Black, White, Other Essay - Critical Essays

Black, White, Other

The question most commonly asked about interracial unions is, “What about the children?” Lise Funderburg, a journalist who is herself the child of such a union, has decided in BLACK, WHITE, OTHER to ask the children themselves. Although she concedes that she has chosen her subject in part because it is about herself, Funderburg for the most part lets the forty-six men and women who agreed to be interviewed to speak for themselves. The criteria for inclusion were that each subject have one biological parent who identified as black and one who identified as white, and that the subjects define themselves as biracial.

Since the number of interracial unions is increasing at an accelerating rate, the relevance and timeliness of Funderburg’s book are beyond doubt. In the year before this book appeared, there were approximately four times as many interracial marriages as there had been twenty-five years before. As a treatment of the subject, BLACK, WHITE, OTHER reflect the strength and limitations of Funderburg’s method. Its greatest strength lies in the authenticity of the personal stories told; its principal limitation in the absence of a clarifying framework. The subjects, more than two-thirds of them women and almost half under thirty, do not necessarily constitute a representative sample; and Funderburg’s comments, in the general introduction and in introductions to the individual chapters, are for the most part tentative and superficial. Her accomplishment, not an insignificant one, is to focus her readers’ attention on a subject that justifies fuller and more probing exploration by others.

Certainly the book invites reflection on the theme of diversity, a term often associated with the acknowledgment of diversity among the groups—racial, ethnic, and other—that make up America’s multicultural society. Most of those interviewed in this book regard themselves as black; many of them remind readers that American society gives them no choice. Yet if the terms “black” or “African American” identify their group, their stories, told in their individual voices, illuminate the diversity within, not merely among groups. Generalizations about “the Black community” must constantly be altered to fit this minority within a minority, often the target of black, as well as of white, bigotry. In their strength to live through and beyond the complex fate arising from a complex heritage, these individuals compel us to confront the ultimate diversity within the self.