Black Like Mom

Making headlines on race and identity.

Ever notice that no matter how much cream or milk is added to coffee, we still call it coffee?  That’s probably why famous people of Black and mixed racial backgrounds often identify themselves as Black—with a little something extra. It’s a very simple, direct and efficient point of view to take in life.

It’s almost a non event, unless you are a Halle Berry, who is at the center of another media feeding frenzy. She appears on the cover of Ebony magazine’s March issue, in which she discusses her daughter’s racial identity, among other things. Here are a couple of quotes you’ll see splashed unkindly on the Web for the next few weeks. These come from The Daily News:

“I feel like she’s black,” the actress told the magazine. “I’m black and I’m her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory,” Berry said, referencing the 20th-century law that classified anyone as black if they had any African ancestry. The “Frankie and Alice” star, who like her daughter is mixed-race, admitted to Ebony that Nahla will one day “have to decide” for herself how she wants to be labeled. “If you’re of multiple races, you have a different challenge, a unique challenge of embracing all of who you are but still finding a way to identify yourself, and I think that’s often hard for us to do,” she said.

It’s great that Ms. Berry has a direct definition of who her daughter is, while giving her child room to describe her identity in her own way. Berry not the first mother—Black, White or biracial—to do so. In fact, the actress once gave an interview, to a magazine, I think, where she described the grounding that her mother gave her. Her mom sat her down in front of  a mirror one day and explained that although she comes from a White mother, the world sees her as Black. And off you go!

I just updated a post about Paula Patton’s interview in the May 2010 issue of Ebony magazine, wherein she a similar “big talk” from her White mother, but from the perspective of the child, not the mom. You have to hand it to these White women who FULLY committed themselves to raising Black women who are absolutely clear about who they are. In Ms. Berry’s case, she is blessing her own child with that certainty. I haven’t come across any interviews where Ms. Patton addresses that for her son, but I assume he’ll be well-adjusted like his mom.

My those cheeks are Thicke!

Baby is going to get a similar education about her racial identity, but I’m taking a different approach than the Berrys and Pattons. My daughter will be taught that she is Black and bi-racial. With a lot of emphasis on Black first. In fact, when Baby was about four or five months old, I was holding her and chatting with a friend of mine. During a quiet pause, my friend looked at Baby, smiled meaningfully and said: “You a sister.”

And she’s right. Baby is a sister, with a little something extra, of course. She is a complete Daddy’s girl, so she won’t be willing to ignore her White background. She sees more of the White grandparents than my parents (totally their fault), so what’s she supposed to do? Just ignore her German last name and the cute overbite she gets from her White grandmother? She’ll also come of age in a society that has made a lot of room for blended racial identities and experiences. The federal government allows her to check more than one box on the Census if she likes, and I’m sure that she’ll have a lot of mixed-race playmates. These are all positive changes in society, and I hope kids like Nahla, and Baby enjoy all the best benefits from them.