quote Brother from another mother – by the wonderful Zadie Smith


Caught my attention as Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are biracial (sons of a white mother and black father) and they tell their story of how they felt they do not fit their environment.

While race can appear abstract to Key and Peele[…]; it is the determining fact of their lives.

Peele, reared in a one-bedroom walkup by a white “bookish” mother […], barely knew his black father. (He was mostly absent and died in 1999.). […] But if Peele wasn’t lonely, exactly—“There was a precedent for biracial latchkey kids”—and always, he says, felt loved, other people’s reactions complicated things. “I went to school, and the first kid goes, ‘Your mom’s white?’ ” he said. He had to quickly adapt to “what other people were used to and what other people were taught, and we were asked to identify what I was or whose side I was on: was I one or the other?”

Key and Peele’s somewhat unusual insistence on their biracialism is motivated in part by a refusal to obscure white mothers to whom they were very close. For Peele’s mother, Lucinda Williams, who still lives in that walkup on the Upper West Side, the situation was made easier by living in Manhattan. “Having parents with different ethnic identities was not a particularly unusual situation here, nor was being raised by a single parent,” she told me. Peele, Williams says, was “obviously my joy,” but she had her share of dealing with other people’s incredulity, especially as a pale, blue-eyed blonde. Strangers, she said, tended to “assume he was adopted or I was watching someone else’s child. When he was still in a stroller, I would see people’s faces freeze and then look away upon leaning in to admire the baby. You could almost see a ‘Does Not Compute’ sign light up in their eyes.”


Key is the child of an affair between a white woman and her married black co-worker, and was adopted at birth by another mixed-raced couple, two social workers, Patricia Walsh, who is white, and Michael Key, who hailed from Salt Lake City, “with the other twelve black people.” The couple raised Key but divorced while he was an adolescent. Key’s father then married his stepmother, Margaret McQuillan-Key, a white woman from Northern Ireland. Key’s familial situation was often in flux: after his own adoption came a sibling; then his parents’ divorce and his father’s remarriage. […] While visiting family in Northern Ireland, he watched some TV coverage of Brixton and had a minor racial epiphany: “Holy shit, those are black people!” He loved the Olympic sprinter Linford Christie, amazed to hear such an unfamiliar voice emerging from so familiar a face. “My brain started to make that adjustment almost immediately, at eighteen years of age. My brain said, ‘Oh, I get it. It’s all cultural. None of it’s about melanin.’ ” Seven years later, he had a profoundly affecting reunion with his biological mother, Carrie Herr, which brought with it more siblings (“I literally went to bed one day with one sibling and woke up the next morning with seven”), and a sudden acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal savior, an event that he has described as “pretty unexpected.” But adapting to unexpected emotional contingencies is what Key does best.


Peele, when asked about how race is dealt with on the show, said, “Really, there’s no actual strategy, and there’s no perspective that would be easy to . . . to state. Much like race in this country. It’s so nuanced. It’s so complicated. It’s so deep-seated, and, at the same time, it’s evolving, and then it feels like it devolves. And it’s this nebulous thing.”