Starting a Different Conversation: On Mixed-Race/Biracial/Multiracial Visibility and Inclusion

Starting a Different Conversation: On Mixed-Race/Biracial/Multiracial Visibility and Inclusion

“It can be hard to talk about the complexity of visibility when “passing” is thrown like hisses at a dinner party, with no consideration to how it feels to “pass” — how it feels to be misidentified, mismarked, misjudged, misperceived, mislabeled, misunderstood. In a world where race relations are so often forcibly boiled down to black and white, it can be hard to raise my voice to start discussions about my unique experiences when broader forms of discrimination are hurting people in my community every day.”

“When white people see us, they often take on absurd, acrobatic leaps in conversation to let us know that they’ve picked up on our non-whiteness — even if they don’t know exactly what flavor of non-whiteness that is.”

 

Ms. Opinionated: How Do I Deal With a Racist Friend-of-a-Friend?

Ms. Opinionated: How Do I Deal With a Racist Friend-of-a-Friend?

10 Warning Signs for People of Color in Interracial Relationships

10 Warning Signs for People of Color in Interracial Relationships

The Semiotics of Race, or: Walks on the Wild Side

The Semiotics of Race, or: Walks on the Wild Side

The ad was in a women’s magazine and if I remember correctly, was for a perfume. It featured a white woman lying in bed with a black man. The man’s shirtless back was to the viewer, making only his taut, muscular form and powerful-looking arms and shoulders visible. He was faceless, unidentified. The woman looked sultrily at us from over his mysterious form, satisfaction writ large over her features. She had partaken of whatever delights this man had to offer and was smugly, luxuriantly basking in the afterglow.

The ad copy was, “Take a walk on the wild side.”

My teacher used the ad as an example of how marketers can use certain words and images to convey large amounts of information subtly and effectively. A white woman having sex with a black man? How risqué. The implication: be a little like that woman. Spray on that perfume and feel like the kind of girl who has sex with faceless, muscular black men in ritzy hotel rooms because it’s an adventure, a thrill, a risk, something illicitly pleasurable.

These are the semiotics of race. This is why columnists will trip over themselves not to call Lupita Nyong’o or Angela Basset “beautiful”, choosing instead to use terms that call to mind a kind of savage, animalistic magnetism: fierce, striking, edgy, eye-catching. Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “cute” are for white women whose bodies and sexualities are not seen as wild, animal, or untamed. Black men are hulking, threatening, thuggish; white men are charming, sexy heartthrobs with hearts of gold. Brown women are exotic, with their “honey-coloured” skin and their “mystical”, “enchanting” beauty, unlike their white counterparts, who are held up as not only ideal, but knowable and safe. White people are beautiful; non-white people are dangerous.