Mixed-race narratives have evolved but are artists still overcompensating for their lack of melanin?
For years, biracial black and white figures in the media have been seen as racial imposters, never truly belonging to one group. Due to this, masses have minimized the biracial experience as lesser in one sense yet more privileged in another. White people often see mixed race people as more black, and black people see them as more white, resulting in a state of confusion and misrepresentation.
Nowadays, big-name celebrity figures along with fictional characters are switching that narrative through large-scale media projects like albums, movies, music videos and television shows.While many of them are opening up a discussion about the complicated experience of being biracial, they are also perpetuating the stereotype of not belonging and being overly sensitive.
On June 29, rapper Drake released “Scorpion.” The 25-track studio album emotionally invites listeners into the intricate complexities of Drake’s life — ranging from his experiences with fatherhood, women, money, fame and racial identity.
In the song “Nonstop,” Drake repeats “Yeah I’m light-skinned, but I'm still a dark nigga.” Throughout the song, he continues to emphasize the terms “nigga” and “brother” colloquially, especially in adoration for other people of color. In fact, he shouts out several other influential black men such as basketball legend Lebron James, Bay Area musician Mac Dre and producer of the album, Tay Keith.
Drake seems to be announcing to the world that he is black. He is tired of hearing he is not black enough to be accepted into rap culture. Since the beginning of his career, the media have taken jabs at Drake for his mixed-race identity, claiming that he is too soft and does not understand the true struggle of being a black man. Recently, rappers Kanye West and Pusha T not-so-sneakily dissed Drake on their new albums. On “No Mistakes,” Kanye tells Drake “Calm down you light skin” and on “The Story of Adidon,” Pusha makes the claim that:
Confused, always felt you weren't Black enough
Afraid to grow it 'cause your 'fro wouldn't nap
Maryland-born rapper Logic has also addressed his biracial experience through his music. Most of the musician’s work has to do with his mixed race identity. Fellow creators and audience members seem to be tired of that being the primary source of his music. Long time rival, Joyner Lucas, was quoted saying,
“I feel like he tries to prove that he’s black too much for me.”
On his record “Black Spiderman”, Logic lyrically yells at those who criticize him:
Black is beautiful (black is beautiful)
Be black and proud (be black and proud)
Fuck everybody hatin' on me right now, I'm black and proud (I'm black and proud)
I'm just as white as that Mona Lisa
I'm just as black as my cousin Keisha
I'm biracial so bye Felicia
Television writers are also addressing the biracial experience through their casting and screenwriting. Logan Laurice, who plays Sam on Justin Simien’s scripted Netflix series “Dear White People,” emotionally describes her experience growing up with a white father and a black mother in the second season of the show. After Sam's white ex-boyfriend Gabe claims she holds white guilt — she breaks down. She asks a complicated question with a simple answer:
“Do you think I get to go out into the world half the time a white girl and the other half as a black girl? I’m black. In this society that is all I am, period.”
This is one of the most raw and unfiltered expressions of biracial identity by any mixed character on television, showing that how you identify doesn’t matter because everyone else already has their mind made up about what is racially acceptable by society, whether that be who you date, what you say, or what your parents look like.
On the other hand, the stereotype of biracial people being more privileged is exaggerated in Issa Rae’s HBO series “Insecure.” Tiffany, played by Amanda Steales, is the bougie, shady mixed-race character in the show. She makes comments about her “good hair” and makes snarky comments about all the other women's lives. Her deeper inner workings are alluded to by her hidden pregnancy and talk of marital infidelity, but the majority of her life remains hidden and secret. Perhaps this is a way of showing how several mixed race people feel the need to suppress parts of their identity and culture to fit in, or perhaps it’s just reiterating the privileged stereotype of light-skin individuals.
The biracial identity is complicated and multifaceted. Writers, musicians and other artists will continue elaborating on the mixed experience, but like any sort of racial representation, there’s no correct way to depict it to the masses.
However, there is a way to not make all black and white biracial figures seen as victims or as profiteers from their split racial makeup. Artists should continue exploring and expanding different sides of mixed character’s identities, going beyond their race. Focusing on these figure’s relationships, careers and education will help audiences see them less as products of their ethnic composition and more as complex individuals.