On January 20, 2009, two very crucial events took place in the modern American timeline: the first Black president was sworn into office and the phrase “post-racial society” became a staple in the white vernacular.
When it comes to dealing with the complexities and nuances of modern racism, non-POC tend to fall into the common trope of citing Barack Obama’s election as evidence that the US is no longer racist. Yet, in the year 2017 alone, we’ve faced more blatant acts of racism, prejudice and fear mongering than many of us can remember happening in the last decade.
Perhaps it’s something to do with the election of a man who popularized phrases like “build that wall” or “Muslim ban.” Perhaps the election of said man finally brought bigots and racists who have been living in the shadows into the light. Whatever the cause, the intricacies of our current state often feels overwhelming for the average person to process.
Thankfully, there are intellectual minds out there who have worked to identify the systemic and social injustices occurring.
Today, Julie Lythcott-Haims, New York Times best-selling author of How to Raise an Adult, stopped by the Viacom offices (which houses BET) to discuss her newest book, Real American: A Memoir. Lythcott-Haims, who is a biracial woman, understands the perils of self-racial identity as well as the labels placed on her by society.
I had the chance to speak one-on-one with Lythcott-Haims to discuss her personal experience as a biracial American as well as the recent racism we’ve witnessed in our country.
As a child growing up in the '60s and 70s, Lythcott-Haims felt the overwhelming pressure to be accepted by both whites and Blacks.
“People presumed that I didn’t belong with my white mother,” Lythcott-Haims said. “There is an element of 'biraciality' that is different than just being Black. I had the sense from Black folks that I wasn’t Black enough. For much of my upbringing, [I] didn’t have a sense of belonging to both worlds.”
As the aging process changes us all, Lythcott-Haims grew to identify solely as a Black woman.
“As I became a full-fledged adult, I was able to see myself as a member in the Black community,” she said.
I couldn’t help but wonder if her ability to identify her own Blackness came from the inability of white people to understand the complexities of Black heritage. Sure, Barack Obama was called out for being biracial when he first threw his hat in the ring. However, the second he placed his hand on the Bible and took the oath, he became known to white America as Black — just Black.
“White America sees our skin and our hair, that signals to them Blackness,” Lythcott-Haims explained when asked about the biracial blind spot. “They have a whole construct around race hierarchy, so they don’t have an interest in someone having a white parent. Any perceived Blackness equals Black. There is no interest in the diversity of our heritage.”
Of course, when Lythcott-Haims speaks, she is not generalizing all white people. Moreover, she is commenting on the white voices that speak louder than the rest. Does anyone remember a time when a correspondent on Fox News brought up Obama’s white ancestry? Me neither.
The racial tensions of this year have also stood out because they’ve seemed to magnificently culminate in one arena, or should I say stadium.
The rise and fall of Colin Kaepernick has illustrated what happens when the opinions of Black people become too visceral and sonorous for white America to handle. Before finishing my conversation with Lythcott-Haims, I couldn’t help but ask her thoughts on the controversy surrounding #takeaknee.
“I grew up with a Black father that did not like the 4th of July, because it was not a declaration of independence for us,” Lythcott-Haims began. “We were emancipated 100 years later. Whenever I see the flag, I remember my dad and I only came to appreciate his lesson when I grew older. So when Kaepernick took a knee, I thought, ‘Damn right he is taking a knee.’ What he is saying is what is happening in the world with police brutality is not OK. He was saying, 'I am not going to play a football game and be required to pledge allegiance to a flag that represents a problematic state.”
“I thought it was brave, and I understood why he did it,” Lythcott-Haims said after taking a pause. “People who say boycott the NFL just want him to shut up and wear a jersey. I applaud that he used his platform to get a message across at great personal cost.”
Kaepernick’s cost has been widely talked about on sports stations and talk radio. Has his bravery to kneel for something he believes in cost him a career that he deserves? The answer is no, but it has not stopped the systems at work from keeping him down. The same attempt was made on Beyoncé when she performed “Formation” during the Super Bowl halftime show a few years ago. Lythcott-Haims also believes Beyoncé’s performance deserves great recognition.
“I am fully supportive of Beyoncé getting out there with a Black Panthers outfit,” Lythcott-Haims said. “She is saying you aren’t just going to listen to me and look at my performance and look at my body without getting how I feel.”
My conversation with Lythcott-Haims could have extended far beyond the time I was allotted as her opinions and observations about the racial tensions and fissures in society deeply moved me. I hope there comes a day when conversations like the one I had with Lythcott-Haims are reflective of the past and not indicative of the present.
However, as the repetition of history has taught us, we may have come far, but we have a ways to go.
Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book Real American: A Memoir is on sale now.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: Kristina Vetter)