Gray Like Me

by Mark Harris

21 June 2005

 

Disclaimer: First off, I’m black. So know that if I say something derogatory about black people, I’m not a racist. And if I say something derogatory about white people, I just might be.

Disclaimer Disclaimer: You may read some broad generalizations in this column, like black people are rude or white people smell like Fritos. So if I offend anyone, I apologize. I am, after all, black.

Disclaimer Disclaimer Disclaimer: See now, I’m only three disclaimers in, and already I’ve lied to you. In truth, I’m what they call “mixed”—like a Martini, or Val Kilmer’s acting—which oddly enough brings me to my point. When discussing race, “mixed” has always struck me as such a base term. We’re not breeding terriers here, people. “Bi-racial”, meanwhile, is too vague. Is a horse that wins two-thirds of the Triple Crown a bi-racial winner? And “mulatto” is just archaic. Even if you try to “cute it up” with a nickname, all you get is “mule”, and a pack animal connotation isn’t cute. So, I’ve settled on “gray”.

Popular thought has it that grays don’t have a place in this world—neither with blacks nor with whites—but that’s crap. Sure, I don’t fit in, but that’s not because of my race; it’s because I hate everyone. In truth, we aren’t the tragic mulattoes of yore, pining for a normal life. We’re just like any other red-blooded human being; we need food, shelter, clothing, and the narcissistic desire to see ourselves on screen. But as I watch TV and movies, I have to ask, “Where’s my representation? Where are MY role models? Am I not to be entertained?!?” That’s usually when the ushers escort me from the theater.

For years, groups like the NAACP have lobbied TV networks and movie studios to show more diversity in their casting. Their efforts have helped lead to the current renaissance in black filmmaking, a time of unprecedented accomplishment and creativity—and UPN. But we all know that life is more than black and white. It’s cruel and heartless, and sometimes I feel like I can’t go on. Sometimes it’s fuchsia. All I’m trying to say is, where’s the NAAGP?

Given the Hollywood taboo of miscegenation, we grays are the Jefferson’s children of show business. We’re boxed into the smallest of on-camera niches and forgotten. Too often, we’re placed in awkward roles, like the child of two darker-skinned actors who are obviously not our parents. Bill Cosby + Phylicia Rashad = Lisa Bonet? Come on now. Otherwise, we’re relegated to wingmen in beer commercials, boring soap opera mannequins, and hosting gigs on Soul Train. It’s a far cry from our ‘80s heyday. Back then, the militant “Black and Proud” sentiment of the ‘60s and ‘70s had given way to the Reagan Era’s “Light Is Alright”. We had Prince and Apollonia in Purple Rain, Taimak and Vanity in The Last Dragon, Irene Cara in Fame, and Mario Van Peebles in Jaws: The Revenge(That time, it was personal).

But as the ‘90s dawned, the dissolution of the Kravitz-Bonet and Justice-Berry marriages proved to be ominous signs of things to come. Grays were no longer trendy. The hip-hop age had dawned, and the only gray rappers we could come up with were one half of Kris Kross and Kid of “‘n Play” fame. The 21st century hasn’t been any kinder. Aside from Vin Diesel and The Rock—melting pot über-grays whose racial identity has become nebulous—we’re increasingly marginalized in the media. How else would you explain the career blackball of the Smolletts?

The evolution of alternative “black lite” options has further rendered grays an endangered Hollywood species. With the Justin Timberlakes and Kevin Federlines of the world plastered all over US Weekly, what hope do gray men have? And gray women used to be the de rigueur love interest for the black male lead, but no more. Thank you very much, Eva Mendes… We’re in dire straits right now, with such recent all-time lowlights as the Corey Clark/Paula Abdul scandal, Robert Ri’chard’s portrayal of Paris Hilton’s boyfriend in House of Wax (“Niggers are hot.”), and From Justin to Kelly. We grays won’t overcome until that one special gray actor or actress steps forward to show us as living, breathing entities with more to offer than healthy head of hair and corporate hireability. It also wouldn’t hurt if he disproved our genetic inability to pull off cornrows.

Currently, we’re struggling to find the “chosen one”. (There’ve been some rumblings about Seal and Heidi Klum’s baby fulfilling some sort of prophecy, but that’s just an Old World myth.) What does it say about the state of one’s cause when Boris Kodjoe is part of your Talented Tenth? And please don’t bring up Halle Berry. Grays are no more proud of her than either black or white people, so don’t foist her off on us.

Desperate times call for random violence. But that’s Plan B. First, we grays need to infiltrate the movie studios and television networks. We’ll send in our most versatile, Jennifer Beals-type operatives to blend in using names like “Kimmie” and “Bryce”. Our rise up the ladder will be swift but unremarkable—just another white person getting by on talent and nepotism—and then one day, when our numbers are substantial enough, we’ll receive the signal. The illuminated silhouette of a gray fist will pierce the sky, and you shall feel our creamy, caramel-colored wrath. White people may have time to let out a stunned “What’s Bryce doing with that stapler?” before we set upon them. Black people will realize that their suspicions about our “good hair” were founded, but it’ll be too late.

After VG Day, things will be different. We’ll find work for the marginally skilled talent pool of children of black celebrities who married white women: Rain Pryor, Sydney Poitier, and all of Quincy Jones’s kids will be the new Melissa Rivers. Our network lineup will include shows like The G Word, Everybody Loves Graymond, and The REAL Gray’s Anatomy. Summer blockbusters will be replaced by biopics on Barack Obama and Slash, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally hear those words we’ve waited so long for: Tia and Tamara, Oscar winners.

But until that day, we’ll remain invisible—the frizzy-haired background scenery, ever reliable and unthreatening, the droning Muzak of Hollywood. I guess things could be worse, though. We could be Asian.

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