Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Role of Stories in Social Racial Identity

Emma Brockes closes her review of The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success with the following paragraph: It also reaffirms something we intuitively know – that origin stories matter, and that, despite the vast influence of external factors, the story you are permitted to tell about yourself has a lot to do with how that story unfolds. While the article itself is a book review, what Brockes offers in her closing is impactful and resonates with my consideration of my critical mixed race identity work. Origin stories... what a beautiful framing of the articulation of intimate reality. Who and how we know ourselves to be come from the stories we have been told, and then retell, our whole lives. Often I am asked if I have ever, will ever, look for my "biological family". My answer is always no. I have no desire to shatter my understanding of who I am. There has been a very long journey to this place, many stories that frame my self-understanding and actualization, and I have no intention of disrupting it beyond what life will already do. I am not stagnant, I simply value the process by which I arrived at who I am today and who I might be tomorrow. I am one of those people who, while believing in the powers of foresight, intuition, and regression, will never ask to see anything beyond what I can experience in this body/space/time. For me, understanding and valuing the journey, intimate realities, and our origin stories are as important as the scientific and philosophic archeological experiment. I have no desire to dig. I also think that Brockes identifies a very important, if not privileged, piece of the role of origin stories and the stories we tell about ourselves. Brockes talks about permission, and for me, that is where mixed race people lose connection with our genealogical selves. We have not been permitted to tell the story of our racial/ethnic/cultural multiplicitous richness. We have been forbidden to tell our stories of two-ness or three-ness. We have been restricted from telling the stories of our white mothers, black fathers, Asian grandmothers, and indigenous sisters. Those stories have been suppressed to keep us from rightful inheritance, to pin us down in one immoveable social-racial location. Those stories have been suppressed to maintain our ability to be oppressed. We must disrupt this practice, of editing other people's origin stories - especially those of our children. The other day in class one of my students was sharing that she and her cousins refer to themselves as "half-ricans". I bristled. I have spent so much time on linguistics and the power of naming that for a moment I forgot myself. I wanted to offer more "preferable" naming options. But then I thought of Brockes’ words and realized that this student had the right to name herself whatever was reflective of her intimate reality. For her "half-ricans" was akin to comfort food; it is how she and her cousins recognized each other as family. What I realized later was, had I corrected her (as I am often want to do), I would have been in effect denying her permission to tell her story of herself and thus altered her identity journey and potentially that of her cousins. That is a lot of power I simply don't want. Lesson learned. Carving out space for origin stories is my next project. What I anticipate is that these stories will bounce off of each other, contradict, and potentially offend. What I think the gift in creating this space might be is a better understanding of the ways folks comes to understand themselves and potentially each other through the telling and re-telling of origin stories. Thank you Emma Brockes. ...more soon

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