Black, White, Other Flashback: Jacqueline Djanikian
December 4th, 2013
Here are two excerpts from Jacqueline Djanikian’s original 1992 interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity (now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):
“When I was thirteen, I went to the grocery store with my dad in a predominantly black neighborhood, and we went up to the checkout stand and my dad picked up Jet magazine, because he always got that. And the woman at the counter said, ‘Excuse me sir, that’s not a TV Guide.’ And he looked at her and said, ‘I know what it is. Thank you.’
And I just died. The look on his face, ‘Do you think I’m stupid? I know what this magazine is.’ I will never forget that. I just died when he said that, you know? It was so funny, and she was so embarrassed because she thought, well, what would a white guy be doing with a black magazine?
I thought it was great. I thought it was great! Because he’s very upfront, and it was like, ‘Don’t give me any shit. I’m not an idiot.’”
“I’m black because my mother is black, and, technically, you are whatever your mother is. This is according to documents, paper, the hospital, everybody. Somebody was telling me about this. It’s actually the law. You are whatever your mother is, so if your father’s Jewish and your mother’s Catholic, you’re Catholic. You can’t be half-Jewish or whatever. My brother could pass for white, but he is black because that’s what his mother is. The mother dominates. So I consider myself black. I am closer to my mom, also, and to her family because they’re here, and my dad actually lives half the year here and half the year in France. And he’s over there now, and I don’t see his family except when they visit.
And it’s not only the law; it’s just my choice, actually. That’s the way I want to live my life—as a black African-American, not as a Caucasian. I could never pass for Caucasian if I wanted to. And regardless of whether it was legal or not, it’s sort of like my mom and I have a very close bond, and because she happens to be black, that’s who I feel I am. I’m a black woman.
When you grow up you just make that choice. You either decide you want to be African-American, or you want to be Caucasian. And it might have to do with your skin color, it might have to do with how people perceive you. I’m obviously African-American. You could never look at me and say, ‘Oh, she’s white.’
I don’t think it’s possible for people to identify as both. Take my brother, for instance. If someone were to come up to him and say, ‘What’s your race?’ he would say black. It’s just a choice you’ve made yourself. You can identify with both races, but you are one or the other. You are not both. I identify with both, but I am one.
Between black people, when we see each other on the street, there is acknowledgment that takes place. We don’t have to say anything, it’s just eye contact that no other race really does. I notice that. My friend and I actually talked about it. There’s an acknowledgment and it’s really interesting. You don’t even have to know the person; you can just look at them and there’s something between you, like a togetherness, I guess.
It’s a good kind of unity thing because life’s rough out there. And compared to other black people and black women, I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been sheltered from the things that a lot of other black families and black children and adults have to deal with. I’ve got a really great job; I went to a great school; I’ve been all over the world; I’ve gone to French schools and speak the language fluently. Not too many black people actually can say they’ve done a lot of that stuff.”
Jacqueline’s 20-year update will be posted in the near future. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of her original oral history—in which she talks about Andy Gibb, lunchroom politics, and diversity in the advertising world, among other topics—in the BWO ebook.
Black, White, Other Flashback: Neisha Wright
November 25th, 2013
Here’s an excerpt from Neisha Wright’s original 1992 interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity (now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):
“The history books my father gave me when I was a kid didn’t do anything for me. So I learned who George Washington Carver was—it didn’t mean anything to me. Until I was in college. And then it was more than just learning about the black culture. I lived in the foreign exchange dorm. So I learned about black culture, all different kinds of black: Caribbean, Jamaican, Haitian, Latins, Asians. Iran. Iraq. Mediterranean cultures.
When I got into college was when I had my first really good friends who were black. I finally felt like I was learning about who I was ethnically. I mean, I knew who I was as a person, personally, as a woman, sexually, but not as an ethnic person.
It’s hard to express what I learned; it’s hard to discuss in a matter of hours or minutes or even days. I don’t know, just the things you learn about black culture. The things you know. The music, the movements, the intimacy, the things that come along with being black that I was ostracized from growing up—I still don’t know how to Double Dutch. Shit like that, I can’t do it.”
Neisha’s 20-year update will be posted in the next few days. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of her original oral history—in which she talks about kidnapping, cross-burning, and chitterlings, among other topics—in the BWO ebook.
Black, White, Other Flashback: Jeffrey Henson Scales
November 18th, 2013
Here’s an excerpt from Jeffrey Scales’ original interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity, first published in 1994 (and now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):
“I like elements of white culture a lot: music and film—specifically, European movies, Italian movies in particular. And I listen to a lot of white music. I mean, I listen to a lot of white music. I’m the only person in my neighborhood with The Tubes blasting out of their car. My neighbor says, ‘I always know when you’re coming because there’s nobody else who’s going to drive up in Harlem blasting heavy metal.’
So I look at a real cross section of cultural things that interest me. I studied primarily white photographers up until I came to New York in 1984. A lot of that has to do with my mother being an artist—that a lot of my artistic training came from a white person and a white person who was a blood relative.
I think both cultures have a lot to offer; I like all my different influences. I don’t know whether it’s just my education, but it seems that I can grasp both cultures on many levels. As I said, how much I like European film—Wim Wenders—and at the same time how I can identify with new black film. I can identify with some of that ponderous European angst, but I don’t see very many black people identifying with it in the slightest—that over-analysis of self. And at the same time I can identify with Do the Right Thing. In a lot of European films, it’s the individual white guy wandering through the world, thinking about how it’s affecting him, the individual. And it doesn’t seem to be the same in black films. They seem to be more about how the world affects us, as opposed to just me.
I seem to have a broader base of influence in my art—a lot of European influence and white American influence—and it’s applied to black subject matter more so than with a lot of photographers I’ve seen. I don’t know whether that’s just by my chosen course of study, but it has a lot to do with my ability to put myself in situations with white people where I can learn a lot. That has to do with linguistics, sort of like being bilingual.”
Expect Jeffrey’s 20-year update to be posted in the near future. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of this original oral history in the BWO ebook.