The author at age 4, and her parents on their wedding day in New York City.
This may sound silly, but in the sixth grade when someone told me that Halle Berry was mixed, that her father was Black and her mother was White, I was so happy. Halle Berry is beautiful, talented, and accomplished, and she was mixed like me. In the sixth grade I was the only female of color in my class. I had blond hair, hazel eyes, chubby cheeks, and wore Cross Colors. Boys teased me and called me ugly, and I was always the third wheel among my girlfriends. But then along came Halle, and she was like me, and people wanted to be like her—I did.
So when she came out to the media saying she considered herself to be Black even though her mother was White, I got it. I wondered why we couldn’t claim both of our mothers and then stand next to them in public and not forget that we both cover our mouths when we laugh and tuck our hair behind our big ears when we're nervous, but OK.
So when a stranger would ask me, “What are you mixed with?” I'd look them dead in the face and say, “I’m Black!” And I was wounded when they’d stare back at me—confused because it felt like they couldn’t see this huge part of who I am, and maybe no one ever would.
Between then and now, I realized that my insistence on denying my mother’s heritage had disoriented the way I moved about the world; at times I felt paralyzed because I was walking on a foundation made of holes. I was ashamed of the part of me that was made up of jam, zucchini bread, and kielbasa. The point of that is not to say that Black people don’t eat kielbasa. The point is that my mother’s mother taught her how to bake bread and make jam, and that at least once her family sat at her dining-room table and ate string beans with their kielbasa.
So if Halle Berry had said that Nahla is Black because that is the culture she identifies with, I’d get it. But instead she essentially decided to invoke Jim Crow as a way of justifying that her child is Black. I know she did not think of it that way, but it was so careless. When she said, “I believe in the one-drop rule,” I was so angry. I still am.
There is no such thing as being half of something, or a drop. We are whole people, and our lives are informed by multiple cultural and racial perspectives. Why deny that? Because it’s easier for some to digest? At what cost?
Image: Courtesy of Christine Chambers