There was a time in this country when passing as a White person, with significant Black DNA, wasn’t irregular. For many African-Americans with a fairer skin tone and European features, they put aside their identity to live a far more safe life.
Fast forward a couple decades, and the idea of passing for White is taboo in a time when Black pride is preached relentlessly, and called out publicly when not embraced.
Singer, Halsey addressed this concept in a recent interview with Playboy where she candidly talks about being biracial, identifying as a Black woman but looking White.
“I’m half black,” she told the publication. “My dad managed a car dealership, wore a suit to work, had a nice watch, was always clean-shaven, handsome, played golf on the weekends. And people would come up to him like, ‘Yo, brotha! What’s up!’ And my dad would be like, ‘Hi.…'”
The interview is enlightening as she touches upon perception versus identity.
“I’m white-passing,” the 22-year-old said. “I’ve accepted that about myself and have never tried to control anything about Black culture that’s not mine. I’m proud to be in a biracial family, I’m proud of who I am, and I’m proud of my hair… I look like a White girl, but I don’t feel like one. I’m a Black woman. So it’s been weird navigating that. When I was growing up I didn’t know if I was supposed to love TLC or Britney.”
In the interview Halsey doesn’t touch upon her racial fluidity —she can put on the cool of Blackness and take it off as she pleases. And while she’s not accused of doing this, the fact that she can, encompasses privilege that should be addressed.
While the New Jersey-bred singer (with a name derived from a gentrified Brooklyn subway stop) should be commended for being honest about her identity at such a young age, it is interesting that there’s no discussion about the fact that being a Black woman is not monolithic. It’s not about “TLC or Britney”, because as a Black woman —as a person in general— you can happily listen to both, one or the other without your Black card being stripped.
Halsey is a reminder that in a “post-racial” society, identity is confusing but not devoid of understanding. And part of that understanding is knowing your place and not just owning up to where you stand on the pre-determined level of privilege, but breaking down barriers that prevent others from understanding race —and oppress the rest of us.