Book Review: Mixed: My Life in Black and White
Book Reviewed by Kam Williams
’Soon, two black security guards were buzzed through the doors toward me. My mouth stayed on full blast. ’Oh, sure, y’all do whatever the white woman says. Beat up the black woman for the white woman!’ I said as they grabbed me under both arms and threw me into a restraining jacket.
The doctor injected me with something. When I woke, I was locked in a room with one window that looked out to an empty hallway. The floor was made of soft squares of padded foam. .’
’I have to go to the bathroom!’ I screamed. The door opened a crack and a nurse's aide threw a plastic toilet seat in at me like she was throwing meat to a vicious animal. While I peed in it, I said hello to rock bottom.’
’ Angela on Being Committed
The only blurb on the front cover of Mixed is by Halle Berry who half misleadingly describes it as, ’A hilarious must read.’ A must read, yes. Hilarious, no. Maybe Ms. Berry read an early draft substantially different from the one that actually made it into print. Or perhaps the quote was prompted by a marketing department primarily interested in sales.
After all, Halle was ostensibly picked not because she's a literary critic but because she has a black parent and a white parent, just like the book's author. So, this celebrity's stamp of approval would certainly serve as a major selling point. Nevertheless, while Angela Nissel's poignant memoir has more than its share of humorous moments, its prevailing tone is stone cold sober.
So, there's no way I would even think of recommending this brutally honest autobiography as a lighthearted take on race relations, even though it has a happily-ever-after ending. Yes, today Nissel is a happily-married best-selling author and scriptwriter for the hit TV-sitcom Scrubs, but the road she traveled to get there is a truly touching and heartbreaking tale.
For she and her younger brother Jack, were abandoned at an early age by their Jewish father to be raised alone in West Philadelphia by their African-American mother, Gwen. Because their dad failed to supply child support and totally disappeared from their lives for over twenty years, the entire burden, of course, fell on Gwen's shoulders.
Wanting the best for her kids, she had to take two jobs just to keep a roof over their heads in a rough neighborhood. Unfortunately, for Angela, this meant that she had to grow up fast during her formative years, negotiating her way in a community where many challenged her blackness because she was not only light-skinned, but half-white.
Initially, called everything from zebra to mulatto to Oreo red-boned to stuck-up yellow b*tch, Angela describes how she over-compensated by trying to become a super black sister. Then, everything changed in high school with the advent of gangsta rap on MTV and BET, since, as she describes it, ’The majority of the women in the videos had my complexion’ I became even more secure in my light skin when I discovered the mania was deeper than life imitating hip-hop.’
Suddenly popular, she proceeded to assemble a ’stable’ of boyfriends because, ’finding out I was pretty was like being a starving dog and getting locked in a meat factory. I went crazy feeding my appetite.’ Angela made a series of disastrous dating decisions, which led to ’eight years of therapy’ where she had to work through all the ’anger I felt toward my father.’
Mixed also relates her weight ballooning to over 200 pounds, her battle with depression and suicidal tendencies, her stint as a stripper, her being threatened with a gun by a neighbor, and her post-collegiate decision to date white guys after being unable to interest black professionals.
Given how low she had to go before bottoming-out, it's a minor miracle this survivor is still with us, let alone flourishing, having finally found both the man and job of her dreams.