Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Friday, April 24, 2009

This week in race relations and racialized conversations

I know I promised to write on Monday about my project defense. I haven't because it was really quite traumatic. I passed; so I have had trouble understanding why I am so upset. And I am upset. My committee had been given the DVD of my documentary to watch on their own. That may have been a mistake, I wish that I could have been there to translate... My chair LOVED the documentary and told me to leave it the way it was after the first draft, so I did. One committee member also loved it so much that she shared it with her family. The other two, not so much. The one said she loved the documentary but, as I processed it, it was not scholarly or not scholarly enough. The final committee member simply did not understand a) why the documentary was just a succession of pictures one after the other; and b) why I hadn't used more of myself in the documentary.

Fortunately my chair had suggested I present for 10-15 minutes before our discussion and their ultimate decision. It was natural for me to write what I was presenting and the words flowed easily. In that presentation I expressed my wish for my committee to have the black/white mixed race conversation which includes allegations that the mixed race identity was only fabricated to allow mixed race people to deny or avoid their blackness. I expressed a need to have that conversation one last time and then, together with my committee, we would move forward to the conversation I was most intersted in having in the remainder of my dissertation. Some things just cannot be wished for or led.

Our conversation beyond the niceities ended up devolving into a conversation that went something like: we think you should find another way to speak about mixed race that does not invoke identity. Then they used my own documentary against me suggesting that my collaborators were proving that there was not a mixed race identity because many of them talked about identifying as monoracial or passing back and forth between identifying as black and white based on the context of the space they were negotiating. These statements were made despite the fact that my colloborators qualified their statements by saying that they are forced to negotiate their identities in this way because their mixed race identity was rejected or denied.

For the remainder of my two hour defense I listened to my committee reject and deny mixed race identity and in the end they suggested that I read more black scholarship, although I had read this body of literature for my masters exam, and focus my mixed race conversation on or around blackness.

So again, I had to defend myself and my schlorship as not being anti-blackness or a rejection of blackness. One committee member suggested that I only focus on black/white mixed race as she knows of other mixed race students who are Japanese and Swedish (and the other I cannot remember) who were affluent and amazingly gorgeous (because biracial people are soooo damn good looking don't you know) that she was certain had COMPLETELY different experiences from the black/white biracial person. What DOES that mean? That we black/white mixed race people are poor and just not that good looking? I was so frustrated and angry. I felt like everything I had worked on for the last year had been dismissed and I was being reset in such a way that guaranteed my arriving at this very same moment again in a year.

I know my committee really cares about me and really wants to see me succeed. They are not shy about telling me how bright and capable they think I am. So this is not a blamefilled rant, rather a frustrated exploration of a moment that keeps reproducing itself. When and how will I ever get to move into the contemporary conversation about mixed race identity that I want to have. I don't think I even understand the barriers or the processing that produces this moment. One committee member suggested that I try writing with mixed race women all over the world which would "pull me out of" of my own situation. I processed her comment as an assumption that I feel the way I feel but other mixed race women don't and I needed to expose myself to other more balanced and sensible mentalities. Well... I have. For me this suggestion dismissed the collaborators in the documentary as they were not scholars or academics so their expereinces didn't matter. Also, my committee seemed to dismiss the body of literature by and about mixed race experiences and identity formations. Ultimately, they seemed to be dismissing me, my mixed raceness, and my scholarship because of my location as a mixed race person.

I am attempting to reconcile the entire experience by working through my prospectus. I have outlined my thinking by suggesting that the mixed race conversation has and does occupy two different histories or as I am calling them right now...Phases. I am trying desperately to frame two different periods that are loosely related generationally while keeping those two periods from undermining each other. More soon...

1 comment:

  1. Very sorry to hear you had such a frustrating experience... I hope I can watch your documentary some day...