Words By Jada G.
Graphics By P.
Last Monday, New York Times’ writer Mireya Navarro addressed the question of mixed race, in response to Barack Obama’s speech about race in Philadelphia.
“Being accepted. Proving loyalty. Navigating the tight space between racial divides. Americans of mixed race say these are issues they have long confronted, and when Senator Barack Obama recently delivered a speech about race in Philadelphia, it rang with a special significance in their ears. They saw parallels between the path trod by Mr. Obama and their own.”
Authenticity is the premise of Hip-Hop and it’s close cousin, politics. Artists are applauded for “keeping it real,” while politicians must explain religious ties, display a cookie cutter family image and an innocuous political platform that offends no one. But if Hip-Hop gives a voice to the misunderstood, and politicians are meant to instill change and reform our world for the better, why do we force stereotypes?
In politics, women are expected to vote for Hillary simply because she’s a woman, while Obama is hit with his not being “black enough” or for being “too Black.” 50 Cent proudly wears his being-shot-nine-times-badge like a Boy Scout, while Common is labeled “socially conscious” and barely played on mainstream radio.
Hip-Hop and politics both fall victim to the Black and White label system. But where do you fit when you can’t define yourself with a neat check on a census box? Which box do you check to define your existence, when one label can ignore half of your family? The result is a lifetime of questioning, awkward glances, and a bumpy road of self-reflection.
“James McBride, 50, who described growing up in a Brooklyn housing project with his White mother in a memoir, The Color of Water, said that, like Mr. Obama, he identified himself primarily as a Black man of mixed race. And through life, because of his brown skin, societyhas imposed its own label. “If cops see me, they see a Black man sitting in a car,” he said. But being proud to call himself African-American, Mr. McBride said, does not negate his connection to his “Jewish part,” his mother’s heritage. Asked which part of him was dominant, he said, “It’s like grabbing Jell-O.”
And while the face of Hip-Hop is just as amorphous, what defines authenticity? Does a Black kid from suburbia have more street cred than a White M.C. struggling to feed his child? Do we respect blackness over talent?
“But what difference does it make?” McBride added. “When you’re mixed, you see how absurd this business of race is.”
If we lifted the labels, would we reveal our best selves?