Tuesday, June 3, 2014
It is one thing to write theories but I am still always amazed when I experience those possibilites in real life. I had an online conversation today with a member of our facebook group where she suggested that she felt guilty invoking a mixed race identity because she had been raised to identify mono-racially. But, she shared, that she really related to much of what she had read on my blog. I have problematized the catagorization of socio-racial identity as it often misrepresents lived and intimate realities. What I haven't spent time thinking about, although I encountered those who acknowledge a mixed race genealogy while invoking a mono-racial identity, is the emotional connection to the socio-racial identity that one acquires through their intimate realities. Many mixed race writers weave the dissonance between genealogical reality and intimate reality in their writing but it wasn't until this conversation that I really thought about an emotional connection. My own experience has been one of searching and now I am thinking about the experience of having a reflection of something that shakes you causing guilt or shame. Perhaps it is a sense of betraying who your intimate others said you were. I also wonder if intimate reality also has a way of nullifying or negating the fluidity of identity. I have spent a lot of time, and much of the scholarship I have been steeping in during the dissertation supported, issues of self-naming and representation. I am hard pressed to identify discourse that talked about the emotional connection to one's socio-racial identity. There is plenty of evidence that socio-racial, cultural, and ethnic identity elicits emotional responses - anger, hatred, voilence, etc. - but what about loving, longing, guilt and shame. I am so excited about this facebook group (see yesterday's post) and the conversations that it is already generating. Join us! This is going to be a great summer. More soon...
Monday, June 2, 2014
Please spread the word and join our facebook group Examining Mixed Race in Higher Education!!! Let's join the Critical Mixed Race conversation!
I did it. I defended my dissertation and was granted my PhD (no revisions, fyi). I wanted to share my opening statement as it really sums up the journey that has led me to being a Mixed Race PhD. Please keep reading, responding, and commenting! Thank you for your support over the last few years. I am excited about the next steps which include a book project "Examining Mixed Race" and then my book that comes from my dissertation. I think I am going to sleep for a month... but I will be back! More soon... "I remember my first time trying on a mixed race identity. I was around 9. I remember thinking I am bi-racial… I am not black, or white, or Indian…. I am all of those things. This early assertion of my right to self-naming was the commencement of a life long journey, sometimes battle, to find a space where: I was allowed to self-name; where it was assumed that I knew who and what I was; where people respected my version of me and later that of my family and children; where my assertion of an identity outside of the binary racial construction was not reframed as confused or avoidant; where my identity as a mixed race person was not read as adversarial to or in opposition to other socio-racial identities; and where I could find a place to be who I truly was – as my 9 year old self said, all of those things. Mixed race has been a piece of my socio-racial self-understanding and disciplinary motivation. As soon as I stepped in to my undergraduate human development program, I understood that there was a gap in how we did, understood, taught, and engaged race. The oppositional and binary framing of race is one that we had already problematized in critical race theories yet we backed away from or circumvented conversations that support that problematization when that support came from mixed race identities and lived experiences. One of my first understandings of this gap in the critical race discourse where mixed race occurs, was that it was due in large part to the way that African Americans are hegemonic to the race conversation. That western theory frames “the African American” experience as the “authentic black experience” has created a tension between that experience and the parallel experience of black American mixed race. This tension seems to silence all mixed race identities in an effort to authenticate the black African American experience. With this as a basis for examination, I started to appreciate that the failings of the binary racial construct were much farther reaching than just those of us who were both black and white. In a lot of ways critical race theory was feeding the failings of the binary racial construct and I had a sense that this was where my own struggle to gain the right to self-name was coming from. I wanted to tease out the critical mixed race theory that I knew had to exist in the gaps and shadows of critical race theory. When I first began articulating mixed race as an identity for myself and others, the push back came from African-American academics. I had professors, classmates, and conference participants suggest that I simply didn’t want to be black. At this point I started to understand non-binary identities as diasporic identities and this was the first iteration of my graduate school work. I spent a good deal of time thinking about mixed race identity as a diasporic identity but was still not satisfied with this framing, it was still missing something. During this time I started to encounter millennials in the classroom and realized that they were not articulating a sense of alienation like I was. The students in my classrooms, while still having some similar experiences to my mixed race journey, were expressing a totally different sense of their socio-racial location. More, they were locating their mixed race genealogies and identities as “a given”, a matter of fact. For some this made their mixed race identity inarguable; it was something they did not feel they needed to argue for or explain to others. For others, they felt that their multi-raciality transcended a need to identify with any one thing at all. But it was through this population that I came to my major assertion, that mixed race identity was a product of intimate reality. What I recognized in my conversations with millenials, including my children and their friends, was that their access to self-naming and mixed race identity came directly from those who loved them, their intimate others. Student after student asked me the same question: “If that is my mother, and that is my father (parents of different races), then what else could I be but mixed race”. Additionally, and this might not be as prominent in the dissertation, I came to appreciate that race and mixed race identities and self-naming were not always tied to blood/genealogical relations. In 2006 I put out a call for participants which requested self-identified families of mixed race. It was the first time that I realized that my thinking and work were tied to the binary racial construction. I really expected black/white and maybe black/asian mixed race people to respond. The people who actually responded validated my emerging thinking about intimate realities. It really was in the families that were not genealogically related that intimate realities seemed most apparent. Transracial adoptees, step parents, and other familial compositions who identified as mixed race families because of one member who was a different race, and not usually mixed race, caused me to rethink my focus for the dissertation. The stories of transcendent thinking and behaviors through the love of another who is a different race made mixed race identity something that held hope and direction. I am not saying that mixed race identity, as it is still predicated on race and probably binary racial construct, is the answer to racial tension but it does point towards the power of intimate reality in at least connecting race if not bridging it. I think the power of self-naming also speaks to the power of intimate reality as it takes a familial consensus to shift, reframe, and rename a shared socio-racial identity and that is also an intimate behavior as that shift is seemingly predicated on wanting to include an identity because of intimate relation. The other factor that really drove my examining mixed race identity theories was, especially in 2006, that there weren’t many theorists doing this work. In the last two years, I have come to realize that even those doing critical mixed race theory were still not doing the work of connecting identity to intimate reality. I understood in an organic and deeply intuitive way that critical race and critical mixed race theorists were not talking about me or my family, or that of my students, in any way. As a theorist I try not to assume sameness so I was really startled when so many of the people I talked to over the last six years had such similar stories around self-naming, authenticity, and the intimate realities that shaped their socio-racial identities and experiences. In my work I have tried my best to represent those similarities which are notable, in particular, because they occurred across what we understand to be racial categories. Asian, South Asian, Black, African, Latino, whatever composition of race you can think about, people were telling me that they were experiencing the same things. Not only were they suggesting they were experiencing the same things, they were suggesting that these experiences, including those of intimate reality, were what was shaping their socio-racial identities. Within rich ethnographies, I was also able to see how aware the people I spoke with were about how they were forced to identify in ways that were not true to their intimate realities. In Chapter III I offer: If a person wakes up every morning and her mother is White and her father is Black, how does she locate her socio-racial identity? The preceding chapters have problematized the location and function of socio-racial identity through examinations of authenticity, self-naming, re-designation, and membership. These examinations have included a sense of intimate realities as a central characteristic of the mixed race socio-racial identity. Intimate realities move in and out of the ways one navigates authenticity, self-naming, re-designation, and membership. Much of how we figure out where and to whom we belong is through our intimate realities, which is a reflection of what has been shared with me and what occurs in my own auto-ethnography. My foundational premises have always been this and why the intimate reality reflected here hasn’t been reflected in theories about socio-racial identity, especially mixed race identities. The suppression and oppression of mixed race identities and their intimate realities is a harm that needs to be corrected. My work serves to start offering the evidence that has been demanded from me every time I raise this issue in the academy. The ethnographies shared in this work offer the evidence of unique lived experiences, the relevance of intimate realities, the power of naming, and the organization of communities of people who identify as mixed race. The suppression of mixed race identity becomes clearer when you spend time with narratives of survival, like that of African American Slaves and Vietnamese orphans, where there is regular mention of mixing of races and the emergence of new identities and demands for self-naming. I wish to close by sharing with you that my experience with the refusal and denial of access to a socio-racial identity that reflects my intimate realities has been painful and at times violent. It always seems a simplification, but not being allowed to identify as my Irish daughter’s mother or my dying father’s heir solely for the purpose of fitting my lived experience into a narrow space that we call race, is an injustice. I, and people like me, deserve to be able to shape and express identities that represent our genealogical and intimate journeys without editing. Mixed race identities create a space where the narrative is written by the subject and not the observer and where that subject is believed to be the expert on their own lived and intimate realities.
Monday, March 31, 2014
As I turn in my dissertation to the committee this week, I have been reflecting on the last six years. The reflections of mixed race are all around me, vivid, alive, shifting and changing. At the end of the dissertation I am not able to say whether mixed race is ever going to really be a stand-alone category of race. I am not even sure if that is my recommendation over all. I cannot predict whether the socio-racial construct will be deconstructed or re-worked. What I can say is that mixed race identity is, at its core, a deep expression of the intimate realities of the people who have shared their narratives of family, love, loss, and the impact of socio-racial location. Regardless of how many times one is told that mixed race isn't a "thing"... or "you are just black get over it"... or asks, "what about the children", there still remains the singular guiding question I started with six years ago, "If a person has a parent who is Black and a parent who is Asian, and is intimately connected to both parents, what is their socio-racial location." I have learned that across a genealogical continuum, mixed race families never let go of their mixed raceness no matter what they are legislated to identify as. The narratives of intimate reality and lived experience are truly stronger than the one-drop rule. I hope to publish my dissertation so that it can be added to the emerging critical mixed race community. I am excited, as a critical mixed race theorist, and as a mixie, that we have a journal now dedicated to critical mixed race theory and thinking. I am honored to be in the company of theorists who are no longer willing to allow mixed race genealogies, histories, and intimate realties to be suppressed or erased from the halls of academe. This emerging community of scholars follows a strong and impactful community of advocates and I hope that those two groups speak to each other in a way that the scholarly and the lived experiences are equally valued and made visible. In the end, I am exhausted. I am nervous having shared my work with my committee and still having the shadow of rejection, for my mixed raceness and for my mixed race scholarship, hanging over my head. I am excited that this is the doorway through which I will step and contribute to the greater race discourse in the near future. I am thankful to all those who shared their stories with me, gave me feedback, read and commented on this blog, and kept the voices of the mixed race intimate realities alive in my head every day. I am most grateful for my patient children, my mixed race babies, who have made space in my mothering world to do this work. I deeply appreciate them every day, and it was for them, a matter of their survival, that this work began. I wanted a space, socially, physically, and metaphorically, for them to be who they are... my children and their father's... black/brown/white/Irish... all of these things and not have to dissect or bisect their intimate realities to be something they will never be... singular... stagnant... mono... invisible... undone. More soon...
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Emma Brockes closes her review of The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success with the following paragraph: It also reaffirms something we intuitively know – that origin stories matter, and that, despite the vast influence of external factors, the story you are permitted to tell about yourself has a lot to do with how that story unfolds. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/05/the-triple-package-what-really-determines-success-book-review While the article itself is a book review, what Brockes offers in her closing is impactful and resonates with my consideration of my critical mixed race identity work. Origin stories... what a beautiful framing of the articulation of intimate reality. Who and how we know ourselves to be come from the stories we have been told, and then retell, our whole lives. Often I am asked if I have ever, will ever, look for my "biological family". My answer is always no. I have no desire to shatter my understanding of who I am. There has been a very long journey to this place, many stories that frame my self-understanding and actualization, and I have no intention of disrupting it beyond what life will already do. I am not stagnant, I simply value the process by which I arrived at who I am today and who I might be tomorrow. I am one of those people who, while believing in the powers of foresight, intuition, and regression, will never ask to see anything beyond what I can experience in this body/space/time. For me, understanding and valuing the journey, intimate realities, and our origin stories are as important as the scientific and philosophic archeological experiment. I have no desire to dig. I also think that Brockes identifies a very important, if not privileged, piece of the role of origin stories and the stories we tell about ourselves. Brockes talks about permission, and for me, that is where mixed race people lose connection with our genealogical selves. We have not been permitted to tell the story of our racial/ethnic/cultural multiplicitous richness. We have been forbidden to tell our stories of two-ness or three-ness. We have been restricted from telling the stories of our white mothers, black fathers, Asian grandmothers, and indigenous sisters. Those stories have been suppressed to keep us from rightful inheritance, to pin us down in one immoveable social-racial location. Those stories have been suppressed to maintain our ability to be oppressed. We must disrupt this practice, of editing other people's origin stories - especially those of our children. The other day in class one of my students was sharing that she and her cousins refer to themselves as "half-ricans". I bristled. I have spent so much time on linguistics and the power of naming that for a moment I forgot myself. I wanted to offer more "preferable" naming options. But then I thought of Brockes’ words and realized that this student had the right to name herself whatever was reflective of her intimate reality. For her "half-ricans" was akin to comfort food; it is how she and her cousins recognized each other as family. What I realized later was, had I corrected her (as I am often want to do), I would have been in effect denying her permission to tell her story of herself and thus altered her identity journey and potentially that of her cousins. That is a lot of power I simply don't want. Lesson learned. Carving out space for origin stories is my next project. What I anticipate is that these stories will bounce off of each other, contradict, and potentially offend. What I think the gift in creating this space might be is a better understanding of the ways folks comes to understand themselves and potentially each other through the telling and re-telling of origin stories. Thank you Emma Brockes. ...more soon
Saturday, January 4, 2014
I was searching for inspiration that would cause me to blog daily. Who knew it would be Twitter. As we know Melissa Harris-Perry made the unexamined choice to ridicule the grandson of Governor Romney. The child, an infant, is a transracial adoptee. So he was pretty much ridiculed for being black and adopted. During an exchange that lasted only a few minutes, Harris-Perry and guests not only point out the child's adoption (who does that?) but sing the Sesame Street Song "one of these things is not like the other". I am immediately triggered. When I was a little girl there were two things that the children used to sing at me that brought me to tears. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and "One of these things". To have this blast from my childhood on a national stage surprised and alarmed me. In these instances of injustice I always wrongly assume that other people are going to immediately understand the issue from my perspective and stand in solidarity with me. I am almost always wrong. I rush to Twitter. My newly found "black feminist" community must be on fire with this. I am excited to engage. I am in need of validation as a transracial adoptee. I need to know that other people are going to hold Harris-Perry accountable for her unexamined bias against transracial adoptees. I KNOW that I will finally, after 39 years, be vindicated by the masses. Nah. The "black feminist" community is indeed on fire and, it would seem, they have missed the point. #IStandWithMHP is trending. The general sentiment of #IStandWithMHP is, as I understand it, that the "right-wingers" have called for Harris-Perry to be fired. This call for firing is understood as the right wing attempt to "get back at us" for all the times we have called for Palin, Limbaugh et.al to be fired for their racist comments and commentaries. Ok. I get it. What plays out, however, is a "he did it first" piss shoving contest that really does nothing to resolve the issue. Harris-Perry apologized to the Romney family AND PEOPLE ARE PISSED. I cannot even begin to process why modeling good behavior around this is a bad thing. What I am upset about is that Harris-Perry doesn't seem to be apologizing for the damage that is done to black transracial adoptees that have been part of her loyal fan base. Ok. You were insensitive and made fun of the Romney’s because you think that behavior is acceptable. In this unfortunate, immature, ridiculous political climate... it seems to be. What about all of the transracial adoptees, real people, real children and adults, who have had their worth as family members disrespected, devalued, and ridiculed on national TV by one of our black role models. REALLY? No one besides me sees a problem with this? Transracial adoptees are people too. We are complex, multicultural, multiracial, wildly intersectional people who (for those that it applies to) experience the world as raced and othered in relationship to the dominate population as well as those in non-dominate positions. We are on an island ... we are a diasporic people inside a diasporic people... and we often feel like the "thing that doesn't belong". It makes me think of the journey of Baynard Rustin who was closeted and silenced in order to be a part of the black civil rights movement. In his memoirs he shares how he was told not to "distract" people from the "bigger picture" with his call for gay rights. #IStandWithMHP does a similar thing. Those of us who see what Harris-Perry did as biased and hateful are expected to be silent and fight to keep her from being fired. The bigger cause here is keeping a black female anchor on the air not that this anchor has clear unexamined biases against transracial adoptees that manifested ON AIR. So yes, I get that people like Palin and Limbaugh suck. Does that mean that other people get to suck too? This defense strategy is reminiscent of the racist apologies we are used to. The "well they use that word" and "they call each other that" type of response to clearly racist behavior. Often, we do not recognize harmful actions when they are carried out by people in our own skin. One person, only one person, responded to my tweets today. For her I am grateful. She talked about really understanding the harm that was done to transracial adoptees. She also pointed out Harris-Perry's mixed race intimate reality (she believes Harris-Perry to have a white parent). This is the perfect reminder that, in reality, we are all products of the same racist system and we can and do reproduce racist harms. Period. Well, here I am. I am trapped between two worlds and struggling through. But at least I am writing #thanksforthat ...more soon
Friday, January 3, 2014
Happy New Year. 2014 promises to be a busy year. Twitter is alive with race discourse. My dissertation gets defended. I continue to work on how to help people see their own socio-racial location as well as how that location might intersect with others. I think my big goal, broadly, is to really work on helping people understand their impact. I was part of a pretty aggressive and highly contested twitter trend #WhatIsBlackPrivilege which led to other trends like #solidarityisforwhitewomen and #reclaimintersectionalityin2014. I am excited to suggest that social media is the new frontier for race discourse. I am disappointed to report that mixed race is not a part of that discourse in a real and substantive way. Again. During the #WhatIsBlackPrivilege trend, black folks started to share with the world what they experience as black folks in the US. The trend was in direct response to far right-wingers who claim that black people are the benefactors of black privilege. Black folks felt strongly that this was a misrepresentation of their actual lived experiences. As all good black discourse is want to do, in short order, folks started to call out each other on skin tone and hair texture. And of course, "people who can't come to terms with being black", followed closely behind. Are there people who cannot cope with being black? I am certain there are. If you follow the #WhatIsBlackPrivilege trend you could come up with some truly traumatic reasons why being black is really hard. But this is a symptom of race and racism. Mixed race is not a symptom of race, it is an intimate reality. In 2014 children born to interracial couples will have access to up to three generations of familial experience. Those experiences will be diverse and representative of at least two different racialized realities. Those children will be loved by those familial relations as family, children, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, and not as confused symptoms of racism. To say that a child whose mother is black and father is white is something other than mixed race is to perpetuate the worst of inheritances of slavery and Jim Crow. The mixed race community must call out these instances of ugly accusation and misrepresentation from all communities. We are not confused. We are owning our intimate others and our intimate realities. Does claiming mixed race keep me from understanding and experiencing the world as black? Nope. It does, however, recognize me as the daughter of my black Apache mother and my white father. It also allows me to be the mother of my mixed race Irish daughter rather than her babysitter. It has nothing to do with not wanting to black. It has everything to do with being a piece of this biracial family and the multiracial landscape that is my intimate life. #WhatIsBlackPrivilege? Deciding who is black? Deciding what is black? Deciding who is black enough? It is time for mixed race people and families to stand up and let folks know that #mixedraceisathing Happy New Year... more soon