Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The cup runith over...

Again I assert that if identity, affinity, and racial memberships are constituted by the spaces you have access to and the spaces that you are restricted from, how can I, or anyone like me, be anything other than mixed race? I just finished a train the trainer diversity workshop with an international organization. The facilitators were a CEO of Jewish heritage and a woman who self-identified as being “of black African heritage. I am the descendent of kidnapped and enslaved people.” I immediately got a pit in the bottom of my stomach. I knew, three minutes in, that I was going to struggle. I knew I was not going to fit here.

We started an exercise where we were to stand up for the affinity groups we identified with. I stood for the “white race European heritage” and I stood for the “black African heritage” and then I demanded space for myself. I felt that in a place where we are talking about racism willingly, having paid for the privilege to do so, to not challenge this and many other systemically binary moments would have been a critical mistake. Joining my mixed race resistance group was another woman of English and Ghanaian decent from England. Another participant and I demanded the transracial black/white adoptee group. Grudgingly the facilitators put the two new groups on the board and “allowed” them to happen. Those caucuses were the best, most authentic conversations I had the whole conference.

I was very aware of how lucky I was in that moment, to have another person to fight the fight with. My colleague Lee was not so lucky. Lee self-identified as a transgender masculine queer dyke and there was no space allowed, created, or acknowledged around Lee’s non-binary identity. Non-binary, fluid identities that resist binary categorization are often if not always framed as resistant. In this training, resistant translated directly into antagonistic if not irritating and unnecessary. I also am more deeply aware than ever that non-binary identities are also disruptive. The amount of energy that the facilitators put into dismissing, ignoring, and disenfranchising those of us who were invoking non-binary identities was telling.

During the mixed race caucus we were invited to share a list of things we never wanted to hear again. The top two in that list were “Is that your mother/child/father, etc.” and “You just don’t want to be black”. After the first day, mixed race identity was never talked about again. Many of us took strong ally positions for Lee and non-binary identity, but I had run out of energy around fighting for the mixed race identity. I allowed myself, yet again, to be quietly folded back into the black identity – which I carry, but is only part of who I am – simply because it was easier. Simply because I wanted to belong and that was the only space I COULD belong to. From my outside observance Lee didn’t fare as well; although at one point I did see Lee move off to the LGBTQ caucus, but it was clear that it wasn’t enough. It made me wonder about what someone like my daughter – mixed race white affect - might do, as she cannot pass for black and it was clear that white people were not welcome in the black African heritage group. It was clear that I was not welcome.

For me, the beginning of a non-binary racial identity – that I am calling mixed race - is clearly defined and shaped in these moments when the intimate reality of mixed race and the systemic refusal to allow space for that intimate reality are pushing against each other. The other woman who claimed a mixed race identity said “I could have been raised by a white family if my Dad had died and a Ghanaian family if my Mum had died. I was lucky and I wasn’t, I was raised by both. Race in the United States is crazy.” I concur.

Finally, on the last day, I sat with the Black African Heritage caucus which meets annually. My mixed race colleague had left training the day before and never returned. I had sat at the “not identified” affinity table the day before during the gender caucuses – male and female – in support of Lee’s identity. I think people were upset not to see me there again the day of the Black, Latino, and Jewish Caucuses; which left all the white race heritage people sitting at the “not identified” table. I just remember the moment when I had to choose. I was acutely aware of the fact that I HAD to choose. I chose the Black African Heritage table because I WANTED a community that was identified. But I also wanted the black people around that table, especially the black women, to like me…to want me. It brought up a lot of stuff for me around the dissonance between my black birth mother who gave me away and my white mother who raised me to be this person…strong, proud, resistant, and sure of who I am.

At lunch, the leader of the black African heritage caucus would not look me in the eye; and I knew the invitations to community were truly not for me. I hung in there. It actually took a lot for me to not flee to the “not identified” table where I would have been more comfortable. Imagine, being more comfortable being “not identified”. Although, what are the other choices...misidentified? During that lunch a woman who framed mixed race as a self-identity; although she had not done so before this which was curious to me and made me feel more targeted, said “we with mixed race families will learn to see how we are confused in our relationships”. The leader then looked directly at me and said “we will learn to choose rather than to be chosen, we will learn to see what they have done to us”. And in that moment, the facilitator reached over to the door in between us, a door that was never really open, and turned the key. I am unwilling to have anyone deconstruct my intimate realities.

So I returned to my office... wrote about it in my disseration... cleansed myself of other people's "stuff" and am left with this... Cups are built to keep the fluid in...

More soon...

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