The Audacity of Taupe

David Swerdlick is schooling America, one half-caff, low-fat Obama coffee at a time. Mmmmm!
David Swerdlick is schooling America, one half-caff, low-fat Obama coffee at a time. Mmmmm!

"Yo, I start to flinch as I try not to say it;
But my lips is like the ooh-wop as I start to spray it…"


– Q-Tip

If a white woman can have a crush on Obama, then I hope a biracial man can have a crush on The View's Elisabeth Hasselbeck, because she's doing a heck of a job trying to figure out how, in the span of 150 years, the expression "my nigga" went from being an assertion of property rights to a friendly urban greeting. Not everyone can be one of the cool kids who drop "neezys" and "nizzles" all over town. But she's got to understand that in polite society, the N-word is off-limits to her; and just in case she gets caught up in the Barapture of Obamamania, I'm here to tell her that the "M-word" is off-limits, too.

I'm not talking about "multiracial," "miscegenation," "mongrel," "mutt," "mestizo," "masala" or even "Mariah." I'm talking about a word imbued with a legacy of racial strife in America that goes all the way back to the summer day in 1789 that Sally Hemings forgot to lock her bedroom door and runs all the way up to Wentworth Miller getting blacklisted by the NAACP Image Awards (Prison Break, indeed…). It's that word you hear the kids freestyling on the street—"M to the izzo, L to the atto…" Yeah, that word. The M-word. Mulatto.

As a biracial American, for the first time in my adult life I'm really proud of my country. Even though the "national conversation on race" is turning out to be like trying to use an iPhone to call someone on a CB radio, my people are coming to light in the public consciousness in a way that we never have before. This is our moment. I hear that CNN's next big series will be called "Beige in America." Now that Obama is the H.M.I.C., it's our chance to make it clear once and for all that the M-word is "Strictly 4 My M W.O.R.D.Z."

It's a word that makes a lot of people cringe—particularly those new-age parents that you see around town with light-brown children sporting fluffy, misshapen halfros. But it's also a lot catchier than the very clinical sounding "biracial," and a lot shorter than "blessed with a dual heritage," as my mother used to say. Don't blame us for turning a one-time insult into a three-syllable declaration of interdependence. After all, Spanish words frequently sound better than English words: "Señorita" is sexier than "Miss" and "huevos rancheros" flows easier than "Grand Slam Breakfast," so it stands to reason that "Mulatto" rolls off the tongue a lot smoother than "half breed" or "Strom Thurmond, Jr." If the lovely Rihanna and her island nation hadn't already laid claim to "Bajan," we might have gone with "Beige-an."

This is all about empowerment. My people have taken a word that originally marginalized us as plantation butlers and Huxtable daughters and turned it into a term of endearment. Sometimes, in passing, I query one of my brethren with, "What's up, M-word?" Or occasionally I chastise my sistren by saying, "M-word, please." They understand. They feel me. In a certain patois that some have called "Mubonics," they know that all I'm really saying is something like "Guten morgen, meine freunde!" or "Bitte, baby." And when people ask me why it's OK for us to use the M-word when they can't, I have to tell them that it's a biracial thing…they wouldn't understand.


Kudos to Ms. Hasselbeck for making her case and not pulling a Michael Richards; but first you must seek to understand, grasshopper. Try to accept that the only explanation for why you can't use the N-word or M-word is that you can't. Black people can't argue a speeding ticket after sundown, and the only thing in life that white people can't do is use the N-word. To that simple rule, I am now officially adding the M-word. Good news, though—"Creole" has been approved for everybody's use.

So to all my M-words out there in the streets, we need to stop sending mixed messages and let it be known faster than you can say, "Once you go beige, you might still turn the page." If Obama is elected, they will expect us to be "post-racial," but for now we'll consider ourselves "most-racial." We know that just because we've switched from "Keep Taupe Alive" to "The Audacity of Taupe," it doesn't mean that we have overcome.


The other day I pulled up to the Starbucks drive-through window, ordered an iced coffee, and naturally I asked the barista to add half-and-half. When she asked how much I wanted, I couldn't resist telling her to "make it 'Obama,'" and I'm happy to report that she got it just right. With any luck, a craze for venti, half-caff, low-fat Obama coffees will sweep the nation. This could be the breakthrough we've been waiting for. It's a nice, safe way for everybody, regardless of race, creed, color or roast to show their solidarity with Generation M.

You and I might not be around long enough to see it, but we're slowly getting closer to the day when we'll all be the same rich, creamy shade. And we don't know yet if Obama will win, but either way 2009 is destined be our year—the year of the M-word.


David Swerdlick writes about politics for PopMatters. He is a former contributor to Creative Loafing, and his writing has appeared in EbonyJet, AlterNet and The American Prospect.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter