This week, while promoting her new BET+ series, Sacrifice, actress Paula Patton sat down to chat with SiriusXM’s Urban View The Clay Cane Show about the reprisal of her role as entertainment lawyer Daniella Hernandez.
Then, the conversation got deep.
Patton, who has often been cast as the nearly perfect, leading light-skinned lady, was born to a Black father and a white mother. Yet, the actress has shared in previous interviews that she finds the use of the term ‘biracial’ offensive. “It’s a way for people to separate themselves from African Americans, a way of saying, ‘I’m better than that,’” she explained.
Cane, who previously wrote on “The Resurgence of the Tragic Mulatto” for The Root took a moment to reflect back on this quote, and to ask Patton, whether or not her sentiments had changed any in the last decade.
She states, “I feel the exact same way. That’s not to say that I don’t embrace my mother and everything that she’s brought to my life, but it was my mother who let me know, ‘The world is going see you as Black and that is who you are. So don’t have any questions about that.”
Many other high profile figures such as Halle Berry, Zendaya, and even Barack Obama also identify as Black, despite being of Black and European heritage, and so the question to pose here would be...well, why?
Growing up in the late nineties and early 2000s, I recall the coolest thing you could be on any given campus was “mixed.” What this label most often implied was lighter skin, curlier, shiner hair, and the privilege of being different, which somehow translated into being better. Those like Patton, understanding the history of the unpopularity associated with being “regular ‘ol Black,” make the conscious decision to embrace the wholeness that is Black identity, with the hope that the popularity pendulum can now swing in a new direction.
Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross whose father is white, and whose mother is, of course, soul icon Diana Ross, shared with The Inquisitr: “First of all, I’ve never known that I wasn’t Black.” In her self-identification as a Black woman, she is often seen supporting Black causes, speaking out against racial injustices, and championing other Black women.
In this new wave of social activism, choosing to identify as Black—especially if you have the option to check a secondary, or tertiary box—suggests your voluntary participation in the struggle. The refusal of this identification however, can suggest otherwise.
Take, for example, the story of Alyssa Michelle Stephens, better known as Latto, formerly known as Miss Mulatto. In a May 2021 Billboard interview, the rapper cites youth and inexperience for the less-than-woke name choice. “I [was] just a little girl. I think I was rapping, but not taking it seriously,” the Ohio native shared.
However, one could assume that there was actually a certain level of pride she took in the name, as well as in her dual-race background. So long as it’s trending, there’s a certain clout accumulated in being “othered.” But as Latto would come to find out, this trend was on its last leg, and she was bound to face being called out as colorist or merely ill-informed sooner or later.
In more recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in celebrities, brands, and common folk alike, attempt to pass as Black, more commonly being referred to these days as “blackfishing.” But what the posers among us fail to comprehend is that identity is more than just an aesthetic. Identity is both a personal, and political statement. Paula girl, we hear you loud and clear.