Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Examining The Year in a Mixed Race Professor's Life

First I am sorry for my neglect. I apparently lose all sense of time and space during the end of the semester. I also seem to lack an awareness of the connection between my assigning papers and exams and my correcting papers and exams. That said, it has been an amazing year, academically. I have no friends left but... I have just completed my first year as a faculty member at a State College. I am inspired to finish that dissertation. And it is summer here on the east coast - okay, that is optimistic. It is a healthy, hearty, warm, fragrant, exceptional spring. I am going to hoe out my office and start writing. I promise to blog every day. I promise to have my dissertation ready for aggressive critical committee review by the start of the fall semester. And finally, I promise to keep building our mixed race community.

Yesterday while I was turning back papers and exams in my office, one of my seniors sat with me. He seemed stuck in the chair, after five years, his life is changing radically. Honestly, he had no where else to go. Regardless, I feel honored that he chose to spend some time reflecting with me. We were discussing our "Examining Mixed Race Identity" class. One thing he said really stood out to me. He said something like "it was interesting how this class was able to come to a constructive conversation about race and race relations through the conversation about mixed race". Light bulb!

I have been thinking about the "bridging the gap" myth/mission/possibility that comes with mixed raceness. While I resent my recent appointment to "spokesman for Obama" as well as the ambassadorship for all people of color, I still think there is something about mixed raceness that creates spaces of possibility that monoraceness does not. What I know about myself is that I have become particularly averse to my duties as a bridge, rainbow, translator for my brown and white brethren. But, I have become very hopeful about conversations about mixed race as creating a space where people can think not only about race but about the implications of race. What we saw in our class was a growing connection between race, monorace in particular, and our being a part of the perpetuation of monoracial ideologies. By "our" I mean race scholars, students, etc. This realization was not only relegated to the mixed race students. Our white and black students also seemed to become very connected to their participation in the performance of race. Over the semester we watched the meaning of race shift from important to meaningless to a rethought understanding of self and other. Pretty awesome for a 200 level class. I am excited to see if this conversation reproduces itself next semester.

On the home front things are less inspiring. My middle child is going through something that I can only identify as the mixed race child's coming of age. I can see him trying to find himself, locate himself, on the racial landscape. His journey is slightly misguided and antagonistic. His brother went through some similar things, but I don't remember him being so confrontational. My son sees race and racism EVERYWHERE. On mother's day he whispered to his brother during mass something like "the old white folks are angry that the black family is in the front row". While I totally believe he is experiencing race and racism in a new and seemingly overwhelming way, I am saddened that he can't locate "racists" instead of "racism". Racism is everywhere and he needs to learn to negotiate it just like I did. Racists are a totally different story and should not be tolerated, but I don't think he appreciates that he is labeling an entire group "whites" as racists. And like my experience at his age, the "blacks" don't accept him either, but he doesn't know what to call that because in that context, "racist" doesn't make sense. It was through this experience and process of trying to find a space that I found my mixed race identity and I am hoping that this happens for him and soon.

Sadly, our community has become increasingly overt with the kind of racism that comes with economic decline. This only serves to make my son's journey that much more difficult. Perhaps we are also feeling the impact of having a man of color as president... My eight year old comes home with frequent stories of classmates who talk about Obama in the most hateful ways. One child punched the Obama book my daughter bought for her classroom. Her school didn't celebrate black history month... Regardless, my children have never been anything but loved and accepted by the majority of people in our community. He is a star athlete, very popular, and considered a leader amongst his peers. I don't know how to help him process and balance what I know he is experiencing and a sense of self and community. I want him to grow into a person who holds himself accountable for his life; not someone who blames everyone else for his shortcomings. My older son never really went through what my younger son reports. My younger son gets called nigger on the sports field and from the stands. I don't think it happens "all the time" but when it does people really minimize it. I try to help him understand people's discomfort or disconnect with his complaints while validating his experience. I am apparently doing it all wrong. All I seem to have done is reinforce his sense that everyone is racist. My husband really holds me as the cause of my children's feelings about race and racism. I don't know how to get him to understand that what they experience is different than what he or I experience and it is our job to acknowledge that. I think he is often left feeling like the white guy in a den of black militants...he regularly renounces his whiteness.

I am sure that other families have troubled teens, but I don't think that those families have children who use race as a weapon. The other day the 16 year old called his father a "white piece of shit". My husband is devastated. I feel like I am raising a little racist... I keep trying to get my children to talk about what "white" is? I keep reminding myself that I was never a black male... But, I just don't get it. Not entirely, more than my husband, but not entirely. My eldest cannot get a job and I know it is because of his giant afro. I try to explain that to him and he says it shouldn't matter. How do I tell him he is wrong? It SHOULDN'T matter. But it does...

more soon...

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