Yes, I'm Biracial, and I Cover Black Stuff

Jenée Desmond-Harris (The Root)
Jenée Desmond-Harris (The Root)

(The Root) — In a Reddit Ask Me Anything, our Race Manners columnist, Jenée Desmond-Harris, opened herself up to all of your burning questions about race. Can African-American publications survive? Why isn't there a White Entertainment Television? What are we supposed to make of Dark Girls? And where does a biracial woman get off talking about all this black stuff? Check out some of the highlights below.


HannibalHarris: Do you think media outlets, such as The Root and The Grio, for example, that target audiences of color are truly viable over the long run? If so or not, why or why not?

Also, why isn't there a White Entertainment Television?

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hey, Hannibal. Thanks for the question(s). I absolutely think media outlets like The Root and The Grio are viable over the long term. However, I believe they'll evolve to be publications that provide commentary grounded in the African-American experience to all audiences, versus publications that "target communities of color." I think there's a unique, valuable and sought-after black perspective on issues ranging from civil rights to pop culture, and that people of all colors can appreciate that.

With respect to your question on White Entertainment Television, I'd encourage you to let go of the idea that we should be able to draw direct parallels between things that work or are needed for white Americans and nonwhite Americans (things like "Why don't we have White History Month?" fit in with this theme). This really oversimplifies our country's racial history as well as our current racial landscape. The simple answer is that we don't have WET because all of television used to be WET. You don't have to look very far back in history to recall that.

That said, I do think in an increasingly diverse and multiracial country, the changing nature of the white experience in America is worth our interest and attention. What does it mean for a group of people when they cease to be the minority? How do they react? How does our thinking and language change as a result? I addressed a little of this in The Root's Browner America series, and I really look forward to CNN's upcoming White in America special, because I'm hopeful that it will take an honest look at these questions.

HH: By the way, did you see the Dark Girls documentary that ran on OWN? What are your thoughts about black people's well-known struggles with colorism, highlighted so well in Spike Lee's film School Daze? Seems like black people just can't get over their own issues about skin color and stuff.

JDH: I haven't seen it yet, but I'm familiar with it, and I followed reactions on Twitter and Facebook.


The first thing that I was struck by was the juxtaposition of this ongoing phenomenon with last week's focus on Paula Deen-gate. It can be so tricky to digest and respond at the same to both overt racism like Deen's and the more subtle and systemic types of bias that black people ourselves help to perpetuate. But we have to, because they happen simultaneously and are problematic in different ways.

I think to say that black people "can't get over their own issues" again oversimplifies this. I don't know that large groups of humans ever simply get together and decide to shed deeply seated psychological baggage. (If we could, I'd ask racists to "get over" racism real quick, too.)


So I think the most productive thing about a project like Dark Girls is that it gives voice to a very real experience and it makes people uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable with the idea that we've internalized these deeply troubling beliefs that devalue darker-skinned black people (and, to a certain extent, all black people).

JournalistDee: I think you're a phenomenal writer, and the Race Manners column is exceptional. Do you ever get push-back from people who might think your biracial identity skews your analysis, commentary and positioning on certain issues relating to race and the black perspective?


JDH: Interestingly, no — not that I can remember. I think that's a really interesting question, though. I have a couple of thoughts about why I haven't experienced any "not black enough" push-back. I actively identify as black as well as biracial (which I see as one kind of being black — that's a reflection of my personal experience and social reality, not a mandate for how other people should identify). I think I'm very comfortable in that identity because it makes so much sense to me, and I believe strongly that my black experience is as legitimate as anyone else's. It's possible that people sense that certainty and don't question me.

On a related note, I think it simply reflects the world in which we live and the fact that people with mixed ancestry have been identified as black for as long as we've been in this country (and right up to our current president). There's a pretty widespread understanding, in my experience, that the African-American experience is extremely diverse.


That said, if someone doesn't consider me black or "black enough" because of his or her experience, it doesn't bother me. I'm forever writing about how race is a social construct that we're not going to pin down scientifically, so I'm happy to let everyone have their own take on it, versus wasting time with arguments that won't be resolved.

OK, I have to wrap this up. Thanks so much to everyone who asked a question. Let's do it again. In the meantime, send questions to and check out the new column every Wednesday at The Root.


The Root's staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to

Previously in Race Manners: Blacks Get Weave; Can Whites Get Locks? 

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