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August 9th, 2008
03:46 PM ET

I am neither black nor white. I'm both

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Editor’s Note: Lynn Whitfield is an Emmy Award winning actress famous for her role as Josephine Baker in 'The Josephine Baker Story.' Her other films include 'A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,' 'Gone Fishin’' and 'Eve’s Bayou.' Below is a response from her and her daughter after watching Black In America's 'The Black Woman and Family.'

Lynn Whitfield
Actress

My daughter Grace and I watched the premier of CNN’s groundbreaking "Black in America." I thought we would have lively discussions around many of the themes concerning black women in this country. However, when she saw the segments on interracial marriage and the children of those relationships, she had a visceral response.

I saw an activist being born.

Grace seemed ready to adapt James Brown’s black anthem to her cause: "Say it loud, I'm blended and proud!" I saw my daughter stand up for the equality of blended people like herself in all her olive-complexioned, big curly afro-like glory. She went immediately to the computer with dignity, passion and everything but a fist in the air and wrote the statement you are about to read:

Watch the 'Black In America' story Lynn Whitfield and Grace Gibson are reacting to
Watch the 'Black In America' story Lynn Whitfield and Grace Gibson are reacting to

Mixed in America
Grace Gibson (16-year-old daughter of Lynn Whitfield)

Although I found this segment of “Black in America” to be highly informative for the general public, I was disappointed that the interviews in the section on what it is like to be biracial in America seemed to focus only on the more negative aspects. With the eyes of the world now on Barack Obama, I had hoped for a more balanced discussion on what a positive symbol a mixed race person can project.

Obama’s candidacy embodies change and hope for so many in this country of all generations, genders, races and cultures. His message of bringing us all together as Americans is enhanced by his mixed heritage. The biracial person personifies the breaking down of racial barriers that so many fought and died for in the civil rights movement. It is what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for and what his legacy of equality imparts to us today. So one should feel nothing but pride to be mixed in America.

If parents of biracial children are too concerned about what race their children identify and associate with, the only outcome will be confusion. They should rear their children to have enough self-esteem and self-confidence to be their own persons - encouraging them to be strong children who can grow up to be strong biracial adults.

There should be no need for them to say “I am black” or “I am white” because they are neither, yet they are both. Trying to force a choice is often done just to accommodate the people around them. Why should it be so difficult to understand that a person can be and take pride in two races, ethnically and culturally? Those who cannot accept this are perpetuating the kind of ignorance that would only resegregate society by taking away a positive symbol of integration, the mixed child, and restricting him or her to an either-or status.

In a world where a biracial man may well become the next President of the United States, all that a parent should be trying to instill in a child is pride in his or her race or races.

I am proud to be a child born to two loving, talented, creative people – a mother and father who happened to be of African-American and English descent, respectively. I do not feel confused at all nor do I have an identity crisis. I do not feel lost in society nor rejected by any race because I am all races in one.

I am the melting pot, and in our global society, soon all the children of the world will be a mixture of races as well. So why should we try to pick and choose what we want and don’t want our children to be? Why can’t we just accept our common humanity and try to refocus our energies on more pressing matters such as Hurricane Dolly in Texas, infected children in flooded Burmese streets, earthquake victims in China, AIDS patients in Sub-Saharan Africa or those here in Washington, D.C.?

As the world confronts these and other serious challenges to survival, why add more complications by trying to reduce a living symbol of racial harmony to a checked-box identity?


Filed under: Black in America • Lynn Whitfield
soundoff (698 Responses)
  1. Toni

    Bottom lines:
    1. A huge shortage in desirable Black men has forced Black women to resort to dating and marrying out of their race.
    2. Society can sense that the historical relationship between Black men and white women is pathological. White females are obsessed with Black men. Thus stirring up the wrath of white men.

    BTW, once Black men have been with white females, many Black women look at Black men as damaged goods.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  2. Blyden

    Society will categorize you, so long as the categories remain, but the old categories of white and non-white are challenged by the increasing numbers and social power of people who do not fit neatly into the boxes, and particularly so at the present moment by the possibility that the next President could be biracial. Current popular interest in this topic of discussion is part of the process by which society re-considers and re-defines (in its various consciousnesses) what, if anything, the concept of race means for the futrue.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  3. Samantha

    Grace, we never asked anyone to choose white folks did. Who said 1% black blood makes you black. It sure wasn't us.
    No human should have to be ashamed of who she or he is. If they're bi, tri or multi racial the important thing is who they are as people.
    I have bi racial family members and it doesnt mean any thing to me they are family no matter where there parents are born.
    Humans really need to come to grips with the race thing because it has really gotten old. If it had not been for people of all races you would still be living in caves. In short read a book and learn of all contribution to the health and welfare of this country, i'm sure alot of you will be surprised.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  4. Alexandria Virginia

    Good job, Grace! You are black, you are white, you are biracial... and, unrelated to all of the above, you are a really good writer! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and affirmations. I hope you continue to explore avenues for your writing and public commentary. Take a tip from an older woman, though - if you do pursue writing, don't do it as a personal blog, do something where you get paid for it!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  5. Steve, Monroe, WI

    One day growing up on a farm in Iowa, My father and I were doing the proverbial "leaning on the fence" and reviewing his stock of animals. I asked him why he would always breed from two different kinds of the same animal instead of raising purebred stock. His answer was, "Because the hybrids are stronger, healthier in general, and, therefore, more productive."

    He went on say that many of the founding fathers were farmers as well and maybe they thought the same for the human animal. Based on what he said, my niece, who is German, African American, Cherokee, Dakota Souix (my father's mother is rumored to be hald Dakota Souix), Irish, and French is probably purebred American.

    They say we are having difficulty rediscovering our identity. To me, its
    simple: we are the world rolled into one.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  6. Kerri

    I would like to commend this young woman for her comments. Also I would like to point out that the Black in America series is not just for "Blacks" in America. This series is providing information for all people, as it should.
    As the parent to three multi-cultural children (I am white and my husband is African American), I feel strongly about the issue that Ms. Gibson raises. I do not say to my children that they must identify with their white side or their black side. My husband and I have raised them to be strong individuals. In the future if they choose to identify with one over the other, that is their choice. This issue appears to be of bigger concern to everyone else and not the kids at all. I cannot tell you how many times I have had one of my daughters come home from school and say that the kids are asking them if they are white or black. Why does it matter, it does not make them who they are! As for now, we are a multi-cultural family.

    Further, on that note I personally do not care for the term "mixed" or bi-racial. We are all of the Human Race, and we need to start to care for each other as citizens of America.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  7. Jon

    You can be "gray", insofar as it's anybody's business what your race is.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Bushwhacked in Eugene, OR

    What an amazingly coherent and articulate piece of writing from one so young! Kudos to Grace and her parents.

    She has articulated many of my own feelings about Obama's candidacy and message remarkably well. Racial discrimination needs to end in this country, and the only way to end it is to bring it to the surface and face it. We've hidden it too well for too many years, while giving lip-service to the subject.

    BTW, I'm a 65-year-old white woman who was raised in the Jim Crow south but didn't listen to the messages I heard from my environment. I've always preferred to think for myself.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  9. Deepu

    Why do we have to identify with any race, religion, region or looks? Why can't we be identified for what we are as a person, without being associated with any of the above classes of stereotypes? I think it is because we are not patient and want to figure everything out quickly, so that we can feel better. As little as we all know about anything, despite the pretentions and wild assumptions, this impatience is the root cause of all this confusion.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Mayka

    I agree with Grace. I'm tired of having to answer to forms where you are either caucasian, black, hispanic, etc. They say that this is done to give opportunities to minorities, but I want to obtain something based on my accomplishments, not on my race, religion, etc. I am who I am, regardless of my race, religion, gender, etc. I was given a name when I was born and that is how I want to be identified. If we want to stop racism in this or any other country, we have to stop classifying people, like Hitler did.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  11. Abby

    What a well articulated comment by a sixteen year old!! That just goes to show the positive side – she has not fallen under some of the negative things that were talked about on the documentaries.

    I am a white mother of two beautiful mixed race boys (their father is from Africa) and this comment is testimony to what I hope my boys with think and believe when they are the same age. I do worry all the time that society will only place them in the "black" category – the good and the bad that comes with that label. I want them to have the freedom to be whoever they are and not be placed into a certain category – and your comment just makes me believe that if my husband and I give them the right tools they will be whoever they are and will love both races and cultures that they are mixed from. I really hope that we along with society can change certain things to become a more open, accepting and successful world.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:33 pm |
  12. suzanne

    I agree with Grace Gibson, the parents of bi-racial children did focus too much on racial identity. For me those days are past or very much need to be. I always tick "other" when a form ask me to identify myself racially. Whose business is it anyway? If you can't see, or know me, don't try to label me.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:33 pm |
  13. Rose

    Grace, finally someone with the good sense to say what really matters, being an American. Color is only a small fraction of what we are, who we are and what we can be, only small minds and cruel intentions separate some one from enjoying a life full of love, pride and a future full of possibilities. you make me proud to be an American! Keep that attitude and you will never be disappointed. I'm sure your parents are basking in the glow of pride for what they and God have created in you.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:33 pm |
  14. Rob

    I think Grace is an obviously intelligent girl. And yes, there is some work to do disolving the differences between the races and those who may have issues being born from two different races. Although she is reared by two sides of the spectrum of color, the segment was on "BLACK IN AMERICA". The bi-racial history (talking black and white) is not as long running or yet as deep as African American and Caucasian American. This MUST be dealt with FIRST

    .

    July 25, 2008 at 1:33 pm |
  15. Shirley De Silva

    It is indeed heartwarming that a young lady has so much foresight about life than many of us who are years older. Grace struck on th right note when she stressed on the importance of self-esteem and self-confidence. It is the lacking of these two important atributes that result in the need to identify as being white, black , etc. We all have the same needs and aspirations in life regardless of color. The less we identify ourselves as white, black , etc. the more "barriers" will break.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Candy Fields

    Grace,
    Very well said, you have the best of both worlds!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:32 pm |
  17. John

    Geri, What do mean by "program was not made with you in mind. It was made for us"? Grace Gibson is black... Her daughter is bi–racial. The article talks about bi-racial issues as well. You need to read the article more thouroughly before embarassing yourself and the rest of "us" with your uninformed, divisive statements.

    ------
    Well, Grace Gibson, obviously the program was not made with you in mind. It was made for us, the ones who have to go through the daily struggles of being Black In America.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:32 pm |
  18. Novelist Jewel Taylor

    I have always loved Ms. Whitfield, but now I have a new respect for her after reading Grace's comments. I commend her for providing a lifestyle for her child that would enable her to communicate such passionate thoughts and emotions as articulately as she did. It is good to see that some families with biracial children have resolved some of the questions and concerns that other families are still plagued with. I am proud of Grace for expressing her beliefs so confidently and passionately. I agree with her mother- I do believe a young activist is on the horizon. Much love and respect to both ladies! Novelist, Jewel Taylor.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:32 pm |
  19. sibyl

    Lynn Whitfield has raised an awesome young lady in Grace, she will go far. As white parents, we work every day to ensure that our children are not concerned with color or speech, but sensitive and supportive to the many cultures that comprise this connected world they are inheriting.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:32 pm |
  20. Bryce

    As a young man of mixed racial background of anglo-saxon (my caucasian ancestors trace back to the Mayflower) and Chinese ancestry, I do appreciate a wider recognition of "mixed" background as I define and explore my own racial identity. Mixed race discussions today are beginning to go beyond the traditional caucasian and African-American identification. Nevertheless, I can still identify with many of the issues that come up when looking at the issue from that typical perspective. I also recognize the reasons for the African American community's ownership of Barack Obama's racial identity, but he is a man of mixed race and I am proud to share that identity. Regardless of whether or not his mixed identity gets wider recognition, I think a Barack Obama Presidency would certainly advance the dialogue surrounding mixed race and increase the awareness and acceptance of this identity for people of multiple racial backgrounds.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:32 pm |
  21. Brandon

    Bi-racial children should not have to say whether they are black or white, but one thing to think about, bi-racial children have been considered black for many years. There are still many families that does not except a child being mixed. Yes, in this day in age it is ok to be grateful for being black and white, but Grace also comes from a family that is very wealthy. She has nothing to fear, except what color car to pick out. Think of those children who is teased because of the color of their skin. You ask my children what color they are they will tell you black and white, but I do think it is important for them to know their history and whether they like it or not society will consider them black.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  22. Mellina

    Grace is wise beyond her years. As a multi-racial American, I too agree that I am neither black nor white. However, I do understand it takes time to learn how to live in a world that wants to categorize you. But they will learn. I certainly had ups and downs as a child, but I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to be multi-racial. The number thing I learned from both my black and white families is this- we're all the same.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  23. Henry

    It is amazing and refreshing to read a piece like this and realize that the "next generation" truly has the answers to issues that our parents could not understand. I am encouraged that change is truly taking place and it is for the better. It is in pieces like this where the following lyrics reflect reality – " I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way."

    Kudos to the Gibson / Whitfield family! Job well done!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  24. Brian Minsinger

    I understand being proud of heritage and thankful to those that came before or made us what we may have become, but I think it is important to always look at the individual. If the person is a blend of two or to many to count races is less important than what that person is now.
    There are no people without contributing factors of one form or another from multiple cultures, races, or enviorment. This is what makes for the best possible human, and yes the worst also, but one should never assume a person is anything without knowing that person.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:30 pm |
  25. JD

    Thanks Geri for your totally selfish comment. It's all about you I guess. Can't you for one moment give this young lady some credit for a well written article? I guess Grace doesn't have any struggles.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:30 pm |
  26. karolalyce

    what Grace said is wonderful and would work in a perfect world but we live in america and in america one drop of black blood makes you black.
    Not to mention that american blacks are all mixed. we may not be able to look right at our white part but we are all mixed with mostly european blood.
    so until we have a perfect world we will always be just black in society.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:30 pm |
  27. nedra

    Grace, we totally understand your point but face it.....your birth certificate says black, not mixed race.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  28. MMS

    I would hope that everyone would agree that it is time to let ALL PEOPLE speak for themselves. How little and belittling it is to have to define one's self in order to accommodate another's ignorance. Grace, you've done your mother, your father, and yourself proud in presenting a well-reasoned and well-lived position. Thank you.

    Ms. Whitfield, as much as I've always admired your acting work, my respect for you as a mother has surpassed even that standard. Thank you, too.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  29. Sizz

    Darling, your point is well taken and it would be wonderful if the whole world saw it that way, but the reality that we live in, people are just not going to view it that way. I am not saying it will never happen, but it will probably be generations on top of generations before people view it the way you have written about. Honey, this has been going on since the bible days and unfortunately it probably will not be fixed until we hang up these bodies and meet in heaven, but there is nothing wrong with continuing to hope.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  30. J

    I enjoyed reading this article, excellent job! I think other people in high positions in this country could learn so much from people like Grace! Pay attention!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  31. Starzonn

    Grace, your essay was as eloquent and well written as your mother is an actress/mother (kudos Lynn!). Bravo to you for watching and absorbing the information for what it is. Your documentary on being blended, too, shall be told. I don't believe it should stop here. There is much to learn about all of us on this planet that we share. My only snicker is to the remark that we "will become" blended....child, we already are! That's the unfortunate reason why we must understand this series...we are one, but we create a divisiveness that oppresses all ethnic/cultural groups. That is what must end. Bravo CNN!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  32. j

    Unfortunately, race does play an important in genetics and science. While, generally, a check box is not the best method to define individuals (because that is what we indeed are) it IS helpful in identifying persons who may need to be followed differently in a medical setting. A white male at 40 might not need to worry about prostate cancer (the second most lethal cancer among men in the US) however, a black male (albeit in the same shape and health as the previous man) might seriously consider beginning checkups as this particular disease is has been found to affect black males earlier, and sometimes more aggressively.

    We should not be limited to a box; however, we must also not forget our genetic components as they are very real.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  33. Ladidy

    I believe that most Americans of African decent have some form of miscegenation in their bloodline. It is unfortunate that skin color is an issue in this country. We are so divided in our communities based on this concept. The grim reality of this country is that you are black. You are judge on how you look and not on your heritage. My great grand father was white. I am black.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  34. Jackie

    WELL SAID!! Grace Gibson has a great head on her shoulders. Her parents did a beautiful job raising her!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  35. cratermole

    After reading Betina commnet, it reminds me of a friend who when asked her race, she answered "HUMAN".

    July 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  36. Shelby

    It might also help in losing the stereotype if people would stop refering to themselves as "African-American" and just be an American. Most who use this term are not from Africa. Others don't refer to themselves as "Irish-American" or "Chinese-American" so why is it always "African-American"? Just curious.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  37. MCatherine

    As an Afro-Caribbean woman who just married a white man, I agree with Grace's statements. The short segment about interracial marriages and biracial segment had a negative tone and was not at all what I was expecting. When my husband and I have kids we're going to raise them to appreciate both of their cultures– we're not going to raise them as one OR the other.It's not about focusing on picking one race or heritage over the other as much as it is about being proud of both as they will benefit from both.

    That segment of the show could just as well have been left out, it was so superficially done.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  38. Cody Williams

    The vast majority of blacks in America are of "mixed race," of some sort or another. Hence, our different hues.

    So, she is no different than any other of us.

    Race, is a social/political construct, not a biological one.

    Being black has nothing to do with the color of your parents.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  39. Kevin Ressler

    Thank God! This Black in America series and segment have screamed to me of tokenism and opportunism. And I have found the reporting to be eerily creepy in the ways photos have been posted on the front page, (low quality, taken looking like mug shots).

    As a bi-racial person, I felt completely excluded from this conversation, and when mentioned, it seemed as if people like me were still the same fear you saw in Dixon's Birth of America.

    I appreciate this article, and I wish people understood what it means to be bi-racial. Maybe they would stop asking Obama if he is "too white" or "too black" which are questions predicated in the inability of people to know or understand at all that he's neither, he's both.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  40. Thomas

    Race is a problem in our country and we can't devote enough time in seeking to understand one another from whatever race, religion or background we may come from.

    That being said, much of what I have seen in CNN's articles and documentaries has an overriding theme of guilting white america for the difficulties of black america. There may very well be some merit to some of the arguments that have been made. Without question racism exists, however guilting one population for the difficulties of another has the opposite impact from what is intended. I don't want to be told I'm a racist simply because I'm white, that is the exact mentaility we are trying to get away from. We have to find another mechanism to make things better, guilt is not the answer.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  41. Stephanie

    And as far as being a living symbol of racial harmony - unfortunately Grace the real legacy of miscegenation in America were people of "mixed race" who were produced by rape and oppression.

    Please acquaint yourself with the history of multi-racial relationships in this country. They have not always been positive and harmonious!!!!

    Surely your African-American mom told you about all this - right?

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  42. Jon Anderson

    There ARE many of us in this world you ARE able to look past race, who DON'T have a "check-box mentally", and who want to be heard. The problem is that there are a minority of people in this world (on both sides of the racial divide) who won't allow us to get past this because they continue to throw the issue of race into our collective faces. This current CNN programming is just a minor illustration of the point.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  43. Stephanie

    Beautifully said Grace Whitfield! Lynn you should pat yourself on the back for raising such a lovely, intelligent daughter. I am the mother of a 6 year old mixed race child and I am printing your statement out to read to her when the time comes for questions. Thank you for putting your take on the special out there!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  44. Terry

    Grace,
    Such an eloquent and positive young lady. As the parent of 2 bi-racial children one son and a daughter I try to give them positive images of all races. My son who is 8 told me he told his classmates I am white and black and I am the best of both. It is difficult enough for children of all races to be categorized and singled out for what ever reason. I want my daughter to have a strong positive image of who she is and my son is engaged whenever Barak Obama speaks. It is time for all of us to accept people for who they are regardless of race. As a black woman who was raised in an integrated community I have had my share of racism. It does not define me, nor have I allowed it to stop me from doing anything I want. I hope and pray that my children will be a successful part of the melting pot where we all come together as human beings. Still, decades after Martin Luther King's dream speak, we cannot come together as people to help one another. I am saddened by those of all races who refuse to look beyond the skin surface you may just be the most remarkable person you may ever meet. But you will never know because your hate will always keep you from being truly free. Thank you Grace, and thanks to your parents who are making sure you have a clear direction. May your future be very bright.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  45. Muriel Louis

    Out of the mouth of babes. Its a great point but I'm afraid it won't come to fruition if society continues to adapt ignorance. We need to embrace the positive more and not the negative

    July 25, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  46. karen

    very nicely written, and much needed in our society. Thank you for sharing!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  47. JR

    When my niece was 7 years old, a woman told her what a pretty girl she was. My niece answered, "that's because my daddy's white and my mommy's black." She thinks her two races make her beautiful, and I'm proud of that, and proud of her. Thanks for writing this, Grace!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm |
  48. alfonso

    Well said – but I have one question: if Tiger Woods's mother is Thai, why is he called black? If Obama's mother was white, why is he black? Does the non-black community ever have a say?

    July 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm |
  49. Carmel

    I loved what you had to say about your mixed heritage. It is exactly how I feel about myself and how i was raised by my parents (African American and Caucasian). I am proud to be biracial and would not want to have it any other way.

    "There is only one race - the human race" - someday the citizens of this world will realize and truly believe that.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm |
  50. Monique

    Shouldn't race be considered by the family involved and leave the rest of us out of it? These are their choices. I thought the piece was fine. Why should it fit into a nice little box that expresses all viewers expectations. It is A viewpoint and a very interesting one.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:24 pm |
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