Monday, June 2, 2014
Introducing Mixed Race PhD
I did it. I defended my dissertation and was granted my PhD (no revisions, fyi). I wanted to share my opening statement as it really sums up the journey that has led me to being a Mixed Race PhD. Please keep reading, responding, and commenting! Thank you for your support over the last few years. I am excited about the next steps which include a book project "Examining Mixed Race" and then my book that comes from my dissertation. I think I am going to sleep for a month... but I will be back! More soon... "I remember my first time trying on a mixed race identity. I was around 9. I remember thinking I am bi-racial… I am not black, or white, or Indian…. I am all of those things. This early assertion of my right to self-naming was the commencement of a life long journey, sometimes battle, to find a space where: I was allowed to self-name; where it was assumed that I knew who and what I was; where people respected my version of me and later that of my family and children; where my assertion of an identity outside of the binary racial construction was not reframed as confused or avoidant; where my identity as a mixed race person was not read as adversarial to or in opposition to other socio-racial identities; and where I could find a place to be who I truly was – as my 9 year old self said, all of those things. Mixed race has been a piece of my socio-racial self-understanding and disciplinary motivation. As soon as I stepped in to my undergraduate human development program, I understood that there was a gap in how we did, understood, taught, and engaged race. The oppositional and binary framing of race is one that we had already problematized in critical race theories yet we backed away from or circumvented conversations that support that problematization when that support came from mixed race identities and lived experiences. One of my first understandings of this gap in the critical race discourse where mixed race occurs, was that it was due in large part to the way that African Americans are hegemonic to the race conversation. That western theory frames “the African American” experience as the “authentic black experience” has created a tension between that experience and the parallel experience of black American mixed race. This tension seems to silence all mixed race identities in an effort to authenticate the black African American experience. With this as a basis for examination, I started to appreciate that the failings of the binary racial construct were much farther reaching than just those of us who were both black and white. In a lot of ways critical race theory was feeding the failings of the binary racial construct and I had a sense that this was where my own struggle to gain the right to self-name was coming from. I wanted to tease out the critical mixed race theory that I knew had to exist in the gaps and shadows of critical race theory. When I first began articulating mixed race as an identity for myself and others, the push back came from African-American academics. I had professors, classmates, and conference participants suggest that I simply didn’t want to be black. At this point I started to understand non-binary identities as diasporic identities and this was the first iteration of my graduate school work. I spent a good deal of time thinking about mixed race identity as a diasporic identity but was still not satisfied with this framing, it was still missing something. During this time I started to encounter millennials in the classroom and realized that they were not articulating a sense of alienation like I was. The students in my classrooms, while still having some similar experiences to my mixed race journey, were expressing a totally different sense of their socio-racial location. More, they were locating their mixed race genealogies and identities as “a given”, a matter of fact. For some this made their mixed race identity inarguable; it was something they did not feel they needed to argue for or explain to others. For others, they felt that their multi-raciality transcended a need to identify with any one thing at all. But it was through this population that I came to my major assertion, that mixed race identity was a product of intimate reality. What I recognized in my conversations with millenials, including my children and their friends, was that their access to self-naming and mixed race identity came directly from those who loved them, their intimate others. Student after student asked me the same question: “If that is my mother, and that is my father (parents of different races), then what else could I be but mixed race”. Additionally, and this might not be as prominent in the dissertation, I came to appreciate that race and mixed race identities and self-naming were not always tied to blood/genealogical relations. In 2006 I put out a call for participants which requested self-identified families of mixed race. It was the first time that I realized that my thinking and work were tied to the binary racial construction. I really expected black/white and maybe black/asian mixed race people to respond. The people who actually responded validated my emerging thinking about intimate realities. It really was in the families that were not genealogically related that intimate realities seemed most apparent. Transracial adoptees, step parents, and other familial compositions who identified as mixed race families because of one member who was a different race, and not usually mixed race, caused me to rethink my focus for the dissertation. The stories of transcendent thinking and behaviors through the love of another who is a different race made mixed race identity something that held hope and direction. I am not saying that mixed race identity, as it is still predicated on race and probably binary racial construct, is the answer to racial tension but it does point towards the power of intimate reality in at least connecting race if not bridging it. I think the power of self-naming also speaks to the power of intimate reality as it takes a familial consensus to shift, reframe, and rename a shared socio-racial identity and that is also an intimate behavior as that shift is seemingly predicated on wanting to include an identity because of intimate relation. The other factor that really drove my examining mixed race identity theories was, especially in 2006, that there weren’t many theorists doing this work. In the last two years, I have come to realize that even those doing critical mixed race theory were still not doing the work of connecting identity to intimate reality. I understood in an organic and deeply intuitive way that critical race and critical mixed race theorists were not talking about me or my family, or that of my students, in any way. As a theorist I try not to assume sameness so I was really startled when so many of the people I talked to over the last six years had such similar stories around self-naming, authenticity, and the intimate realities that shaped their socio-racial identities and experiences. In my work I have tried my best to represent those similarities which are notable, in particular, because they occurred across what we understand to be racial categories. Asian, South Asian, Black, African, Latino, whatever composition of race you can think about, people were telling me that they were experiencing the same things. Not only were they suggesting they were experiencing the same things, they were suggesting that these experiences, including those of intimate reality, were what was shaping their socio-racial identities. Within rich ethnographies, I was also able to see how aware the people I spoke with were about how they were forced to identify in ways that were not true to their intimate realities. In Chapter III I offer: If a person wakes up every morning and her mother is White and her father is Black, how does she locate her socio-racial identity? The preceding chapters have problematized the location and function of socio-racial identity through examinations of authenticity, self-naming, re-designation, and membership. These examinations have included a sense of intimate realities as a central characteristic of the mixed race socio-racial identity. Intimate realities move in and out of the ways one navigates authenticity, self-naming, re-designation, and membership. Much of how we figure out where and to whom we belong is through our intimate realities, which is a reflection of what has been shared with me and what occurs in my own auto-ethnography. My foundational premises have always been this and why the intimate reality reflected here hasn’t been reflected in theories about socio-racial identity, especially mixed race identities. The suppression and oppression of mixed race identities and their intimate realities is a harm that needs to be corrected. My work serves to start offering the evidence that has been demanded from me every time I raise this issue in the academy. The ethnographies shared in this work offer the evidence of unique lived experiences, the relevance of intimate realities, the power of naming, and the organization of communities of people who identify as mixed race. The suppression of mixed race identity becomes clearer when you spend time with narratives of survival, like that of African American Slaves and Vietnamese orphans, where there is regular mention of mixing of races and the emergence of new identities and demands for self-naming. I wish to close by sharing with you that my experience with the refusal and denial of access to a socio-racial identity that reflects my intimate realities has been painful and at times violent. It always seems a simplification, but not being allowed to identify as my Irish daughter’s mother or my dying father’s heir solely for the purpose of fitting my lived experience into a narrow space that we call race, is an injustice. I, and people like me, deserve to be able to shape and express identities that represent our genealogical and intimate journeys without editing. Mixed race identities create a space where the narrative is written by the subject and not the observer and where that subject is believed to be the expert on their own lived and intimate realities.