The Root Interview: Michael Fosberg on Being the Incog-Negro

Michael Fosberg was 30 when he found out that his long-lost biological father was black. His life, he says, is so much richer for that discovery -- which is the subject of a one-man play, Incognito, and now a memoir by the same name.


MF: In the 2000 census, we actually had a “Biracial” box. Apparently, more than 7 million people checked that box. But many experts believe that’s just a fraction of the people who are [actually] biracial. I do think that it helps in regards to us not having just a “Black” or a “White” box.

There’s such richness in between the two choices that we’re always given — Democrats or Republicans, liberal or conservative. Or in Tuscon, Ariz., it’s either the killer was crazy or sane. So I do think it’s a good thing to be able to recognize [biracialism]. But we need to do more than that. We need to talk more about what that is, how that identifies us.

TR: Did you hear about the research recently published in Social Science Quarterly? The authors of a study found what they call a reverse pattern of passing today.

MF: Are they suggesting that more people are coming out as black?

TR: It says, “Blackness, the authors argue, is less stigmatized today. Biracial and multiracial individuals feel more free to experiment with their identity … “

MF: Yes.

TR: ” … and many express pride in blackness and take steps to accent attributes that they consider black.”

MF: Since what I call “the Obama phenomena,” we are definitely more eager, and perhaps more willing, to have the dialogue. The problem I see is that we still don’t know how to have that dialogue. So this study seems to make perfect sense in that scheme of things. Why wouldn’t we be proud that we have a man of color, or multicolored, in the White House? Wouldn’t we want to embrace that more? Yes. It makes complete sense to me.

TR: What do you think of “color-blind” and “post-racial”?

MF: We don’t want to promote color blindness. We want to recognize and understand what’s in front of us. The same denial exists when they think we’re in some post-racial environment. You remember? Right after we elected Barack, some thought that since we’ve elected a black man, everything’s OK. As if that would solve all of our problems.