I just finished reading Angela Nissel's laugh-aloud funny new memoir, Mixed: My Life in Black and White (Villard). As you can tell by the not so subtle title, the book chronicles Nissel's life as a confused child and angry young adult trying to make sense of her biracial identity. From her all-white Catholic School experience where a nun shamed her for admitting to eating chitlins to her stint on the psych ward in a Philadelphia hospital, Nissel has a way of making her search for a satisfying racial identity humorous and fun to read. You can see why she's worked her way up from writer to consulting producer on the NBC sitcom, Scrubs.
Still, while I enjoyed reading Mixed, part of me got that, " tragic mulatto," tingle when I put the book down. And before somebody calls me a nasty name for actually writing that tired cliche, I must defend. I think Nissel's book is well-written, inspiring in many ways and will probably resonate with many people. In fact, many of her experiences in all-White environments or all-Black environments mirrored my own growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1970s and 80s. The tragedy in Nissel's case, as well as many of the other biracial people who have written memoirs, is not their mixed race identity however, it's their dysfunctional family. Nissel's White father not only cheated on her Black mother several times (always with Black women!), but managed to be a stereotypical dead-beat dad after the divorce forcing her mother to shuttle her children into different neighborhoods, schools and homes barely escaping poverty. Who wouldn't be angry and depressed with that kind of life?
Having seen it for myself a gazillion times over, children with parents of different races don't have to end up angry and isolated. I'm not naive or stupid and would never suggest that all they need is love. But I do believe with an intact family structure many of the PROBLEMS could be managed like any other issue of race/culture/identity/teen angst/acne/raging hormones/sex ed etc. With loving conversation, hard work and maybe a trip to the motherland or at least a decent museum. I'm sure that someone has written such a book, the "happy mulatto" perhaps, but as we all know tragedy sells so much better. I just hope the skeptics and haters out there, (which there are still many), don't believe that Ms. Nissel's anger and despair is what all mixed children must go through.
Until next time. I'd still totally recommend Mixed, because it is insightful and HiLarious. And because Halle Berry reportedly scooped up the movie rights so you can be all in the know before it hits the big screen (or the little screen as I hear it may be an HBO deal).