Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Beyond “Biracial Cool”: Bill de Blasio, Chirlane McCray, and the Politics of the Mixed Race Family

In his quest to win the 2013 New York City mayoral election in the opening moments of the Black Lives Matter movement, Bill de Blasio emphasized his intimate proximity to blackness by way of his mixed race family to signal his racially progressive politics. De Blasio’s access to what Cathy Cohen calls “third wave Black politics” allowed him to use his relationships with his son, Dante, and wife, Chirlane McCray, to secure a majority vote in a divided and diverse electorate. However, in centering de Blasio’s family in campaign advertising as a tool to express his “biracial cool,” the de Blasio campaign did not account for how both the mixed race family and Black motherhood are historically fraught terrain in American history. McCray’s presence as a Black queer mother and founding member of the Combahee River Collective presented a challenge to de Blasio’s ability to control his family’s image and follow through on his message. Because he did not adequately attend to the activist histories or policy needs of the voter blocs his mixed race family represented, the very same characteristics that made de Blasio a standout candidate were used to critique him, his campaign, and subsequently his 2020 presidential bid.

Figure 1. The de Blasio family on the cover of New York Magazine, November 2013.
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Figure 1.

The de Blasio family on the cover of New York Magazine, November 2013.

Just one day before New York City residents went to the polls to vote in the 2013 mayoral election, New York Magazine’s cover story offered an in-depth look into the lives of the mixed race family of Democratic candidate and projected winner Bill de Blasio. “Meet the De Blasios” the cover reads, with a photograph of the family that beckons the viewer inside the embrace of Bill’s six-foot-five-inch frame. With Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota [End Page 1] expected to return meager numbers at the polls, the magazine assumed that the de Blasio family represented the changing winds of New York politics. De Blasio himself was not naive to the role his family played in his image. As a progressive running on a platform aimed to unite what he saw as “a tale of two cities,” the de Blasio campaign frequently utilized the symbolic potential of his mixed race family to connect with New York City’s diverse voting public. In the press, images of the de Blasio family took on a life of their own, particularly as the media used the family as an index of the racial, gendered, and sexual problems of the twenty-first century. An article from the Huffington Post called de Blasio’s family an “electoral asset,” noting how de Blasio maintained a “biracial cool” that set him apart from the other white mayoral hopefuls. This biracial cool was “a multivalent Rorschach for [the] political campaign. It appeals to multiple demographic groups. It demonstrates that race doesn’t matter. It demonstrates that race does matter. Its mere existence is politically suggestive, even when the family members aren’t doing anything.”1 Another article similarly asked its readers to “meet the ‘boring white guy’ of the future,”2 reminding voters of how de Blasio, due to his nonwhite family, would be both the new normal and a break from the Republican agenda of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. With the dome of de Blasio’s son Dante’s Afro foreshadowing what was “new” about New York, the magazine’s portrait indicates how racial mixedness can often be projected beyond the body itself and onto those in intimate proximity—family, friends, brands—offering up a racial authenticity that may be otherwise inaccessible.

The present essay asks what the media representation of the de Blasio family tells us about how Black-white kinship operates as a political symbol in the twenty-first century.3 Here I draw on African American studies’ historical analyses of twentieth-century political thought and racial progress to highlight how certain Black individuals are made legible as race leaders. Cathy Cohen has theorized the “third wave Black politician” as one of the key post–civil rights movement political strategies tying Black political representatives to ideas of progress and authenticity.4 Taking Barack Obama, Cory Booker, and Deval Patrick as the archetypes of this category, Cohen notes how these politicians stray from the posturing of the technocratic Black politicians of the 1990s and the more “racially bound” Black politicians of the 1960s and 1970s. A key characteristic of third-wave politicians is the makeup of their “legitimizing constituency”; rather than a predominantly Black voting base, third-wavers intentionally maintain a base of white voters. White voters see the mass appeal of these politicians in their status as “hopemongers” who position the historic [End Page 2] nature of their campaign as the end of racial divisions rather than as a new stage in what will remain a difficult struggle against white supremacy. Cohen suggests that third-wavers use their blackness and the blackness of their authenticators to position themselves as being both inside and outside Black communities in order to not lose the goodwill of Black voters. While Obama frequently refers to being raised by his white grandparents from Kansas, Michelle Obama’s position as his spousal authenticator allows voters to read his Black identity as equally founded on personal narrative and family history. Instead of operating as race leaders, Cohen notes, third-wavers thrive as raced leaders, incentivized to be untethered from blackness while also signifying Black lineages and rhetoric. Thinking alongside Cohen, I read the media coverage surrounding Bill de Blasio’s successful bid for mayor in the year after President Obama’s 2012 reelection as evolving out of this third-wave Black political moment.

The most striking similarity between de Blasio and third-wavers is the way in which de Blasio benefited from authenticating proximity to his mixed race family, especially as they signaled—in their responses to the media and in their self-fashioning—their allegiance to the politics and symbols of blackness. De Blasio’s wife and right-hand political strategist, Chirlane McCray, was a founding member of the Combahee River Collective, a Black queer socialist feminist group established in 1974. Their then-fifteen-year-old son, Dante, was well known for his Afro styled after Angela Davis and became the poster child for the campaign due to the success of his appearance in a TV advertisement calling for an end to “stop-and-frisk” police tactics that unfairly targeted Black and brown young men.5 Their eighteen-year-old daughter, Chiara, wore her hair in locs mirroring McCray’s. De Blasio himself campaigned on a platform that hoped to aid predominantly Black and brown communities, promising the end of stop-and-frisk as well as raising taxes on the rich to pay for initiatives such as free early childhood education. Alongside the latitude his white privilege offered, it was this allegiance (and the allegiance of his family members) to Black sociopolitical needs and gains that differentiated de Blasio during the campaign from the facile matchmaking of multiracialism and progressivism found in third-wave rhetoric. Yet de Blasio’s access to his family’s blackness did not come without its own political consequences. To be sure, McCray’s presence in the mayoral campaign and beyond represents more for de Blasio than his authenticating relationship to blackness. As demonstrated by the print media’s multiple attacks on McCray’s character during the campaign as well as diminishing public opinion of de Blasio’s administration during his time in office, the de Blasio campaign is a rich site to explore the limitations of relying [End Page 3] on “biracial cool” as a long-term political strategy. Specifically, this tactic did not consider how representations of mixed race families have historically struggled to account for Black motherhood and nonheterosexual identities. As such, unpacking the Black queer socialist feminist history in which McCray participated can complicate and deepen the analysis on the family offered thus far by both scholars and the press, especially as this background may extend into perceptions of the politics of mixed race families in the present.

Recently, scholars based in African American studies and the burgeoning field of critical mixed race studies such as Habiba Ibrahim, Michele Elam, and Ralina Joseph have written about the limitations of biracial cool, pushing mixed race scholarship to more rigorously consider how Black-white identity both affects and is affected by other social identities such as gender, sexuality, and class. Ibrahim explores how representations of mixed race families in the late twentieth century made the “practice of romantic love itself seem neutral and individualistic” in an attempt to propose multiracial childhood as a harbinger of a less contentious future for progressive racial politics.6 Pointing to the overrepresentation of white mothers advocating for the rights of the mixed race children and heterosexual families during the multiracial movement of the 1990s, Ibrahim notes how, in contrast, “the value that Black mothers did indeed grant their Black children has been consistently ignored, disrupted, and torn apart.”7 Similarly, Ibrahim argues that interracial parents and mixed race children “negotiate questions of intimacy and common interests on uneven ground,” and representations that do not consider these differences “leave the ethics of love unquestioned.”8 Indeed, de Blasio was not only a politician running on a platform; he was also a white father who unevenly benefited from being placed in intimate relation to the performance of Black youth culture, Black feminism, and queer identity.

In his quest to win the 2013 New York City mayoral election in the opening moments of the Black Lives Matter movement, Bill de Blasio emphasized his intimate proximity to blackness by way of his mixed race family to signal his racially progressive politics. De Blasio’s access to third-wave Black political rhetoric allowed him to specifically and strategically use his relationships with his son and wife to secure a majority vote in a divided and diverse New York City electorate. However, the de Blasio campaign did not account for how both the mixed race family and Black motherhood are historically fraught and contested terrain in the US. The de Blasio campaign did not (or perhaps could not) consider how representations of mixed race individuals and families have often demonstrated the limitations of racial authenticity as a meaningful [End Page 4] measure of racial progress or equity throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this way, McCray’s presence as a Black mother and a Black queer woman with socialist feminist commitments presented a significant challenge to de Blasio’s ability to control his family’s image and follow through on his ideological message. During the campaign, the print media subjected McCray to unending racist, sexist, and homophobic attacks in a bid to undermine the campaign’s handle on the narrative of de Blasio’s interracial marriage and family.9 Because de Blasio did not adequately attend to the activist histories or policy needs of the voter blocks his family ostensibly represented, the very same characteristics that made de Blasio a standout candidate were used as tools to critique him, his campaign, his time in office, and his short-lived 2020 presidential bid. The case of the de Blasio campaign suggests that if the “biracial cool” of the twenty-first-century mixed race family is to be anything more than temporarily politically suggestive, it must take seriously the historical and representational ground it invokes, namely, the always already “mixed” history of Black identity, families, and politics.

“Six Inches of Political Black Gold”: De Blasio’s Multiracial Politics in the “Tale of Two Cities”

More than any single speech or platform, the political emergence of Dante de Blasio rocketed the de Blasio campaign forward. When polling data confirmed a near tie between Democratic mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn and de Blasio in early August, one day later the de Blasio campaign debuted its first TV advertisement, titled “Dante.”10 The thirty-second advertisement showed Dante, at fifteen years old, sporting an Afro and speaking about his father’s pledge to end the stop-and-frisk era, increase affordable housing, and raise taxes to support early childhood care (fig. 2). The ad was family-centric—clips of Dante and Bill walking together through Brooklyn are spliced together with shots of the family laughing around their kitchen table. The ad incited a landslide of commentaries on the ethics of tying one’s family life so closely to political theater, though all concluded that it was one of the most persuasive political advertisements in recent memory.11 Black Democratic moderate mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, who just four years earlier had easily captured 80 percent of the Black vote against the then mayor Bloomberg, could barely hold their attention in 2013, especially as de Blasio’s platform signaled more direct aid for communities of color. Two months later, “Dante” was followed by “Attention,” a similar ad starring de Blasio’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Chiara. [End Page 5] The ad was playful, showing a daughter defending her father against political attacks, as well as an older sister competing with her brother for the spotlight in a side-by-side panel (fig. 3). Though “Dante” is still considered the campaign’s defining advertisement, the message remained consistent across TV spots: the de Blasio children embodied the campaign’s progressive spirit.

Figure 2. Still from de Blasio campaign TV advertisement, “Dante,” 2013.
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Figure 2.

Still from de Blasio campaign TV advertisement, “Dante,” 2013.

Interestingly, the press latched onto Dante’s hair as a way to offer playful commentary on how the de Blasio campaign operationalized blackness as a campaign strategy. In a turn of phrase verging on the pornographic, the Atlantic called Dante’s Afro “six inches of political Black gold,” calling attention to its seductive political and social possibilities.12 The New York Times featured “The Afro” in the Style section, and published an op-ed by a journalist who expressed “kinship and concern” for Dante as a result of having his own secret Afro past as a young white man in the 1970s.13 Dante’s ’fro became a national conversation; during a photo-op in which President Barack Obama endorsed de Blasio’s bid for mayor, Obama praised Dante’s Afro and reminisced on his own similar hairstyle during his college years. In response to this press, the de Blasio campaign began promoting the Twitter hashtags “#Fromentum” and “#GoWithTheFro” to playfully endorse the ad’s popularity. In an interview with New York Magazine a month after the “Dante” ad aired, Mayor Bloomberg denounced the de Blasio campaign as “class-warfare and racist.” When asked to elaborate, Bloomberg fumbled for the right words, stating, “Well, no, no I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist. It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish [End Page 6] vote.”14 Certainly, the “Dante” ad operationalizes a Black radical aesthetic toward a white man’s campaign with the purpose of gaining the minority vote. Yet even as the popular reception of the “Dante” ad foretold a shallow embrace of multicultural representation, the fashioning of Dante’s Afro as a symbol of Black radical potential serves as a critical point of context for the viewer.15 In fact, many Black New York City voters saw de Blasio’s focus on the blackness of his family as a win for the Black community.16 Within a week of the ad’s airing Dante made it clear to the press that he was aware of the lineage of this radical aesthetic. In an interview chronicling his hair journey throughout his childhood, Dante shared that he first fell in love with the Afro in the third grade, after being inspired by the Black pride that was associated with the rise of the hairstyle in the 1960s and 1970s.17 The campaign would lean on these historical associations in order to foreground other issues related to the perceived otherness of Black New Yorkers, including stop-and-frisk.

Figure 3. Still from side-by-side panel in de Blasio campaign TV advertisement, “Attention,” 2013.
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Figure 3.

Still from side-by-side panel in de Blasio campaign TV advertisement, “Attention,” 2013.

De Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign smartly positioned his progressive track record as the answer to Bloomberg’s neoliberal urbanism. With Bloomberg’s entrepreneurial background and ties to Wall Street, his administration from 2002 to 2013 cast the city as a business in a cosmopolitan international marketplace.18 Coupled with this vision was a corporate multiculturalism that played on the symbolic potential of the city’s multiethnic population. Unlike the overt race-baiting and “repressive urban ordering” of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s [End Page 7] administration, Bloomberg’s mounted a “super charged city-wide form of gentrification” that reimagined the city as a playground for the postindustrial elite, and utilized the idea that New York was a “gorgeous mosaic” that required an ambitious redevelopment plan to match.19 In practice, enacting this vision led to class and racial tensions, as the worst consequences of the administration’s policies were felt predominantly by the city’s working-class, Black, and Latino communities. Aggressive policing strategies such as stop-and-frisk were marketed as a response to the city’s perceived urban disorder as well as a way to protect Black and Latino populations from themselves. In contrast, when de Blasio announced his bid for mayor standing in front of his Brooklyn home alongside his wife and children, the emphasis on “the people city hall forgot” was an appeal to the ordinary person in a way New York City had not heard in over two decades.20 The press framed his subsequent win as hope for a new progressive era in New York politics, one that responded to both local and national calls of the 2011 Occupy movement and the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement. To be sure, much of the political potency of the de Blasio family symbol rests in its access to the Black-white binary. The campaign’s ability to turn the “tale of two cities” into a tale of Black and white class divide depends on a wholly inaccurate vision of New York, considering that this conceit relies on its inattention to non-Black Latinx and Asian communities.

Thus, as a politician running on a campaign promise to end stop-and-frisk, de Blasio was able to tap into an innocuous racial novelty in the post-Bloomberg moment as a direct result of his simultaneous whiteness and proximity to third-wave Black politics. How might we trace the success of de Blasio’s political ascendancy through and beyond the third-wave political archetype, considering that he is a white man? Though de Blasio has never claimed any allegiance to a Black political tradition or third-wave trend, the reception of his white identity by New York voters was primed by the ways his political narrative seemed to extend these lineages. Similar to third-wavers, he possessed enough of a history of social radicalism to warrant a positive response from minority voters and enough ties to the white middle class to assure moderate-leaning voters that this radicalism could simply be the fervor of youthful idealism.21 Born in New York in 1961 and living the majority of his early years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, young de Blasio was a student organizer and later a participant in the socialist movements in Nicaragua in the 1980s and 1990s. In these early years, de Blasio yearned for a democracy that “pervaded all levels in society,” and was influenced by a mixture of liberation theology and grassroots organizing strategies.22 In 1989 de Blasio got his [End Page 8] first taste of New York City politics as a volunteer coordinator for the mayoral campaign of David Dinkins, the first and only Black mayor of the city, with whom he worked for four years after Dinkins won the election. De Blasio’s transition into city politics marked a shift away from his activist affiliations, and by 1992 de Blasio was marked “absent” by the minutes of the Nicaragua Solidarity Network, with the attached note of “must be running for office.”23 De Blasio would take progressively larger steps toward the middle as he worked as regional director of Housing and Urban Development for New York and New Jersey under President Bill Clinton in 1997. By 2000 de Blasio was working as the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s successful Senate race and thereafter became the representative for the 39th District in Brooklyn, serving from 2001 to 2009 and as a public advocate from 2009 on. During his time as public advocate, de Blasio was known for his support of campaign finance reform, funding for early childhood-care, and aiding small businesses, all of which found their way into his mayoral platform. By the time of his run for mayor, de Blasio was able to separate himself from the rest of the Democratic hopefuls through his dedication to local politics. This background as well as his campaign’s articulated racial and class politics played particularly well after Bloomberg’s mayoralty, which alienated those outside the elite.

Similarly, it is the affordances allowed by de Blasio’s whiteness, particularly his status as a white father, that enabled his trajectory to diverge from those of his third-wave peers. By nature of their historic races, third-wavers represent what Cohen calls a “racial success story—identity politics without bitterness, minimal demands from people of color, and only a few references to past inequality.”24 In essence, third-wavers must be perceived as not only authentic but also nonthreatening. In 2016 a controlled study noted how displays of “racial novelty” in political advertising by Black male candidates, particularly those who present themselves as part of interracial families, accrue significant support from voters toward their political campaigns, even surpassing white candidates. The study found that Black male candidates who showed a personal affinity for whiteness greatly increased their chances of not being perceived as a threat to the status quo.25 Consequently, if a Black candidate with Black children ran on a campaign platform that sought to give protections to those children through changes to law enforcement policy, his efforts would undoubtedly be perceived as tribalistic rather than progressive. In comparison, de Blasio did not have to prove his whiteness to white voters and was less concerned with being perceived as a menace to New York politics. Indeed, de Blasio’s advocacy for Black civil rights was not as easily seen as tribalism; rather, it only added to his [End Page 9] novelty, allowing him to be simultaneously more Black than white candidates and more white than Black candidates.

Furthermore, distinct from third-wavers whose legitimizing constituency is liberal white voters, de Blasio was able to campaign for the support of the liberal minority vote, a demographic he won with ease partly through his proximity to his family that was both nonwhite and middle class. In his New York Magazine cover story, de Blasio knew that in order to be elected he needed to signal that he could be both a businessman in line with Bloomberg’s mayoralty and man of the people, noting how he strove to “assemble a Cabinet that looks like New York.”26 “His household touches more than a hopeful multiracial chord,” the article suggests; “it also represents the economically beleaguered middle class, a segment of the city that hasn’t been at the center of the Bloombergian universe.”27 Beyond signifying kinship, the normalcy of the de Blasios’ middle-class home came to symbolize the intersecting pathos of class and race struggle.28 To picture de Blasio’s cabinet was to envision a group of individuals who were meant to feel at home in his Park Slope home, or even his wedding. Footage from de Blasio and McCray’s wedding video appeared in the New York Times during the campaign, showing African drumming and dancing, a multiracial bridal party, and a minister proclaiming that “we see here the future of humanity . . . let us come together joyfully and celebrate the wonderful children, the family, the Bildungsroman they will bring to the world.”29 For de Blasio it seemed that his mixed race family actualized the imaginative visual work many voters do at the polls: whom do I want to represent me; what type of people will they surround themselves with? To the voter, de Blasio carried out his campaign as if his home life were not impervious to the political decisions he would likely make about the middle and working classes as mayor.30 In the short term, this strategy proved effective. Election exit polls revealed that de Blasio reached into virtually all demographics, including 52 percent of the white vote, 85 percent of the Hispanic votes, and 95 percent of the Black vote. He also won in the higher-income bracket despite his bid to raise taxes on the rich.

Moving beyond de Blasio’s third-wave proximity, perceptions of his campaign’s progressivism were aided by the political consciousness of the twenty-first-century Black-white mixed race public figure his son gestured toward. What seems to be overlooked about the politics of multiracial identity in the contemporary moment is the growing number of mixed race public figures marking the failed promises of postracialism in the Black Lives Matter moment, promises that are often reliant on uplifting representations of multiracial [End Page 10] blackness in lieu of other types of Black representation. In a moment in which the respectable performance of a racialized self has been proved to not protect someone against having a violent encounter with the law, mixed race individuals find themselves having to reevaluate their understanding of racial categorization from one of solely personal choice to one of political exigency.31 Supporting this position, Michele Elam in 2010 asked multiracial people to “think twice and check once” on the US Census, arguing that it does not function as a place to work out issues related to personal identity (as the 1990s multiracial movement contended); rather, it works as a socioeconomic document meant to regulate the allocation of resources into minority communities.32 Far from a distancing from blackness, these individuals offer up a sociopolitical response to the experience of being made to embody racial progress, even as the rhetoric of third-wave Black politicians and the media represent this work as centered on family history and personal choice.

In recent memory, prominent mixed race Black-identifying figures such as Amandla Stenberg, Colin Kaepernick, and Jesse Williams have jeopardized their access to opportunities to advance their respective careers in favor of speaking out against the antiblackness of their workplaces while becoming popular activists toward Black causes. We might place Dante de Blasio in the mix of this cohort, as his relationship to the campaign’s antipolice brutality platform led to him being named the sixth-most-influential teen by Time magazine in 2013. Dante’s status as an “influential teen” allowed him in subsequent years to exercise his own voice on racism at his prestigious high school, Brooklyn Tech, and comment on the racist origins of Yale University’s building names.33 Indeed, Dante’s agency during and after the campaign would demonstrate that he was not just a prop in his father’s political theater. The campaign’s creation of a platform that centered Black boyhood from race-based violence troubles the assumption that multiracialism unanimously portends a divestment from blackness and Black political needs. In many respects, the de Blasio campaign demonstrates how the mixed race family as a visual sign in the context of the Black Lives Matter moment has moved from indexing mixed race as an issue of personal choice to the recognition of how it indexes political and social inequities.

With momentum building during the year around the national conversation on police brutality, de Blasio’s interpretation of his role as both father to a mixed race child and public representative of a diverse constituency was buttressed by the statement of one particularly powerful mixed race public figure. On March 22, 2012, during a press conference held to address mass [End Page 11] unrest over the murder of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, President Barack Obama inserted himself into the burgeoning social consciousness of what would soon become known as the Black Lives Matter movement. Speaking from the perspective of a bereaved parent, President Obama noted, “You know if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”34 More than a moment of empathy, the president’s sentiments forced a public acknowledgment that the highest political office in the United States was held by someone who (1) was of Black parentage and (2) could be in a position of helplessness at the hands of his own justice system as the parent of a Black child. Obama’s statements were not taken well by all demographics. When asked, “Do you think President Obama’s comments were appropriate?,” 28 percent of white people surveyed said yes and 59 percent said no, while, in contrast, 78 percent of Black people said yes and 7 percent said no.35 To white voters, it seemed, this truth threatened the postracial third-wave frame that the media built around the Obama presidency, wherein Obama’s audacity to hope for a better racial future began to sound like mere campaign rhetoric. Conversely, to Black voters, Obama’s statement was one of only a handful of moments during his presidency in which he had offered more than lukewarm support of anti–police brutality positions.36 We might look to this press conference as yet another point on a long continuum of moments that “popped the bubble” of the nation’s collective racial fantasy in the twenty-first century. A little over a year later, in 2013, de Blasio mirrored President Obama’s sentiments, but this time from the position of a white father. “It’s not an abstraction to me,” de Blasio commented. “I’ll state the obvious: I know it could happen to my own son.”37 While the through-line between Obama’s and de Blasio’s thoughts offer de Blasio a connection to experiences related to Black racial trauma and political discourse, one could argue that even as issues of police brutality are personal for him, de Blasio’s worries do not upend national postracial narratives in the same way that Obama’s comments did. On the other hand, the unprecedented acknowledgment of a white father’s worry over the safety of his mixed race son in fact demonstrated for New York voters the pervasiveness of routine violence against people of color.

That this worry came from a father’s perspective is also telling—Chirlane McCray did not make statements about her children’s safety, perhaps knowing that in doing so she would evoke a longer, more racially violent lineage of Black mothers mourning the murders of their Black children at the hands of a white police state.38 As illustrated by the public mourning of Mamie Till Mobley at the sight of Emmett Till’s open casket in 1955 and Lezley McSpadden’s [End Page 12] cries for justice on the street corner of Michael Brown’s murder in 2014, Black motherhood as a category of female labor in the American context has become knowable through its violently racializing grammar. Through the never quite past tense of enslavement up through the syntactic order of the welfare state and the sharp punctuation of sexual violence, loss, and death, Black motherhood’s burden to signify grief in the American racial imagination is ongoing. The invisibilizing nature of this labor is similarly violent, especially as it leads to silences in the archive and in the advocacy for women’s rights. While enmeshed in the same American racial history, conversations on Black motherhood in the twenty-first-century mixed race family must be distinct from the pre-Emancipation realities of Black enslaved motherhood as an effect of sexual violence, and distinct still from white mothers advocating for “accurate” racial categorization for their mixed race children in the late twentieth century.39 Indeed, discussions of mixed race Black-white families in the present have not taken into account what unique effects contemporary Black motherhood might have on the politics of mixed race families and identities.

Attending to such conversations allows us to see how the de Blasio campaign struggled to anticipate or control how this history would affect feelings toward McCray, especially as representations of McCray and her politics faced scrutiny by the press. As a founding member of the Black, queer, socialist, and feminist Combahee River Collective whose manifesto has become a foundational text for discussions of “identity politics,” McCray’s presence as a reminder of this legacy challenged the New York City electorate and the de Blasio campaign alike to resituate twenty-first-century political multiracialism within a longer trajectory of queer and Black feminist organizing in the 1970s and 1980s.40

McCray and the Limits of “Biracial Cool”

In a moment in which scholars and activists have returned to the resonating texts and voices of the 1960s and 1970s to help explain present inequities, McCray’s political presence is key to understanding how the past work of interracial feminist coalitions has affected national conversations about Black motherhood, mixed race families, and radical politics in the present. While the “interstitial politics” of Black feminist grassroots organizing have been and still are taking place on a local level, grand-scale public debates surrounding Black Lives Matter for the first time are acknowledging the work of the Black women and queer players at the center of the movement, and making historical links between representations of Black female organizers of the past and present.41 [End Page 13]

Yet to be successful with a diverse and divided New York City voter base, it seemed that the de Blasio campaign could easily champion McCray as a Black person in an interracial family but could not sufficiently account for McCray as a Black woman and as a Black queer woman without wading into the unfinished business of groups like the Combahee River Collective. Such an intersectional consideration would reveal that the very notion of “identity politics” that Combahee contributed to conversations of activist praxis has become warped within American political theater, particularly in this third-wave political moment. For de Blasio, the overreliance on representations of his mixed race family offered him access to racial identity politics through personal proximity rather than policy commitments or political agendas. In contrast, McCray’s relationship with her husband and children left her uniquely vulnerable to attack, as she could not as easily separate her identity from de Blasio’s political agenda. With the campaign’s overemphasis on representation giving the right-wing press and tabloids ample material to fuel a racist and homophobic smear campaign, McCray was simultaneously championed for embodying the political aims of her family and severely questioned for allowing what some saw as a shallow misapplication of Combahee’s legacy through electoral politics. Indeed, it seems that McCray’s presence on the political stage became bound up in two competing lineages of Black-white interracialism in American history: one in which multiracial families signal the promise of progressive social politics and one in which the continued poor treatment of Black motherhood, womanhood, and queerness troubles narratives of American progress and racial justice. This simultaneous signification is precisely the reason that studies of the relationship between mixed race and Black identities remain important in the twenty-first century, in that the representational work that these symbolic mixed race families accomplish struggles to reflect the sociopolitical changes that they hope to illustrate and advance.

Describing herself as a perpetual outsider, McCray was born in Massachusetts to Caribbean American parents and raised in a town in which her Black family was one of two. McCray recounts stories of racial trauma that reflected the era’s segregationist structures—students at her all-white high school taunting her, residents of their Springfield suburb passing around a petition asking that the family “keep out.”42 While attending Wellesley College, McCray became a founding member of the Boston-based Combahee River Collective, a group dedicated to incorporating the concerns of Black lesbians into feminist organizing and politics, with other members including Barbara and Beverly Smith, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Hull. As an activist and writer, McCray wrote [End Page 14] about her experiences being a Black woman and a lesbian through poems appearing in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology and eventually in Essence Magazine. In her groundbreaking 1979 Essence piece titled “I Am a Lesbian,” McCray writes in a style similar to fellow Combahee member Audre Lorde’s 1982 biomythography Zami, reflecting on the impact that past lovers and experiences had on her understanding of herself as a queer Black woman. McCray wrote as someone who felt that she could be a representative for “those who are embroiled in a struggle to be themselves in a society that frowns on difference” as well as for those who worry that “the monster of conformity will rear its angry head and devour me.”43 Declarative statements about the totality of her queerness and her certainty that she would never marry make the piece feel distant from the realities of McCray’s present, even as the politics of the piece were echoed across de Blasio campaign’s platform. Even still, McCray’s Essence essay is considered the first time an out lesbian wrote about their sexual identity in a Black magazine.44 Taken alongside the Combahee River Collective’s now famous 1977 statement articulating the “development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking,” McCray’s early writings demonstrate a commitment to identity politics as tied to Black queer feminist activism and policy concerns.45 These allegiances remain a part of McCray’s public profile; in 2018 at the inaugural Power Rising summit for Black women, McCray reiterated that “to me, a feminist is someone who values Black women first and foremost. . . . Someone who supports Black women, helps to lift them up and encourage them. And not just those who are doing well already.”46 This dedication to Black women during her time as First Lady translated into her spearheading a billion-dollar mental health reform plan, ThriveNYC, in 2017. Notably, one of the initiatives, Sister Thrive, is dedicated to collaborating with Black women-led organizations to train ten thousand Black people in what she calls “Mental Health First Aid.” Other initiatives work to target the needs of minority and disadvantaged mothers, with one program expanding maternal depression screenings in public hospitals and another increasing parental visits for mothers at Rikers Island.47

To be sure, the Black queer socialist organizing legacy that McCray brought with her into the mayoral election presents an intriguing future for Black feminist politics, especially as her politics (and by extension Combahee’s) were assumed to map onto de Blasio’s and vice versa. With action points from the campaign including free early childhood public education, the creation of affordable public housing for the city’s low-income families, and ending an era of stop-and-frisk policing that had been in effect since the 1990s, it seemed [End Page 15] that some of McCray’s Black queer socialist feminist ideals of the 1970s had found a comfortable foothold in the agenda de Blasio proposed. McCray’s organizing background and behind-the-scenes political training translated into a talent for political theater, strategic thinking, and a willingness to go beyond the habitual call of the “first lady.” By the time McCray met de Blasio in 1989, McCray had had an equally active political career, serving as a speechwriter for Mayor Dinkins’s administration and later as a public relations consultant. Often found by his side on campaign stops, McCray has been called de Blasio’s “political conscience” and his “optics guru.”48 After de Blasio’s election in 2014, McCray played an essential role in staffing the mayor’s office, helping “stage the new optics of power in the de Blasio era.”49 Of the twelve senior staff in the mayor’s cabinet, six were women and only three were white men. Of the eighty commissioners, deputy mayors, and agency heads de Blasio hired, more than half were women. McCray’s chief of staff was a Black woman, her communications director a white woman. However, staging the optics of identity politics should not be confused for substantive policy change, and it remains unclear how this staffing will affect outcomes for the communities represented.

Because of McCray’s transition into establishment politics, Black feminists in academe and in the public sphere have become skeptical of her allegiances to grassroots organizing and her ability to represent the policy needs of Black women. Echoing Cohen’s reading of the third-wave Black politician, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor suggests that the emergence of an elite Black women’s political class has led to Black feminists transitioning from utilizing protest as the primary mode of engagement to using formal politics within the Democratic Party to advocate for Black women. Pointing to McCray’s upper-class status and position of power, Taylor implies that McCray’s ascendency into the political elite is not something to celebrate, for McCray is not necessarily “on the same team” as other Black feminist organizers working today.50 It seems that McCray’s presence represents a challenge to the movement legacy she helped build, especially as her relative power within New York politics presents both opportunities and pitfalls for Black feminist organizing.

While current skepticism of McCray’s political motives from Black women organizers and scholars is perhaps warranted, during the campaign, in contrast, the print media’s coverage of McCray’s nontraditional involvement and activist past fueled a war of images that attacked McCray’s ability to uphold the mantle of womanhood, motherhood, and First Ladyhood. The press demonstrated an interest in McCray’s political trajectory and presence insofar as it would portend damage to de Blasio’s chances of a successful candidacy, even at times becoming both inadvertently and aggressively racist and homophobic. [End Page 16]

In December 2012, just before de Blasio announced his mayoral bid, the right-wing New York Post printed a lewd cartoon by Sean Delonas caricaturing de Blasio and McCray’s marriage. In the homophobic and racist cartoon, de Blasio and McCray are depicted lying in bed in lingerie sharing a cigarette with the caption over McCray’s head reading “I used to be a Lesbian but my husband, Bill de Blasio, won me over.” De Blasio sits scowling in women’s undergarments with body fat rolling over the waistline of his underwear while McCray’s cleavage hangs over the bed sheets. Perhaps Delonas wants to signal that this is a depiction of the real de Blasio behind closed doors: a bitter perversion of his progressive platforms, stripped of his political prowess and authenticating access to minoritized positions. Even more suggestive is the spotlighting of de Blasio, rather than McCray, as the object of this queering moment. Not only has McCray rubbed off on him, but she is speaking for him in the edge of the light.

Figure 4. New York Post cartoon by Sean Delonas depicting Chirlane McCray and Bill de Blasio, 2012.
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Figure 4.

New York Post cartoon by Sean Delonas depicting Chirlane McCray and Bill de Blasio, 2012.

The cartoon ridicules de Blasio and McCray for both their interracial relationship and McCray’s queer sexuality as a way to undermine what might be initially refreshing to voters about the pair. As with most political cartoons, the striking nature of this image stems from its usage of widely circulated, immediately accessible stereotypes of social group–norms. Simultaneously playing on tropes of the sexually aggressive Black female Jezebel, the emasculating matriarch, and the sexually dominant queer top, de Blasio is emasculated [End Page 17] through the compounding deviancies of his wife’s blackness and queerness. Scholarly works on the overlapping treatment of interracial relationships and queer sexuality throughout American history instructs us on how powerful this pairing of stereotypes can be as a way to demarcate what may be considered normal and abnormal sexual conduct.51 In some ways it seems like McCray’s queerness (in the cartoon and beyond) reactivates narratives about the sexual nonnormativity of interracial sex and marriage, making it more difficult for representations of de Blasio’s mixed race family to read as normal. Similarly, in taking their sexual agency away and implying that McCray has been “won over” by her husband, the cartoon misrepresents the fluidity of sexual identity and strips the institution of heterosexual marriage of its trademark right to sexual privacy.

Despite the campaign’s strong response against the cartoon, attacks on McCray’s character by the press continued well into de Blasio’s mayoralty.52 When in a 2014 New York Magazine cover story McCray admitted to struggling with juggling motherhood and her desire to work, the New York Post ran the headline “NYC First Lady: I Was a Bad Mom” and implied that McCray’s daughter, Chiara, suffered from depression and substance abuse due to McCray’s early motherly neglect. The press often returned to this accusation whenever Chiara made headlines, making ties between McCray’s politics and the mental health of her children. At the funeral of slain police officer Wenjian Liu in 2015 in which the New York City police officers in attendance turned their backs to Mayor de Blasio in protest as he addressed the crowd, McCray also made headlines for her perceived disrespect of the police by reportedly wearing blue jeans to the funeral. Although the designer of the pants insisted that the material was a degradé blue trouser, the media called the incident “Jeansgate,” forcing City Hall to issue a statement on the fashion issue in a moment where the NYPD’s protest against de Blasio’s anti–police brutality stance signaled greater issues at hand.53 When in 2018 the New York Daily News implied that de Blasio and McCray’s office romance in the Dinkins administration should be considered sexual harassment (an opinion reiterated across multiple news outlets over the course of five years), McCray penned an essay titled “Don’t Rewrite My Office Romance into a #MeToo Moment.”54 In a political arena saturated by symbolic imagery, the press fell back on a well-trod history of sensationalizing Black women’s bodies and bodily autonomy to mock the transgressive presence the de Blasio administration had on New York politics. The media represented McCray’s body and maternal presence as the iconic surplus of de Blasio’s progressive politics—their romance unlikely, their partnership unnatural, images of McCray are perpetually overscrutinized.55 [End Page 18]

What does McCray’s representation by the de Blasio campaign and in the press tell us about what the mixed race family signifies in twenty-first-century American politics? The success of Obama’s and de Blasio’s third-wave electoral campaigns suggests that utilizing one’s proximity to mixed-race kinship can make a Black male candidate palatable and give a white male candidate a measure of authenticity. However, Black female politicians such as McCray—who do not have access to the privileges of masculinity, whiteness, or heterosexuality to fall back on—suffer disastrous consequences. Given that McCray’s profile portends a bid for political office herself, it seems far-fetched to imagine that the same emphasis on her mixed race family would work as a campaign strategy for her in the future, especially as her status as a Black mother and woman formerly politically affiliated with Black lesbian socialist feminists disrupts the tricky patriarchal balance needed to mobilize her own brand of “biracial cool.”56 To be sure, de Blasio’s transition from democratic socialist to belle of the New York liberal elite aligns with the political reception of Black-white interracial intimacies in the twentieth century, in that what was once considered illegal was eventually made to maintain heteronormative and nationalistic logics of the state.57 Yet, at the same time, the continued poor treatment of McCray despite her relative political power also aligns with this history, as Black mothers in the context of mixed race families have been treated as the “constitutive shadow” or foil of white motherhood, unable to access the “reverential light and humanizing lexicons of the maternal.”58 As the legacy of the Combahee River Collective’s statement becomes tied up in the perceived successes and failures of McCray’s entrance into the political elite, both McCray and de Blasio have been called to answer for how his administration failed to follow through on the identity politics with which he aligned himself. The ways in which the de Blasio family was deployed as a symbol to unite the “tale of two cities”—even as this same symbol was used to attack McCray—illustrates how social identities are staged in the staging of images and platforms alike, such that voters are urged to conflate progressive politics with embodied identities.


As time has revealed, the de Blasio family is not the saving grace of New York City’s structural inequalities. Neither is the de Blasio family’s representation indicative of a new age of political multiculturalism bolstered by the signifying labor of Black bodies. While nearly everyone recognized that the family and its depiction played a large political role, most existing commentary has been [End Page 19] narrow or reactionary in scope. Conversations about the importance of the de Blasio family to the view of Black feminisms, motherhood, mixed race families, and queer identities are stunted by conflating the family’s representation and lived social identities with changing winds in structural racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia in America.

As a result, voters and political strategists alike must be cautious in how they equate the de Blasio family’s personal identities with conversations on how to remedy structural oppression and promote inclusive public policy in New York City. De Blasio’s tenure in office has proved that representations of parental worry for Dante’s safety were not enough to fully change the policing of Black and brown bodies in New York. While instances of policing themselves have decreased by 98 percent since 2013, the statistics on who is being stopped remain exactly the same. Black and Latino populations still constitute 89 percent of those stopped, marking the continued utilization of racialized police tactics.59 Similarly, during the opening moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NYPD’s enforcement of social distancing orders encouraged the overpolicing of minority communities, as 90 percent of those arrested were Black or Latinx.60 Furthermore, while Chirlane McCray’s support of projects such as public education and mental health reform indicates a continued understanding of her role as first lady to be a steward of the people, McCray seems perpetually penalized by both the press and the city’s electorate for both withholding aspects of herself and for speaking too frankly about the state of inequality. Since the election, scholars have critiqued McCray for subsuming her queer identity under her progressive politics, arguing that her “silence” on matters of her own personal choices will only contribute to understandings of queer identity as a choice.61

Beyond representation by the media, the political implications of de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign set the stage for his failed presidential bid for the 2020 election, in which the emphasis on his family remained a central component of his platform. Given the presence of presidential candidates Cory Booker and (now vice president) Kamala Harris, both of whom identifying as Black and courting the Black vote, de Blasio’s third-wave adjacency was a less effective strategy for proving his authenticity at the national level. During the first Democratic presidential debate in June 2019, de Blasio noted that he was the only presidential candidate who knew what it meant to raise a Black son in America, a comment that the public responded to with more skepticism than compassion. Many within his New York City constituency felt disgruntled if not outright betrayed by his presidential bid, given New York’s public housing [End Page 20] crisis and the poor state of his relationship with the local press. As an “ideological man in a traditionally non-ideological job,” de Blasio conducted a mayoral campaign that made it difficult to measure the success of his platform promises beyond the representational sphere.62

Ultimately, one mixed race family was asked—by both sympathetic and at times hostile journalists, resistant and excited voters, and, instrumentally, the de Blasio campaign itself—to do a great deal of political cultural work. The reason to interrogate the significance of the de Blasio campaign is not to better define the specific subject-positions held within mixed race families and by individuals involved in interracial relationships. Rather, giving these representations weight within conversations of racial formations in the American context allows the structural inequities of our moment to become more legible. Part of this work extends into recognizing the limits of what the symbol of the family unit can stand for in politics, as well as the limits of the de Blasio family to reconstruct racial and sexual hierarchies.

Michelle May-Curry

Michelle May-Curry is a doctoral candidate in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan and project director of the Humanities for All initiative at the National Humanities Alliance. Her research focuses on twentieth- and twenty-first-century African American visual culture and representations of mixed race families in public and private spaces, charting how these images shift in relation to Black politics and culture.


My sincere appreciation to Evelyn Alsultany, Tiya Miles, and Mark Reinhardt for their critical feedback. I also want to thank the members of the Black Humanities Collective (now the Black Research Roundtable) at the University of Michigan for their comments and suggestions. Research for this essay was funded by a Creating Connections Consortium Mellon Mays summer research fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, the Rackham Merit Fellowship at the University of Michigan, and a visiting doctoral fellowship at Harvard University.

1. Kevin Noble Maillard, “Biracial Cool: Bill de Blasio’s Fresh Electoral Asset,” Atlantic, November 6, 2013,

2. Maureen O’Connor, “Why the De Blasio Family Matters: Meet the ‘Boring White Guy’ of the Future,” Cut, September 11, 2013,

3. A note on terms: this essay uses mixed race when speaking about Black-white individuals, families, or the field of mixed race studies. It uses multiracial when discussing the larger phenomenon of interracial relations, or ideologies surrounding the 1990s multiracial movement. I do this to streamline my usage of terms as well as to distance this discussion from the usage of biracial to describe people of more than one race, due to its ability to linguistically suggest race as binary or racial categories as finite.

4. Cathy J. Cohen, Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of Black Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 202, 207–13. See also the usage of third wave black politics in J. Phillip Thompson III, Double Trouble: Black Mayors, Black Communities, and the Call for a Deep Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 15; Theodore J. Davis Jr., Black Politics Today: The Era of Socioeconomic Transition (New York: Routledge, 2013).

5. Colby Hamilton, “Bill de Blasio’s Son Tells All about His Show-Stealing Afro,” DNAinfo, August 16, 2013, See also Ruth Ferla, “The Afro as a Natural Expression of Self,” New York Times, October 2, 2013,

6. Habiba Ibrahim, Troubling the Family: The Promise of Personhood and the Rise of Multiracialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 82.

7. Ibrahim, 89. For early mixed race studies texts and “novelty” of mixed race experience, see Joel Williamson, New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States (New York: Free Press, 1980); Maria P. P. Root, ed., The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders as the New Frontier (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1996); Naomi Zack, Race and Mixed Race (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993); Rebecca Chiyoko King and Kimberly McClain Dacosta, “Changing Face, Changing Race: The Re-making of Race in the Japanese American and African American Communities,” in Root, Multiracial Experience.

8. Ibrahim, Troubling the Family, 83–84.

9. I call Chirlane McCray a “queer Black woman” throughout this essay for several reasons. While McCray in 2013 insisted that she “hates labels” and often avoids putting a name to her sexuality, McCray has also spoken openly throughout her career about dating both men and women, and often makes reference to the fluidity of her sexuality. See Linda Villarosa, “Chirlane McCray: From Gay Trailblazer to Politician’s Wife,” Essence, May 9, 2013,

10. An average of August 7 polling data by the Huffington Post speculated the first date in which de Blasio surpassed Quinn, with de Blasio at 23.2 percent, and Quinn at 22.9 percent support. The difference was so small, though, that we can say the race was a statistical tie.

11. Clay Cane, “Diversity Politics: Did Bill de Blasio’s Biracial Son Change the NYC Mayoral Race?,” Huffington Post, August 22, 2013,

12. Maillard, “Biracial Cool.”

13. Maillard; Bruce Handy, “My Afro, Myself,” New York Times, October 8, 2013,; Ruth Ferla, “The Afro as a Natural Expression of Self,” New York Times, October 2, 2013,

14. Chris Smith, “In Conversation: Michael Bloomberg,” New York Magazine, September 7, 2013,

15. Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” New Formations, no. 3 (1987): 36.

16. Michael M. Grynbaum, “Many Black New Yorkers Are Seeing de Blasio’s Victory as Their Own,” New York Times, November 10, 2013,

17. Hamilton, “Bill de Blasio’s Son Tells All about His Show-Stealing Afro.”

18. Julian Brash, Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 17.

19. Julian Brash, “The Ghost in the Machine: The Neoliberal Urban Visions of Michael Bloomberg,” Journal of Cultural Geography 29.2 (2012): 143–44.

20. David Chen, “De Blasio, Announcing Mayoral Bid, Pledges to Help People City Hall Forgot,” New York Times, January 27, 2013,

21. Grynbaum, “Many Black New Yorkers Are Seeing de Blasio’s Victory as Their Own.”

22. Grynbaum.

23. Javier C. Hernandez, “A Mayoral Hopeful Now, de Blasio Was Once a Young Leftist,” New York Times, September 22, 2013,

24. Cohen, Democracy Remixed, 209.

25. Ethan Porter and Thomas J. Wood, “Race, Interracial Families, and Political Advertising in the Obama Era: Experimental Evidence,” Political Communication 33.3 (2016): 484, 495.

26. Chris Smith, “The 99% Mayor,” New York Magazine, November 4, 2013,

27. Smith.

28. O’Connor, “Why the De Blasio Family Matters.”

29. “Scenes from the de Blasio-McCray Wedding,” New York Times, October 2, 2013,

30. Grynbaum, “Many Black New Yorkers Are Seeing de Blasio’s Victory as Their Own.”

31. We might also consider this position a return to an understanding of black identity articulated by the “race men” and women of the early twentieth century who came from racially mixed ancestry such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter White, E. Franklin Frazier, and Caroline Bond Day.

32. Michele Elam, “2010 Census: Think Twice, Check Once,” Huffington Post, April 8, 2010,

33. Abby Jackson, “Mayor de Blasio’s Son Is among Protesters at Yale and Wants to Wipe a Racist’s Name from Campus,” Business Insider, November 24, 2015,

34. CBS, “Obama: If I Had a Son He’d Look like Trayvon,” YouTube, March 23, 2012,

35. Respondents were read the “if I had a son” line and then immediately asked several questions. In response to the “approve” question, 13 percent of whites and 15 percent of Blacks were unsure (Mark Reinhardt, “Stuff White People Know (or: What We Talk about When We Talk about Trayvon),” Theory & Event 15.3 [2012]: note 40,

36. Reinhardt, “Stuff White People Know.”

37. Arun Venugopal, “It’s Official: De Blasio for Mayor,” WNYC News, January 27, 2013,

38. Images of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother (and later images of Lezley McSpadden, Gwen Carr, and Geneva Reed-Veal), mourning her son’s death find a mirror in the iconic images of Mamie Till Mobley alongside Emmett Till’s casket, photographs that would go on to define the civil rights movement.

39. Kim M. Williams, Mark One or More: Civil Rights in Multiracial America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008).

40. For linkages between second-wave white feminist discourse and 1990s multiracial politics see Ibrahim, Troubling the Family, ix.

41. Kimberly Springer, Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968–1980 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005); Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, ed., How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017).

42. Andrew Marantz, “Significant Other,” New Yorker, August 5, 2013,

43. Chirlane McCray, “I Am a Lesbian,” Essence Magazine, September 1979, 91.

44. Jeffery J. Ivanonne, “Barbara Smith: Mother of Black Feminism, Revolutionary Publisher,” Medium, June 25, 2018,

45. Combahee River Collective, The Combahee River Collective Statement: Black Feminist Organizing in the Seventies and Eighties (New York: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, 1986).

46. Vanessa Williams, “Before There Was ‘Intersectional Feminism,’ There Was the Combahee River Collective,” Washington Post, March 1, 2018,

47. Jeffery C. Mays, “One in Five Mothers Gets Postpartum Depression. New York City Plans to Help,” New York Times, February 5, 2020,

48. Miller, “Chirlane McCray’s City.”

49. Miller.

50. “Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: What We Can Learn from the Black Feminists of the Combahee River Collective,” Democracy Now, January 22, 2018,; see also Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016).

51. Roderick A. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004); Robyn Wiegman, “Intimate Publics: Race, Property, and Personhood,” American Literature 74.4 (2002): 859–85; Siobhan B. Somerville, “Queer Loving,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 11.3 (2005): 335–70,; Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press), 2009; Chandan Reddy, “Time for Rights? Loving, Gay Marriage, and the Limits of Legal Justice,” Fordham Law Review 76.6 (2007): 2849–72.

52. “Bill de Blasio to New York Post: ‘Leave My Wife Alone,’” Capital New York, December 10, 2012,

53. Vanessa Friedman, “The Fury over Chirlane McCray’s Trousers,” New York Times, January 9, 2015,

54. For articles in the media on the de Blasio office romance, see Shane Coldmacher, “In New York an Influential First Lady Redefines the Position,” New York Times, October 20, 2017,; Michael Barbaro, “Once Alienated, and Now a Force in Her Husband’s Bid for Mayor,” New York Times, October 1, 2013,

55. Nicole Fleetwood underscores how iconic representations of blackness have been centered on masculinity, positioning Black women as overdetermined by the shocking “excess” of their bodies (Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011], 5).

56. Miller, “Chirlane McCray’s City.”

57. Ibrahim, Troubling the Family; Kevin Noble Maillard, “The Multiracial Epiphany of Loving,” Fordham Law Review 76 (2007): 2709–33; Reddy, “Time for Rights?”

58. Ibrahim, Troubling the Family, 88–89. For “constitutive shadow,” see Ruby C. Tapia, “Race, Class, and the Photopolitics of Maternal RE-vision in Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosers,” Feminist Studies 36.2 (2010): 386.

59. New York Civil Liberties Union, “Annual Stop and Frisk Data,” accessed November 2019,

60. David Freedlander, “Everybody Hates Bill,” New York Magazine, June 22, 2020,

61. Sheena C. Howard, “Identity as a Rite of Passage: The Case of Chirlane McCray,” in Black Women and Popular Culture: The Conversation Continues (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 293.

62. Matt Flegenheimer, “How Bill de Blasio Went from Progressive Hope to Punching Bag,” New York Times, August 6, 2019,

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