When I was a young man I had a job washing cars for a car rental place. Mostly the job was two or three guys vacuuming up the inside, shooting it with the deodorizer and then hosing it off. It was part-time work so there was a gang of part-timers working in shifts. For a young honky in the big city, it was an interesting experience because most of my colleagues were from the third world. There were a few other honkies and some American blacks, but most were immigrants from the third world.
One lesson I learned was that outside of America, the world is not black and white. In the States, race was always about blacks and whites. In the rest of the world, there are a lot of shades in between. There’s also a fair bit of tribalism too. The African guys had a low opinion of American blacks. One guy from Ghana used to tell me that only the stupid were caught by slave traders and shipped to the new world. The smart Africans stayed in Africa. West Indians also had a tough time with American blacks. They put a great deal of effort into separating from them.
The one guy I always remembered was a guy named Maurice, who was from the Caribbean and of mixed race. He was obsessed with his mixed race too. He never stopped talking about it. If he did not tell you he was mixed race, you would have assumed he was Spanish or maybe Cajun. In parts of the South like Louisiana you run into guys who are white, but they have some Indian mixed in, or maybe even a black or two way back in the family tree. They used to tick the white box, but now they tick the black box.
The thing about Maurice was he talked about his mixed race all the time because he was a man without a race. The blacks did not accept him as black and he just assumed the whites did not accept him as white. In all likelihood, no one cared. I know I did not care, but he cared very much. At the time, I just thought he was a guy with hangups, but looking back, I see now that being a mulatto is a strange curse. While it has no real social drawbacks in the modern age, especially for women, for whom it is an asset, the person of mixed race imagines it is a huge burden.
It may be a burden too. This story about Rodney Harrison calling out Colin Kaepernick for not being authentically black is a good example. Until this controversy, my guess is exactly no one cared that Kaepernick was half black, except Kaepernick, who appears to obsess over it. So much so he went overboard trying to prove he belonged in the black world, by affecting everything we would associate with black culture. His wigger act really is over the top and most likely the result of feeling like he has to be extra black in order to pass for black. He is a tanned and tatted Vanilla Ice.
It has been noted that Obama’s closest advisers are mixed race people who identify as black. Obama, of course, is of mixed race. He also has the added burden of having been raised abroad. His connection to the black American experience is theoretical, at best. Yet, he puts a lot of effort into being not white and one could be forgiven for thinking that maybe he nurses a grudge against whites. He did dedicate a book to his delinquent father, but has never had much to say about his white mother and white grandparents who raised him, other than a disparaging remark about them.
Being black in America has its own unique challenges. Being white in America is no guarantee of happiness either, but black people have some special challenges that are made easier on an individual basis by black solidarity. Talk to black professionals and one of the things they lament is the lack of black middle class institutions. The cookout with Ned Flanders is nice, but they want to be around other black people who share their outlook. It’s why the black middle class has struggled to cut off the black underclass. Racial solidarity is powerful stuff.
Mulatto man does not have anything like that as the mixed race people are roughly 3% of the population. The black-white portion of that is less than a third so the number of people with a black parent and white parent is very small. There’s never been an identity group for mulattoes so there’s no history or shared experience around which to build a racial identity. The result, at least for now, is a class of people with no tribe to call their own. They are not authentically black and they don’t believe they are accepted as white. That disengagement probably feels like a great burden to the person carrying it.