Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guest Blogger Rema: To Pass or Not to Pass

“What do you do when you don’t look like you’re ‘supposed to’?”  This is a question that I constantly grapple with. While I continually look for the answer, the one thing I do know is that no matter what you are, most people can’t get past what they see. I am black, white & Jewish, but to most people, I look Jewish/Middle Eastern or “just” white. For this reason, people will have any number of reactions when they find out about my mixed heritage:
  • “WOW! I would have never guessed!!!”
  • “No way! You totally look like my friend from _________.”
  • “Omg, are you serious?”… you get the picture.
Needless to say, these types of reactions are quite frustrating. For what its worth, I would like to address 3 points in this post: 

Photo of courtesy of Rema
1) On passing for white
I think it goes without saying that the good things in life are generally more accessible to white people. No matter how much Canadians love to boast that racism only exists in the US, it is simply not the case. Racism in Canada is just different because you will seldom hear outright racist attacks come from a Canadian. Instead, from the beginning, black children are generally viewed as troublemakers and unintelligent. It is also no secret that people are known to like, trust, and hire people that look like they do, so even if a young black person has successfully made it through the schooling system, landing a good job is the next challenge (and so on). Just look at the Presidents, C-levels, politicians and board rooms across Canada. Having said all the above, most certainly my life has been made easier by the sheer chance of having been born with white skin. I also get the sense that people want me to say that I’m white so that I don’t disturb their perception of what a mixed person should look like. So why not just pass for white and avoid the ridicule?

2) On asserting my beigeness
The fact of the matter is that I am very proud of my ancestry. It is a part of me, it is (in part) how I define myself and contextualizes the way in which I view the world. I understand why people have passed historically - it could literally mean life or death - but today we ought to be free to express & celebrate all of our backgrounds. Having said that, it is lonely to celebrate alone. In order to quell my perceived isolation I have long been searching for a place to belong to, especially in contrast to the stereotypical Gap advertisement of biracial, which I certainly don’t look like. To date, “beige” seems to be my racial Cinderella slipper and in particular, meeting and reading work by other beige people have helped tremendously. However, people are still reluctant to allow a white-looking person to claim a seat at the metaphorical “mixed-race table”.  I have a feeling that it may be due to society’s fetishization of mixed people. Many seem to feel that being mixed is more relevant, more exciting and more attractive than being “just one thing” and thus it is a highly coveted title. So if you don’t look the part, you need not apply. Frankly speaking, it just gets plain tired trying to expand society’s view of what it looks like to be mixed. So how now, beige cow?

3) On making choices
I have to admit that how to identify myself has never surfaced so violently for me than when choosing a partner. While some may think its cute that this white-looking woman runs around waving the beige flag, its a whole other thing when I “decide” on one race for a partner. In my case, my fiance is also mixed (black, Chinese & East Indian), but looks as black as I do white. I think Jennifer Adese says it best in her essay My Life in Pieces (from Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out); “Choosing, I think, has defined my and many other ‘mixed’ persons lives. From the day which we become cognizant (or for some of us are made painfully aware) of our difference from the majority of those around us we are thrust into a world characterized by the act of choosing. In my experience this choosing always had a companion riding side-saddle called “defending” - the act of defending the choices that we are forced to make.” 
Thus I march on defending my right to assert my rich racial heritage with the words of Rashida Jones as my armor: “I’m happy to challenge people’s understanding of what it looks like to be biracial, because guess what? In the next 50 years, people will start looking more and more like me.”  Beige for life!
By Rema
For more from Rema, visit her twitter Mixed.Me.CA


  1. What an amazing post! Thanks so much for your contribution!

  2. Wonderful post. I agree, race comes up when you're deciding who to be with. My daughter looks a lot like Rashida Jones and I tell her that!

  3. Thanks for writing this!

    Adebe DeRango-Adem
    Co-editor, Other Tongues

  4. My Maternal Great grandfather was from Winnipeg Canada, his father was English and his mother was mulatto. He married a mixed race woman from Kentucky whose father was Irish and mother also a mulatto. Even though they were both Quadroons (1/4 black) they had two choices be black or "Pass" for White. My Great great gram was 1 of 6 and the only one not to "Pass". They had two children with reddish hair both with fair skin that burned and didn't tan and blue/green eyes. My great gram was suppose to marry a black man as white skinned as her but instead married a brown skin man with straight hair whose father was English/Cherokee and mother was a freed slave...and here I am today. Thank you for your blog.

  5. Tally59 - It's great you know your heritage so well. It's not all that often that people know where each line comes from. I'm proud of your great gram for acknowledging her history.

  6. Hi everyone, thanks for your supportive comments, I truly appreciate them. It's so nice to hear your stories as well :) - Rema

  7. It's funny that I was typing in the Google search bar why my black mixed kids don't look black but they look more white and I cam across your article. I am white and I have three mixed black kids. Their father is African American but my kids look white as ever. I always thought all or most mixed white/black people (or Mulatto) always look more black. I'm just really attracted to black people and the African American men and culture. I love the way African American people straighten their hair but then it's really naturally curly as heck and when the African American women hair is naturally curly I think it looks way better and so pretty. That is why I wanted to have mixed black kids so their hair can be really curly. Only that my two mixed black sons have extremely straight hair, even straighter than mine and they look white. You would never guess my boys are mixed with African American. And my boys father is really dark and his father is really dark from the Southern United States and so is his mother. Then my daughter who has a different African American father from my boys her hair is extremely curly and her hair is really dark cocoa brown black and her eyes are really dark brown but her skin is as white as snow. Lol, Well I don't know about as white as snow maybe a tan look but her skin is really light, she looks white from her skin but then her hair is the really dark cocoa brown black and extremely curly and thick. I am extremely pale and white because I have German, English, Irish , and Danish ancestry but I was born in America. Anyway it's just so annoying because whenever I tell people my kids are mixed with African American they are shocked and they're always saying "no, get out of here your lying, your kids aren't mixed" and they start making jokes asking me "are you sure you didn't sleep with a white man." It makes me really angry because I never dated white men only black men. All I know is that I love my kids with all my heart no matter how they look and some or maybe most people can be so rude and mean sometimes. I also don't like prejudice people at all and that goes for prejudice people in any race they're just so annoying and horribly disgusting.