Monday, December 13, 2010

For Mixed Girls, For Black Girls...

Fiona, Jo Burg, complex of mixed girls/
For surviving through every lie they put into us now/The world is yours and I swear I will stand focused/Black girls, raise up your hands; the world should clap for us
...  Jean Grae from Talib Kweli's Black Girl Pain

I recently googled "mixed-race women." Among the first things that pop-up after the photos of Halle Berry, Thandie Newton and Alicia Keys were the following results: 1) Dating mixed race women Free Dating, Singles and Personals 2) Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out:  (a recent addition!) 3)Mixed race women are put in place of black beauty and 4)Why are mixed race women usually associated with beauty and black women are not? followed by a few other pages full of dating and personal ads as well as forum threads about "beautiful" or "hot" mixed-race women and models.

To the arguable extent that Google can be a viable indicator of any popular thought, it does show that at least in cyber-space most of what's out there about mixed-race women fixates on our physique and our bodies particularly in relation to "monoracial" black women. As a mixed-race, black woman myself, I've struggled to break down the stereotypes in my own communities that often favor "light-skinned,"red-boned" women with pelo bueno (good hair) while painfully pitting mixed beauty against black beauty. These conceptions beg the question:
Is mixed beauty inevitably 'anti-black' beauty?

Growing up, the contested terrain of mixed/black beauty was played out most profoundly in the politics of hair. My hair was often the only thing that belied any mixed heritage and at different points in my life I felt like Zora Howard in her Biracial Hair poem: Some days, I'd stare in the mirror convinced I looked just like Alicia Keys or I'd frantically tease it out in repeatedly failed attempts to rock the perfectly epic Angela Davis 'fro trying desperately to fit into iconic neo-soul black beauty, only to be left looking like a vague, frizzy-haired, busted teen version of Diana Ross.

There's a common misconception that mixed black women have it all. After all, the media seems to favor us or at least light-skinned women that look like us, from Hollywood to our very own black entertainment industry (if it indeed, is "ours"). Colorism is nothing new. It's a painful and persistent inheritance of internalized racism and self-hatred-- the eternal struggle between the "Wanabees" and the "Jigaboos" comically immortalized in Spike Lee's acclaimed satirical film School Daze. Are we either "high yella heifas" or "tar-babies"?... Wanabees, or Jigaboos...

But sisters, whether you're 'dark or you're fair' we've all been damaged. We've all been used and exploited. Our bodies, the violent battleground of inequality--and to add insult to injury we just keep driving that imagined chasm between us deeper and deeper. Light-skinned privilege is real. More "European" features are generally favored--true story. But black folk come in different shades, sizes and hair textures that make visible just how mixed our history as a people has been. Yet our beauty is irrevocably constructed in relation to whiteness and widespread healing from the collective trauma of oppression inflicted and then self-inflicted (most notably, through damaging products like lye-relaxer and bleaching cream) has only just begun. And mixed girls have not been immune. For first generation mixed women of African descent learning to love our blackness and our mixedness is a long process if we ever even get there. And I am, ultimately, left with too many hard questions...

Mixed-black sisters out there: how many times have we considered the privilege we embody? How do we resist the use of our bodies by media, or even by our own families to further marginalize black beauty and objectify ourselves? Will we always be seen as "Wannabees?" Must our bodies always be seen as somehow "anti-black"? Can we love the kinks, the curls, the dark, the light and everything in between? Is mixed pride inherently anti-black pride?

Mixed girls, black girls and mixed-black girls, can we (re)imagine a beauty where we can all be celebrated as the queens we are or will we continue to play into the hands of exclusive standards of beauty? In the words of Ntozake Shange, will we ever find ourselves at the end of our rainbows and will we learn to love each other fiercely?

I desperately hope so.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Consuming the Melting Pot

Thomas C. Holt a historian at University of Chicago and author of The Problem of Race in the 21st Century identifies “a shift in the terrain of racism”-- “Could it be” he asks, “that the issue now is less the utter ignorance of other cultures, as in times past, but too great a surface familiarity; less stereotypes of the other than the voracious consumption of its metonymic parts?
Case in point, Mr. Holt: Last summer's hottest hipster accessory of choice---the Native American headdress. Now granted, hipsters by definition are compulsive Cultural Appropriators with often deceptively deep pockets. They consume bits and pieces of popular, alternative, sub- and foreign cultures to achieve their allegedly socially conscious "bohemian chic." It's just a simple fact and I'm cool with that. But the hipsters got me thinking about consumption and advertising. What's been most worrying to me is the wholly dehistoricized, apolitical nature of consumption these days-- the ways in which this consumption assumes that dangerous "familiarity" that Holt describes and brings us right into the thick of issues of objectification, commodification and ultimately, what I see as racial, economic and social (in)justice issues. I see it everywhere from the hipster headdress right down to gentrification in places like Brooklyn and Harlem... a dangerous familiarity...  and one that apparently, can be purchased.

So in the beginning(ish) there was Eve....
Back in 1993, TIME Magazine came out with a Special Issue featuring the ironically named “Eve”-- a computer generated image of a woman  who was presented as the “New Face of America.” The caption on the front cover read: Take a good look at this woman. She was created by a computer from a mix of several races. What you see is a remarkable preview of" ..... dundunDUN “The New Face of America: How Immigrants are Shaping the World’s First Multicultural Society.”

Ultimately, Eve is what comes out of the melting pot. Eve is produced by technology, she's also explicitly gendered as female. There’s even an article in the issue that talks about how all the male computer programmers who created her, ended up falling in love with her. Eve becomes this object of desire and we are asked very explicitly on this front cover to look at her, exercise our scopophilia- our love, our desire to look and visually consume.

While this isn’t an advertisement per se, Eve represents WHAT and WHO marketers and advertisers are now both selling and marketing to. I see two things at work when we look at multiraciality and the market. The first is this idea that came out of the 1990s, that multiraciality as multiculturalism whether through it's colorful glossy print ads of black, brown and white people singing, dancing or walking around in their pajamas or through the physically mixed bodies of multiracial individuals or even via entirely constructed computer-generated images that we can attain and quite literally buy into a racial paradise. These images are inextricable tied up in ideas of the “future” of what Americans--- as in American “bodies” will look like in the years and decades to come.

The second is the ways in which race functions as a “technology” by hiding the ways in which we all have a relationship to the law and state power, yet this tenuous and violent relationship (often enacted on racialized and gendered bodies within the state) particularly in self-proclaimed progressive or liberal environments is covered up by ideas of fairness, equality, protection and inclusion and advertisers are feeding into this in a big way. There’s no denying that the state and the market are inextricably linked and that the market plays a huge political role in defining the state’s subjects and citizens. 

The cruel irony is that given proposed racist policies like Arizona's SB 1070, what would happen if Eve went to the southern border today? In today's racial climate, would Eve continue to be celebrated as the "face of America" or would she be sent packing "back to her country"?......

I'm really interested in the construction and use of the mixed body in contemporary advertising and it’s racialized and gendered implications particularly in relation to the state and national identity. In different manifestations advertisements have framed multiraciality and multriacials as commodity, product and at times even fetish-- something to be consumed, acquired and possessed. In the past decade there has also been a transition in the mixed-body from being mere product to now also being a visible and viable consumer and subject (see Kimberly McClain Dacosta's Making Multiracials  in which she discusses the politics of recognition that happen in the market and the ways in which that recognition can quite literally create a racial identity.)
I'll leave you with a few images from the European clothing company United Colors of Bennetton (whose ads were pretty controversial in the 90s), the Telefonica phone company, American Apparel, Levi's jeans, photos from the "Biracial photoshoot" on America's Next Top Model that was critiqued for putting models in "brown face" and a photo from a 2008 Allure spread entitled "Faces of the Future" in which multiracial models were used to mark an imagined "future."  

These Telefonica images are pretty creepy. To give you some context, these are computer generated images that state from left to right "The lowest rate calls from Japan to Scotland, from Turkey to Sweden and from Senegal to Germany." It's also interetsing to compare these creepy male-bodied computer generated images with TIME's  sexy female-bodied "Eve." Curious, curiouser...

This Levi's ad marks a particular moment in U.S. advertising in the 90s in which marketers were selling to a much younger, hipper demographic. This demographic was being told through images like this one that in the famous words of MJ, it doesn't matter if you're black or white, as long as you had these jeans, you were free and you could buy into a racial utopia.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Skin" Trailer

Here is the 2009 documentary film trailer for "Skin Deep: The Sandra Laing Story".

Below is the trailer for SKIN the feature film starring Sophie Okonedo.
Should be fascinating....
U.S. DVD will be released in February 2011.


Thanks Caitlin!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out!

NEW from Inanna Publications:

Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out
edited by Adebe DeRango-Adem and Andrea Thompson

"Speaks boldly and poignantly to who we are, and by 'we' I mean … all citizens of 21st century North America."

invite you to the launch of

Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out
on Thursday, December 9, 2010 from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Toronto Women's Bookstore, 73 Harbord Street, Toronto (at Spadina)

Refreshments will be served. 
Authors will read from the book at 7:15 p.m.

OTHER TONGUES: MIXED-RACE WOMEN SPEAK OUT is an anthology of poetry, spoken word, fiction, creative non-fiction, spoken word texts, as well as black and white artwork and photography, explores the question of how mixed-race women in North America identify in the twenty-first century. Contributions engage, document, and/or explore the experiences of being mixed-race, by placing interraciality as the center, rather than periphery, of analysis. 

Praise for 

In a fresh approach to the quest for understanding mixed-race identity in the Americas, the multiple genres that find their way into the Other Tongues anthology -- from poetry to photography, fiction to scholarship -- perfectly mirror the prodigious spectrum of their authors’ positions toward the topic. This collection speaks boldly and poignantly to who we are, and by "we" I mean not only women of mixed-race ancestry, but all citizens of 21st-century North America.
-- Lise Funderburg, author of Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity

These exciting, beautifully inked narratives tell us that, as each woman embraces her biracial or multiracial identity, she mothers a new world, one with equal space for everyone.
-- George Elliott Clarke, Africadian & Eastern Woodland Metis, Laureate, 2001 Governor-General’s Award for Poetry
Passionate, courageous and insightful, Other Tongues speaks affectingly about the pleasures and paradoxes of living between the conventional categories of race. It is a significant anthology, one that I've been waiting for.
-- Karina Vernon, Assistant Professor,
Black Canadian Literature and Diaspora Studies, 
University of Toronto

About the editors:
Adebe De Rango-Adem recently completed a research writing fellowship at the Applied Research Center in New York. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the world’s largest prize for writers under thirty.

Andrea Thompson’s spoken word CD, One, was nominated for a Canadian Urban Music Award in 2005. A pioneer of slam poetry in Canada, Thompson has also hosted Heart of a Poet on Bravo TV, CiTr Radio’s spoken word show, Hearsay.

The publisher acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council 
for our publishing program.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Re-Cap of The 1st Annual Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference

Yup. It. Was. Amazing.
Over 400 participants from all over the country gathered at Depaul Unverisity in Chicago, IL for the First Annual Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference. There were panels, round tables, film screenings and keynote addresses ranging from the arts to new media, from high education to health care and from psychology to politics.
I presented on and chaired the Panel entitled "High-Ed Challenges for Mixed Race Students" with Brett Coleman (grad student in the Community and Prevention Research doctoral program of the Psychology Department at University of Illinois at Chicago), Kenyatta Dawson (grad student in the Education doctoral program at Texas State University) and Dr. Jessica Guzman Rea (current Academic Advisor for the Honors College at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County).We discussed challenges faced by multiracial students in higher-ed and the ways in which different systems and structures could be changed to better support identity development and socialization for these students.

In addition to sharing some of my work, I also had the opportunity to check out a round table of Wesley and and University of Washington students who are currently teaching and co-facilitating the only student-run courses on multi experiences called Mixed 101. I also attended a panel of students from Berkeley's Ethnic Studies doctoral program discussing mixed identity as well as a panel on entitled "Back From Beyond Black: Alternative Paradigms for Critical Mixed Race Theory" with Michele Elam, Rainier Spencer, Habiba Ibrahim and Jared Sexton

It's taken me a few weeks to process it all, but the wheels are still turning  and my excitement about future dialogue and action hasn't worn off.  Throughout the conference I kept wishing I coul dbe at every single event. But alas, I was forced to choose. So, please checkout co-founder Laura Kina's blog post Watershed Moment for Critical Mixed Race Studies for an in depth profile of all the weekend's events. In addition take some time a take a look at videos from the conference. Here is a link to the following videos of the conference. You must have iTunes installed in order to view the video.  It can be download here.
  • November 5th (00:19:48): Welcoming Remarks by DePaul’s Liberal Arts & Sciences Dean Charles Suchar and conference organizers Camilla Fojas, Wei Ming Dariotis, and Laura Kina.
  • November 5th (00:50:36): Keynote Address by Andrew Jolivette, “Critical Mixed Race Studies: New Directions in the Politics of Race and Representation”
  • November 6th(01:00:04): Keynote Address by Mary Beltrán, “Everywhere and Nowhere: Mediated Mixed Race and Mixed Race Critical Studies”
  • November 6th (00:57:08): Keynote Address by Louie Gong, “Halfs and Have Nots”

    Where Do I Fit? Multiculturalism & Multiracial Sudents in Higher Education

    Above is the slide-show for a presentation I gave on the panel "Higher-Ed Challenges for Multiracial Students" at the 1st Annual Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference in Chicago November 5th-6th.
    My comments centered around the ideas of cultural diversity and multiculturalism and the ways in which these concepts pose challenges to multiracial students as well as “monoracially” identified students of color in higher education. For me the dilemma about how to support and create spaces for multiracial students really stems from how we’ve come to institutionalize and practice “multiculturalism” and cultural diversity in higher education and elsewhere. What we really need is as the conference organizers expressed in their opening remarks --a paradigm shift-- basically a huge change from the structural right down to the individual. How to create this is the key and most difficult question.  

    The end goal should be creating models and strategies for how students, faculty, staff and administration can work toward imagining and implementing first radical models of multiculturalism and cultural diversity and how these models can support and empower multiracial students, as well as monoracially identified students and even create proactive ways to confront racial tensions and microagressions that still occur on campus. 

    The concept which we now know as multiculturalism really began to solidify itself as an important social and political model in the Late 1980s and early1990s during the Reagan Administration throughout the Bush Sr. Administration and then through the early part of the Clinton Era. And its really been here to stay since then with a few minor alterations. Despite countless critiques and challenges the basic framework has remained the same. It was conceived as an ideological and socio-political intervention in education, culture and democracy in the United States and it sought to recognize differences in race, ethnicity, gender and to varying degrees back in the 1990s sexuality and socio-economic class, religion and spirituality-- with the latter three really coming into the fore over the past decade. The recognition of these “differences” was a huge project of early multiculturalism because of the idea that intolerance, tensions, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination and oppression were tied to ignorance of or denial of differences.

    The origins of multiculturalism really began in the major social movements of the 1960s and 1970s and then within the academy which theorized and structured it and offered models of behavior practice and implementation and thus, academic disciplines and departments were created, core curriculums and “canons” were challenged. Nationally, the rise and institutionalization of multiculturalism also coincided with the institutionalization of grassroots organizing and social movements and the subsequent rise of the liberal non-profit sector. There was also an influx of immigrants to the United States as well as he coming of age of 2nd and 3rd generation American-born immigrant children of color. Finally the country was experiencing a climb back to an economic boom during the Clinton years after decades of recession and economic instability.

    By the mid 90s, however, multiculturalism had morphed into something else and as described by Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner in their introduction to Critical Multiculturalism published in 1994: “Multiculturalism promised to make political culture open and responsible, not only to diverse viewpoints, but also to the conflicts that liberal procedures normally screen out; now, it easily appears to turn into a fantasy of “looking like America.” In this defanged version, “multicultural” identities are being conceived as genetic and iconizing sources of ethnicity, of political validity, and of authenticity."

    In key ways I feel like this quote is just as relevant and apt today as it was back in 1994 even as we head at breakneck speed toward post-racial era and no where is this idea of multicultural identities being iconizing sources of ethnicity, political validity and authenticity most evident than in the common racial/ethnic classification system. 

    The neat boxes multiculturalism provides, hide all manner of complexities about what the boxes are not telling us. These succint little boxes do not reflect the range of racial, ethnic, cultural, political, socioeconomic, geographic and (trans)national factors that shape how people identify at any given time within and outside these categories. Yet these are the boxes that are recognized and which have become essentialized and institutionalized all across the board from the US Census to our school system. And if this system is essentializing to officially recognized racial and ethnic communities, then how can we expect it to work for such a diverse identity as multiracials. So the answer isn’t creating more and more boxes. In that problematic solution we would just be creating an exclusive monolithic multiracial identity. The great promise of recognizing multiraciality is that it also forces us to confront all the factors that shape and change identification at any given time.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010


    Tomorrow,  I'm off to attend and present at the First Annual Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference at DePaul University in Chicago:
    The CMRS conference brings together scholars from a variety of disciplines nationwide. Recognizing that the diverse disciplines that have nurtured Mixed Race Studies have reached a watershed moment, the 2010 CMRS conference is devoted to the general theme “Emerging Paradigms in Critical Mixed Race Studies.”
    Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) is the transracial, transdisciplinary, and transnational critical analysis of the institutionalization of social, cultural, and political orders based on dominant conceptions of race. CMRS emphasizes the mutability of race and the porosity of racial boundaries in order to critique processes of racialization and social stratification based on race. CMRS addresses local and global systemic injustices rooted in systems of racialization.
    Many of the events will be podcasted and selected audio will be published on ITunes under the DePaul University conference channel.

    (Props and many thanks to Laura Kina, Camilla Fojas and Wei Ming Dariotis for making this conference a reality!!)

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Half-Full: Artist Talk & Student Art Show 10/15!!

    This Friday, October 15th @ 7pm, Oberlin College will kick-off Mixed Dreams: A Symposium on Multiracial Identities with a talk by Chicago-based visual artist Debra Yepa-Pappan (check out some of her awesome work below!) and a student art show at the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women & Transgender People.




    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Save The Date: Multiracial Symposium October 15th-20th, 2010!!!

    It's almost here!!! 

    Oberlin College's Multicultural Resource Center in collaboration with the Multi Symposium Student Committee presents Mixed Dreams: A Symposium on Multiracial Identities in the United States, featuring guests Paul Spickard, Eric Hamako, Debra Yepa-Pappan, Alicia Arrizon and a video conference discussion with G.Reginald Daniel.

    In addition, the Edmonia Lewis Center  in collaboration with Latino Heritage Month and the Multiracial Symposium will host an art show on October 15th. 

    Get hype!

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Mixed Is/Mixed Ain't

    "A long time ago I disappeared. One day I was here, the next I was gone. It happened as quickly as all that. One day I was playing schoolgirl games with my sister and our friends in a Roxbury playground. The next, I was a nobody, just a body without a name or a history, sitting beside my mother in the front seat of our car, moving forward on the highway, not stopping. (And when I stopped being nobody, I would become white--white as my white skin, hair, bones allowed. My body would fill in the blanks, tell me who I should become, and I would let it speak for me.) This was back when Boston still came in black and white, yellowing around the edges. You could just make out the beginnings of color: red-eyed teenagers with afros like halos around their faces, whispering something about power and ofay to one another as they shuffled to catch the bus; a man's mocha hand on a woman's pale knee. I disappeared into America, the easiest place to get lost. Dropped off, without a name, without a record. With only the body I traveled in. And a memory of something lost. This is what I remember."

    This excerpt is from the first page of Danzy Senna's semi autobiographical novel Caucasia published in 1998. Without giving too much away (the book is a relevant must read, even twelve years later): set in the turbulence of 1970s Boston, the story is told by Birdie, the daughter of a black scholar/revolutionary and a blue-blood WASP mother who denounces her family and white community to join in the "struggle". Birdie is the youngest of two children. From the beginning it's very clear that Birdie can "pass" as white in a way that her older sister Cole never can and it's this continuous act of Birdie's "passing", becoming invisible and at one point quite literally white, that emerges as one of the central themes in the book.

    As someone who has never passed as anything other than black (and maybe a lil' somethin' else from time to time, but always black), I was surprised to find just how much of Birdie's story resonated with me-- the idea that our mixed bodies become at once the canvas and the mirror upon which others cast their perceptions of who we are. At the same time, I kept wanting to get inside Cole's head. I wanted to hear her side of the story-- the story of the sister "left behind"-- the sister who's "black" body could not be erased or so easily forgotten. Instead of feeling like Birdie, I found I felt much more like Cole. We only hear about Cole through Birdie and see her through Birdie's eyes. Birdie seems envious of the ease with which her sister can pass through and into the black community, while she struggles to make her blackness visible. Ultimately, Birdie passes as white, Cole passes as black.

    Lately, this idea of passing has been nagging me. Racial ambiguity and passing are big issues in our multi experiences, yet  are they prerequisites? How do our current conceptions of passing support the centering of white/non-white identities in the mixed community? Can we think of passing as multidirectional-- not just passing as white, but also the ability to pass as black, Asian, Latin@ or even races/ethnicities we don't identify with at all?

    Most recently, at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival I remember a moment (albeit very brief) in which I felt a bit out of place. It was a funny feeling to have since, as I mentioned before, it was the first time I had ever been in a space where multiraciality was so visible and seeing so many other multi folk was something akin to a spiritual experience. Yet many of the organizers and participants were racially ambiguous in a way that I never have been (well not unless you count the first few days after my birth, before the melanin kicked in). And it left me with that heavy "not enough" feeling.

    Crazy, huh, to feel like you're not "mixed enough"? All of a sudden I felt like I wasn't "light"enough, my hair not coiled and curled enough to pass myself off as a mixed (black)girl. Granted, this was all in my head and lasted only a few fleeting seconds. Yet reflecting on that moment, I realized there were quite a few things going on:
    • Like every other category, there are definite essentializing characteristics and stereoypes associated with multi people. I have, unfortunately, despite all my continued efforts towards counter-socialization, still managed to internalize some of them :( Even though I'm multi, and despite how open other multi people are, I've managed to internalize this idea about what a "text-book" multi person looks like (yes, wildly problematic, I know! I'm workin' on it.)
    • White/non-white multi experiences are still inevitably being centered when it comes to who's talking and what's being spoken about in terms of multi issues. And while that experience is really important and should be heard, there are also the voices of non-white multi people out there, as well, that add a rich complexity to the issues already being discussed.
    • Someone recently said to me: "I'm not mixed, multi-racial, or whatever...I'm just light-skinned." This declaration got me to thinking about passing and multiness generally, but particularly how it plays out in the black American community. How do we define "mixed-race" or "multi-racial?"  Who gets  to claim a mixed identity and how is mixedness policed within a given community? Ultimately, who's mixed and who isn't?

     One of the biggest challenges to answering this question is how "mixed-race" is defined. Mixed-race as we've come to understand it applies to all those who can claim two or more "races" as part of their immediate ancestry. For clarity sake, most refer to this as "first generation" mixed-race: meaning your parents are of different races. This definition, however, starts getting a bit complicated when you think about multi people having children (ie: If Michelle Obama was actually Kenyan and white American like Barack) are these children also considered mixed-race? And actually, let's back up for a sec: can Sasha and Malia Obama be considered mixed  though their mother isn't "first generation"? What about people with that one Native American great-grandma somewhere down the line? What about people that can claim two different ethnicities, but not necessarily "races" like Japanese and Filipino or Dominican and Puerto Rican? What about transracial and/or transnational adoptees who are monoracial, but have been raised in families of a different race(s)? See? It all starts unravelling... especially when things like the rule of hypodescent, and native blood quantam laws have historically policed how multi people identify.

    I've also come across (mostly older) people that think mixed-race applies to just white/non-white individuals or even more specifically bi-racial black/white individuals. I've also heard people say that white ethnics/ethnicities should be included in mixed-race. The response from many is that the distinct experience and history of racialization, marginalization, "othering" and racial inequality faced by people of color and their mixed descendants in the U.S. makes including white ethnicities well... not likely to happen any time soon. The assimilation of white ethnic groups throughout U.S. history into a dominant WHITE group writ large is fascinating stuff and only further highlights the constructedness of race itself.

    There are also arguements around mixed races as in races that are considered multiracial by definition such as Latin@s, Pacific Islanders and African Americans. All these communities have had a long history of racial mixing and that should not be understated. U.S. racial policy made it such that mixed African Americans could not claim anything but black (one-drop rule) and later during African American freedom movements and rights struggles, claiming to be mixed within the community was sometimes viewed as being anti-black and a threat to the racial pride and solidarity being built. At the heart of Latin@ identity is the mixing of indigenous, European and African peoples while Pacific Islanders have indigenous, Asian and sometimes European ancestry. There are also countries all over the Americas that consider their national racial identity to be "mixed" like Mexico (la raza cosmica), Brazil and Trinidad.

    If race is a social construct and there are whole nations of people that identify as mixed then who, in fact, is mixed? Are we all mixed?...

    So, I took us on that wild rambling goose chase to conclude with this:

    I don't think we're all mixed. And while, I'm still grappling with all the issues I highlighted above, something still irks me when people say, "Well, we're all mixed-up anyway, so what are all these mixed people whining about?" I believe that there are certain experiences that bind multi people together, but that also differentiate and even divide us as a collective just like any other identity group. In the U.S. as in other countries where there are mixed people, there is a distinct history that weaves itself between the lines and more often than not, that history is not a very happy one. In our desire to embrace all the identities within us and to recognize  and not exclude others, multi organizing and efforts to develop a "collective"identity can get quite complicated.

    But no one is saying we have to establish some sort of clear cut collective identity as multi people. It's precisely this inability to build a defineable, collective identity, that makes the multi phenomenon so post-modern. If anything the strength in multiness is that it inherently deals with the fluidity and maleability of identities and the shaky foundations of "authenticity" and monolithic identities. It demonstrates that whether we're multiracial or even monoracial we're all a bit like Birdie-- our bodies filling in the facts and fictions, the realities and the myths of who we once were, who we are and who we could become at any given time...

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    How Many Hafus Make a Whole?


    ha•pa (hä’pä) 
      hafu (ハー hāfu)
      half (häf)

           whole ?      

    I remember the first time I picked up Kip Fulbeck's Part Asian, 100% Hapa... I was a bright-eyed, (way too) pensive undergrad still grappling with my multiple identities and trying to find the adequate words to bridge the vast continents of race, culture and experiences within me. I had just recently been introduced to the term "multi" as a legtimate way to identify myself and now I was hearing a new word (which wasn't quite so new at all): hapa.

    Now, I'm not "half" or "part" Asian, but  as a multi person, there was this great sense of recognition and empowerment that came with seeing Kip's simple photographs and the hand-written statements from each participant of the Hapa Project. Despite some of the murmured criticism and real critical debates around the use (some might even say downright "appropriation") of the native Hawaiian term hapa, the mere act of putting mixed Asian identities in the U.S. out there was radical and transformative in its own right. By doing so, Kip put us all out there as multi people and dared us to claim spaces and (re)name ourselves. It was a really important moment for the multi collective here at home.
    As I highlighted in an earlier post, there are really exciting conversations going on around multi issues all over the world. Most recently, three multi Japanese women Natalie Maya Willer, Marcia Yumi Lise and Haru Adelia Maruyama Carrasco-- a photographer, social researcher and multimedia designer-- embarked on the Hafu Project.

    "Haafu" (romanization) is a Japanese term that like hapa means "half." Japan has used different words to describe mixed people throughout its history. The Hafu project defines hafu broadly as those who identify as part Japanese anywhere in the world, while also recognizing histories of Japanese migration globalization/internationalization and even imperialism*. The project is multimedia-based and includes photography, video, exhibits, a website and public lectures about multi Japanese people in Japan and elsewhere. In addition, Marcia Yumi Lise is advising co-directors Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi who are working on a documentary also entitled Hafu, which aims to chronicle the experiences of multi Japanese people in Japan. (FYI: The co-directors are currently looking for a multi-Japanese person who has recently moved to Japan or planning to move to Japan in the near future to be one of the central characters in the film. Click here for more info.)

    In Japan, multi Japanese people are gaining visibility and increasingly being heralded as the "ideal", "having the best of both worlds" (sounds familiar, no?). Yet like many countries, Japan has had a history of being less than kind to its mixed population. Multi Japanese people have been marginalized, discriminated against and othered. This history goes wayyyy back and is rooted in understandings of collective identity, national identity, kinship and community in Japan.

    The Hafu project states, " While being a Hafu is often seen as something desirable in Japan, it is true that some Hafus are largely regarded as non-Japanese in Japan due to their non-Japanese appearance and blood line. The Japanese society is obsessed with collectivism and conformity. While on the legal level, nationality defines who belongs and does not belong to a nation, on a social level, people of mixed heritage are often subjected to ethnic and racial hurdles." So,  in thinking about these amazing Hafu multimedia and film projects, I've been reflecting first on the ways in which "half" gets used by both multi and non-multi people in describing mixed identity and second, how multiness and nationhood intersect-- who comes to "belong" to a nation and who is rendered a perpetual "other," or "foreigner"? (Stay tuned for "How Many Hafus Make A Whole: Part II!! Also check out Mia Nakaji Monnier's article Part Asian, Not Hapa)

    (*Though, I wonder which "part" Japanese identities,if any, get centralized in the Hafu Project, ie: white and Japanese, black and Japanese, Chinese and Japanese, Filipino and Japanese etc... what role does Japanese imperialism play in terms of thinking about mixed racial subjects in Korea, the South Pacific or even Hawaii? In the U.S. multi movement, white and non-white identities are often central, which is also another reason why Kip's book was groundbreaking in it's inclusion of hapaness and multiness outside the white-non-white binary. Just a thought...)

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    The Life & Times of Jazmine DuBois

    I've loved The Boondocks and the warped genius mind of Aaron McGruder ever since his strip first appeared in the comics section of the Sunday Advance when I was twelve. He's been corrupting my mind with his satirical brilliance ever since....

    I thought I'd do a few posts on multi people and the media and instantly the first image that came to mind was not Halle Berry, Keanu Reeves or Vin Diesel, but rather Jazmine DuBois in all her naive, doe-eyed, giant blonde afro puff glory.

    Jazmine, and her parents Tom and Sarah DuBois are a really interesting part of McGruder's world and we could sit here for hours just breaking each of these characters down. Jazmine is bi-racial and when she's not busy praising Santa Claus (she thinks he's Jesus) she spends most of her time feeling "mixed-up," and defending herself from Huey's dry (yet hysterical) remarks about her identity crises. It's a little hard to tell where McGruder stands on multiraciality in the black community. While it may seem like everyone is always telling Jazmine to just "get over it" and come to the "black side" already, McGruder does treat Jazmine with uncharacteristic care and even empathy compared to many of the other characters, complicating her story while still relentlessly mocking her in a big brother kind of way, via Huey.

    No matter where McGruder and his hosts of lovers and haters might stand, Jazmine and her role in the Boondocks world are definitely worth taking a closer look at....