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The ink is black, the page is white

Angela Nissel is on a mission to bring together all the multiracial people of the world. Like Colin Powell, Halle Berry and David Hasselhoff. What? You didn't know the Knight Rider was mixed? Come on, look at that curly hair. And I hear KITT was actually half Cray and one-quarter Yugo. What'd you say? Are you calling Angie's mom a liar? Better be careful, because you know she was a Black Panther, right? And Angela tries (and often fails) to follow Fat Pam's Real Black Person Rules -- as codified by Nissel's pot-smoking babysitter -- which clearly state that "Real Black People know how to fight." (Also they must "accessorize with gold jewelry" and "know at least one break-dancing move.")

Mixed: My Life in Black and White is a memoir of Nissel's multiracial misadventures as she struggles to figure out who she is and where she belongs in an America divided between black and white. A writer and consulting producer on Scrubs -- the wacky hospital comedy with a heart -- Nissel brings a similar blend of silly and sincere to her life as the daughter of a black mother and white father. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Nissel switched schools and neighborhoods as often as an Army brat, never quite fitting in no matter where she landed: too white for some, too black for others, too militant, too assimilated, never the right religion.

In her quest to find a community in which she could at last truly feel at home, Nissel styles herself as rapper "Big Red" during the late-1980s heyday for light-skinned women. She suffers a cruel twist on the typical "driving while black" rite of passage. And while committed to a psychiatric ward, she is diagnosed with "preoccupation with issues of race" for pointing out that the Thematic Apperception Test they administered had pictures of nothing but white people.

The prepackaged identities society imposes for race, religion and so on are likely ill-fitting for everyone; none of us get a tailored fit from the stereotypes of our ancestry or geography. But as a place to begin, they can be a comfort, a place of safety from which to venture out (inward) to who we really are. Nissel was forced to start the long wander much younger than most. It's a hard fate, but it makes for an entertaining and enlightening story.

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