Taye Diggs is talking about something that has always boggled my mind: why we call biracial people (namely, Americans who have both black and white parents) black.
I've always wondered why we black Americans accepted that one-drop rule created by segregationist white Americans during chattel slavery: the rule that said that people who are born from black and white parents are black, and not black and white.
It was a rule created by slaver white Americans who didn't want to contend with the mixed-race babies born out of rape (in part because they wanted to preserve the "sanctity" of the white race). They gave America this allergy towards allowing biracial people to think of themselves as biracial. It's high time we revisit that one-drop rule. Diggs' comments present a great opportunity.
He's been on a press tour promoting his children's book, Mixed Me, which talks about the experiences of mixed-race children, since his son is biracial.
During a recent interview, he explained how he would hate for his son to be confused about his racial identity, since people would consider him black, and not black and white. That omission would deny his son his mother's racial identity, Diggs argued.
"When you [call biracial kids black], you risk disrespecting that one half of who you are, and that's my fear," Diggs said. "I don't want my son to be in a situation where he calls himself 'black' and everyone thinks he has a black mom and a black dad, and then they see a white mother, they wonder, 'Oh, what's going on?' "
He's been getting a lot of flack for that comment but I suspect it's because people are misinterpreting what he means. I don't think Diggs wants his son to walk around, saying, 'Don't shoot me! I'm biracial!' or 'Stop racial-profiling me! I'm biracial!'
No, Diggs simply wants his son to be OK with self-identifying as a biracial man, even though I'm sure Diggs knows that his son will be perceived in America as a black man. Simply put, there's a difference between how a person chooses to self-identify (Nigerian, Trinidadian, Cuban, biracial, etc.) and how they are perceived (black).
No one should have the right to dictate how one chooses to identify, especially if it's because we have to abide by a rule promoted by slaver white Americans who had superiority complexes to advance.
Walk up to a Jamaican, a Ghanaian or a Panamian, and ask them 'What are you?' and you'll hear their nationalities and ethnicities first, not 'black.'
But back to this 'biracial' term. I always use the alien test when thinking about issues like this. Meaning, we Americans would have a hard time explaining to an alien why a biracial child was called black and not black and white. In fact, we're one of the few countries to do that, as a few black Cubans have pointed out. In nearly every nation with mixed-race people, specific words and terms are used to describe their mixed-race populations: trigueño, mestizo and pardo, for example, in much of Latin America, and the Coloureds in South Africa.
We black Americans have this chip on our shoulder (placed there by white America) that makes us think that biracial people who identify as biracial are somehow ashamed of their blackness. We're hyper-sensitive about the issue because we think they're denying their blackness or are trying to pass.
Identifying as biracial is not shunning one's blackness, any more so than when a Dominican identifies as a Dominican, first and foremost, or when a Jamaican identifies first and foremost as a Jamaican. Or a Cuban. Or a Puerto Rican. Inherent in those melting-pot identities is blackness. Biracial should work similarly.
Diggs touched on President Barack Obama's identity, too.
"As African Americans, we were so quick to say, 'OK, he's black, he's black,' and then there were the white people who were afraid to say he was biracial because, who knows," Diggs said. "Everybody refers to him as the first black president. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying that it's interesting.
"It would be great if it didn't matter and that people could call him mixed," he continued. "We're still choosing to make that decision, and that's when I think you get into some dangerous waters.”
Deep down, President Obama will always be our nation's first biracial president to me. But the pride I feel as a black woman whenever I watch or think of Obama is as strong as ever, because I know that he is perceived in this country the same way that I am: as a black person.
Yes, race is a social construct, meaning that it isn't biological. These terms that we humans created to distinguish one "race" of people from another is not based in science. But since race is a social construct, it's time that we Americans consider changing our attitude toward it and look at the way other countries have gotten with the times and describe different kinds of mixed-race people.
I will never identify physically or even socially with Mariah Carey, Kimora Lee Simmons or Karrueche Tran—all women who are biracial and who self-identify as black. I experience the world differently from those three women, so in a way, it feels inaccurate that we share the same racial identity.
Again, because race is a social construct, there is so much gray area. But kudos to Taye Diggs for bringing up this touchy subject.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.