Remember her? Rachel Dolezal was the head of the Spokane, Washington NAACP chapter who was outed as a white person. She coined the term "transracial", claiming she identified as Black and should be treated as such. It was a weird situation, to say the least, and there was no shortage of opinions about her behavior when the truth came out.
Well, Ms. Dolezal is back in the news with the release of a Netflix documentary about her life, The Rachel Divide (clever, right?). She continues to assert her Blackness, and produces an ever-growing body of "evidence" such as having graduated from Howard, wearing her hair in braids, and engaging in civil rights activism.
I'm not going to pass judgment here (even though I sure will in other spaces), but in reliving the transracial phenomenon it made me think about how this woman owns her identity - there is absolutely no backing down when it comes to who she thinks she is. As a mixed race person, how nice would it be to feel this way? So many of us tiptoe around our racial identity, worrying about whether we're [ ]-enough, thinking that our looks define us, allowing others' perceptions dictate who we are. Imagine what life would be like if you had Rachel Dolezal-level confidence (and without even having to make it up!).
It's a powerful thought. Identify how you want, based on who you know yourself to be. Accept yourself without letting others take away from who you are. Correct people when they misclassify you, unapologetically. Do you.
(Curious about whether Rachel is a sympathetic character? Spoiler: she's not. But, you can watch the trailer here, check out a clip below, and see the full documentary on Netflix.)
Our numbers are growing - dramatically. Data from the U.S. census and Pew Research Center suggests there are 9 million mixed race people in the U.S., though we know this number doesn't include everyone in our MiXD community, like people of multiple ethnicities (hello, half Puerto Rican here!). Even looking at just the race piece of the puzzle, the trends are incredible:
This means the numbers of multiracial babies being born are growing exponentially. And all of these babies are going to grow up figuring out who they are. Back to Pew data, a full 60% of multiracial people only consider themselves to be one race; the top reasons for feeling this way are looking like one race, being raised as one race, and not knowing the family member of the second racial background.
How do we help our children embrace their mixed backgrounds? Here are a few tips.
The first in a series of MiXD Spotlights, we've collected a list of well-known musicians who hail from diverse families. Did you know we were in such good (and talented) company? We've done some digging on them, too - read the backstory for the insider scoop on their stories.!
Mother: White, of Italian, Scottish, and Irish descent
Father: Black and Jamaican
Backstory: Alicia grew up in a rough but diverse part of NY. She credits her upbringing with seeing her background as an asset, telling the Guardian, "My mixed-race background made me a broad person, able to relate to different cultures."
Mother: African-American and Afro-Bahamian
Father: Jewish of Eastern European descent
Backstory: Lenny Kravitz married Lisa Bonet, who had similar heritage with a Black parent and a Jewish/Eastern European parent. Their daughter, Zoe, therefore is 50% Ashkenazi Jewish, about 38% African-America, and 12% Afro-Bahamian. Bonus: Lenny Kravitz and Al Roker are distant cousins!
Mother: English and Irish
Backstory: The boy band's mother converted to Islam upon marrying his father. Zayn is famously dating Gigi Hadid, who is also mixed with a father from Palestine and a mother of Dutch descent.
Bonus MiXD musicians: Not on the list are Nicki Minaj, Drake, Slash, Pete Wentz, Amber Rose, Ne-Yo, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Kelis, Bob Marley, and Sean Paul. Stay tuned for more stories!
Don't walk, run (or whatever the equivalent is in virtual space) to watch The Loving Generation, a poignant look at biracial people growing up over the last 50ish years. The documentary, directed and produced by Lacey Schwartz and Mehret Mandefro weaves together stories in the context of the 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, a case brought by Mildred and Richard Loving who were sentenced to jail for their interracial marriage. It's a good reminder that 1) 1967 wasn't that long ago, 2) we are the products of a part of the civil rights movement that deserves more air time, and 3) many of us, our parents, and our grandparents faced complex decisions about their relationships and legitimacy that impact how we view ourselves today. After watching this first episode, check out the Topic website for more.