The National Geographic recently reported that by 2050 the average American will appear to be of mixed racial origin. To “celebrate” this, they commissioned a photographer to go and take photos of a bunch of mixed-race people for us to stare at. Do you feel uncomfortable about this? Perhaps not. I do though.
Isn’t the National Geographic that magazine that goes off to far-flung places and takes photos of unusual flowers, exotic birds, tribes “that hide from man”? In other words, “The Other”? Am I supposed to look at these photographs of fellow mixed-race people and say: “Oh wow – how funny looking!” Apparently I am. The article starts with the line: “What is it about the faces on these pages that we find so intriguing?” Quite a lot it seems. The photos have been picked up by hundreds of websites from Stanford University to the Huffington Post. One website carries the headline: “National Geographic Concludes What Americans Will Look Like in 2050, and It’s Beautiful”.
All this makes me physically cringe from the screen. What are they doing? Don’t they realise the damage they’re causing by perpetuating this beautiful little brown baby bullshit? Oh! What lovely end-products of interracial social cohesion! It’s as bad as a Channel 4 programme I once saw made by an anxious middle-class Asian mother. She was eager to prove that the product of her marriage with a white English man would not be inferior, and so went around to scientists and researchers getting them to say stupid things about how mixed-race people might be smarter or have more symmetrical faces. What a load of mul(atto) poo. It’s as bad as phrenology. It’s actually – ironically – racist. And yes, of course you can be racist against mixed-race people. The thing is though, we’re unlikely to have a cohesive voice to shout back at you but, brilliantly, because we’re as mixed-up as your teenage daughter’s underwear drawer, you can’t get out of it. There’s no “Oh but I can’t be racist against them because I’m X or Y or have Z as a friend” crap. Bad luck loser, we’re EVERYTHING. There’s no hiding. Time to confront your own messed-up xenomania.
We’re not products. We’re people. And some people are ugly. Some people are really ugly. Some black people are ugly, some white people are ugly, some frickin Filipineseafrojafaican people are ugly. Why should the racial mixing suddenly make people beautiful? What is beautiful anyway? It’s got nothing to do with race. Saying mixed-race people are more beautiful than others is the WORST thing you can do for the mixed-race community.
It’s really condescending for a start. You’re basically saying that if anyone ever finds us attractive, it is not because God really did put magic fairy-dust in our eyes like our Daddies said or because that 5k run this morning has left us pleasantly glowing with the joy of our own achievements. No, it’s because we’re mixed-race, that’s it.
It’s kind of crushing. Do you look at Charlize Theron and think wow, look at her cute nose, she’s so intriguingly white? No, you think, wow, she has an aura that smoulders with feminine mystique. Do you look at Angelina Jolie and think wow, look at her shiny hair, she’s so fascinatingly Caucasian? No you think, damn her piercingly intelligent eyes, and oh, those are interesting lips. You think these things because these women are not seen The Other. They are not seen as their race, they are just seen as women. So if, like Lupita Nyong’o, you only associate any beauty I may have with the colour of my skin or some other unalterable physical characteristic, I will probably pull a strained smile, but I’m actually thinking two things as I look at your ignorant little twatface. Number 1, no chance mate, and Number 2, was eugenics was really that bad?
Articles that fetishise mixed-race people are particularly damaging to mixed-race women. One reason is because it reminds us that we’re different. Unless you live in Cuba or somewhere where everyone looks a bit like you, it can get – surprise surprise – a little tiring to be constantly seen as a different species of woman. If you spend a lot of time with white women, you get really tired of being seen as the fun, potentially slutty, one. Some white women expect you to be able to beat out complicated Brazilian samba rhythms at your computer desk when asked, or to always be able to go lowest during the drunken limbo game.
With black women, it’s even trickier, because of all the tyrannical consumerist patriarchal bullshit. Black women are told repeatedly in television adverts and more that there is something wrong with them because their hair is too frizzy, their nose is too big, their bodies are too curvy, their skin is too dark. Here’s a particularly odious advert I saw only this week if you don’t believe me. And black women internalise this, of course we/they do. So therefore as a mixed-race woman you will be expected to constantly self-depreciate by dressing in a quirky way / dancing in a goofy fashion and/or twisting your face into crazy contortioned grimaces for every photograph. Otherwise you might be seen to take yourself seriously, you might be come across as a bit “up” yourself, you might think you’re nice, you might be secretly “stoosh”. Sadly there is no denying this friends, and I know you will want to, but please believe me, it is really very often true. I know it is often true because I have experienced what it is like to be a mixed-race woman in black women’s company for most of my life and also because I’m sort of black too, remember? So if I see a light-skinned and/or mixed-race woman at a bus-stop a very odd thing happens: The incomprehensible psychological mirrored labyrinth of my own mind has a tiny “she thinks she’s nice” moment. I know, it’s bad, and more than that, it’s really, really weird.
Articles that suggest mixed-race people are beautiful are, ironically, reinforcing the horrible divisive thick line between races that mixed-race people like me have worked so hard to blur and smudge away. Those National Geographic photographs include people who tick the “Black” box or the “Asian” box, in other words, they self-define, and as the article explains, they often have a fluid identity depending on who they’re with at the time. Believe it or not, if you are never given a single race of your own, you tend to spend a lot of time merging in and out silently with other groups like a discrete cloud. Mixed-race people don’t want attention drawn to them. We don’t want to have an extra spotlight put on us because we already have one every single moment that we walk down streets with anyone else who is not mixed-race. We don’t want to be other, different, beautiful, exotic, fascinating, intriguing. Let us be ugly, or even just normal and mediocre. That’s just fine.