Friday, May 23, 2008

Milli Vanilli And DeBarge: Tragic Mulattos?

Lately, it seems those of black and white mixed-race heritages have taken to calling themselves mulattos. In the past, the term was considered derogatory but there's been a radical revival in the black/white community to identify themselves as such. At one time, mulatto was thought to be derived from the Spanish word for mule, or a half-bred animal. Today, mulattos point to the Arabic muwallad, which means "mixed-race person", as the source of their definition for the word. In any case, it isn't for me to decide what that group wants to call itself. I'm more curious about the term "tragic mulatto" which refers to mixed black/white people who are thought to lead horrific lives because they are never quite black enough to be black, or white enough to be white.

So, the question that begs an answer is this: Are mulatto lives any more tragic than other mixed-race people's? It seems that if one is the biracial offspring of two minorities, hope (as it were) is not as high for finding acceptance among the dominant majority. Therefore, your expectations are lower and you're not as devastated when whites don't accept you. But if you have one white parent, you might feel you deserve to be recognized by half your race which could, arguably, lead to tragic consequences.

While I was working on a tedious homework assignment today, I just had to go there. You know YouTube! Telling myself that I'd just listen to one or two songs and not even look at the videos, I found myself peeping at the "tragic mulattos" Milli Vanilli and DeBarge. Wow. Here were two very talented musical groups that experienced untold tragedy. Both were hot in the 1980's with major hit records, and while one was a family composed of mulattos, the other was a duo with a mulatto member. The DeBarges were several brothers and a sister who had a white father and a black mother. The oldest, Bobby, had a voice like silk and his group, Switch, scored with tunes like I Call Your Name. Later on, the DeBarge's featured youngest brother El, whose incredible chops was the cause for some women (and men) becoming pregnant according to the comments left on YouTube. While I haven't done any extensive research into the DeBarge family, I do know that brother Chico ended up in prison, brother James married Janet Jackson who later had the nuptials annulled, and gorgeous brother Bobby ended up dying of AIDS at a young age. As for Milli Vanilla, everyone probably knows that they won a Grammy they had to return after it was revealed the voices on their records were not theirs. The two fine young thangs wore dreadlocks wrapped in gypsy-style scarves, gold earrings, incredibly tight pants and long, wide-shoulder coats. Evidently, their singing wasn't as hot as their bodies so their record company cut them a deal...until they were outed in disgrace. Tragically, the German and black member of the duo ended up overdosing on drugs.

Is it just a musician thang? Everyone knows how crazy their lives are. Or, were Milli Vanilli and DeBarge impacted by their mulatto heritages?

Talk to me. (Incidentally, that was Chico DeBarge's big hit.)

Oh, yeah. That's me above in the late 1980's looking like I could've been a member of DeBarge, or, Milli Vanilli for that matter.

Your Hip Hapa,


Anonymous said...

I guess it is a musician thing - but then again, one of the only fields where blacks/mixed folks have been undisputable leaders in and 'allowed' (by managers and big business) to succeed has been sport ..... and music.

Not a tragic mulatto thing, but very very tragic. I really feel for DeBarge and Milli Vanilli.

Anonymous said...

Sundee Frazier once wrote that black-white intermarriage is "the lightening rod" of mixrace issues..I concur..