Mixed: My Life in Black and White

Paperback | January 30, 2006

byAngela Nissel

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“Tell anyone who asks that you’re half-black and half-white, just like David Hasselhoff from Knight Rider.”–Angela’s mother

“Love has no color,” insist Angela Nissel’s parents, but does it have a clue? In this candid, funny, and poignant memoir, Angela recounts growing up biracial in Philadelphia–moving back and forth between black inner-city schools and white prep schools–where her racial ambiguity and doomed attempts to blend in dog her teen years. Once in college, Angela experiments with black activism (hoping to find clarity in extremism), capitalizes on her “exotic” look at a strip club, and ends up with a major case of the blues (aka, a racial identity problem). Yet Angela is never down for the count. After moving to Los Angeles, she discovers that being multiracial is anything but simple, especially in terms of dating and romance.
By turns a comedy of errors and a moving coming-of-age chronicle, Mixed traces one woman’s unforgettable journey to self-acceptance and belonging.

Praise for Mixed

“I love Angela Nissel's writing. Reading Mixed was like getting a letter from a best friend I forgot I had. How ironic that a book written by someone who felt like no one "got" her will surely be one of those rare books everyone gets- black, white, both, neither. Hilarious, sweet, and honest, Mixed is the perfect read if you've ever felt like the one standing on the outside-- and let's face it, who hasn't? - -Jill Soloway, author of Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants

“Nissel is humorous, poignant, and proud yet also empathetic and generous as she recounts her constant struggle to answer the perennial question persons of mixed race seem required to ask of themselves in our society–where do I fit in?.... All readers stand to learn from her account.” — Booklist

“Colorful anecdotes, marvelous dialogue and a thoughtful narrative make this memoir a delight.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"If David Sedaris was a straight biracial female, this is the book he'd write. This book is so funny I've already started telling people I helped Angela write it." -- Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs

"Growing up black and white, I always felt I had the best of both worlds. I feel the same way about Mixed. It's the perfect blend of hilarious comedy and sometimes tragic reality." -- Yvette Lee Bowser, creator of Living Single and executive producer of Half and Half
"Mixed is a hilarious must-read for anyone searching for the enchanting path to self-discovery. Angela Nissel's precise account of living the mixed race experience not only hit home with me, but the journey is deliciously enlightening and heart-rending at the same time. It's a journey well worth taking." --Halle Berry

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From the Publisher

“Tell anyone who asks that you’re half-black and half-white, just like David Hasselhoff from Knight Rider.”–Angela’s mother“Love has no color,” insist Angela Nissel’s parents, but does it have a clue? In this candid, funny, and poignant memoir, Angela recounts growing up biracial in Philadelphia–moving back and forth between black inne...

Angela Nissel was born and raised in Philadelphia, where she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in medical anthropology. She later started a dotcom, Okayplayer.com, which is still alive and well, but she left it permanently to the care of its cofounder after The Broke Diaries was published. She decided to pursu...

other books by Angela Nissel

The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke
The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Mi...

Paperback|Apr 10 2001

$15.23 online$17.00list price(save 10%)
Format:PaperbackDimensions:240 pages, 7.9 × 5.2 × 0.4 inPublished:January 30, 2006Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345481143

ISBN - 13:9780345481146

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White Thug, Black Panther“Mom, how did you and Dad meet?” I asked my motherover the phone. It was close to her bedtime. I was praying she wasdrowsy so I could catch her off guard.“Reverend Rob says hi,” my mother replied, in a tone thatmeant my man is sitting next to me, so I’m not going to talk about your father.It always happens. I bring up my father, and suddenly mymother’s favorite Lifetime movie is on or her fiancé is there andshe just has to catch me up on how his mortuary classes are comingalong.“Guess what he told me? The more fat you have, the moreslowly you decompose,” she continued.It’s not that I don’t love hearing about Reverend Rob’s adventuresin the death-care industry, and I’m certainly glad my motherhas found love after thirty years of being single. She and ReverendRob make an adorable couple. He’s five foot four; my mother isfive foot zero. I’m taller than both of them, and looking down atthe sight of them in tiny love is so cute, sometimes I have to restrainmyself from patting them on their heads. It’s like you couldjust stick them on top of their own wedding cake and serve it.I know my mother doesn’t enjoy talking about my father, especiallyin front of her fiancé. It took months before she even feltcomfortable telling him that her ex-husband was a white man.“I’m a little worried what he’s going to think,” she said to me,about a week before she confessed her vanilla sin. Reverend Robwasn’t shocked; he just laughed and pointed to a picture of mymother, my brother, and me. “Come on, now,” he said. “Unless youadopted your kids, that’s pretty obvious.”My husband and I are the same race (African American andeverything else except Asian), the same religion, and lived lessthan two miles from each other, yet it took us one-year subscriptionsto Match.com and six months of e-mails and chatting beforewe met. If it took all that for us to find each other, how in the worlddid my mother, a Black Panther from West Philly, meet and marrya white guy from a small town in upstate Pennsylvania? I don’teven think my father had black people in his hometown; I rememberbeing six years old and taking long rides to visit his relatives.“Where are the sidewalks?” I asked my mother from the backseatof our Ford Granada.“I don’t know,” she said. “They seem to just disappear once youget out of the city, don’t they?”“Where are the black people?” I asked, later on in the trip. Shegave me the same answer she had for the sidewalks.I gave up on probing into my mother and father’s dating life thatevening and called a few weeks later. After listening to details ofReverend Rob’s latest mortuary lesson (bargain coffins may not besuch a bargain), I tried a slight variation on my original questionabout my mother and father’s romance.“Mom, what did you think of Dad when you first met him?”“I thought he was black,” she replied.Oh. My. God. Who approved my mother’s Black Panther application?If she couldn’t tell the difference between a black man anda white man, how effective could she have been at fighting theMan? How could she ever think my green-eyed, freckle-faced,sandy-haired father was black? He’s so pale that my mother’s postdivorcecode name for him was Master Alabaster, as in “Girl, I haveto go to court again. Master Alabaster hasn’t paid child support forsix months, but I saw him driving a brand-new car.”There was silence on my mother’s end of the line. I startedlaughing so hard I coughed and had to throw down the phone fora moment to compose myself.“You okay? Get some water! Get some water!” my mother, alwaysthe nurse, yelled through the receiver.“How could you think he was black?” I choked out betweenlaughs.“What do you mean, How could I think he was black? He livedon my block!” my mother said, and started laughing herself. “Therewere no white people except his mother for miles around! He hada black stepdad, and all his friends were black. I just thought hewas mixed and came out really light.” Her voice lowered. “I wasnaïve, I guess. I was naïve about a lot of things.“To be sure about his race, I asked him about it on our firstdate. He had taken me to an oldies night, and we were dancing. Inthe middle of one of our dance moves, I just came out and askedhim, ‘Are you white?’ He said, ‘Yep.’ He told me he was born in anall-white town in Pennsylvania and moved to West Philly when hismother got remarried to a black man.“I thought, Oh, Lord, what have I gotten myself into? We kepton dating, though. People looked at us like we were crazy. I had avery big Afro and a very white man on my arm.“You have to understand, I worked for the Black Panthers intheir free clinic as a nurse and I worked for the Medical Committeefor Human Rights. I probably have an FBI file; I was deep intoPower to the People. Some folks didn’t understand how I could bewith your dad. People had a misconception that Black Panthershated all white people. They didn’t understand that I could fall inlove with a white man and still work for social justice.“The people who were the most vocal about us dating were theblack men. Black men would shout right at me, ‘You trying to lookblack with your big Afro, but you’re not black!’ ”My mother stopped talking. Maybe she was thinking of theguys who judged her for being with a white guy; perhaps she wasfiguring out that their disapproving reactions were why it took herso long to tell Reverend Rob that her ex-husband is white. Ormaybe she was wondering why she didn’t run off and be with ablack man when she had the chance. Once, when my motherfound out my father was cheating on her, I heard her on the phonecrying to her best friend, “I knew I should have married thatAfrican prince in college! He was good to me, and he was rich! Hetook me to Macy’s and told me to pick out anything I wanted!”Later that day, I informed her that if she had married theprince, she wouldn’t have been blessed with me (conceited at eightyears old!). My mother’s face dropped with the realization that Ihad overheard her conversation. She put her hands on my shouldersand said she wouldn’t give me up for anything in the world,not even to be an African princess with a high-limit Macy’s account.Faced by my mother’s silence, I had to think of a question thatwould lead her to tell a story. My mother will spill her guts aboutanything as long as she gets to tell a long, animated story whiledoing it. She sometimes preaches the children’s sermon at herchurch, and all week leading up to Sunday, she practices her storytellingchoreography in front of a mirror. Her arms flail at her sidesas she pretends she’s outrunning and ducking imaginary sins. Shesometimes recites her own poems to the children, the subject matterof which is often black pride. I remember a pastor coming upto her after a particularly Afrocentric sermon. “You used to bemarried to a white man?” he asked. “I just don’t believe it.”“Mom, what did Dad do when black guys would step to youabout being with him?”My mother laughed again. I heard her rise from her sofa tostart the story. “Your father was crazy. He’d be all up in their faces,trying to fight them. More than one date ended with me saying,‘Jack, please. Let’s just go.’“Of course, no one could believe I actually married the whiteman, but the biggest shocker was when I had you. I was head nurseat the city hospital back then, so I knew nurses all over town. Iknew some in Pennsylvania Hospital, where you were born. Someof the nurses there hadn’t seen me in years and only knew me asthis militant Black Panther.“When I was in the hospital recuperating from having you, thisnurse who knew me from college saw how white you were andchecked the wristband three times before she gave you to me. I hadto say ‘Yes, this is my baby’ many times during the days after youwere born.”My mother started laughing again, then yawned. I told her togo to sleep, but she ignored me. No story goes unfinished with her,especially if she’s not paying the long distance charges.“I had to share a room with a white lady, and she was not toohappy about my chocolate butt being in the room with her. Shewouldn’t even speak to me. Soon after they brought her in, herelectric hospital bed started folding up, with her and her baby in it.She had just had a C-section and couldn’t move too well, so Igrabbed her baby and snatched the plug out of the wall to makethe bed stop folding up on her. Then she had the nerve to startscreaming like I was trying to steal her baby and didn’t even thankme for getting her baby out of the bed.“As if on cue, your dad walks in to see how I’m doing. Thewhite lady still hadn’t recovered from the shock of being eaten byher own hospital bed, and then in comes a white man to kiss meon the lips! That lady looked like she wished the bed would eat herback up again.“When your dad left, she was steaming. Then one of the bigdoctors at the hospital comes in to see me. We had both volunteeredat the Human Rights Committee together. He nods to her,and goes by her bed, walks right up to me, and says, ‘Hey, Gwen,you still head nurse at City?’ Her eyes got so big. Her whole worldchanged that day.“The next day, I said good morning to the woman and shewouldn’t say anything back. So later, a nurse came in while I washolding you and asked your name. I said, ‘Angela’; then, loudly, Iadded, ‘After Angela Davis!’ just to make her think she was sharingthe room with a radical.“But that wasn’t right. I didn’t name you after Angela Davis. Inamed you after I saw your face. You looked just like an angel, andI knew there was no other name I could give you.”Damn, I kinda wanted to be named after Angela Davis. Oh, well.I heard my mother’s microwave go off. The beep seemed to jolther out of reminiscing. Her voice lowered. “I have to go,” she said.“Okay,” I said, a little saddened at the abrupt ending. Hearingthe disappointment in my voice, she perked up.“Did I tell you I’m on Weight Watchers again? I get weighed intomorrow. I’ll call and let you know how much I’ve lost! If I couldget back down to the size I was when I had you, I’d be a foxymama!”“Okay, good night, foxy mama,” I replied, hanging up thephone and reminding myself to update my mother’s slang on mynext visit home.After I hung up, I wondered if there was a Black Panther alumninewsletter and if my mother had recently sent in an update.Gwen Nissel ’74 writes to say that she regularly chatsabout Weight Watchers points with her half-white daughter.Though she no longer actively participates in the revolution,she is happy to announce that the divorce from the whiteman finally went through and she is now engaged to a blackBaptist preacher.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Mixed“I love Angela Nissel's writing. Reading Mixed was like getting a letter from a best friend I forgot I had. How ironic that a book written by someone who felt like no one "got" her will surely be one of those rare books everyone gets- black, white, both, neither. Hilarious, sweet, and honest, Mixed is the perfect read if you've ever felt like the one standing on the outside-- and let's face it, who hasn't? - -Jill Soloway, author of Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants“Nissel is humorous, poignant, and proud yet also empathetic and generous as she recounts her constant struggle to answer the perennial question persons of mixed race seem required to ask of themselves in our society–where do I fit in?.... All readers stand to learn from her account.” — Booklist“Colorful anecdotes, marvelous dialogue and a thoughtful narrative make this memoir a delight.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"If David Sedaris was a straight biracial female, this is the book he'd write. This book is so funny I've already started telling people I helped Angela write it." -- Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs"Growing up black and white, I always felt I had the best of both worlds. I feel the same way about Mixed. It's the perfect blend of hilarious comedy and sometimes tragic reality." -- Yvette Lee Bowser, creator of Living Single and executive producer of Half and Half"Mixed is a hilarious must-read for anyone searching for the enchanting path to self-discovery. Angela Nissel's precise account of living the mixed race experience not only hit home with me, but the journey is deliciously enlightening and heart-rending at the same time. It's a journey well worth taking." --Halle BerryPraise for The Broke Diaries:“Unsentimental prose and [a] wicked sense of humor.”–USA Today “Searing, laugh-out-loud commentary.”–Honey