Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How racist is that?!

This post is being resurrected from July 2009:

The aethetics of race are a necessary reality, but they are also proof that race is at a minimum fluid at a maximum completely arbitrary. This morning, walking from my car to my office I noticed several students of color. Some may have been african american, some latina, some mixed race. I had noticed several similar students the day before but they had been to far off for me to engage, but I saw them. I saw them in a way that I do not necessarily see the rest of our student body. This morning I decided to speak to the students. I had to think about it, not because I don't speak to students; rather, my hesitation was due to my awareness of how and why I was speaking to them.

When I presented at an October conference on Race, Ethnicity, and Place, I presented my own work on mixed race identity formation in United States millenials. I am always nervous presenting mixed race scholarship in front of race scholars. Often the feed back, if not lash back, has been ferocious. This conference was different, I am different - more confident in my scholarship and in the reality of mixed race. The conference participants were not only engaged but nodding their head affirmatively. A very big deal for me. I even had classmates there who were not antagonistic to the conversation as they often are. I had several good questions that allowed me to think out loud about what mixed race IS. But the question that really made me feel like I had really settled in to THIS mixed race scholar was the one from a woman in her 60s. She asked THE question. "Well, this is very nice but if you light you white, right?" WRONG.

I may have blogged about this moment before, but what it leads me to is our thanksgiving this year. I married into an irish family and my irish niece is marrying out. At some point, after several vanilla appletinis, I decided we would get all the brown people in the family together for our own photo. My two sons and nephew to be thought this was a great idea. My daughter REFUSED to join us. Her brothers physically lifted her up and made her join the picture. You can see the pained expression on her little face. If I had let this go, as if I let ANYTHING go, this would have looked like a bad case of nine year old passing.

That night as my daughter and I lay snuggled together, I asked her about the picture. My daughter burst into tears and said "I want to be browner, I am too light to be in the picture". Are we kidding? It is so very hard for me to wrap my head around her aesthetic location. I think some of my own self-image issues keep me from EVER understanding why such a beautiful child would feel bad about how she looks. I do know her brothers tease her mercilessly about being white and she defends her mixed raceness until she cries. My child had NEVER identified as white.

So, in some weird reverse example, I am experiencing the power of aesthetic in race and identity formation. My daughter's reflected identity is not the same as her political and familial identity, just like my own. My daughter identifies as mixed race and the world keeps insisting, including her brothers, that she is white.

The last thing I want to say about this is, I wonder how much worse this would be for my daughter if mixed race identity was not an option in our family. People do accept mixed race and can reflect that back to her in an affirming way, so even though she may lose her location once in a while, she can find her center quite easily. Even at nine my daughter appreciates the importance of being able to identify as mixed race which is not only her racial identity but it is her socio-racial familial identity as well. As she was drifting off to sleep Thanksgiving night, reassured that she does belong in the brown family picture, she said "my school is so racist, they only let you pick black or white and over half the kids in my school are bi-racial, how racist is THAT?!" Very.

More soon...

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled on your blog while doing some personal research on the experiences and identity formation of other multiracial/mixed race individuals and I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your posts. I identify as multiracial but am often mistaken for white. This affected me negatively growing up because I always felt that I was too light skinned to fit in with my family. My parent's support and openness to discourse went a long way in my discovering and becoming comfortable with voicing my multiracial identity to others. It sounds like your daughter is lucky to have such a caring and supportive mom!