Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

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...

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