Category Archives: family

Barack Obama as our first Asian American President?: Part I

Barack Obama with his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng from their earlier days

By Guest Contributor Jennifer; originally published at Mixed Race America 

It has been two months since I last wrote a post in this blog–which is embarrassing (sigh).  For all my good intentions, I have not felt compelled to write in this space, even though I, ostensibly, have the time since I’m not teaching.

But this is, perhaps, the reason why I haven’t been writing in this space–because I have been immersed in trying to finish my book manuscript on racial ambiguity and Asian American culture (which also happens to be the title of the book).  I’m fortunate enough to have a research and study leave, which means I’ve been reading and thinking and writing and trying to make the most of my time out of the classroom.

And then, of course, as I realized how much time had passed from when I last blogged, the pressure to write something meaningful or at least intelligible increased after so much silence (sigh)–always the dilemma of the writer–the blank page and wondering if there is an audience out there.

But as I tell my students, sometimes, whether you’re feeling it or not, you just have to write it.  Good advice.  So I thought I should share what I’m working on, since it has applicability to this blog.  For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about the coda to my book–which is also the title of this blog post.  If race is a social construction–if it doesn’t have a basis in biology or blood, then could we imagine that Barack Obama is not only our first African American president, our first (openly) mixed race president, but our first Asian American president of the United States?

This might seem like an odd way to end a book on racial ambiguity and Asian American culture.  Yet if we think about taking the idea of racial ambiguity to its furthest extremes, if race is not just limited to what you “look” like–if you can be Asian American without Asian American family (as transracial adoptees would seem to prove), if one’s racial identity is as much about culture and community as anything else, then it would seem that there are clear markers of Asian American racialization that correspond to Obama’s life narrative.  For example:
*He was born and spent his formative adolescent years in the only state in the union that has a majority Asian American population.  The local culture in Hawaii is steeped in Asian American culture from the various Asian immigrants who have come to the island archipelago from the 19th C.  He can speak pidgin, he eats local food, he grew up with his grandparents preparing sashimi for guests and with Asian American neighbors and classmates.
Obama’s fifth-grade class photo from The Punahou School
*He is the child of an immigrant father who came to the US to be educated (first, a BA at U of Hawaii and then a PhD at Harvard), and his name reflects these immigrant roots, with people who find it odd, foreign, and hard to pronounce (something many children of Asian immigrants with Asian names understand all too well).
*He lived for four years in Indonesia (from the ages of 6-10) thus experiencing life in an Asian country.
*He has family members–a sister (Maya Soetoro-Ng–Indonesian-white), a brother-in-law (Konrad Ng–Chinese-Malaysian from Canada) and nieces who are Indonesian-Chinese-Malaysian-white–who are Asian American.
The Soetoro-Ng family
In October 1998, writing for The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” about the ways that President Bill Clinton was being targeted by special prosecuters for potential impeachment after revelations of his affair with Monica Lewinsky became public, Toni Morrison famously (or infamously) wrote:

Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.

Until Barack Obama was elected to office in 2008, it was believed, in certain quarters, that Morrison had claimed blackness for Bill Clinton, thus dubbing him our first black president.  But if you read the above quote (and the entire article) carefully, you will see that it is the “trope of blackness” that Morrison refers to rather than claiming that Clinton’s identity is that of an African American man.

In similar fashion, claims for Barack Obama as our first Asian American president have been made by Rep. Mike Honda and Jeff Yang – mine is not the first observation made in this regard.  
Yet what does it MEAN for me to imagine, that Barack Obama could be considered Asian American based on the trope of Asian-ness–the ways in which parts of his life narrative contain similarities to those of Asians in America?  Is this an anti-racist move, one that can remind us that race is a fiction, a social construction designed to elevate one racial group above others?  Can knowing that race is this fluid and flexible become a means to dismantle structures of institutional racism?
Stay tuned for Part II (which I promise to write this weekend!) and, of course, if there are any readers out there, I welcome your thoughts and comments, your agreements and disagreements.  I welcome dialogue, because that’s the reason I started this blog to begin with–and Barack Obama was the topic of the third blog post I wrote back in May 2007.

 

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Jose Antonio Vargas’ Documented

By Andrea Plaid

Second week of Pride Month, and I have some great documentary news!

Journalist/activist/filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas casually mentioned his newest documentary, Documented, to me when we gathered to petition the New York Times to completely stop using the terms “illegal” and “illegal immigrants.” But I thought he was in the throes of shooting or at the beginning of post-production. In other words, the movie was a long way off from being in the theater.

Well, documentary-fan me is so happy to announce that the movie will make its world premiere next Friday, June 21, at Washington, DC’s American Film Institute’s documentary festival!

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Open Thread: A Tale Of Two (Racialized) Spoofs

By Andrea Plaid

I really need to figure out why people outside of Black communities stay needing to play around with still-volatile n-word. It just doesn’t go too well, especially when folks want to use it to show how oh-so-edgy they are. Example: here’s a spoof on the going-for-a-hipper-image Kmart commercials that goes for it:

Personally, I’m not here for the hipster racism or the Black person in it as a “The Black Best Friend” justification. But that’s me.

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WTF? Supercute Cheerios Ad Featuring Mixed-Race Family Rallies The Racists

By Andrea Plaid

Now, I can understand critiquing this Cheerios commercial for being, say, heterosexist–and even at that, that’s not a critique that unto itself would shut down a YouTube comment section.

Nope. The decision-makers at Cheerios had to shut the comments because the racists somehow thought it was a dog-whistle for them to get their hatred on. From Huffington Post:

The ad had received more than 1,600 likes and more than 500 dislikes as of Thursday evening.

Prior to the closure, the comment section had been filled “with references to Nazis, ‘troglodytes’ and ‘racial genocide,’” according to Adweek.

Commenters on the cereal’s Facebook page also said they found the commercial “disgusting” and that it made them “want to vomit.” Other hateful commenters expressed shock that a black father would stay with his family.

Though the racists shut down the comments section, Huffington Post reports that “many took to Facebook to express their appreciation for Cheerios’ decision to feature a mixed-race family,” and the commercial is still up on YouTube.

(H/t Lakesia Johnson)

Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.9: “The Better Half”

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

Pete: "Wanna play 'Father Abraham'?" Joan: *direct side-eye*

Pete: “Wanna play ‘Father Abraham’?”
Joan: *direct side-eye*

To paraphrase One Chele from Black ‘n Bougie, it’s Tapback Season…at least on Mad Men. Don, Roger, and Peggy try their luck to get back with former and sort-of current lovers with varied results. Tami, Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs for the Fantasy, and I chat about this bit of silliness, the joys of “Father Abraham,” and the joy of talking about how the show handles racism with like-minded  folks. Tami kicks off the convo…and, yes, spoilers.

Tami: Can I say how glad I am that we have this space here? I have always found the poor racial analysis of Mad Men by viewers and recappers even more problematic than anything the show has done. And now, in this season, where Weiner and Co. have made some egregious racial missteps (cough…Mammy Thief…cough), I’m even more glad to have a group of intelligent and racially conscious people to discuss the show with.

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The Rise Of Beyoncé, The Fall Of Lauryn Hill: A Tale Of Two Icons

By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at The Feminist Wire

Lauryn HillFifteen years ago, the stardom of then-23-year-old Lauryn Hill had peaked when she released what would become her defining musical legacy.  After rising to popularity as part of the hip-hop trio The Fugees, with fellow members Wyclef Jean and Pras, she later released her solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which went on to garner multiplatinum sales and five Grammy Awards for the recognizably brilliant singer-rapper.  Such accomplishments made her the first female artist to be nominated for and to win the most Grammys in a single night and her album the first hip-hop-themed work to win the Grammy’s top prize of Album of the Year.

Interestingly, the same year of Lauryn’s solo album debut, a 16-year-old who would later be known only by her first name – Beyoncé – also emerged on the pop scene when Destiny’s Child released their self-titled debut album.  And in a curious one-degree-of-separation of the two icons, Destiny’s Child’s collaboration with Wyclef on their song “No No No” led to the group’s first successfully released single, which topped R&B charts.

In retrospect, it seems easy to trace what would become a commingled narrative: one star rises while another one declines.  One star (Ms. Hill) presumably declined a starring role in the Hollywood faux-feminist blockbuster, Charlie’s Angels, while the other star (Beyoncé), along with fellow group members, provided the necessary “girl power” anthem – “Independent Women, Part I” – for the movie’s soundtrack.  One star virtually disappeared from the mainstream media while the other star appeared ubiquitously, covering every magazine from Sports Illustratedto Vogue to GQ to the feminist publication Ms.

One star proved a lyrical genius – rapping and crooning on politics, love, religion, and the resistance of corporate media – while the other preferred more superficial fanfare concerning clubbing, looking fabulous, and having her own money to spend as she fends off heartaches and trifling lovers, while occasionally championing women’s empowerment.  One star refused the pop-culture make-over, preferring instead to rock her natural hair and bask in her dark-skinned beauty, while the other has made a signature look out of blond weaves and other variations on white beauty standards that her light-skinned beauty can more easily appropriate.

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Six Things You Can Do Instead Of Shaming Unmarried Women For Having Children

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Image Credit: AfroDad

By Guest Contributor  Deesha Philyaw

A few years ago, there was an orchestrated online blogging effort to shame black women for having children outside of marriage.  This effort masqueraded as a movement of concern seeking to reduce poor socioeconomic outcomes for black children.  Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  As a co-founder (along with my ex-husband) of co-parenting101.org, I was asked to participate in this effort.  I took note of the fact that my invitation to participate came after the movement launched and was found to be wanting.  I mean, after you castigate women and call their children “bastards,” and critics are calling you out for it, it’s definitely time for Plan B (no pun intended).  Well, I wanted no parts of it, and I made my reasons clear when I declined the invitation.  Co-parenting101.org was created to support and encourage parents and their children, not demonize them.

Further, I refused to participate in something that I felt would dishonor the struggles of my single mother, who did not raise me to be ashamed of the circumstances of my birth nor of her marital status.  But for a variety of reasons, I did grow up feeling ashamed about it.  And I know that I’m not the only child of unmarried parents who experienced this shame, or the shame that’s heaped upon people simply because they are poor.  It’s a shame that predates blogging and the internet. Shame clearly isn’t effective birth control.

I also chose not to participate out of respect for my relatives and grade-school classmates who later became young, unmarried mothers unexpectedly.  Because I know that on several occasions, I was just one day in my menstrual cycle or one broken condom away from that same situation. We went to the same free clinics together in 8th and 9th grade, got our “foam and rubbers” to use until the birth control pills were reliable, and had sex while holding our breath.  Nobody said a word to us about HIV and AIDS in 1985.  A lot of them got pregnant before they wanted to; I didn’t.  I don’t feel superior.

That said, I absolutely care about the fact that half of all children raised in single-mother-headed households grow up in poverty.  But shouldn’t we be attacking poverty, instead of attacking people who live in poverty, if that’s really the concern?  Imagine if even a fraction of the $1 trillion in resources and public support for the failed “War on Drugs” of the past 40 years had funded a “War on Poverty?”  But that didn’t happen, of course, because it’s easier to simply blame poor people for being poor.  In the absence of actual solutions comes blame, shame, and the politics of respectability.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are six alternatives to shaming and blaming unmarried women for having children:

1. Get Your Stats Straight

Here, here, here, and here are some statistics that are often mentioned to highlight concern for children raised by single mothers in the U.S.:

*While half of all children raised by single mothers grow up in poverty, only one in 10 of their counterparts in married households grow up poor.

*Nearly 3 out of 4 black children are born outside of marriage.

*Most babies born to women under 30 are born outside of marriage, and in the last 20 years, the fastest growth for this trend has been among 20-something white women who have some college education.

However, a statistic that’s far less widely known is that most single mothers in the U.S. are separated, divorced, or widowed.  And these moms have higher poverty rates than single moms in other high-income countries, despite working more hours.  Across the board, single US mothers’ employment experiences and support from the social safety-net lag behind that of their counterparts abroad.  

2. Support Public Policies That Support Women And Children

Why are US single working mothers and their children faring so poorly? And why is marriage put forth as a cure-all for their predicament?

Writing in The American Prospect, Amanda Marcotte observes, “To justify obsessing over non-married-ness—at the expense of, say, asking why a single income isn’t enough to be middle class, as it was for huge percentages of the population in the 1950s—requires believing that single women need a bit more scolding…”

And if single women need more scolding, single black women–with our wanton baby-making selves–need 10 times more.  But, oh, right…it’s about the children.  Our children face a harder row to hoe than their white counterparts, hence the urgency of the situation…and the extra heaping of scorn.  

Except scorn never fed a child’s mind or empty belly the way, say, early childhood education and his mom’s equal and higher wages could.  Scorn doesn’t enact better family- and sick-leave policies, and it doesn’t protect the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or food stamps (SNAP) from Republicans hell-bent on destroying the social safety-net.

And scorn never gave a woman or girl access to birth control and abortion when politicians on the right want to eliminate access to both…at the same damn time.  

3. Ditch The Marriage Myths About People With Low Incomes

According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, people with low incomes subscribe to more traditional values with regard to marriage and divorce than those with moderate and higher incomes.  Thomas Trail, UCLA postdoctoral fellow in psychology and the study’s lead author, notes that lower-income partners “have no more problems with communication, sex, parental roles or division of household chores than do higher income couples.”  But, according to the study, they may still choose to remain single because they recognize that sustaining a marriage is particularly difficult when you’re struggling to make ends meet, and they don’t want to end up divorced.

The study also concluded that unmarried women with lower incomes have children because while they may have no role models for successful, healthy marriages and may not trust the men they know with their “financial and family future,” they do feel capable of raising a child because they have role models for successful single motherhood.

Unfortunately, government policy is based on false assumptions about what people with lower incomes value and how they relate.  The result? A billion dollars spent on educational curricula to promote marriage to people who already believe in it.

Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA and senior author of the study, says increasing social mobility, through educational and career opportunities, is the best way to lower teen pregnancy rates.  In general, government money is better spent helping people with the “day-to-day challenges in their lives” such as transportation and affordable child care, not on relationship education.

4. Remember that Life Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

Relationships and marriages fail.  Birth control fails.  Some women choose not to marry people they deem to be unsuitable mates, while still choosing to have a child. Things happen that we don’t anticipate.  Punishing ourselves or teaching our children that they should feel less-than when life doesn’t go as planned isn’t productive.  As parents, our job is to help our children make wise and healthy decisions.  But it’s also our job to raise resilient children who know how to be resourceful, how to cope, and how to bounce back when bad, difficult, or unexpected things happen.

5. Stop Talking About Single Moms…and Start Listening To Them

Stacia L. Brown, founder of BeyondBabyMamas.com, makes so many excellent points about the diverse social, personal, and economic experiences of single moms in her piece for The Atlantic Sexes, “How Unwed Mothers Feel About Being Unwed Mothers,” that I’m just going to link to it here.

6. Remember That Not All Single Moms Are Parenting Alone

Research, anecdotal evidence, and plain old common sense bear out the fact that children can thrive when their fit and willing parents play an active role in their lives, even if their parents aren’t married to each other.  If the government wants to spend on curricula for parents, then funding ongoing, quality co-parenting classes–not just the handful sometimes required by family courts–would be a wise investment.

Someone can make a terrible mate, yet still be a great parent to their child and a great parenting partner to their ex-mate.  This isn’t always easy, to say the least, and our cultural expectation is that exes will be hopelessly combative.  Yet some co-parents manage to put their animosity side and put their children first.  Some previously absentee fathers do the hard work of re-engaging in their children’s lives.  And some single moms parent with the support of a “village” of extended family, other moms, and friends.

~

Children born to unmarried parents are not a foregone conclusion. Condemnation of single parents doesn’t allow for the myriad of possibilities of their children’s lives.  But for black folks, embracing these possibilities requires us to let go of cultural presumptions about deadbeat baby daddies, child-support-misspending, promiscuous baby mamas, and their “illegitimate” children.  Our children deserve better.  They deserve our advocacy and our activism–not our contempt.

Deesha Philyaw is the co-author (with her ex-husband) of “Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce” and the co-founder of co-parenting101.org. She is a remarried mother of four girls–two daughters and two bonus daughters.

 

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Strong Families’ Mama’s Day Campaign 2013

By Andrea Plaid

With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, we at the R celebrate the holiday with the best commingling of activism and e-cards from the one and only Strong Families crew! Check out their offerings:

Mamas Day Sylvia Rivera by Chucha Marquez

Artist: Chucha Marquez.

 

Artist: Robert Trujillo.

Artist: Robert Trujillo.

 

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski

 

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski.

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski.

Along with the cards, Strong Families is also curating another incredible blog carnival on the meaning of Mother’s Day. From Forward Together’s Shanelle Matthews:

During the time my dad was in prison, my mom worked several jobs. She was a single parent to my siblings and me and was forced to work around the clock to support us. Because of this, her time with us was limited. When she was away at work—which was often—Dora and Betty and another woman whose name I can’t remember cared for us. My mom was committed to making sure we had food and clothes and somewhere to live, things I got to take for granted. Betty and Dora and the woman whose name I can’t remember were all undocumented immigrant women from Guatemala. They spoke little English and sometimes spent the night at our house. One of my brother’s first words was “zapato” (Spanish for shoe). It wasn’t until I became aware of the fight for domestic workers’ rights that I realized that these women from Guatemala were taking care of us so they could take care of their families. How maddening to recognize that the cycles of poverty that we face today are the same as those our parents experienced decades ago.

Writing this I started over two and three and four times. It wasn’t until the fifth try that I understood that my mom, my biological dad, and the women from Guatemala shared a common thread—their lives were divided by partitions, literally and figuratively. But the fight for a living wage, to end mass incarceration, and to create comprehensive policies on immigration and a pathway to citizenship, all of these threaten to topple the barriers affecting our most impacted communities: immigrants, poor people, and people of color—often one in the same.

My biological dad, my mom, and the women from Guatemala were kept away from their families by partitions, fences, glass ceilings, and social prejudices. What held these dividers in place was bureaucratic red tape; the kind that builds on outdated notions of what families look like and what they deserve. The kind of red tape that forces immigrant families to wait fifteen years for health care; the kind of red tape that keeps same-sex couples from marriage, second-parent adoption, and spousal benefits; the kind of red tape that limits access to comprehensive sex education, access to contraception, reproductive healthcare, and culturally appropriate resources for families of color; the kind of red tape that allows border patrol officers to shoot and kill families desperate for a better quality of life. This red tape is responsible for the deaths of millions. In the process, we’re becoming desensitized to empathy.

From Erin Konsmo, Media Arts & Projects Coordinator at Native Youth Sexual Health Network, founded and run by Racialicious’ own Jessica Danforth:

Mothering is an act of resistance and reclamation for many Indigenous Peoples. To be a mother has become a way to push back on ongoing legacies of European and Western notions of what “proper” mothering is. Mothers resist continual state custody, foster care, and the removal of Indigenous children from their homes. To be a mother is to resist forms of cultural genocide.

The health and well-being of a nation depends on the health and well-being of mothers. That is not to say that our male, Two Spirit, and gender fabulous community members aren’t just as important. At the same time, we do recognize that we all belong to Mother Earth.

Indigenous youth are resisting narratives that don’t recognize the sacredness of the many ways we bring life to all that we do; we are restoring our own definitions of mama, building up families when we are disconnected from our own, caring for other Indigenous youth as we resist colonization, and sharing our knowledge with new generations about our bodies and our sexualities. All of this is a restoration of mothering and what it means to be a mama.

And from Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes, Advocates for Youth‘s State Strategies Manager:

I brag about my mama. A lot. I brag about my mama because she won’t do it herself. I brag about my mama because she is one of those mamas whose real life experiences are all too often bundled into one-dimensional statistics, and whose identity as a parent is all too often understood as a result of social determinants rather than strength and resilience.

I also say this because of my mama’s unique relationship to the spectrum of motherhood. She started her parenting career as a teen mom and then later graduated to becoming an older mother. At age 19, she had me and then later in life, at nearly 40 years old, she had my younger brother. This puts me roughly 20 years between my mama on one side and my brother on the other side. Essentially, my mama has raised two “only children.” Her story covers two distinct social narratives, one about teen moms and a second about older mothers, narratives that are not normally so closely shared. But in my family’s case, they’re one in the same.

Maybe send an excerpt from one of the essays on the cards?