The Wormiest of Cans: who gets to be “mixed race”?

A few days ago on Facebook I watched two community activists have a throwdown over the phrase “mixed race.”

It began when Activist X posted a link to this article about the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival and noted with some irritation that despite the festival’s claims to inclusivity, there were no Latin@s mentioned in the article. X asked: if Latin@ people are the largest group of multiracial people in the Americas and the festival is supposed to be open to everybody, why weren’t Latin@ people included? A few people agreed with X, and some people who had been at the festival said that they thought Heidi Durrow and the festival were great, but that they could see X’s point.

Enter Activist Y: after expressing some trepidation, Y said that the festival was using the term “mixed race” or “multiracial” to refer to people who had parents of two or more different racial categorisations. Activist Y said that if your whole family shared the same ethnic identity, then you were not mixed in the way the festival intended.

Dear Racializens, I am sure you can imagine what happened next: a veritable Facebook wall brawl — albeit one that was highly intellectual and restrained. Most people sided with X (it was X’s wall to begin with) and Y, after making several long attempts to explain themselves, eventually left in a digital huff.

This exchange brought back some of the most difficult writing that I have ever done on Racialicious: where readers challenged my right to call myself, as a mixed race person with parents of two different races, mixed in a separate way from those who are mixed race but share the same identity as their whole family, for e.g. folks who are mestizo, Creole, African American, Metis, Peranakan…

(From here on in I will refer to people who come from mixed lineage as MRs, and people who have parents of two different and separate racial categorisations as MR2s.)

So here is one of the most important things I have learned from all my years of toiling in the anti-racist trenches here at Racialicious: when you are talking about race with anti-racist people of colour, you are speaking from a place of pain, to a place of pain. (Ok obviously we are about more than pain, but pain is always on the table.) Many of us come to anti-racism through struggle. We are used to having things taken away from us, and we turn to anti-racism to try and arm ourselves against the corrosion of racism. We are sensitive, and we come by it honestly.

Both of my parents are – to the best of my knowledge – the first members of generations and generations of their families to marry outside of the race. When I first started writing about mixedness on Racialicious, I had never heard of mixed race being used in any way other than to refer to people who had parents of two different races. I grew up in Canada and Singapore, and while, as a postcolonial nation, there are many MR communities in Singapore, they refer to themselves as Eurasian, Peranakan or Straits-born Chinese, not mixed race. It was never suggested to me that I might have a similar experience to these folks, and neither did the Eurasian friends I had seem interested in me as an identity buddy. More than this, in Singapore the term “mixed race” was restricted not simply to “a person with parents of two different and separate races”: it was used to specifically refer to people who had one white parent, and one parent of colour. (Obviously, this happens not just in Singapore.)

Through some big f-ups (which you may read here and here and here, though I am sorry to say the comments might be missing on some of those), I learned that many Americans of colour — often African Americans and Latin@s — have a problem with “mixed race” being used solely to refer to MR2s.

Using the term “mixed race” in this narrow way is to systematically erase ethnic histories that bear witness to slavery and colonization; or simply, to erase ethnic histories, period. To do so can be read as an act of white supremacy: it covers up the fact that many Americans, regardless of skin colour or the stories elders are willing to tell, have mixed lineages. To do this silences a whole community’s right to express their experience.

And another thing: it is grating to hear the term “mixed race” applied solely to MR2s, as if we invented mixedness. Cultural forces (usually — though not always — powered by white folks) that select MR2s as somehow unique, or the antidote to racism, or hybridly vigorous, or exquisitely beautiful, are just pouring salt in the wound. After generations of MR folks being ostracised or having to commit violent contortions to have a peaceful life, being mixed is all of a sudden hot – and this is the very moment that the label is being rescinded from MRs. You don’t even get invited to speak at the damn mixed race festival.

And let us note that a lot of this friction gets even hotter when we are talking about MR2s who have a white parent and a parent of colour, because we are talking about people of colour who also have white privilege and/or light-skin privilege.

There are other reasons why MRs get angry when MR2s say that being MR2 mixed is different from being MR mixed – and you are welcome to chime in in the comments, if you are so inclined – but these are the ones I have come across, time and again.

After my Racialicious education, I tried to be sensitive to the fact that “mixed race” can mean MRs or MR2s. To acknowledge this widening of the category, in a post I was writing about Alicia Keys and her warped presentation of historic racial relations, I referred to Alicia Keys as a first generation mixed race person. To my dismay, this language was deemed just as offensive as my original ignorance. Because, a commenter said, the language of generations is offensive and recalls such awful categories as quadroon and octoroon, and because, why, after everything, did I have to keep on insisting that there was a difference between mixed race people from long lines of mixedness, and mixed race people who were racial anomalies in their families?

It wasn’t, I started to realize, that MRs were solely mad that MR2s and the dominant culture didn’t recognize them as mixed. They were mad that a distinction was even being made between themselves, and MR2s. (Perhaps my very decision to say “MRs” and “MR2s” is aggravating this tension right now.)

When you are dealing with sensitive people who are reeling from cultural rejection, distinctions feel like rejections. Why do MR2s think they are so special that they can’t possibly be in the same club with MRs?

So I will dig deep into my horrible well of childhood pain to explain what this distinction business is about.

I come from a nation of two. There’s me, and there is my sibling. When I was growing up, I had no language to explain my experience. I did not know people who were mixed. And these problems were exacerbated by the fact that I was a TCK in a postcolonial nation that was still dealing with a lot of (justifiable) anger towards Westerners, and I was read as white, and I was given a hard time because of that. This was all without a real knowledge of race or racism, but simply a sinking feeling that I was hopelessly and sometimes offensively different from everyone around me, and that those gaps could never be bridged. Until I was in my mid-20s, this was what being mixed was for me. In my family of origin I  did not know a single person — not my grandparents, cousins, my mother and father, or even my sibling (who, thanks to the genetic lottery, came out looking a different race from me and so had their own experience altogether) — who could understand my ethnocultural identity.

Note: I am not saying that only MR2s understand true isolation. Pulllease. I am just saying that this was my experience, and I am sure, sadly enough, that there are many other roads to that kind of loneliness.

So when I meet MRs who come from long and often proud lines of family members who share the same ethnocultural experience as them, I can’t imagine that they could have shared my particular brand of racial isolation. It is not about thinking myself better or even, as some people have alleged, more authentically and mixedly mixed than folks who share a more complete heritage with their family. It is simply that I can’t imagine they could have had the same experience.

Part of this has to be the emo-as-heck tragic mixie inside of me who is too terrified to hope that, after all this time, my nation of two is a nation of millions. I swear, that stupid Blind Melon video where the weird little bee finally finds all the other little bees gets me every time.

I know I could be wrong that there is a yawning distance between MRs and MR2s; but we can never get past the front door of fighting over what I should call myself and what I should call them, to find out. Like I said at the beginning, I’m a sensitive brotherpucker.

Like so many other things, some of this is about the amount of space the dominant culture is willing to allot the people it has marginalized: we are fighting for table scraps because we know the right to tell our own stories is in slight supply. It both frustrates and saddens me that my attempt to assert my identity causes pain to other people who are just trying to do the same thing.

We become possessive over our suffering. There is something that MRs and MR2s definitely have in common: we are fighting over the right to this label and the right to make distinctions, because any concession feels like giving up the history that we fought so hard to survive. I can only wonder at the experience of mixed race people who are both MRs and MR2s. Again, chime in from the comments if you’d like to weigh in.

I guess what I am giving you here is my thought process so far. I have no conclusions when it comes to this fight. Do I think that folks who come from a mixed lineage are mixed? Of course I do. Do I think that they should have the right to call themselves mixed, without qualification? Definitely. Do I believe that we are mixed in the same way? This is something I still struggle with. Do I want to be allies? Do I want to search for kinship where I never thought to look before? Do I want to have a mixed race festival and invite everyone?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

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  • 2cultures,1skin

    Before I say anything let me start with this — I am a 16, almost 17 yr. old, American citizen. My father was the first from his family to immigrate to the US from Ethiopia and my mother is the first Caucasian from her family to mix outside of the white race. With that said, let me add that I don’t think I’m quite old enough to fully grasp the concept that you have so gracefully laid out before me. I can say, though, that to me I have always had a hard time putting myself into a specific racial and ethnic category, as I am different from both my Mother and Father’s sides of the family, but at times I am expected to do just that (an example would be what the Black population does with anyone who dominantly looks black). At school, I am classified as Black (I do not look like a typical mixed person, which has caused problems on a whole other playing field), but when it is convenient the African Americans at my school will either side against or with that classification. Being the first one in a family to  be of 2 completely different races is, in my opinion, different than being someone who is of a “lineage of mixedness.” I don’t say that because I don’t acknowledge their many ethnic and racial backgrounds, but because I have seen MRs choose their dominant race (whether it be Black, Asian, Latino, etc..) over their other lineages when it is convenient for them, I, on the other hand, do not have that luxury. A black woman at my Father’s work, after she accused him of being racist towards her and him stating he is of black color and African American himself, told him he could not classify as African American, even though he is, if anything, the exact definition of African American  (as am I racially), and that only she and the other blacks in America can classify as that. My reasoning for bringing this incident up is that when it is convenient for her she might also bring up her other lineages, such as white and native american. This is a common mistake made by many Black people in America. I am not here to outline more division but to simply say, let’s rejoice in our uniqueness but not demand our own category. Simply accept we are all different and in the end can share the same pain and experiences with those who are also of mixed races, whether MRs or MR2s. 

  • Monday’s Baby

    why do you alternately need the assumed negative reinforcement of MRs and “monoracials” you don’t want to be associated with but want to treat you as if you are special simply because you exist along with the positive gaze of others (it’s okay if we drive a wedge between groups because it exists any way) to feel comfortable in claiming it? 

    Thank you for eloquently stating what I was having trouble articulating. In 2011, MR2s do have the ability to self-identify.  The one-drop rule isn’t enforced by the state any longer. So, I do think that some MR2s don’t like the fact that some MRs are also taking the opportunity to self-identify because it prevents them from being seen as special by the ruling forces/classes (read: white people).  

    In the US, if the assumption (and it is clearly a huge, theoretical assumption) that everyone is seen equal in the eyes of the state, why does it matter what one identifies as? It’s because people who code as not black are still afforded some privileges by some individuals and sometimes by the state.  Real talk. So, I’d prefer that MR2s that seek to preserve or gain privileges afforded them by their exotic/mixed/not clearly identifiable phenotype be honest about that. 

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  • Chantilly Patiño

    I should have left a comment sooner, but I just wanted to say that this article is brilliant!  And I really mean that.  I think distinctions are helpful and often necessary in order to talk about our own experiences, but also it’s important that inclusion doesn’t leave some out of the discussion.  “Modern” and “colonial” mixies are more alike than different.  Thanks so much for writing this!  <3

  • little mixed girl

    I’m replying both to you and Monday’s Baby.
    I do know about the history of black Americans in America. But, I’m not going to go into a long thesis about what I have learned because I figure that you both know the same.

    With that said, you, Digital Coyote, mentioned “passing”. “Passing” is a word used in the US almost exclusively to refer to “black” people “passing” as white. I’m using quotations because someone can’t “pass” for something they already are.

    I’m not East Asian. If by some interesting twist of fate, I somehow looked like an East Asian person, that would be passing. If, however, I have a white parent and a black parent, and at a glance look more like my white parent than my black one, that’s not passing.

    You also mention “how much attention” I, or another multiracial person, may want to draw to ourselves regarding our heritage. As a multiracial person, I don’t have a choice. When I walk through the streets of my hometown, if someone strikes up a conversation at a bus stop…at work, more than a handful of people feel that it’s perfectly fine to play the “what are you?” guessing game.
    I should add that I know that monoracial minorities are also subjected to a version of this.

    When my mom was growing up, she said, “There was no mixed. Either you were black or you weren’t.” I assume that that’s the type of environment that Berry and Obama grew up in. But, am I not allowed to criticize that type of backward thinking? The “one-drop rule”, that millions of people follow blindly because others do it is something I’m supposed to be cool with?

    Yes, people have been mixing for generations. For hundreds of years. To that extent, being mixed is nothing new. Presently, however, in the US at least, we have a group of multiracial people who are saying “We are multiracial and we do NOT want to be absorbed into one racial group.” If we want to be recognized as a separate group, why is that so wrong?

    You may reply that historically multiracial people were used to [insert way to drive a wedge between minorities and majorities here]. But, those distinctions were/are going to exist regardless. Going back to your part about “how much attention” one wants to draw to it. How can a multiracial person not draw attention to their multiracial family? How do we make sure that someone doesn’t ask us “What are you?” or “Why is your dad a different color from your mom?”.

    My position is not to deny people with multiracial pasts their pasts. But to ask *why*, if you identify as monoracial, do you (general you, not you personally) feel the need to tell those of us that identify as “multiracial” that our experiences are nothing special? Why the need to tell us that we should pick one? Why the desire to belittle our experiences with “Well, all [insert race here] people are mixed, anyways”?
    That’s like someone being the first in their family to get a university degree being told by another person, “So? Everyone in my family has a university degree going back 7 generations. You’re nothing special. We’re over the whole “degree” thing.”

    Being multiracial in America is not just a black/white thing.
    I’m sure I’m forgetting something. hmm…

  • Steven F. Riley

    Ms. Lim,
    Thanks for opening that “can of worms” in your article.  And thank you for using the term that has been effectively banned and censored by multiracial identity activists: “white supremacy.”
    As an attendee and a workshop participant at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival, I can attest that the festival was indeed great.  I didn’t sense that any particular group was excluded.  Last year there was even a short film titled, “Mixed Mexican” screened.
    Unfortunately, the mentioned New York Times article failed to mention many other individuals including the artist Dr. Laura Kina (another participant) and also one of the founders of the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference that was held in Chicago in November 2010.  (The New York Times covered this event too, but has yet to write about in “Race Remixed” series.)
    The only blemish on the festival that was at the “Loving Prize” ceremony where the organizers mentioned as one of the “Proudest Mixed Moments,” as “Having a Biracial President.”  Considering that the organizers have been (allegedly) long-time supporters of the right to self-identify, I found it ironic, hypocritical, insensitive and irresponsible that they would have put “having a biracial President” on the online ballot.  Would they have allowed “having a Kenyan-born President” on the ballot?  I think not. After releasing his birth certificate and his census racial identification, one would have thought the debate of President Obama’s identity would be over.  Apparently, the “Birthers” aren’t the only people upset with having a Black president.
    The debate between the MR2s (first generation/parents of different “races”) and MRs (multigenerational) so-called “mixed-race” individuals is more about group–or tribal as some would put it–formation than about self-identification. Simply put, MRs with their tenuous claim to mixedness–read “whiteness”–threaten the MR2s’ creation of a socio-political, and “visually identifiable” demographic group.  A bigger threat for the MR2s is the fact that many individuals who could claim a MR2s identity–like President Obama–choose not to and instead choose a “monoracial” minority identity.

    Keep up the good work and keep “the worm” discussion going.
    Steve Riley

    • Lyonside

      >Simply put, MRs with their tenuous claim to mixedness–read
      “whiteness”–threaten the MR2s’ creation of a socio-political, and
      “visually identifiable” demographic group.

      Of course, this assumes that all MR2s are white/something else, and are “visually identifiable” at all. As a lot of MR2s on this thread have said, including myself, we all look different, and not all of us have 1 white parent. This isn’t about claiming “whiteness” so much as it’s about acknowledging that having 2 parents of drastically different ethnicities that have been TREATED DIFFERENTLY BY OUTWARD SOCIETY today (which is why Irish/Polish is a interethnic pairing, but it’s still two white people with white privilege). And that that can cause a commonality of experience (not identical, by any means, but there are similarities).

      It’s funny, when I went ot my first SWIRL event in NYC, years ago, I was excited when I had the most BORING racial mix there, and I loved the diversity of many other people there. At the same time, we had very similar experiences when dealing with other people, and that’s where any sense of unity came from.

      I said in an earlier comment that it seems like my kids are having/ will have a better time of it. At the same time, that’s not universal. I recently got stopped at a fast food joint near me by the cashier, who was a high schooler, just because she wanted to know my background. She was also MR2, and was genuinely HAPPY to meet antoher MR2 with a similar background to her. Evidently she’s felt isolated (which, despite my little corner of my borough being fairly diverse, the outer ‘burbs are predominantly white), and was feeling like she was the only one. I didn’t think I would see this in someone 1/2 my age. It’s kind of sad, but not surprising, that the feelings I had as a young adult are still experienced by the next generation who has been told all their lives that they’re “over” race. Yeah, not so much.

  • miga

    As someone who is both MR and MR2 as you put it, it’s kind of an interesting conundrum, and one that I feel doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in conversations surrounding mixedness.  People tend to think of mixed issues only when it involves biracialism or white/nonwhite parenting.  But there are people like me who are not only black (which you’d call MR) but Asian and Latno/a (another MR, or rather an ME? I guess) and NA etc. 
    But for me (and I can’t speak for my siblings, aunts, uncles, and my parents  who are also both MR and MR2) I was always singled out by both MR peoples and “monoracial” peoples as being different, so I ended up identifying myself that way.  Each “race” I was part of would be able to tell that I didn’t “belong” completely to them, and the always being reminded you don’t completely belong hurt.  It was like growing up being constantly applied to the one drop rule AND blood quantum at the same time(for like 5 different groups), and coming out the worse for both.

     So when I hear people say “oh, we’re all mixed anyway” (which, in my experience, usually comes from progressive white people, funnily enough) it makes me angry because while that is true, and while I would hate to think that after a few generations my descendants will not be able to “claim” my background as one of their own I tend to have an easier time relating to people of an MR2 experience than an MR.  

    No experience of the mixed spectrum is better or worse, but we have to realize there IS a spectrum and not everyone’s experience will be the same. 

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  • douglajawn

    I don’t like the assumption that if you fall beyond the MR2 category, you couldn’t possibly have an isolating experience. I’m Caribbean-American of African and Indian (South Asian) descent. I have one Indian grandparent, and the distance and tension that’s created for my brother, my father (his son), and me is just as painful as the experiences of my MR2 friends (sometimes more so, depending on how well-adjusted my friends are or claim to be). Moreover, because I have no significant white ancestry, I fall outside of a traditional or accepted “mixed-race” phenotype in the US — while I identify as multiracial and black, in some spaces, my mixed-race identity is directly and forcefully challenged, and in other (usually Caribbean) spaces, it’s baffling to people why I’d identify as black at all.

    If that isn’t bifurcation, I don’t know what is. I wish we wouldn’t impose limits on mixed-race identity at all, while I do think that using “we’re all mixed!” (particularly in African-descended communities) to silence people is alienating.

  • Kabrams

    My mother’s mother is what some people call “passing”, i.e. she looks white to certain people (She had blond hair and blue/green eyes, pale skin, so-called white features). Although my mother was born with red hair, her hair darkened to brown. She also has very dark brown skin.  Outside our home, my mother would always be thought of as her mother’s caretaker or maid because no one could figure out what an older white woman would have in common with a young black woman.

    My father’s father is Native American, even though people believe he looks white. And my father’s mother is black. So he really is from “two different races” and two different worlds, so to speak.

    I have not met a family like mine, although I’m sure there are people like me out there.

    Many black people have made it a habit of forcing me to admit my so-called mixedness or biracialness because of my hair texture and facial features. But many mixed people have shunned me or called me a pretender because of my very dark brown skin tone.

    I feel I am a person in-between blackness and mixedness. I personally identify as black but many black people don’t want to accept this.  I do not identify as mixed, but many mixed people cannot accept this and think I am trying to join into the movement (which I don’t feel connected to, anyway). 

  • little mixed girl

    At the most basic form, I see people who come from groups that claim multiracial heritage over many generations as different from people who more recently mixed.
    Yes, there are a good number of Latin Americans and black Americans who have multiracial ancestry.

    However, these groups, as I see them, have developed an identity that is focused around a shared ethnicity, culture or, in the case of black Americans, race. Their multiracialness is a footnote.

    As a multiracial person, my white ancestor isn’t buried 5 or 6 generations in the past. Neither are my black and Native American ancestors. They are all very “close”. Or as close as someone who died before you knew them, could be.

    Only recently have multiracial Americans been able to stand up and say that they have pride in themselves, that they are happy to be mixed. My mom told me that when she was growing up, either you were black or you weren’t, there were no mixed people.

    Which is why I love hearing that there are places where I, as a multiracial person, can go to be around other multiracial people. And this is also why it’s so very frustrating to have a monoracial person tell me that my experience as a mixed person is, basically, nothing special because they had a white ancestor.

    I feel like monoracial people love to jump in to anything related to multiracial people and co-opt our experiences and belittle them for their own enjoyment. I’m not mixed when someone talks about white people and I want them to know that my dad was white. I’m not mixed because I want to feel exotic. I’m not mixed when I want financial aid. I’m mixed every day of my life, and I identify as such.

    The worst thing is when monoracials, again, pick and use us at their own convenience. Halle Berry gets to be the first “black” women to win an Oscar, but then we hear that she shouldn’t be the standard for beauty in the black community because she’s half-white and her experience isn’t the norm. But then a little after that we hear her used as an example of “if she identifies as black, why don’t you?”

    Can we multiracial people, and not all of us are half-white/half-minority, have our own space to work things out? Can we have monoracials listen to us without having them de-rail the conversation to their “other” ancestor from 6 generations back?
    Can we get rid of the pressure to identify as monoracial for political reasons?
    Can we stop spreading the myth that every single black, latin american, filipino person is mixed because slavery/colonization? Can we stop using that myth to silence multiracial people?

    • Monday’s Baby

      I feel like monoracial people love to jump in to anything related to multiracial people and co-opt our experiences and belittle them for their own enjoyment…I’m not mixed because I want to feel exotic. I’m not mixed when I want financial aid. 

      I’m a black American woman who has white ancestors (and very likely Native American ancestors) on both sides of my family going back at the earliest four to five generations.  I have no desire to identify myself as multiracial when I was growing up and definitely not now. I think that’s largely because I “look black.” I have dark(er) skin and my hair is kinky curly. The world doesn’t see me and ask, “What’s your ethnicity?”  People see me and see a black woman.

      I think that what is often not explicitly stated in discussions about MRs and MR2s is how much phenotype  can affect how 1) one self-identifies and 2) how other people (try to) identify you.  In my experience, many people in the black community (and quite possibly other non-black communities) value light(er) skin and hair textures that are more loosely curled/wavy/straight.  Generally, those traits were thought to be found in people whose lineage was made up of more ethnic mixing, be it parents or grandparents.  And, in the United States, due to the one drop rule, many individuals who were MR2s or had more recent MR lineage were included in the general pool of “black folks.” And due to the pervasiveness of white supremacy on all people living under its influence, black people who were phenotypically farther away from features associated with Africans were often more educated, considered more beautiful, and were often able to secure more financial security.  The effects of this stratification are still seen and playing out today.

      So, little mixed girl, while you say that you’re not mixed because you want to feel exotic and do not like it when MRs/monoracial people co-opt them for their own enjoyment, please know that they’re likely doing it because in America being perceived as something other than “regular” black or exotic brings with it privileges. Those privileges could range from the personal (more access to desirable romantic partners) to professional (getting better treatment at a job because one is “not like those other black people”) to the political (growing up disconnected from the black community and blackness and being able to get scholarships designated for black Americans when it’s time to go to college- and yes, I know this also has a class component, but I’m speaking specifically to ethnic identification).  So, while I understand that MR2s want space to have their own identity/spaces, I would like you to try to understand the other side of this, especially as it plays out in the black community.

      I would really, really hate to see America have a multiracial “buffer class” that is similar to the Colored designation in South Africa.  Because at the end of the day, it would just mean that access to parity in education, housing, health care, and career opportunities would be that much harder to access for people who look like me.

      • Lyonside

        >I think that what is often not explicitly stated in discussions about
        MRs and MR2s is how much phenotype  can affect how 1) one
        self-identifies and 2) how other people (try to) identify you. 

        Very very true. I have an ambiguous phenotype, mistaken for Asian Philipina, Pacific Islander, Latina (mexican, puerto rican, or something along those lines – mestizo, anyway), instead of the pretty boring white/black mixture I am. One of my first memories of dealing with peers was being verbally attacked for not being what they thought I should be according to the limited labels they knew. I’m talking PRESCHOOL. And in order for me to remember it, it must have happened a lot, like weekly or daily. I never had the opportunity to ID as monoracial, because my white peers could see I wasn’t white like them, and my black peers would never think I was one of them especially once I opened my mouth and spoke, as my friend (the same one I talked about in an earlier comment) calls it, “fluent Caucasian.” I’m obviously “something,” so there’s no point in claiming any other identity, even if I wanted to.

        My own kids are at first glance “something,” although it’s likely that with a Spanish last name, they will be in the position of correcting others only if/when they choose. My older kidlet hasn’t asked about skin color and race yet, and she IS in preschool, so it’s definitely better for her than it was for me. The biggest difference, I think, is that my kids have parents who are both ethnic/racial minorities, although not the same backgrounds. They do not have the benefit of white privilege received by a parent, although they may end up benefiting directly from it later in life.

        My husband’s nephews are PR/European-American with a very “white” phenotype. Their PR mother doesn’t really care about her heritage, and their white father, well, he’s a racist from a family of racists. – They will “pass”, and likely ID as white and trot out their Puerto Rican heritage for fun, for attention, for S+G. The important thing is that they will get to choose whether/if to ID. The choice is not taken from them.

        Take on the other hand my neighbor and her daughter; my neighbor is Italian, German, and African-American, with another ambiguous phenotype, but she’s proud to be mixed and never hides it. Her daughter could easily “pass” (blonde hair and blue eyes to boot), but probably won’t… because of the way her mother identifies. But both she and her mother benefit from white privilege, in that a stranger would assume both of them to be white, and act accordingly.

        And then take my other neighbor and her two mixed black/white daughters – both have a darker skin tone than I do, but the younger has the blue-grey eyes and lighter hair color that would look stereotypically mixed to most people (my husband thinks the baby is going to grow up to look like Rosie Perez). They are like me – unlikely to ID as anything but multiracial because anything else would be ridiculed as being insecure or self-delusional.

  • Digital Coyote

    In my own family, no one really talks about us being MR because a. I think it’s proof of historical hurt and BS; b. because so many of us (e.g. Black Americans with this same history) exist, it’s not “rare” or “special” in the same way people at large view the more recently mixed; c. we run in to a lot of hostility or are outright rejected by our non-Black (White and Native) people when we make contact and they often assume we’re trying to get something from them;  as such, the enthusiasm to contact family abroad has been seriously curbed; d. we still get treated as monoethnic/-racial people because no one at large cares about our genetic breakdown when they’re shouting epithets or making the assumption that we’re criminal, lazy, and overall deplorable people leeching off the system.  Unless other Black people (from Africa, the islands, the Americas, etc.) are in the mix, we don’t have to separate ourselves out by being more specific.

    For other people (read: non-Black), publicly acknowledging mixing is new and this might be the source of the need for a separate “mixed race” tag.  It’s not something they see (or realize they’re seeing) every day and thusly it has to be classified as something else or other.  There could be a long-standing history of shame associated with mixing with the “wrong” kind, so their kids need to have something to call themselves because of rejection from the larger ethnic whole.  They might want to secure some sort of privilege for their children because of their own social status or to differentiate them from people who are perceived to be less than them socially.  Other people might be afraid that they’re going to be “erased” if their child identifies as a member of one group instead of pieces of multiple groups. 

    I wonder how much perceived attractiveness plays in to it when dealing with the public and how we get marked.  I’m assumed to be “just” Black most of the time and get hit with all of the associated stereotypes.  Incognegro (here, meaning Black and totally invisible) by default? That’s me.  When I’m thinner, I not only get more play, but people decide I’m MR2 because I’m so much “more attractive” and it becomes their mission to figure out what my “other” parent is.  If I’m wearing my hair down? Choruses of  “you’re not really Black,” “what [Pacific] island are you from,” “stop denying your Latin@  heritage,” “who’s your [tribe/people]?,” so on and so forth. 

  • Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni

    Hello all.  I am the co-founder of the Festival (Fanshen Cox), and I’d like to clarify 2 things: 1) we chose to call our Festival ‘Mixed Roots’ instead of ‘Mixed race’ because we celebrate stories of ‘interracial relationships, transracial adoptions and ANYONE (caps mine) who identifies as having Mixed heritage’ – that can include culture, religion, skin tone, however you see it, as long as you feel your film or piece of literature reflects that – and it is a quality piece of work, we want to share your story.  Unfortunately, the New York Times article gave a very different impression – and Mixed Latino people were not the only folks who presumed they were left out based on what they read  2) the majority of our programming is based on the submissions we receive, and the truth is that each year we receive very few submissions for films, workshops, literature or live performance that address the Mixed Latino community; I hear your disappointment and I see it as my responsibility to curate more work that presents this story – I hope you see it as yours to create the work and submit to next year’s Festival.  We would be very, very happy to share your experience!

    • Chantilly Patiño

      Fanshen, I think what your festival is doing is amazing and it’s so important that mixed voices are heard.  I think Latinos and other groups feel slighted more by the fact that most of society doesn’t view them as “mixed” than by anything having to do with your festival directly.  We can only know as much as we know and most people just aren’t aware of the variety of mixes…I know I’m still learning.  The important thing is just to be open and active when new communities present themselves and I think that’s what you’re doing.  <3

  • Anonymous

    It’s been a long, painful and triumphant walk for me to own my identity as *I* see it. My entire life I’ve been questioned by others who don’t believe or accept my mixed race heritage (My dad is Mexican, meaning Mestizo – white, Indigenous, Black and my mom is white Irish).

    I don’t wait for others to define me now, for as you can see I am both MR and MR2. While I do believe self-identification is crucial for building a strong sense of being, I have to ask, “What’s the purpose?”

    There are plenty of spaces for multiracial Latino/as to share artistic expression and community. The Mixed Race festival, however, is a unique space geared for folks who have two parents of different racial backgrounds. To date, I have never met someone like myself, with a Mexican father that has never lived in the US and a white American mother. The Mixed Race festival would be a place I would go to hear similar stories of unique identities that aren’t reflected in the media or acknowledged with regularity in the dominant culture.             

    I also find it interesting how class never makes it into these conversations, as that is a huge part of identity, privilege, and erasure that informs who we are.

    • Chantilly Patiño

      Really great points Pia!  I’m so glad to hear your perspective here!  Would love to hear more about your experiences.  :)

    • Lyonside

      <I also find it interesting how class never makes it into these
      conversations, as that is a huge part of identity, privilege, and
      erasure that informs who we are.

      Yes. This. Family structure is formative to identity, and I think it's important to consider single-parent families vs. two parents in the household, level of education of the parents, the impact of divorce and identity (where do the kids spend most of their time), the neighborhood environments (more diverse areas are sometimes the poorer/working class ones in many cities; in the burbs it seems to be "right side of the tracks/white" vs. "wrong side of the tracks/ non-white".

  • Kris

    I honestly had never thought about this distinction until I read this post.  This definitely gives me something to mull over though.  I guess by your terms, I am an MR2, but I have always thought of mixed race people as just that – mixed race people.  I think of my dad who identifies as a black man, but is actually mixed race – my husband is the same.  Many black Americans are actually mixed race and that is often why I refer to myself as a black woman b/c I feel that part of being black American is a mixed racial experience, history and well, reality.

    I do see the distinction in being raised in a household with two racially mixed black parents as opposed to my situation with a white parent and black parent, but I don’t think we need different names/terms for that – at least, it never occurred to me that we may need them until reading this post. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.

  • VVH

    As an MR, I want you to know that I come from a nation of 4 – my siblings – because my cousins and other family members are other variations of our MR combination and choose to identify as being from a single group, African American, Latino, etc.  I appreciate the post because I had not identified why I feel so separate and apart from MR2s and now have some language to explain it.

  • DR-PR

    Mixed is mixed whether 1st generation or many generations ago.   I have always identified myself as “hispanic/latina” even though it is not a race but an ethnicity.  When people ask what I consider myself racially, I have no problem saying mixed.   My parents come from different carribean islands and are themselves racially mixed.  Growing up in the US, when I first started checking off those racial/ethnicity boxes, I have never felt compelled to check white, black, or indian, because I have never identified with any of those groups, or cultures.  I also don’t look like I belong to any group.   Growing up in in multi-tonal family, where we each look different, and then in a multi-tonal hispanic majority neighborhood where everyone identified as hispanic regardless of their color or racial background  made it easy for me NOT to think of race.   But I understand that my families racial ambiguousness may have allowed this luxury. 

    • Mickey

      “Mixed is mixed whether 1st generation or many generations ago.”


      I totally agree. I do not see a difference in a person who has parents of two
      different races and a person who has two parents that are already mixed. I have
      said this before, everyone’s experience is different, even within families,
      therefore, people will identify themselves based on their own experiences and
      how they are coded.


      I used to be very pro-Multiracial identity for everyone who was mixed,
      regardless of the degree of mixture, because I wanted to combat the racist,
      archaic one-drop rule. But then I realized that if someone wanted to identify as
      one race even though they were mixed, it was their life and their right to do

      • Lyonside

         >I do not see a difference in a person who has parents of two
        races and a person who has two parents that are already mixed.

        There is often a difference in perception and life experiences based on race when 2 parents are from drastically physically observable groups. My parents are 10 years apart, one black and one white. Both come from blue-collar/working class homes from the same part of the city, and had 2-3 kids per family. My mother’s family (white) only had 1 blue collar income, and was able to buy a house in the early 1950s. My father’s family (black) had 2 incomes, blue collar and pink collar, and was living in the projects for 15 years before being able to buy a house. The ONLY reason for the disparity was race and racism. It totally affected both their perceptions of their own identity and their life experiences.

        If both parents are already “mixed” and from the same background, they do have more common ground, and the child sees themselves directly reflected in both parents. Tehre’s no question about how to identify. When both parents are, at least on the surface, monoracial, the social categories get harder and the child faces a lot more questioning from within the family and from wider society.

  • McLicious

    Funny, even though I am MR2 and was adopted by a couple made up of one MR (Latino) and one Jewish (white Ashkenazi) person, I’ve never thought actively about the distinction, always just about one or the other. Of course we’re all mixed, but I do think that there’s a point that Y was making. In the grand scheme of the white-dominated United States, MR and MR2 have a lot in common and should probably work to be allies, not nit pick for differences. But in terms of cultural identity, I think there is much more community for MR Latina/os (in the sense that they can more easily find families and groups of people to identify with their collective ethnocultural identity) than there is for MR2 people, especially when you consider that MR2s can have so many distinctions (it would be interesting to investigate whether a half-Asian, half white person would find commonalities with a half-black, half-white person, or yadda yadda) and that, since those people tend to be “first-generation,” as you say, there isn’t necessarily a ready-made community for them.

    I’m so glad to see this topic brought up. It’s a great post, and I think it’s a great issue to be investigating. I personally struggle with the distinction, too, now that you’ve mentioned it. My sister is my parents’ biological daughter and has always considered herself “biracial” as well, though really I’d say she’s more MR+bi-ethnic.

    I just heard about the festival through Durrow’s blog, and I’m looking forward to attending it next year. I’m surprised to see that Latino/as were “not included.” I guess I need to do more reading on this original issue that you linked to, but I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t have been welcomed. Perhaps more work could be done as far as inviting Latino/as, if the festival directors feel as if MR and MR2 are equally important areas of representation, but it seems weird that they were invisible. But as I said, I’ll have to do more digging on that one.

  • Grace

    I, too, have thought about this issue in times past. I identify as, and read as, a Black woman racially, and identify as African-American ethnically. While I was in college, a couple of guys, who ultimately became good friends, started the first organization at Rutgers that catered to “mixed folks”, including transracial adoption, as well as interracial relationships, but with a primary focus on the “mixed race experience”. I joined, firstly believing that mixed race experiences MUST be part of the “race relations” discussion (and as I became more “activist-y”, the anti-racist movement), but also because I was, and am, interested in IR dating (though I don’t exclusively date non-black men and women). Eventually I was elected to the e-board, and to this day have been the only monoracial person on that e-board. Except, I’m not monoracial.

    I recall having a discussion, I don’t remember why, with an “internet person” on He ID’d as a black guy. He brought up the “African Americans are mixed” thing (with which I don’t disagree by the way), and my attempt at explaining the difference was that while “historically mixed”, as I’d termed it, the experinces of someone like me simply are not going to be the same as someone like Alicia Keys or Wentworth Miller. “Someone like me” has brown skin (the kind people tend to forget about in “light skinned/dark skinned” discussions), a wide nose and very full lips (aka “typical African features”), and curly hair (and not the “good kind”–the nappy kind, though it’s all “good” to me. But what about someone like my mom?

    Last summer we had a family reunion on my mom’s side of the family. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name is Newsome; this was a Newsome family reunion. At 24 years old, I’ve noticed for years now that my mom’s side of the family tends to be very light skinned, though there are plenty of us who are brown- and dark-skinnned. An image i can’t get out of my head was how, generally speaking, the further back you went with the generations in attendance, the lighter folks got. There were even times when, with my ignorant self, I’d wonder, “Hey, who’s that white person? :-O” lol (One of those turned out to be an MR2 mixed person, a cousin I’d never met. We are related via her brown-skinned black mom, who is also my cousin; her dad is white.) It was an experience that made me proud to be “mixed” in a way I never had before–a way i was never allowed to simply because of my parentage (my dad being a dark skinned black man) and how I look.

    I mentioned my mom because, as I mentioned previously, a lot of her side is light-skinned–herself included. I can recall times when she would recount that Latin@s would approach her speaking Spanish, assuming she’s Latina (usually Dominican). This is an experience from Black/white mixed folks that I’ve heard quite a bit. But..
    my mom’s not “mixed”.

    Ultimately though, I stand by what I told Internet Black Guy a few years ago–I think that ultimately, our experiences–MRs and MR2s–are going to be generally different, although there may be some overlap, simply because of, as someone said previously, how we are coded…and in turn, how we code ourselves. Ergo, I think it would go a long way to simply let folks self-identify. The world would be a much better place if we could LOVINGly place labels on ourselves (or choose not to), instead of having them violently slapped upon us.

    • Jen

      I think Black people in the U.S. forget how “mixed” they are and actually look.  People with one African and one European parent tend to look indistinguishable from Black Americans (Sade, Barack Obama, Sophie Okenodo, Boris Kodjoe).  But we code black/white multiracial people as looking like most people with one Black American and one white parent (Jasmine Guy, Maya Rudolph, all 3000 of the DeBarges).  We forget that these folks are actually genetically more white than Black.  

      • Lyonside

        It’s also that USians are generally ignorant of skin color and hair texture genetics (the most common racial “markers” although of course there are others). One of the best parts of my college-level genetics course was getting beyond the simplistic “dominant/recessive” things we’re taught in HS and looking at how multigenic traits (like sin tone and hair color) are passed on amd the phenotypes that result. 

        • nicthommi

          So very true…people still tend to think that humans mix like paint and it’s more like throwing a million tiny pieces of paper into a hat and picking one(or more) while blindfolded. 
          But I believe the term is polygenic.  Skin color and hair are polygenic traits.

          • Lyonside

            Actually, both terms are right, and I’ve seen both used. Depends on your textbook. According to Websters, polygenic and multigenic both have “multifactorial” as a synonym. There may be a nuance that I’m missing, depending on who’s talking (I’m not a microbiologist or a geneticist, but an environmental biologist turned teacher, so I’m not up on the latest genetic terms by any means).

            If we really wanted to derail, we could always consider incomplete phenotypic expression (!), but that would probably try the mods’ patience… 😉

    • nicthommi

      You don’t need to be light skinned to be mistaken for a Dominican.  What people ALSO seem to not  understand is that more Africans were shipped to any ONE of a number of Latin American and Caribbean locations than the sum total of Africans who were shipped to the U.S.  So something like 90% of Dominicans are of African ancestry, and not just a “little.”  Fun fact.  When Trujillo had the Haitians massacred the soliders in fact could not tell the difference and the way they decided who to kill was to ask them to pronouce the word parsley, and then judged whether they said it properly in Spanish.  B/c yeah, you can’t really tell them apart by just looking at them.

      My point being that the degree of racial admixture and the idea that the people of African descent are significantly and predominantly LIGHTER and more multiracial than the people of African descent in the U.S. is largely misunderstood.  Also, studies show that no matter what people are called, the effects of racism based on how you APPEAR exist all over, and are perhaps worse in places where people exist that they dont’ exist or use less obvious language about.  And what people who are coded black tell you is different from what a lot of people think, since most believe that the typical Latino looks like Salma Hayek and the average Brazilian looks like Gisele Budchen (funny since Brazil has the biggest population of people of African descent outside of Africa, and again, a lot black not a little like everyone thinks).

      When Cuba was taken over by Fidel Castro, the rich white Cubans fled to the U.S.  So Americans have this idea that most Cubans are white or barely tan (that classic stereotype of lightly tan skin and dark hair that people think defines the non-existent “Latino” race).  In reality, the bulk of Cubans are of African descent, and the people who fled to the U.S. were fairly recent imports from Spain (courtesy of the U.S. gov’t who didn’t like having such a black country plus people were kind of nervous at the possibility of an uprising Haitian style).  In fact, after the Spanish/American War, the U.S. was upset by how “black” Cuba was-slavery was legal nearly until the turn of the century and they were importing Africans for a VERY long time.

      So I get the point of this topic but I do get irked by lack of acknowledgement of the pervasiveness of the slave trade, the size of the African Diaspora in the Western Hemisphere, the need to “un-blacken” black people because they speak Spanish or Portuguese, and the fact that the myths around race and color in Latin America continue to be passed about.

      I’m not light at all and when I go to places that have Domincans, Cubans, or Panamanians, I get addressed in Spanish and asked if I am (insert Latin ethnicity that has lots of people of African descent here)…

      And I think all of this muddies the waters over who should claim multiracial because there are strong arguments for everyone, and I personally have friends who are quite dark-skinned who have the  very recent white or other ancestors but who are clearly excluded from these discussions b/c of their “unmistakable” blackness.  So some of them would have 25-50% but yeah, if you look like Wesley Snipes people kind of look at you funny if you say that but it’s as possible as any other look.

      • Grace

        My comments about my mom are not a reflection of *my* ideas about Latin@s and race, or even my mom’s. My comments were a reflection of how she is sometimes perceived by Latin@s. I am very aware that not all black Latin@s are light skinned. That being said, I do appreciate the history lesson. :-)

  • anonymous

    I find this debate interesting because I am a person who, at certain points in my life have identified as mixed race.  My mother is white and my father is Mexican-American.  I actually agree with the fact that if both of your parents are latino, you are not mixed race in the same way as someone who’s parents are different races, or come from different ethnic backgrounds.  Yet, you are still mixed race because you just simply are.  But you might not have to deal with the same stigmas and crap as someone who’s parents are different races.  So, I guess I am wondering, how would people classify having a mexican-american parent and a white parent, is this considered MR or MR2?

    • MorenaClara

      I say both since my dad is  Anglo, German, dutch, Irish, and while my mother is Mesitza from Mexico. I always considered myself as mixed since my mother with Spanish and nahuas just the anglo-german is added to the mix. On one level I’m another another mestiza but yet I was the only  girl in my highschool to have an anglo father and a Mexican mother, my mother was the first to marry an American( and only until my cousin married an American this year).  This is one of the many problems of the binary system

    • triguenas0y

      So what if “both of your parents are Latino but one is racially “black” and the other racially “white” ? Would you not consider their children mixed race ? The culture & heritage (Latino/a, because most of us are aware that Latino/a is not a race) may be the same, but the races of the parents are not.) When considering Latinos, race has been swept under the rug by many for as far as one can look back, even though it truly is a factor, given some of the historically tragic incidents in many Latin American & Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries. (An example being the aforementioned racial history of La Republica Dominicana; see: Trujillo & the Haitian massacre.)  

      • Lyonside

        My husband’s family (Puerto Rican) and I have discussed this a lot, as he and one sister try to pry family information from their parents (neither were/are exactly forthcoming about ethnicity and race issues). Both his parents are obviously mestizo/mulatto, but of different admixtures.

        We do know that my mother-in-law  faced prejudice from other Latinos and from my father-in-law’s family for being a bit darker than him (I mean, we’re talking one make-up shade here, nothing I even noticed when she was alive, but it mattered in the 50s when they met) and for having a broader facial structure. As near as we can glean, she was mestizo/mulatto with Sephardic Jewish heritage. My father-in-law, however, claims to be “Castilian Spanish”, and he says it with pride, although he has some admixture as well.

        When he was working, he deliberately claimed to be Italian, thinking to avoid some of the prejudice against Latinos. I have no idea how successful he was at this (esp. with a Spanish surname) and how many people just humored him.

  • H. Ilana Newman

    I don’t really think I qualify as being in either of the above categories, but this sort of struck a chord in me, and since I found it a very elucidating read, I thought I’d offer some thoughts.

    I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, and am read as “ordinary Caucasian gal” probably 100% of the time (to the degree that I have been accused of lying about my heritage, more times than one).  Both my parents are Ashkenazi too, but my mom’s dad converted to Judaism in order to marry my grandmother.  Ethnically, he’s Welsh and Scottish.  So while I am white, I have always been aware of my mixed heritage, though being 1/4 Anglo doesn’t really impact my life.  Despite the fact that I live as an observant Jew and my culture is really important to me, I walk around looking like any other white girl. I never really thought of myself as being ethnically mixed, because of the way I look, though technically I guess I am.

    I have two friends who are married and both Ashkenazi, and they’ve been talking a lot about their hypothetical future children, and how they’ll have to be tested for Tay-Sachs and other genetic illnesses specific to Ashkenazi Jews before they reproduce…  I probably won’t, though, even if I marry another Ashkenazi, because of my mixed heritage.  My grandfather opened up the gene pool that much.

    Anyway, I know that these concerns are different than the ones you outlined above, and maybe less to worry about on a day-to-day basis.  But it sort of made me think about “who is allowed to identify as mixed”: one one level, almost all people are mixed to some degree today, especially in North America.  Are those who are visibly mixed and/or of colour granted exclusive rights over the term? Or instead is it those who are first or second generation mixed?  Or both? The exclusivity of a term like “mixed race” makes less and less sense in an age where, despite the continued problems of prejudice and racism, people of mixed heritage are more and more common.

    Sorry for the tl;dr, to anyone who got through all this.

    • Anonymous

      This is interesting. I’m also Jewish, raised religious, and the culture is one that is important to me and I very much identify with. That said, I’m only half Ashkenazi Jewish, other half Irish. In fact, I’m “half, the wrong half” as I like to say as me mum’s the irish one. All that said, I’ve never considered myself “mixed” in either the MR or MR2 sense of the word because I don’t consider my Jewish heritage/ethnicity to be of color, so to speak. I’m white. These days, Jewish is white. And while I can appreciate that you might identify as mixed since you are techinically of mixed racial heritage, for me, something about the term/identity seems like it’s a POC thing, and it feels a little like cultural appropriation to claim it. In the vein of white kids who think its “cool” and “in” to be black or brown, it feels very appropriating to me. I’ve actually felt this for being Jewish from Christian and secular kids, that they feel like it’s “in” and socially convenient to be Jewish, but they have no idea what the reality of being Jewish in an anti-semitic society is like.

      Of course, the rebuttal to this is– what? brown and black is raced (and can therefore be mixed race) and white is unraced (and therefore can only be mixed if you add brown or black)?

      so I don’t know. But I do feel like the emotions and sentiments behind MR and MR2 in this post do not really apply to mixed white people. You know? 

      • H. Ilana Newman

        Right. Like I said, I do understand that I’m not a person of colour, and frankly I’m a little perturbed by your assumption that I’m appropriating people of colour’s right to identify as mixed race.  I do not view myself as mixed race.

        The interesting thing you mentioned was that “these days, Jewish is white [sic].”  It’s been a subject of interest for me for some time how exactly Ashkenazim came to be (viewed as) white, given that genetically we are more similar to non-Jewish Middle Eastern populations than non-Jewish European populations (I’m basing this claim off a recent National Geographic study.)

        I absolutely agree with your last point, and am not attempting to co-opt or appropriate mixed race identity as it relates to people of colour.  My comment was a little off-topic, in retrospect, but the article reminded me of certain related ideas that I’ve been curious about lately, and wanted to share.

        • Lyonside

          Anthropologists would consider the stereotypical “Middle Easterner” to be Caucasoid. Just sayin…

  • Dominique

    “Do I believe that we are mixed in the same way?  This is something I still struggle with. ” 

    I completely understand your struggle, Thea.  Perhaps it would help to think of it not as being mixed in the same way, but as being positioned – or coded – in *different* ways.  For example, I can rightfully claim to be of mixed African, European, and Indigenous Caribbean heritages.  However, I identify as Black because I was raised Black, and because I “look Black”:  that is, in both my internal and external worlds, I am coded as Black.  If I were an MR2 who “looked” like she was mixed, I might be coded differently and, based on that coding, I might have access to social and material privileges that I wouldn’t otherwise have if I were “just” an MR who didn’t “look it”.  As you touched upon in your post, privilege – and who does/does not get to mobilize it legitimately – is a key factor here.  So maybe that’s the starting point from which we can create alliances?

  • Lyonside

    I want that big tent, even though there are those in the tent that would tell me what side of the aisle to sit on (hint: not theirs). I’ve gotten more outright rejection/ostracism from “MRs” who share my minority heritage but who are monoracial-identified than  from the majority/ people-in-power (i.e. white/European). But as an adult, I know where that was coming from now, and I’m over it.

    My husband is Latino and wasn’t even strongly identified with his heritage until late childhood/ adolescence, but he’s now got the anti-racist eye, and is learning to call out bias all over the place. 

    I tend to fall on the side of letting people self-identify. If I get that right, then other people should too. If they feel a kinship with multiracial identity and issues, and they know this is their heritage even it’s back several generations, then I’m OK. I’m not OK with someone claiming a mixed heritage to feel special or to get some benefit, while unquestioningly benefiting from white privilege or another privilege (Privilege is something society gives people without their permission, but once we’re aware of it, I think we have to work against it).

  • jen*

    I’m totally biased since I have parents of different races, but it’s obvious that there is some disntiction. It is the norm for people with 2 white parents or 2 black parents to refer to a person with a white parent and a black parent as mixed (or some other turn-of-phrase). That distinction has been made from the outside, regardless of the self identification of the “mixed” person.

    There are certainly lots of reasons contributing to people being discerned as other, but this argument is definitely a bit esoteric to me. My current world is rather small, living in Podunk, but I’m not familiar with black people who have two Af-Am parents who consider themselves mixed. That is not to say this does not happen, just to remind that self-IDing can take so many forms. The distinction (esp. among black people) has existed as long as race distinctions in this country have existed. Sometimes mixed black people are accepted as black, sometimes they’re not, and sometimes they don’t want to claim one part or the other of their own heritage.

    I don’t think it’s fair to lay the blame of othering/distinctions at the feet of other mixed people. The world was like this when we got here. Broken. Most people are mixed if you go back far enough – but do they get treated differently because of it?

    • Anonymous

      My current world is rather small, living in Podunk, but I’m not familiar with black people who have two Af-Am parents who consider themselves mixed.

      The comments are gone on most of those posts, that Thea referenced, but I remember seeing some folks vocalize that sentiment on these boards. Sticky things to moderate.

    • alea adigweme

      My current world is rather small, living in Podunk, but I’m not familiar with black people who have two Af-Am parents who consider themselves mixed. 
      your personal unfamiliarity shouldn’t preclude “af-ams” from being understood to be, on the whole, innately multiracial/multiethnic peoples [and, please, define the way that you’re using “af-am”].  despite living in “podunk,” you know the history of people of african descent in this hemisphere.  that most “af-ams,” as lyonside pointed out, have been deprived of the right to know enough about their histories to even have the option of explicitly identifying as multiracial shouldn’t be held against them [especially because i think that these conversations *are* happening in some spaces].  

      i’m a first-generation american mr who is read as monoracially/monoethnically “black.”  i identify as brown because that is actually the color of my skin and because black and african-american and “person of african descent” don’t actually say anything about the multigenerational multiraciality of my mother’s family and the fact that my parents are “different kinds” of “black.”  most people *are* mixed if you go far back enough, sure, but that seems to be another version of the “one day, we’ll all be beige” cop out.  that most of my extended, mariah-off-white to not-quite-alek-wek-brown relatives identify with “blackness” doesn’t mean that their struggles with racism and colorism are any different from those of mr2s.  it doesn’t make them any less multiracial and it certainly doesn’t make them any less interested in their genealogical histories.  

      so, this discussion doesn’t feel esoteric at all to me.  it feels like mr2-to-mr bridgebuilding, like the cutting edge of where i think discussions about race and ethnicity will be heading in this century [and not just because i’m on a research trip studying this shit right now].

       thea: i can absolutely understand your pain about feeling like you come from a planet of two.  i have two siblings, so, i guess you could say that i come from a planet of three, but it’s always felt like a planet of one [i wrote a whole journal article about it].  i think that “mr” and “mr2” are incredibly useful technical terms for the discussion at hand, and i hope you don’t mind if i cite you and use them in future essays.

      • jen*

        Alea, “Af-Am” is my lazy way of saying African-American since I can’t use Disqus at work and have to write comments using my phone.

        I understand the reasoning for using specific and particular terminology to refer to people accurately, but I feel like the more specific we get, the more exclusive we get. The reason I mentioned living in Podunk was that I don’t talk to many folks in ivory towers. My concern is that sometimes our terminology gets so far removed from the common person (of any race or mixture of races) that we are no longer understood. That is why I said it leans toward the esoteric.

        My point, however muddled, is that there is such a wide range and array of mixtures here, combined with the various ways that “MR2″s self-identify, that I don’t think it’s possible to really capture the groups with accuracy. I myself am “MR2” but do not always ID as such, in conversation.

    • Jen

      “I’m not familiar with black people who have two Af-Am parents who consider themselves mixed.”

      I don’t think I have ever heard of this, either, and I come from a family that is multigenerationally mixed.  In fact, in the Black community, I think there is direct opposition to this.   I have identifiable white ancestors.  Hell, more than one branch of my family can be traced back to Europe, and the way that ancestry is totally disqualified (I’m mixed with “Black” and “Blacker,” GOOD DAY) is more than a little bit hilarious.  I think that for Black families, particularly those from large multigenerationally mixed communities such as those found in Louisiana (my family’s place of origin), declaring yourself “mixed” is one uncomfortable step closer to denying one’s heritage as a Black person in America.  And that would shame the ancestors, who have suffered all the disadvantages associated with that status (SEE: Homer Plessy, who sued the State of Louisiana after he was discriminated against because one of his great-grandparents was Black and that made him Black, too).

      • eLLeB

        Thank you I agree with this…I am one of those MR s who appears to be MR2 to a lot of people.  I have on my mother’s side plenty of MRs who also get confused with either white or MR2.  I also have those of Hispanic heritage come up to me speaking Spanish and it totally throws me every time.  It is challenging to say the very least for me and my family, but we have always identified as Black/African American because of the heritage and historical legacies involved in THIS American culture.

  • Brownbelle

    As an MR I applaud this. I come from a “lineage of mixedness” as you so artfully stated. Because I look typically Black,  I tend to self-identify as such because…well…people  don’t ask, and when is a good time to say that you’re mixed without sounding like you’re trying to distance yourself from Black people? Checking the “Other” box always felt insulting, as if mixed people are some weird concoction too distasteful to name. I wish that we could all embrace our heritage without feeling the need to compete in the Oppression Olympics.

    • Lyonside

      >when is a good time to say that you’re mixed without sounding like you’re
      trying to distance yourself from Black people?

      A good friend of mine IDs as black, but has concrete proof of Welsh and native (likely Cherokee) ancestry, and claims it as suits her (usually to blame some trait or behavior on the Welsh). Her skin falls within the range of what most consider African-American, but she has a Roman profile and a mixed hair texture (as in, some kinked, some straight, no relaxer necessary, not “mixed”, since that’s meaningless).  That, coupled with going to predominantly white private schools and spending a few formative years in Germany, means that she has often felt a bit outside the black communities in our area. 

      It seems that some people who are multigenerationally mixed (the other term I heard a lot of a few years ago) claim the mixed label when they have the history, oral or otherwise, to support it. For many African-Americans, that history is unknown, and if discovered might be offensive and hurtful even generations later. Do people really want to know that a great-grandmother was coerced or raped by an employer? In my friend’s case, she has documentation that her Welsh forefather had 2 families and maintained two households, one with his legal white wife at the top of the hill, and one with his black mistress at the bottom of the same hill. All the children, white and black, were generally acknowledged and carried the father’s last name, which my friend also carries. While of course the relationship wasn’t equal or fair, the history as known by her family isn’t as sordid as it could have been… which made it easier, I think, for my friend to claim the heritage.

  • Freedmelanee

    Also, I think what I get afraid of is some kind of racial stratification between blacks and “coloreds.”  On television, mixed race people get a lot of the jobs that would go to “black” people because they look more pleasing to the dominant culture. You still rarely see very dark skinned little girls on tv being adorable and all of that.  (And when they do show mixed race kids, they rarely show their white parent, as if white people don’t have brown kids).  I don’t know. I feel the poster’s pain, but the whole mixed race festival has a kind of “Jack and Jill” vibe to it. I know this isn’t intentional, but us brownish, not-having- a-white- or-Asian-or-other-parent black folks have always had to deal with this outsider status when it comes to black folks considered more acceptable to the dominant culture. I think my father always suffered from that kind of thing back in the day, and I think his complex about being dark next to my mother’s light skinned thing was a division between them.  And my parent’s divorce was final and left me without even really knowing him. My brothers’ ongoing feud was fueled initially by the fact that they were two different shades. And their feud has not been without blows and a current inability to talk to each other at all. I don’t know. I am still processing pain over certain things and I think they have a lot to do with the cultural and racial mixing of my life- which should be a good thing, but often isn’t in our racist culture.

  • Freedmelanee

    I am a person who comes from a line of mixed race people. I did not know any of my extended family members. My mother’s family, culturally black and visibly mixed seemed in my formative years to reject us. My father, you see, was darkskinned and my mother was lightskinned.  We always had the sense, especially my oldest the brother, that our darkskin was a basis of rejection to the rest of the family. My grandmother would say racist things against darkskinned people. I myself was integrated with white people and experienced rejection by other people for acting “white” and having long hair. This was all very painful, as I felt inauthentic as a black person on many occasions. I am browkskinned, look obviously black but I felt torn between two cultures and am in an interracial marriage now. I am old enough and wise enough to not let myself be played by the race baiters, but trust me, it was all painful.

  • Jessica Isabel

    Thank you!!! I rarely use more than one exclamation point but this post definitely meritted serious enthusiasm. I’m Latina and born in the United States. My grandmother on my father’s side was Taino and the rest of my grandparents emigrated from the Canary Islands (off the coast of Africa, owned by Spain) to the Caribbean and somewhere down the line their ancestors emigrated from Spain. Trying to figure out whether I even “get” to claim my Native identity is a confusing and painful process. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with these issues.

  • Rogerogreen

    What you said. Big tent.