I’m not talking about “multiracial,” “miscegenation,” “mongrel,” “mutt,” “mestizo,” “masala” or even “Mariah.” I’m talking about a word imbued with a legacy of racial strife in America that goes all the way back to the summer day in 1789 that Sally Hemings forgot to lock her bedroom door and runs all the way up to Wentworth Miller getting blacklisted by the NAACP Image Awards (Prison Break, indeed…). It’s that word you hear the kids freestyling on the street—“M to the izzo, L to the atto…“ Yeah, that word. The M-word. Mulatto.
As a biracial American, for the first time in my adult life I’m really proud of my country. Even though the “national conversation on race” is turning out to be like trying to use an iPhone to call someone on a CB radio, my people are coming to light in the public consciousness in a way that we never have before. This is our moment. I hear that CNN’s next big series will be called “Beige in America.” Now that Obama is the H.M.I.C., it’s our chance to make it clear once and for all that the M-word is “Strictly 4 My M W.O.R.D.Z.”
It’s a word that makes a lot of people cringe—particularly those new-age parents that you see around town with light-brown children sporting fluffy, misshapen halfros. But it’s also a lot catchier than the very clinical sounding “biracial,” and a lot shorter than “blessed with a dual heritage,” as my mother used to say. Don’t blame us for turning a one-time insult into a three-syllable declaration of interdependence. After all, Spanish words frequently sound better than English words: “Señorita” is sexier than “Miss” and “huevos rancheros” flows easier than “Grand Slam Breakfast,” so it stands to reason that “Mulatto” rolls off the tongue a lot smoother than “half breed” or “Strom Thurmond, Jr.” If the lovely Rihanna and her island nation hadn’t already laid claim to “Bajan,” we might have gone with “Beige-an.”
This is all about empowerment. My people have taken a word that originally marginalized us as plantation butlers and Huxtable daughters and turned it into a term of endearment. Sometimes, in passing, I query one of my brethren with, “What’s up, M-word?” Or occasionally I chastise my sistren by saying, “M-word, please.” They understand. They feel me. In a certain patois that some have called “Mubonics,” they know that all I’m really saying is something like “Guten morgen, meine freunde!” or “Bitte, baby.” And when people ask me why it’s OK for us to use the M-word when they can’t, I have to tell them that it’s a biracial thing…they wouldn’t understand.
[Ed Note – This piece was obviously meant to be humorous, but sparked an interesting discussing in the comments section about creating divisions within the black community, as well as some targeted comments toward the author. I recommend checking it out. – LDP]
Sometimes I feel my truest views mesh with the current political and social conversations not at all, if rather jarringly. As an alien, I do take part. To the best of my ability. But the truth is, I rarely find long-lasting excitement or joy or comfort or satisfaction in so much of what this culture offers, what the media offers, what even us serious people so often entertain. As I’ve said, I wear it all very loosely. A garment that matches me at times. For a moment. A reader may find that my writing sometimes dances with a self-mocking tone, and when not being plain outraged, takes on a comic tint. What a casual reader may not know is that when it does, I am at my most earnest.
I struggle with certain paradigms championed in the news or online. We stumble onto them and they are blessed for they can address a problem or a lacking which has needed to be so met. But too often, instead of letting them take hold of us, grip and shake and break up our thinking for a time before falling away and leaving only the parts we’ve found can be organically molded, melded, or taken in as our own truth, we end up in a cage of thought. THIS worked one time, so let me always use THIS. Let me see everything through THIS. But life is always new, and is no One Well-Proven Thing. Being tricked into seeing it as such is not the fault of our TV or our politicians. I see this is a human behavior and it will probably always be with us.
We are always new. Every moment is new. No moment need be like anything that came before, even when the resemblance is striking and our imagination lacking. And yet, of course we must learn from who we once were. But to let a lesson that once helped inform every step forward is to walk an old path, and to preclude the sight of new horizons from our view.
They will be discussing issues like the criminalization of youth, youth violence, the right of return on the Gulf Coast, media justice, sexism in hip-hop, economic justice, Black-Brown solidarity, global warming, liberation theology, and vote disenfranchisement. (I’m speaking today at an all-day symposium on the place of hip-hop in academia. alongside folks like Asheru, Byron Hurt, Marc Lamont Hill, and many others.)
Dozens of skills-building trainings around voter registration, lobbying, organizing, media, film making, and even krumping will be held, showing that the organizers draw no distinction between arts and social justice. Some of the best recent underground films on hip-hop–including “African Underground: Democracy in Dakar” and “Masizakhe: Let Us Build Together”–bring a distinctly global view of hip-hop to the event.