‘The L Word’: Novelty in Normalcy

If anyone gets “Showtime,” perhaps you can monitor this show to see how Jennifer Beals’s “white mulatto” character is treated. I don’t like the idea of Ossie Davis playing her father, since he is a “one drop” advocate. I’m also suspicious of the fact that no “white” relatives are mentioned.

‘The L Word’: Novelty in Normalcy
The Chronicle of Higher Education

There is a similar sense of novelistic spaciousness as a strong racial dynamic begins to unfold around the thirtysomething couple, Bette and Tina. Bette Porter, the ambitious director of a mediocre small museum, is played by Jennifer Beals, whose best-known movie work has been in racially unmarked (read: white) parts. Bette, however, like Beals, is of partly African-American descent, and the show’s early episodes begin to ramify the implications of that in her relationships with Tina, with their prospective child and the choice of its sperm donor, with her partly alienated half-sister Kit (Pam Grier), and with her inflexible father (Ossie Davis), whose approval she continues to need. It is too early to tell how revealingly these issues may reach beyond Bette’s family and into her community. What is clear already, though, is the difference made by the show’s generous contextualization of its characters’ intertwined lives, where no single character, relationship, or issue need be the lesbian one.


  1. Why is Jennifer Beal’s character a “white mullato”? What does that mean? The character, like Beals in real life, is described as biracial.
    That said, Pam Grier is obviously a woman of mixed race background, as is noted in article, but you, A.D., don’t even mention her. Why don’t you have the same concern for Ms. Grier’s character? Is this because you view Ms. Grier as less white and thus less worthy of your concern?

  2. Hello,
    Are you sure Pam Grier’s character, Kit, is of mixed race? The “Novelty in Normalcy” excerpt above does not say that. It just says she is the half-sister of Beals’s character.

    My guess was that Kit is the daughter of a black woman and Ossie Davis’s character, who later married a white woman, with whom he had Beals’s character. Does anyone know whether that’s correct?

    As for the complaint about Davis being cast in the role, I don’t think that’s fair to him as an actor. While I deplore the small-minded, racist and archaic “one-drop rule,” if Davis believes that, it has nothing to do with his role on the show. Remember he’s playing a character.


  3. Just to clarify Pam’s character has a black mother and Jennifer’s character has a white mother. What Ossie Davis thinks personally has nothing to do with him playing a role. I happened to stumble across this site and there’s nothing wrong with believing in the one-drop rule. It has a richer history and shouldn’t be labled as “archaic” and “racist” in general terms.

  4. Based on YOUR racist accusation, and assumption, about Ossie Davis being “… a ‘one drop’ advocate,” that would also pertain to Beals who wanted the actor to play her father. In real-life, Beals’ father was black, so what’s the difference?

  5. Pam Grier is a woman of mixed-racial background. That’s just a fact of life. Let’s think about this: If two sets of mixed-race people marry and have children and those children marry each other and have children, aren’t the resulting grandchildren mixed race.
    Okay, now those mixed-race grandchildren marry other mixed-race people and have children. Aren’t those children mixed-race?

    Now take a look at Pam Grier and you’ve got an explanation as to how she looks the way she does.

    Why do so many people fail to realize that most “black” people are those mixed-race grandchildren!!! Come on, 400 years of Africans, Caucasians, and Native Americans living on the same continent makes for a very mixed population.

    PS Did you know that Tyson Beckford is of African, Caucasian, and Chinese ancestry as is Naomi Campbell?

  6. NO NO and NO.
    Pam Grier is NOT mixed race. She has two black parents.

    A mixed person is somebody with parents of entirely different races. If you start going back generations and counting everybody with mixed race ancestry, there would be no black people in the United states.

    In the U.S a black person can be of any color or phenotype. We dont seperate into little groups because of things like skin color. I dont find the “one drop rule”, to be racist in the least bit. It unifies black people. You think people like Pam Grier should be non-black just because they’re not dark???

    5/5/2004 12:57:28 PM

  7. Brother William, you are sooooo right. Black people in America have been of “mixed race” for years. Guess what? We’re still black. Jennifer Beals is black too. Its just too bad she can’t admit it. I’m a light black person, and I never ever describe myself as mixed race. So what? That describes me and every other black person in America. I totally believe in the one drop rule. The Jennifer Beals and the Mariah Careys of the world need to get a grip and stop trying to deny their blackness by giving a book type answer when someone mentions race.

    8/7/2004 1:16:18 PM

  8. Will these cowardly black-identified “one drop” suporters claim Hispanics and Arabs as “black”? Nearly ALL of them have either drops or buckets of your mystical, dreaded “black blood.”

    8/9/2004 10:57:15 AM

  9. I happen to be biracial (half black, half white) and unlike Beals I do not have the privilege of deciding when to tell and when not to that I am a black woman. What I find problematic about the show is Beal’s character’s open acceptance of passing; the way it is juxtaposed against black women brought in to the show for this exact purpose and then never seen again; the negative construct of Pam Grier’s character (a backsliding alcoholic musical has been with low self-esteem) especially in contrast to Beal’s A-type personality with a family, home, good career, and expensive suits, etc. The show has many people of color on it, yet most of them are white appearing, even the Latina whose husky accent identifies her for those who do not recognize her as a former model, is whiter than most white people with a layer of the ever popular bronzer on. How is this a positive depiction of people of color? How is this show any different than any other colonial vision of a perpetually whitening society?
    And as for the person who called her a white mulatto – mulatto is a eugenicist term tracking a specific racial mixture, ie blood, so your use of the term is not only offensive it is profoundly ironic given your follow up criticism of Ossie Davis’ supposed references to the link between blood and race. The term used by the show and most people is biracial. And if your concern is really about her appearing white enough, you have nothing to worry about b/c all though the show increasingly erases her blackness (including her refusal to identify as a black woman in one episode) it never erases her whiteness.

    9/21/2004 4:04:23 AM

    NOTE from Editor: Please use a real name and email address next time. We’ve had a recent spat of trolls come through, so names and email addresses (verifiable) are now required. Thank you.

  10. I agree with you “Who Cares”. I just don’t understand why Jennifer Beals and others can’t be proud to be black. That doesn’t mean you are “denying” your white parent. It only means you are realistic. Black people are such a resilient and strong people, and damn it, I’m proud to be a sister. I’ve always called myself a black woman. I’ve never identified with being called mixed or biracial. Hell, most American blacks could be cute and go there, but whats the point? The struggle is still the same.I’ve heard some people say that maybe its more difficult for people who don’t look as black like Jennifer to accept their blackness. This is a load of crap because my sister is blonde haired, blue eyed, and she is damn proud to be a black woman. We were always told growing up that blackness cannot be measured by melanin, thickness of lips, or any of the other stereotypes. Its our black side that needs the uplifting. So lets go there!!!!!!!! Love black for black.

    10/30/2004 11:20:28 AM

  11. Alannah and Who Cares you both made wonderful comments and truely touch on the heart of the situation of being a biracial personin this country. I am a black woman and very proud. It pains me to see how many biracial people are fighting to start their own racial group not for the mere fact that they want to enlighten and bring awareness to being biracial but solely to move far away from their black side. If you are so hell bent on respecting your white side why would you be so dismissive of your black heritage?? Get a grip. Contrary to the media being Black is not a sin not a burden. I am proud, comfortable in my skin and if I died tonite would not want to come back as anything other race other than a black person. There is so must heritage behind out color and our pain.

    8/23/2005 11:48:10 AM

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