Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Dangers of Kumbayahing Our Way Into (Post-Racial) Oblivion

Tiger Woods, everyone's favorite (well, till all those women started comin' out the woodwork) Caublinasian should have been our first warning....

But back in the late 90s, people were too caught up in the hype of Tiger either being our long awaited multiracial Everyman (case in point: "I Am Tiger Woods" commercial) or accusing him of "denying the race" to see that multiraciality (with Tiger as it's shiny new consumer-ready poster child whether he wanted to be or not ) was being used to support an agenda that used "mixed America" to bolster anti-affirmative action debates, to potentially jeopardize the allocation of resources and services to marginalized communities of color and perhaps most dangerously-- to kick start an ideological shift in the U.S. (later cemented by the 2008 election of Barack Obama) that the "mixing" and subsequent "browning of America" actually marked first, a colorblind and now, a post-racial era.

In these new post-racial times,  we're suddenly all "off the hook". We're off the hook because we have the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother from Kansas as president. We're off the hook because people of color had their movements and "got their rights". We're off the hook because there are now more mixed race people in the United States than at any other time in our history....

But don't believe the hype...

Are we off the hook with Oscar Grant only the latest in a harrowing history of racialized and gendered police brutality, what about the startling rise of the anti-government and increasingly white supremacist supported Tea Party, --WHAT ABOUT ARIZONA!!!????

The dawn of this so-called "post-racial" era was already imploding seconds after it was declared. We as a country and as a world are not even close to being "post-RACIST" which makes holding hands and singing "We Are the World" (as much as I would love to) damn near impossible in the wake of such stark and continuing realities.

I'm still in the process of learning about all this and I've come across some great articles in David Brunsma's "Mixed Messages" and in Reginald Daniel's "More than Black" as well as several other books on the multiracial movement that discuss just how easily the movement (throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, it focused primarily on getting a multiracial box or option to choose more than one box or identifier on the 2000 U.S. Census) and just the image of "multiraciality" itself was co-opted by a conservative agenda back in the 90s. 
From Multiracial Identity and the U.S. Census
by Tyrone Nagai
"Conservative political leaders such as Newt Gingrich and Ward Connerly supported the shift to multiracial classification, largely because they saw it as contributing to the curtailment of race- based affirmative action programs (Williams, 2006). Republican Congressman Thomas Petri of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 830 in the 104th Congress (June 1996), which tried to force the OMB to add a multiracial category to the 2000 U.S. Census. Petri dubbed this the “Tiger Woods Bill.” Despite numerous efforts, Tiger Woods refused to join or endorse the multiracial cause (Wil- liams, 2005).

Opposition to multiracial identification appeared from the old guard of the civil rights movement, including many Democrats in Congress. They argued that allowing multiple racial identities on government forms would reduce the visibility of racial minorities in statistical data, especially African Americans who are already undercounted by government agencies. The cumulative effect would be a reduction of money and services to minority communities (Williams, 2006). It has also been observed that discussion involving multiracial identification and racial classification is inseparable from administering the modern welfare state, especially with regard to civil rights enforcement and affirmative action programs (Skerry, 2002).

Nothing's really changed, the political right still wants nothing more than to stop being accountable to marginalized communities who's radical freedom and civil rights struggles transformed this nation so many years ago. And what better way to do that than to point to multi people as a sign that "race" and therefore the need to eradicate racial inequality are now obsolete?

What does concern me are the ways in which a possible new wave of the multiracial movement would negotiate civil rights enforcement, social justice and working with (as opposed to against) the needs of other communities of color. Right now, I think pushing for a multi movement 2.o that is not only about identity development but also about coalition building and anti-racist/anti-oppression would be the only way to do that. How? is a whole other question.

It's no mistake that the term "post-racial" itself, began growing from a whisper to the now triumphant self-congratulatory shout, with just the sheer possibility of the first black/multi president-- America's redemption. Yet, our nation's history is predicated on an inheritance of racial inequality and oppression. We can't "post" that away in one single moment or on the back of one black/multiracial president or 6.8 million people checking "more than one box." We need to attack that racial inequality at it's root because EVERYTHING in the U.S. revolves around it, no matter how much we want to close our eyes and click our heels together.

So where do multi people fit in this post-racial oblivion? As usual we find ourselves teetering right on that edge, setting up camp right at that border...

You see, the nagging problem with multi people is that we make really good poster children-- After all, we're naturally photogenic (those hybrid genes, ya know),we're so marketable: we look good on glossy print paper, we come in different shades and hair textures and we're always so eager to promote happiness, love and a futuristic multi-culti paradise with style, of course....(this 1998 Levis ad rests my case [and yes, boo-boo, you can be "mulatto" and "p-r-e-j-u-d-i-c-e."])

All jokes aside, multi people are increasingly seen as the great equalizers and race messiahs. So while the days of "half-breed, oreo, and twinkie" may soon be a thing of the past, "messiahs, superhumans, and race equalizers" are debilitating stereotypes as well.

Multi identity is political--as such it is as prone to manipulation and co-optation as any other marginalized identity in the U.S. But particularly in this post-racial era we have so ignorantly stumbled into, the best advice I can give right now is: please don't drink the Kool-Aid and if we must proceed into the post-racial abyss-- to do so with extreme caution.

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