Full disclosure: I love Sage Steele. (I know she’s not Drake, but stay with me.)
If you don’t know anything about sports, Steele is a veteran journalist who came up in the Indianapolis news scene and made it all the way to the hallowed halls of Bristol, Conn., and ESPN.
Even though I have long since stopped watching ESPN—partly because there are a plethora of options on the Internet and partly because seeing Stephen A. Smith’s atrocious choppa suits is like a handful of salt in the eyes—Steele was and is always a welcome sight during NBA broadcasts.
Last week I happened to come across an article on the Huffington Post detailing her career and the racism and sexism she’s faced. In the article, she offered something that piqued my interest:
And I will say this, though, and I’m pretty specific about it: My mom is white, half-Irish and half-Italian, and my dad is black—so I identify exactly 50 percent with each. Even though, if someone were to see me on TV, they wouldn’t go like, “Oh yeah, you know that white girl with curly hair that does the NBA?” No, they’re going to say the black girl, but it’s really important to me to identify with my mom’s side as well.
If you weren’t aware before, you now know that Sage Steele is biracial.
It’s 2016 and there’s nothing odd about that. She’s a person. She loves her mom. The sky is blue, trees are green and the Earth is flat.
Then, as I recollected seeing a giant billboard of Steele for Mixed Chicks hair products, my peace was mildly shaken. My brow furrowed because I found myself contemplating a question that I hoped would prove to be false: Does Sage Steele feel pressure to let people know she’s half-white because she’s not ambiguous-looking?
Does she feel like she’s not reaping the benefits of her whiteness because she didn’t end up a shade of indeterminate beige?
Elsewhere, Saturday Night Live alumna and verified indeterminate-beige person Maya Rudolph was coming to terms with her blackness. Her episode of Finding Your Roots aired recently, and Rudolph—whose mother, soul legend Minnie Riperton, died in 1979—openly admitted to “feeling orphaned by her heritage.”
These two examples touch on the gamut of issues that biracial people, especially from black-white couples, face when forming their identities:
1. People (both white and black) say horrible, uncalled-for things to biracial people chiefly out of insecurity and bitterness.
2. Having an absent parent can skew a biracial person’s formation of self-identity.
3. Cultivating exoticism is a large part of racial politics.
With all of these neuroses and social pressures on biracial people, I find myself asking, “How did Drake do it?”
As an observer, I’ve come to recognize that Aubrey “Drake” Graham has apparently solved this puzzle and become a person who appears, at least on the public stage, to love the totality of his racial self without reservation.
This man has the gall to consistently refer to both of his parents in his music and humanize them in an earnest, nonjudgmental way. He regularly discusses his Jewish mother, Sandi Graham, and her worrisome nature. She judges all of the various strippers and “good girls” he brings home and doesn’t want to end up “70 and alone.”
Also, he speaks of his soul drummer-father, Dennis Graham—who left Drake and his mother in Canada and served a couple of jail stints—in a positive light. He loves his country black cousins in Memphis, Tenn., and his Jewish uncle who let him borrow his car in “Look What You’ve Done.” He even dedicated a music video to each of his parents. Dennis Graham got to flex with some of his dice buddies in “Worst Behavior,” and Sandi Graham posted up in front of the stoop in the video for “Started From the Bottom.”
And of course we can’t forget Drake inviting Lil Wayne to his grown-man bar mitzvah.
On top of this well-executed parental reverence, Drake has weathered a biblical storm of light-skinned jokes over the years, culminating in the personalized #DrakeTheType hashtag. Through all of this, he never made a peep about black people being mean-spirited or bitter or jealous; he just kept making great music and basically won over the entire world by being himself.
Coincidentally, the hit single from his mediocre mixtape/album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, was titled “Know Yourself.” Maybe Drake really is that self-aware, or maybe he’s just the result of a magnificent case of co-parenting that needs to be studied for future generations.
The first two characteristics of the Drake model that initially made me question Drake’s biracial brilliance are Canada and age. I wondered if growing up in Canada shaped his perception of race differently. Then again, Drake is half-Canadian, half-Memphian. And being half from Memphis is worth two lifetimes of racial baggage. My second thought was that being a millennial, as I am, Drake had the benefit of the Internet to shape his identity. Unlike the 40-plus-year-old women who may have had the scope of their images limited as children, a teen in the aughts could find positive role models who looked like him with a little less effort. However, having access to all of the knowledge that mankind has accrued over the eons hasn’t imparted a nuanced understanding of race onto most millennials. So the Drake model stood until I considered a third characteristic.
Gender. Drake is a man. A man who is not beholden to the same beauty standards that drive colorism. This realization sent me down the rabbit hole where race plummets into a cornucopia of sexism. A study of college-aged women in the American Sociological Review, which I read via Code Switch, co-signs this. It reveals that 76 percent of black-white biracial women identify as multiracial, which is the highest among any racial pairing, and 12 percentage points higher than black-white biracial men.
Perhaps, because biracial men (generally) feel less pressure to identify as one or the other—or to identify as anything other than “a man”—the journey of racial self-acceptance is an easier one for them.
Brandon Harrison lives in New York City and has Hollywood stories that rival those of Rick James. He prides himself on staying righteous and knowing more about basketball than you do. Follow him on Twitter.