Monday, March 31, 2014

Reflections of Mixed Race and the Possibility for a Critical Mixed Race Community

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

The Role of Stories in Social Racial Identity

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

#IStandWithMHP "One of these things is not like the other"

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

#mixedraceisathing

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cheerios ARE really good for the heart

When I think about all of the examples of mixed race identity and interracial families that my daughter has to follow, I get excited. One of the biggest challenges to mixed race identity has consistently been that it doesn’t “mean” anything; that there is no history or community that connects mixed race people. In spring 2013 General Mills aired a Cheerios commercial featuring a mixed race child, an aesthetically white mother, and a black father. While the commercial attracted a good deal of racist back lash, it received even more abundant celebration. The majority of the celebration came from mixed race people and families. For myself and other mixed race scholars, we breathed a sigh of relief, because finally we had proof of the mixed race community we knew existed. Mixed race families and people came out by the tens of thousands to finally be counted as a community. An online project “We are the 15% ” featured a “crowd-sourced collection of portraits of American interracial families and marriages inspired by a Cheerios ad” had mixed race families self-identifying as part of the mixed race community. This project, and other conversations and reactions to the Cheerios back lash, created a space for the United States to visualize what mixed race was and who considered themselves mixed race. Many believed this moment would come out of the 2000 Census when multi-racial individuals would be counted as such. Instead, it was many of the hateful comments about the abnormality of mixed race people and the infrequency of mixed race marriages that caused mixed race people stand up to be visually counted. If you haven't seen this amazing project please check it out and participate. The creators of the website say the follwing about the site: "The title of this project refers to the statistic that 14.6% of new marriages in America are interracial, according to the 2008 Census. This site was created by Michael David Murphy and Alyson West, an interracial family in Atlanta, GA The site can be found at http://wearethe15percent.com/ ... the pictures will make you dance, laugh, and sing... more soon...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Issues of Racial Authenticity: Authentically Mixed Race

It is in the authenticity moment that ideas, pieces, and shapes that co-mediate identity are examined and either integrated into the identity or cast away. Significant exploratory moments that represent the “that is me” or “that is what other people say ‘is’ me” and the “that is definitely not me” are preserved in the identity journey in a way that might not be evident in the current shape of the identity itself. But it is within those nuances that each individual identity, even if the identity ends up sharing a categorical title in the end, has a unique idea of what that categorical title means and a specific sense of who shares that title with them. It is in the authenticity moment that the concepts and frameworks through which an identity comes to recognize and know itself take shape and thus membership can then be determined. It is out of this authenticity moment that the identity begins to try on names and memberships and assert its unique existence against the identities around it. When issues of authentication problematize the stability of the identity, those reflective moments can become murky and in the best possible case the identity becomes fluid. Often and more frequently than fluidity, the inability to authenticate results in an identity being reorganized into a mono-racial identity or a performance of the desired mono-racial category or categories. These reorganizations and performances tend to not fit as the individual or familial experiences are not mono-racial ones. This can lead then to a new challenge to the membership and authentication of the individual or familial location in the reorganized or performed identity and so on. It is a particularly circular experience that seems to renew itself without the individual or family doing anything. One of my most vivid memories was coming home one day in a state of mind that was cloudy, at best, around my socio-racial identity and what socio-racial performance was expected from me. On this particular day I was trying to “be black”. I had chosen the grossest stereotype of blackness to perform as that was all that was available to me at the time through the media. My mother was in the laundry room doing our laundry when I walked in. I dropped a “How ya doin’ honky” on her. When I regained consciousness, I had mysteriously ended up on the floor, she helped me examine and understand that who I truly was made me no more or less black. My mother was famous for saying “you’re just Noelle”. I now understand that to mean, you are different than your black and white peers and you need to find your own ground. Even as I write this, I have never figured out how to pass that authenticity challenge. I can remember each of my children after experiences of failed authentication performing mono-racial affects. One of my young mixed race sons would suddenly come home one day with affective characteristics of blackness or whiteness. My youngest son came home with a “grill” he had fashioned from a gum wrapper one day with his pants sagging. I was middle class horrified by this demonstration because I felt like my mixed race child, raised in a white middle class community, was making fun of black people and black culture. What I later realized was that he was imitating what he understood as blackness because he was regularly being racially reorganized by others. When we later talked about it, my son told me that the other students were telling him he was white and he knew he was not white so he wanted to “act blacker”. Because my son had been raised in a mixed race family in a white middle class community, like my earlier attempts he too only had TV to guide his performance of blackness. I asked him why he didn’t just act like me, his African American parent, and he said “because you’re not black, you are mixed race at best”. All of my children eventually settled on a mixed race identity; each one faster than the one before them. My daughter, now 12, never went through the performance stage despite her experiences with authenticity challenges. I have not talked to her about it but my guess is that she has role models in our family, community, and social media to guide her through a variety of possibilities around her socio-racial identity that the rest of us don’t have. more soon...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Human Equity Only has One Team

We cannot afford to allow the system to divide equality, equity, and social justice into winning and losing teams... or to delude us into thinking there are teams to begin with... our efforts will never reach maximum capacity if we don't pay attention. We are all, and should all be, proponets of equity/equality... there aren't two different kinds. Right after I posted my last entry, which I was very nervous about doing, a colleague forwarded me this amazing Op-Ed piece. It says everything I am feeling but so much better.