Why The Term “Multiracial” Triggers In The Black Community

by C. Shardae Jobson

After reading the casting call for Kanye West’s season 4 Yeezy collection, set to premiere during New York Fashion Week this month, a pursed smile developed when I came across the word, or term, “multiracial.” And it was only because of the type of request it was embedded in: “MULTIRACIAL GIRLS ONLY.” Ooh boy, here we go.

Multiracial girls only. Why am I surprised? This is Kanye West. One minute he’s reminding us that he’s not too far detached from a Black woman’s beauty and strength by personally choosing Teyana Taylor as the lead for his video “Fade.” As well as giving cameos to her fiancé, NBA champ Iman Shumpert and their daughter Iman Tayla, a shout-out to Black Love. The next, he retracts to being a disturbing snapshot of the type of Black man in America who doesn’t want to see or include Black or dark skinned women. But is that really the case here? West has featured diverse casting and Black women in past fashion shows. Just this past spring, perpetual supermodel Naomi Campbell effortlessly commanded in her brand of Black Girl Magic at West’s Spring Yeezy 3 show. Also present at that showcase, were fellow (Black) models of high prestige, Veronica Webb, Alek Wek, and Liya Kebede.

Yeezy

My whirl in agitation lasted a minute after I realized I knew what was up here. He likely wanted models that resembled his daughter North West. Nothing wrong with that. Except that Kanye’s vision of multiracial could be potentially limited and narrow-minded. We often identify multiracial looks with light to tannish skin and curls of a softer texture like North’s, or celebs like Jesse Williams with his hazel-ish eyes. But not all multiracial people look like that. There are people who are pale, dark, with kinky curls and are multiracial. Will these types of individuals be represented in season 4 Yeezy too?

Based on the comments section of the Instagram pages of Baller Alert and The Shade Room, it is interesting how only Black people/people of color and Black women, in particular, were bothered and defensive by the usage of “multiracial.” Most comments were filled with the “What the fuck are you implying” dose of jam.

It is a thin ass block of ice Black men and Black entertainment walk on when we throw around active words such as “only” and “preferably” regarding race or looks. In our microcosm, a word like “multiracial” always seems to (in)directly signal lighter, more “exotic” (hate that word) aka better than, in context. Also, multicultural and multiracial are not the same thing. For example, I am Black, and American by birth, with the additional cultures and heritages of Costa Rica by my mother and the Democratic Republic of Congo by my father. I am multicultural but not exactly multiracial. (Even if the family tree extends itself to Egypt (father) and Jamaica (mother). But something tells me that Kanye and co. plan to use multiracial and multicultural interchangeably, while somehow still holding a tunnel vision of who gets to represent the “multiracial” look.

In the Latino community and Portuguese-based Brazil, similar arguments have been exercised. The sad issue of light vs. dark, or the complexities of White vs. Black.

Such as, American-born Latinos that identify more specifically as Afro-Latinos (Latinos with direct lineage to Africa or are honestly darker in skin tone) have combated against the racist practices of ostracizing or belittling darker toned Latinos (let’s recall how the brown/darker toned Latinos always played the maid in telenovelas). And stateside, tirelessly re-educate the masses that Latino isn’t a race but an expansive culture. There are over 20+ Spanish speaking countries in the world, and there are not only Latinos as swarthy as night, but Chinese Latinos and ones that look as American Pie as iconic ’90s model Christy Turlington (who is El Salvadorean on her mother’s side). Clearly, we are not always what we seem, racially or culturally. And an espresso complexion Brazilian is no less Brazilian than chosen one Gisele Bundchen.

Considering West treats his fashion shows as live action installation art projects, we’ll just have to wait and see what his new age portrayal of “multiracial” will be. It really could be a tribute to North which would be kinda cute. But West’s vision of multiracial may be painfully inaccurate or incomplete.

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