The ongoing saga of Halle Berry’s custody case — and the dispute over whether her mixed race daughter should be called “black” — has forced a familiar race debate back into the media spotlight.
Census data show that an increasing number of mixed race Americans are no longer checking just one box on their government forms. In fact, mixed race individuals make up one of the fastest growing groups in the nation. A recent Pew study found that one in seven new marriages is between partners of different racial backgrounds.
So what exactly is the problem? Diversity in our society is growing, developing and slowly maturing. Look no further than our current president for proof of that. But growth and change is inherently uncomfortable and stretches our existing positions. I say this is always a good thing.
Who are you? White? Black? Multi-ethnic? Multiracial? Biracial? Other? The answers to these questions force people to analyze their own journeys of how they view themselves and to what degree they allow themselves to be defined by society’s views.
We are not the same society as we were 70 years ago. And thank God for that. In terms of social structures, pretty much anything prior to even 20 years ago is much worse than it is today. Racial politics, gender roles, and the role of marriage were much worse. And we are still wrestling with the role of sexual orientation in our society with debates on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and gay marriage. So our society is an evolving one, and 70 years from now they will be discussing 2011 as if it were our 1950. Growth is good.
In case you are wondering, my own background is multi-ethnic. And both of my parents were too. On my father’s side, there is Welsh, black and Cherokee Indian. On my mother’s side, there’s black and Jewish ancestry. And I am proud of all parts, equally.
I was raised to not be dictated to by society. I was raised to think like Muhammad Ali, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be.” Did I celebrate the black side of my heritage? Yes. So much so that I graduated a historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia precisely because I wanted to celebrate that side of my identity. But I also celebrate the other aspects as well: Welsh, Native American and Jewish.
At my core, I cannot believe that it is healthy for anyone to not fully acknowledge all aspects of themselves. This is true whether one parent is from a European country, and another is from an African county. Just as this is true across multiple religious backgrounds, national origin, race, ethnicity or culture.
What is exactly is the solution? Everyone should fully embrace their own identity journey. The reality is most Americans have multiple races within their bloodlines. And yes, race and culture are two entirely different things. But every ounce of who you are should be appreciated. And one drop is not more important than the other. To me, that is the kind society that Martin and Malcolm, by the end of his life, both sought.
And as you are on that journey, do not be afraid of opening certain doors or going down certain paths. You might actually be surprised. Some will say that regardless of your journey, society is view you how society wants to view you. Plain and simple. It is a feeble attempt. To those I would say, that message sounds a lot like that same society that dictated to Muhammad Ali. And who do we admire decades later? Ali. His courage and convictions to be bold with his values and beliefs endured. His actions, as we look back, resonate with us. We now celebrate that notion, that idea, that courage.
Do you have to pick a side? No. You are most likely both sides. That is the simple truth.