Did you know that actor Taye Diggs moonlights as a children's book author? Diggs' first book, "Chocolate Me," is based on his own experiences growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood. His second book "Mixed Me!" is a sort of ode to his biracial son (with ex-wife, actress/singer Idina Menzel) and is really a great conversation starter for what it means to be mixed and how to embrace being mixed in a society that doesn't really get it.
Diggs says, "When you [call biracial kids black], you risk disrespecting that one-half of who you are and that's my fear. I don't want my son to be in a situation where he calls himself black and everyone thinks he has a black mom and a black dad, and then they see a white mother, they wonder, 'oh, what's going on?'"
I know this particular statement of Diggs is going to be a hard pill for some to swallow because as much as we want to make believe that we live in a post-racial society, we don't. We really have a thing for putting people in boxes, for streamlining the entirety of what one person is so that it is palatable for the lowest common denominator among us.
Being mixed is too complex for most to grasp, so if someone looks like they could be black, why not just call them black? Because it's not up to us to take any of their cultural or racial inheritance from them. It's up to them to embrace and identify themselves as a whole person with a rich and mixed background.
As a parent of mixed children, I'm thrilled to see this discussion happening on the pages of a children's book in a way that is celebratory. I bought the book, I read the book, and my family and I are grateful we have the ability to have this conversation together.
I say this as the wife of a man who is mixed and often gets asked where he's from — when what people really want to know is what he "is" in terms of race. If he tells people he's from Hawaii he gets a blank stare followed by, "does that mean you are Hawaiian?" He then has to explain that his mother is white, his father is black and he was born in Hawaii. If he gets another blank stare he follows with, "Basically, I'm like Obama." Ah, then people relax because now they can think about him as black and the mystery is solved.
The thing is that just like Obama, my husband is actually biracial and why shouldn't he say that with pride? Why is that such a hard concept for people in this day and age to grasp? It really shouldn't be.
Bringing it back to why Taye Diggs felt compelled to write a book like "Mixed Me!" not just for his son, but for everyone, Diggs says specifically about Obama, "as African-Americans we were so quick to say OK, he's black, he's black, and then there were the white people who were afraid to say he was biracial because who knows. Everybody refers to him as the first black president; I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying that it's interesting. It would be great if it didn't matter and that people could call him mixed. We're still choosing to make that decision, and that's when I think you get into some dangerous waters."
As a parent of mixed children, I'm thrilled to see this discussion happening on the pages of a children's book in a way that is celebratory. I bought the book, I read the book, and my family and I are grateful we have the ability to have this conversation together through children's literature — something my husband and I could never have even imagined when we were kids.