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.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/24/art.whitfield.jpg width=292 height=320]
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

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 (699 Responses)
  1. Gerry

    I thought Lynn's point is perfect. Being the guardian and Uncle of a biracial nephew she hits the point perfect. I hope I have given my nephew the same confidence that Lynn has to embrace both of his cultures with equal pride.

    What I don't undestand is why hasn't Obama? He seems to only embrass his blackness and has pushed his white heritage aside even though they were the ones who supported him and enabled him to go to the elite middle and high schools as well as Yale. I am very disappointed that Barack forgotten who he really is. Maybe if he does become president he will not be known as the first afro-american president but the first biracial president.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  2. Monica

    Many mixed children aren't comfortable embracing both sides of their heritage. I have a cousin who, about 10 years ago in 4th grade, completely ignored her Lebanese half and talked only about her Scandinavian ancestors . . .even with part of her family still living in the middle east.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  3. Deanna

    What a touching response to an age old diversity. I am a woman in my 40's, a woman of color ( white is a color ). My children are of a different ethnicity. I have raised them with the knowledge that they will be known not by what color they are, but in how they treat their fellow man. My 3 children had their share of exclusion during their elementary school years, and in spite of that they have grown into well rounded adults who have empathy for all people. I knew I had accomplished what I had tried to do in raising them, which was not to look at their skin color but to be strong in who they were, when my youngest stood in front of his class in 6th grade and stated that he wasn't Hispanic or White , but instead he was Irish.

    It is my belief that society today would not even be having a discussion on "color", if each generation would take a look at the harm that is done to mankind when people try to divide "them" from "us". Who is to say which race is "them" and which is "us". We are who we choose to be. Let's choose to be all inclusive of all people.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  4. Rachel

    Is it because of your complexion why you are classifying yourself has biracial. What if the child is of biracial parents but has a darker skin tone.
    Just like how society classified gender as male or female, there is not a third gender if the person is a combination of both sexes.

    How would you classified that biracial couple with the twins that one is of white complexion and the other a darker complexion.

    So we need to clarify when is it we are black ,white or biracial. Is it because of skin tone or biology

    July 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  5. Eliza Flug-Coburn

    Grace Gibson,

    I do not know you but I am very proud of you. Obviously, your mother is too.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  6. lizz

    While I can appreciate the thoughts of young Grace and I do understand her strong will to embrace both her black and white roots (I am the Grandmother of three biracial beautiful grandsons) I would like to comment on her statement about a Biracial Man running for President....Yes Barrack rings in a loud change for America but my question is, "Is America listening?...Why do I ask this question? Because when Barrack is mentioned in the media he is described as a "BLACK MAN"...I have yet to hear anyone in the Media or any of the so called News commentators refer to Barrack as a Biracial Presidential Candidate...yes, it is said in passing when they want to make a point about where he "comes from" but it is never said to described who he really is...he is always personified as "Black"....in the Hollywood world, they may be more accepting but in the world where I live my grandsons (by black and white alike) are never mentioned as biracial...they are mentioned as "little black boys"......hmm, harmony is good but there are those who are still forced to "check the box"......

    July 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  7. Maggie

    God bless you Grace!!!
    Well said. I have always encouraged my children, when asked to check a box, that they should pick 'other' and then write that they are of the human race. That should answer any question.

    Where does so much wisdom come from someone of your age?
    You must have very special parents.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  8. Gaylyne Sims

    I am the parent of two beautiful Bi-Racial Children. If we all would look around at these two children along with the millions of other ones, we would realize that this is the next generation. I to am frustrated when they have to make a choice of white or African American. They are both and shouldn't have to choose. I have taught my children to embrace both cultures because how lucky could you be to have 2 cultures instead of one. Ms. Whitfield has done a beautiful job in raising her PROUD daughter. Good for you and may you all be Blessed!!!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  9. Ed Tallahassee

    This is a great story, and she is right that she be proud to be both races. I think that she hit the nail on the head when she said it was not an either or issue.

    I come from a mixed background as well, I am English, German, Irish, Native American, and African American. I look like your average white guy, but some of my features like my eyes look more Native American. I am proud of all of my heritage, and I think everyone should take pride in theirs as well.

    I think this a great series, and I think it is making people talk frankly about the topic in constructive ways.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  10. Phil

    These are heart warming stories and I am sure that they help heal old wombs, but one cannot help but at least mention the "darkside" of interracial relationships. That is the role of the need the need to better oneself economically and socially may be at the root of some of these relationships and therefore may represent a mild pathological component to the race debate. For those chosen few who are completely "color blind" I say God bless them, however for individuals like Halle Barry and even Lynn, (attempting to fine success in hollywood) I sometimes question there intentions when they choose a partner...complex subject.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  11. Carol

    As most Americans they are all mixed. So why should race be an issue on any box. Very well said for a 16 year old. See how many fill in house hold income?? oh touchy subject there.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  12. Ron

    Carol I know you thought that was a cute story but that could be taken the wrong way. Just because you are mixed does not make cute or special in any way. Its nice to have self confidence but when it is to the detriment of others it could be perceived as something negative. I think the show touched on this within the black community with so-called light skinned blacks with so-called good hair and dark skinned blacks with so-called bad hair. We should not be perpetuating these things. By the way, it does not matter what you consider yourself. You are black and that is just the way it is. You should know your history by now.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  13. Florida resident

    It's really more about how you act and who you associates with. Someone like Obama is half white and half black, but he goes to a 'Black Power' church. So he labeled himself black before anyone does. Especially when he called his white grand mother who raised him 'typical white woman' and the racist pastor 'like my uncle'.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  14. Tom


    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  15. Saint Petersburg, FL

    What a positive well written piece. I really enjoyed reading this.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  16. Christina

    I am truly happy to read this coming from a 16 year old. I pray my daughter and son are surrounded by the same type of wonderful people in your life. Kudos to Grace and Lynn.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  17. Evelyn

    We say that children these days are apathetic and not fighting for a cause–I'm happy that this young woman has taken something to heart and is doing something about it. There are obviously many sides to an issue and I think if we fostered more debate and understanding in this country, then we'd have more exposure to the views listed here (all of which I have read) and that everyone can share their experience and from the extremes find a common ground. There is so much going on in this world, and I think we would find more answers than questions if everyone would just listen.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  18. Joe "black and proud" Smith

    I understand you position and respect such...don't be fooled. If your mother were not whom she is, just get arrested like most "beautiful" dark and proud people of AFRICAN desent...you'll understand then the way that most of "us" do...sad to say!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  19. Tenecia Thomas

    Very well spoken. I am biracial myself, and I couldn't agree more with Grace. Finally someone bi-racial speaking out. I was raised by my paternal grandparents (black) and they never once made me fill like I needed to choose a race. They have always encouraged me to embrace my both races & cultures. I am very, very blessed to have them.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  20. Kristen B

    What a great article and how nice to finally have a mixed person so eloquently speaking for the rest of us mixed folks. Too many times I've read articles by authors who aren't biracial trying to explain my identity and my experience and most of the time they have no idea what they are talking about. I don't care what "society" says I am. I'm mixed and I'm proud of that.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  21. Ron

    Rock on proud american!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  22. Gena

    The focus on race is only meant to keep our society divided. I think we should focus on our cultural roots rather than racial roots. The new categories should be what we choose for ourselves – African American, European African American, Indian American, Asian European American, European American, or Hispanic American.

    We should be able to identify our ethnic background without referring to race because Americans have many ethnicities that are blended more and more each day. Race in and of itself is not a way to define a person – it leaves out the essence of a person, the cultural background that makes all of us unique.

    Americans should no longer be forced to identify themselves by race and be allowed the freedom to choose which ethnicity is preferred.

    Why do they really want to continue pushing people to define themselves by racial characteristics alone anyway? It doesn't serve any higher purpose.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  23. tpod

    ...but aren't we all just one race...?

    i don't know about ANY of you.
    but i'm human.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:40 pm |
  24. Les

    Grace spoke so well about she feels and her place in society today. What a good upbringing you have and a strong mom to back you up and teach you the right way to live. I watched both programs and came away with some good and bad feelings. We still have a very long to go. Thanks go to CNN and Soledad for presenting and being a part in a terrific story. I hope millions had a chance or will get the chance see the program if it is aired again.
    Positive TV, that's hard to find in today's society!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:40 pm |
  25. Tempy

    I am a 30 year old white Australian who lives in America. I am so relieved and excited that this comment from the lovely young woman shows that a new enlightened generation of citizens recognizes that color does not define you as a person.

    Everyone should be proud of who they are for who they are and be proud of whatever ethnic heritage they come from. Yay for the evolution of the human mind and spirit! We are finally getting somewhere! And what a bloody good writer she is!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:40 pm |
  26. shiela

    you are so right, but unfortunately, our world is not fair. what you say is what should be, but reality over thousands of years shows the human race to pick the other way. the older you get, the more rage you will feel at the gap between what should be, and what there is.
    on a happier note- we can try to change our own close world. classmates, family, boss etc. and Yes You Can!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  27. Ianta, Washington, DC

    Weather you are black or white the only race you belong to is the human race.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  28. Jay Govan

    I like where you are heading with this, however, the reality is something different. Being biracial in this country is not a 'struggle'. I do believe that a biracial child (of X.black decent – meaning anything + black) is 'given' to blacks. It is not by choice. NO one called to ask you what 'you' wanted to be considered; they told you what they see you as. I know that it is frustrating... but the point of the show was changing perceptions. I can tell you this... a mixed x.black person is perceived a lot more postively than an all black person. These are the sad truths by which we live today. It is admirable that you feel this way... but the reality is you are what you are. You are inherently sucked into abyss of blackness by being 'of' the blackness. It is quite amazing that we have so many great biracial x.black people that are denied that component (half) of them that matters also. We are a nation of perceivers.... you are perceived as being black.

    Live your life as an American first. If we stop focusing on categories, maybe one day this will all go away... maybe. The biracial people want to create a new one... no need. Just get in where you fit in...

    July 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  29. David

    Very well written, especially for a 16 year old. I wish there were more strong and educated children like her around.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  30. Douglas

    Your daughter is beautiful, strong and activist-proud. She's a treasure, and you are a lucky mother.

    As a white male, who has lived in an Asian country for six years, I can tell you that the more that single race people (and who is really of a single race) interact with the views express by people of color, blended or whole, the more they will lose sight of a singular way of being. The more multi-faceted we can become, the greater the world can be.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  31. Steveo

    WOW great insight, as a grandfather of mixed race grandchildren I did not realize what my true feelings were until I was presented with my first grandson, at first I was your common white male from Mississippi and thought this was the worst thing in the world that could happen, after spending a few hours I came to realize that I was truley blessed and that color just does not matter.
    I now am the PROUD grandfather of three mixed race grand children whom I must say are my favorite little people to be around.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  32. Yvonne Stephens

    Thought provoking and well stated. To Geri, who assumes that the program was not created with mixed race people in mind, we are exactly the kind of people the program was meant for. It doesn't matter what identity we create for ourselves, it is the PERCEPTION of those around us that builds the psychological forces of oppression that ensue. We are faces of color, we are related, you and I. When we realize that oppression is interlocking and our destinies woven into one, only then can we resist the forces which seek to box us into definitions which we obsess over. "Black" and "Mixed", "White", "Pacific Islander", even "Hispanic/ Non'White", all of these terms are perpetuated by seperatist forces which seek to keep us focused on arbitrary and meaningless definitions when we SHOULD be focusing our energies on unifying and crumbling the foundation of the status quo. You and I, Geri, we are the same kind of people. That's why its called "consciousness", because we are still sleeping. WAKE UP.

    "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  33. Timus, Powder Springs, GA

    I'm inspired by Grace's statement. I hope that one day we'll live in a country when a mixed race child can be who they are and not just another black child but today that's not the case. There will have to be a huge renewing of the mind that needs to take place amongst ALL races.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  34. Lisa

    Well said..I agree with this young lady 100%. I am the mother of mixed children. If you ask them wait their race is they'll say mixed. Very proudly, I might add.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  35. rose

    I am part of global family. We represent every possible color of human skin. I absolutely love that about my family. We are who we are. It is shows like BLACK IN AMERICA that seem to stir up racism. I just don't get it. America, get educated, stop labeling the entire world, and start celebrating being HUMAN.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  36. LUCIE

    I think that this young lady expressed her feeling about how she identifies herself very well. I don't think that every bi racial American feels that same way. Some feel that they need to identify with one race or the other, does that make them wrong? I don't think so. It's all about the individual. Maybe in the future, Americans will stop trying to force everybody into a certain category and let us all be the individuals that we were born to be.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  37. Jackson

    Sounds like someone needs a ride from the waaambulance....(Geri).
    How negative and angry can one person be? Stop being part of the victim mindset and rise above-

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  38. Jacqueline

    Well said Grace. I support your position. Children should be allowed to be what they are and not be forced to make a choice.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  39. Dave

    My wife is East Indian and I am European-American (I would say white, but since this country likes its highens, I thought I'd play along).

    We just had a beautiful mixed child.

    For those who intend to demean him with YOUR prejudices, I will fight you with every ounce of my being.

    For those who dont play the race card and realize RACE MEANS NOTHING, I applaud you and hope we can show the rest of the racists on all sides that WE love all races and have literally walked the walk, not just talked the talk of racial harmony.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  40. harryo

    unfortunately lynn and her daughter are confused.....genetics proves that when one parent is black, the offspring are black....accept this fact and move on. you never hear white people declaring with a false sense of pride that they are half black!!! and lets get one thing straight. racism and prejudice are two different things. Racism is based on power. Since black people have no power, they cannot be racist. they can be prejudiced however.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  41. Bill

    You go, girl!!!

    I, too, am tired of the labels and categorizing of people into pigeon-holed compartments, one of which is race. Is it really still important in our society to proclaim "the first African-American to be..." whatever. I understand this was necessary 40 or 50 years ago, with America still coming to grips with Jim Crow and Civil rights. Now, however, it is just a division that doesn't need to be there.

    As Sidney Poitier's character in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" stated to his father ..."You see yourself as a colored man ... and I see myself as a man". This is where we should be and thank goodness great kids like Grace are willing to lead the way.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  42. Blythe

    My daughter is first generation African-American...her father is from Cameroon and I am a WASP from Boston. I've always described her skin color as like a mocha frappucino from Starbucks and she giggles when I say that. I've lived in Africa and noticed how people associate Africans as black. Were I born in Ghana, I would not be referred to as Ghanain, but as American. If a Ghanain is born in the US, he or she can be called American, regardless of skin color. I try to teach my daughter that whether her skin color is brown, mocha, or anything in between, she is who she is and to be proud of her heritage as being both from Africa and America. Even those who describe themselves as African American can't be sure of that direct lineage, as Skip Gates' study on DNA shows. The color of one's skin describes what a person looks like, not who they are.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  43. Denise

    I have to agree with Wil. An awful lot of this "division" is caused by 'yourselves'. We actually have a NAMED month for only Blacks.........."Black History Month". If we had a NAMED month for Whites......"White History Month", we whites would be in BIG trouble! We have all BLACK schools, but God forbid we'd have all WHITE.

    Yes, Grace has written a beautiful piece, based on what she's experienced. Be white and be insulted constantly by blacks with a 'false sense of entitlement' and see how THAT feels!

    I'd LOVE for all people to be one..........but as someone else said.........that'll never happen in MY lifetime........and probably not for MANY, MANY to come!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  44. ananda

    I'm am a parent of a biracial child and I was insulted by the ignorance of the biracial parent trying to conform her children to either be black or white. And to state that black and white biracial children are more excepted by the blacks than whites is a stupid statement. It is she who has not excepted that her children are biracial. Everyone needs to look around...look! Biracial children of all colors and shades of beauty are the next generation. This is when we will no longer be judged by color, nationality, or race.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  45. wendy gibbs

    THANK YOU!! Finally somebody who gets it! I am the mother of 3 beautiful bi-racial children, and I tell my oldest as I will tell the 2 younger ones, that they are bi-cultural. They should be proud to represent two heritages. It seems that people who are prejudice seem to forget that God made us after his own image. If you have issues with any person of any race you are saying to God that he made a mistake, and He does not make mistakes. I am sick of people who claim to love God, turn around and hate someone for their color. These are the same people who go to church, say they love God but then question His workmanship. I am so proud of my children and I am teaching them to be strong, intelligent, compassionate people who's soul purpose is to make a difference in this world. I congragulate Barack Obama and I am so happy that my children finally have someone to look up to, because as I told my son if he can do it then certainly when you are grown you can do it too!!

    July 25, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  46. Sandy

    Amen! I totally agree....I despise the "check box" mentality of our society. My daughter is black and white. Period. She shouldn't have to choose one or the other. I am white/Irish and her dad is black/Ethiopian. She embraces both cultures, her heritages and ethnicities. She is very proud to be of mixed race.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  47. Angela

    I think it is wonderful that Grace has the perspective that she does. I can absolutely relate (my boys are third generation mixed children). However not everyone (myself, not so much my boys) are often forced to choose. Growing up my mother and father's sides of the family did not approve of one another and all too many on my mother's side did not approve of her husband and children. As a child I remember those instances and they very much contributed to a conflicted sense of identity.

    Despite that I have always relished my mixed heritage because it allows me to relate to multiple sides (and sometimes none at all). I enjoy very much being part of this great melting pot and slowly sliding away from some of our darker history in this country.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  48. Paul

    Outstanding statement by Grace! My all-white family is friends with a mixed couple. We don't think of their children as white, black, or mixed, because we don't think of their parents as black and white. All of them are individuals, and we appreciate them for who they are.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  49. Jodi

    Wow! 16 years old? Grace is not white or black or bi racial...she is amazing 🙂 She is the future of this country...the largest melting pot in the world. How proud her mother and father should be of this young woman they have raised so well. Race is not an issue in life...it is a needed identity genetically at times and for the census takers. Does anyone esle really care?

    July 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  50. Ron

    What has Lynn taught this kid? Obviously not very much. Of course she is mixed and neither black or white. However, the fact is that the majority of the people in this country will see her as being black. Since that is the case she will be treated accordingly.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
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