we really saying? Obviously we’re referring to their dialect, word choice, and sentence structure. But if we say that someone “sounds White” what we mean to say is that they sound articulate and well spoken. We have also unintentionally implied that Black people must never be well spoken and articulate (which obviously is not the case). Again, when we say that someone “sounds Black” we’re referencing that they may be using slang terminology and often times shortened and choppy sentence structure, indicating the idea that Blacks are not well spoken, whereas Whites are.
And all this means what? It means that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot categorize or classify, with an degree of effectiveness, the varying races and cultures in America. And as more and more biracial children are both, and more and more adults have interracial marriages, the lines between Black and White in America gradually become a little less clear. And for the better. We are too different, too diverse, too good, to be relegated into only one category. We must throw away our classification boxes and enjoy life together, as member of the one true race — human beings.