Today I got into a very interesting conversation on the mainpage about Maya Rudolph and whether or not it is fair to use her as an example of a black hire at SNL. My opinion was that because she is a white presenting mixed race woman (meaning lots of people mistake her for white), it lets SNL off too easy to point to her as a positive diversity hire example. Especially when we consider that the next most recent black woman hired was Ellen Cleghorne in the 90s.
Now, people had differing opinions and this turned into a very interesting conversation and I need to emphasize here that I am in no way trying to call anyone out for bad behavior, we had a very nice and civil conversation but there were a few things said that really got me. I am a black/white mixed race gay woman. I know a few things about this from lived experience and something was implied here today that I think needs to be spoken about. Here are two quotes from some people who replied to me:
"...saying she benefits from white privilege implies that she is actively passing as a white woman... "
Another comment from another POC said the same thing but in different words:
"But you present as white. She doesn't; she's always been open about her black heritage."
I often enjoy speaking about the nuances of race with POC simply because they get it. Often trying to having nuanced conversations with my white friends results in an education of the basics of race relations rather than anything else. I have never once had to stop an explain to a black friend why white people can't say n****r, for example. So it bothers me more I guess when I hear this kind of thing from them.
'Actively passing as a white woman'.
'Presenting as white' as a contrast to being 'open about heritage'.
What is being said here? Who says I'm not open about my heritage? You understand that I am both white and black? That is what mixed race means. When I say I am read as white due to my skin color, hair, etc, that is how others see me. I don't choose that in any active sense.
There is no such thing as 'actively passing as white'. Imagine if I decided to 'actively pass as black'? What does that mean? That question is not answerable in a non-racist way, yet it is suggested as something I not only can do, but do do by some POC.
It became clear later on the conversation that one of my conversation partners was actually mostly concerned that I was trying to take away Maya Rudolph's blackness:
"I still don't think you have to right to snatch away Maya's Blackness just because she appears white to some."
Again, this completely misses the point. No one can take away my blackness by acknowledging my whiteness. It seems as though some black people would like me to be less white.
"...appears white to some"
Maya Rudolph is white. Maya Rudolph is black too. but she does not 'appear white to some', she is white. Saying that does not take away her blackness. Maya Rudolph does not have to choose.
In fact the suggestion that I would want to snatch her blackness or that it is even possible is actually kind of hurtful to a mixed race person.
It is important to understand that the removal of my 'blackness' is at the very heart of why it is difficult to be mixed race person who looks so white. My blackness is removed by every white person who I have to explain it to. My blackness is removed every time I walk into a predominantly black environment. Every time I have to 'prove' to a new black person that I am one of them.
White people often argue with me too. Much in the way these black commenters want me to be black and ignore my whiteness or suggest I can/should stop 'actively passing as white', white people will argue with me about whether I'm black, because of course I'm not just look at me.
It seems everyone wants me on their team! But guess what? I'm white, but I'm not white. And I'm black, but I'm not black. I have no team apparently. I do have my own agenda, though.