The Root Interview: Michael Fosberg on Being the Incog-Negro

Greg Thomas, The Root, February 3, 2011

Michael Fosberg was 30 when he found out that his long-lost biological father was black. His life, he says, is so much richer for that discovery–which is the subject of a one-man play, Incognito, and now a memoir by the same name.

Michael Fosberg is a professional actor who was raised by his biological mother and adoptive father in a working-class white family. At the age of 30, upon hearing the news of his parents’ divorce, Fosberg began a search for his long-lost biological father.

Two years later, armed with just a name (John Woods) and a city (Detroit), he tracked down his dad and spoke to him, for the very first time, by phone. His father said that there were a few things Fosberg’s mother hadn’t told him. First, that he’s always loved his son and thought about him. And two: “I’m African American.”

After Fosberg–who, like his father, can pass for white–got over the initial shock, his dad told him about his black side: a grandfather who was chairman of the science-and-engineering department at Norfolk State University; a great-granddad who was an all-star pitcher for the Negro Leagues; a great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War as a member of the 54th regiment of the “colored infantry”; and the many family members still living, most of whom are thriving despite the obstacles in 21st-century America.

{snip}

TR: How has your life changed since you discovered that your dad is black?

MF: My life is so much fuller than I ever imagined. Having this culturally rich family come into focus for me, and being able to embrace them, and them to embrace me–I can’t even tell you the love that we’ve shared. But now I also get to share the story, and to affect people in a way that I never dreamed possible.

TR: What was it like learning the illustrious history and heritage of the black side of your family?

MF: Finding out that what I had sort of felt my whole life–that I was indeed part black but couldn’t explain–and then to discover that I have this rich history? Wow. It was amazing, overwhelming.

TR: How do you now identify yourself on the census?

MF: Well, I’m biracial, multiracial. Although I’m not that happy about the whole definition there, I’m going to check the “Black, African Am or Negro” box. The “White” box doesn’t say anything about my identity on the other side of my family–Armenian–[so] I can’t go there. I also check the [“Some other race”] box and then write in, “Armenian.” That’s what I did in the 2010 census.

{snip}

TR: What do you think of “color-blind” and “post-racial”?

MF: We don’t want to promote color blindness. We want to recognize and understand what’s in front of us. The same denial exists when they think we’re in some post-racial environment. You remember? Right after we elected Barack, some thought that since we’ve elected a black man, everything’s OK. As if that would solve all of our problems.

{snip}

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