To be clear, I am bi-racial and identify as black; however, both of my parents are bi-racial and identify as black, so I did not suffer many of the struggles children with parents of two different races.
I did, and still do, get asked “what am I”; “what is my heritage”; “where are you from?”
I have been the recipient of comments like, “you’re too pretty to be black.” (uhhh… RUDE!)
I have also been told I am not black by people of every race.
I have also capitalized on this ambiguity.
Many years ago, I was a model. My bookers have told me to wear my hair straight to castings because they are looking for a Latina, European, or Asian. My bookers have also told me to wear my hair curly, so I can look more African American. I have lost jobs because I do not look black enough. I lost a Pantene job for their black hair care line because I was told to come with my hair “natural” to the casting. I showed up with my naturally kinky hair, and they said by natural, they meant “no weaves” (it was actually a humorous casting, instead of my hair cascading down like in the commercials, my hair just stayed frozen – it’s very hard to explain in writing and was probably more humorous in-person). I was explicitly told not to reveal my race on castings, so I wouldn’t be type-cast. It worked. I’ve been Black, White, Latina, Asian, one time, I was even Asian and Latina for the same shoot. I’ve worked the system and used it to my advantage.
What I don’t like about this system…
We are so beholden to stereotypical physical features dictating race. There have been shoots where I feel the client is fetishizing the exotic. I don’t like how in ads geared towards the general American public, ambiguity and lighter skin is better. I don’t like how in ads targeting black people, the people have to have dark skin (I don’t like when there is an abundance of light-skinned people either, it brings me to the Aunt Viv scandal of Fresh Prince of Bel Air back in the 90s). Black people come in different colors and have different hair textures.
Although I feel the media and advertising has gotten better with diversifying its models, there is still a long way to go.
Me cast as "Black" in this German candy bar commercial
Me cast as "European"