Category Archives: mixed race

Check it out: United Colors of Amani

Amani Starnes’ new web series centers on what it’s like to be an “ethnically ambiguous” actress in Hollywood and the recipient of a host of stereotypes and biases. Starnes writes that she has “dealt with the ‘What are you?’ question her whole life. But what does it mean to be black, white, and everything in between as she navigates the entertainment industry and life in LA? The United Colors of Amani, a comedy with sociological undertones, sheds light on the uncomfortable, awkward, and outrageous constructions of race permeating showbiz.”

Episode 1: The Tryout

Originally Amalia

Image Credit: Suuraa Qeerroo

Image Credit: Suuraa Qeerroo on Flickr

By Guest Contributor Amalia Clarice Mora; originally published at Feminist Wire

Life is easier, kinder, and more lenient when you are white, and this may be why George Zimmerman decided to downplay his mestizo origins and identify as white/white Hispanic during the Trayvon Martin trial.  Zimmerman is a partially white half-Hispanic, and as such he was already closer to whiteness and the privilege it grants than Martin ever could have been. But perhaps Zimmerman knew that just being a partially white mestizo wouldn’t win him an acquittal, and so he decided to identify with a category of “really” or “fully” white people who would sympathize more with a white man whose actions reflected his (and their) fears of black America.

When I was growing up in Los Angeles during the 1990s, “really” or “fully” white meant Northern-European looking. Aryan looking. Those with the combination of an olive complexion, a “big” or “bumpy” nose, and black hair were not “really” white.  These “not really white” people included individuals belonging to groups officially labeled “Caucasian” (i.e., Eastern European Jewish, Arab, Middle Eastern, Southern Italian, or Central Asian), as well as mixed raced people with a partially white background. They were the “sort-of white” people, because of their official racial status or their mixed race background, but “not white” in the way people treated and perceived them. The “sort-of whites” were put into an ambiguous “other” pile and were constantly asked (like many other non-white Americans): “Where are you from? I mean—originally?” “Sort-of whites” never felt really truly American, and those of Middle-Eastern, Arab, and Central Asian descent faced the most discrimination from peers, not only because of the way they looked, but also because their families were recent immigrants.

Discrimination against “dark-ish” immigrants in the U.S. is as old as the country itself. White Americans have always had a socioeconomic interest in proving that they are the “real” Americans with the right to establish and control institutions. The category of white, in regard to European immigrants, was relatively fluid until the mid-nineteenth century, when it became restricted to individuals of Anglo-Saxon origin. Europeans perceived to be of the darker “variety” (e.g., Polish, Jews, Italians) occupied a kind of “in-between” space when it came to racial identity and designation. The official status of “in-between” “sort of whites” of European, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian descent changed to “white” in the twentieth century, yet many people belonging to this category still don’t feel “really” white. The more purportedly “Arab” or “ethnic looking” they are, the more they feel and are treated as non-white.

I have experienced what it is like to be a “sort-of white” person because of my racial background,  my upbringing, and the way I look. My dad is Mexican-American of mostly Amerindian descent and my mom is of German, Scottish, and Cherokee descent.  Ethnically and culturally speaking, in other words, I am partly white. Many Mexican-Americans I knew growing up were either poor or lower-middle class and experienced economic as well as cultural marginality. My family wanted my sister and me to feel American, not marginal. Ensuring this meant ensuring that we were imbued, at least partially, with what had become a Euro-centric English-speaking white culture. This culture has always been institutionalized as American. Other American traditions, other holidays, values, philosophies, and languages, have been systematically excluded, never allowed to become American. This is why black, Hispanic, and Asian cultures, despite having had a firm presence in America for generations, are still “hyphenated” cultures. Though I was surrounded by the Spanish language, Mexican food, music, and holidays growing up, I was also exposed to homogenized, anglicized, and middle-class American culture. And this may be why some of my Mexican-American/Chicano friends and acquaintances can’t always relate to me— to the part of me that has, in their eyes, “become white,” culturally speaking.

My physical appearance, however, has shaped the “sort-of whiteness” I experience most explicitly. Many people in the U.S. don’t think I look Hispanic, and usually assume I am of some other “dark,” “brown,” or “sort-of white” ethnicity.  As a result, white acquaintances often feel free to make invidious jokes or derogatory remarks about Mexican people in front of me. Some make these jokes and remarks knowing my ethnic and cultural background, but perhaps they assume that the access to whiteness I have because of my physical appearance will make me indifferent to their cruelty.

Though my appearance has often allowed me to avoid anti-Hispanic prejudice, it has exposed me to the kind of prejudice some “sort-of white” people face. Conflating nationality, race, and religion, many people in the U.S. lump Middle Eastern, Central Asian (and sometimes South Asian) nationals, Arabs, and Muslims together into one category of “darkish” or Muslim-ish” looking people. Many people in the U.S. assume I belong to this group, and have discriminated against me, accordingly.

When I was in my early teens, a few white acquaintances tried to insult me by calling me the “Armenian chick,” and made fun of the bump on my nose saying it was ugly and Persian or “Middle Eastern” looking. In college, I received an anonymous email, and attached to it was a picture of two naked women. Both women were lying down, legs spread, vaginas center stage. One woman was a blonde whose pubic and leg hair had been shaved. The other was an older dark-skinned Arab woman, unshaven. Under the Arab woman a caption read, “Here’s what they have,” and under the blonde woman, “Here’s what we have.” It hurt even more when some Hispanic and African Americans began discriminating against my sister and me post 9/11, perhaps eager to finally feel like they could become part of the American “us” versus the hyphenated “them.” In one incident, a man yelled at my sister while she was walking down the street, “Get out of my way, you Arab bitch.”

In no way am I implying that I have experienced what it is like to be Arab, Muslim, or Middle-Eastern in the United States. Moreover, I recognize the advantages I’ve had as a person perceived to be “sort-of white,” “part” white, or “brown-ish,” as opposed to the more explicit and cruel forms of hatred and institutionalized racism that those perceived to be “fully” non-white experience. My point here is to show how the mixed race, partially white, and/or “sort-of white” experience can reveal how problematic and exclusionary American understandings of whiteness are, and, therefore how real and severe the problem of race still is.

Even many individuals of Southern European and Eastern European Jewish descent still don’t feel fully American because of the way they look. Some of my friends and acquaintances that belong to this group have obtained plastic surgery or blonde streaks in an effort to “Aryanize” themselves. This means that even though they have, to a certain extent, become white culturally and in official rhetoric, they have not become white physically or psychologically. And if they still don’t feel American because they don’t feel fully white, then what does this mean for everyone else?

It means that whiteness has not become more inclusive. It means that whiteness welcomes and rewards those willing to hide, downplay, or remove traces of ethnic features, traditions, or origins (read: George Zimmerman). And it means that those who have no chance of being even semi-included in this exclusionary privileged club (read: African Americans), become even more marginalized and even more non-white than before. It means that the closer one is to being black, the harder, harsher, and more unjust life will be.

When they were growing up, my dad and step-mom both faced discrimination and feelings of inferiority because of their poverty and ethnicity. During a recent dinner table conversation, they told me that they have always hoped that I would never experience shame. Shame is debilitating yet persuasive in its ardor, like a jealous friend. Shame keeps us company in the hide-out it has forced us into. I didn’t want to upset my dad and step-mom, so during the discussion, I didn’t reveal to them that throughout most of my life I have experienced a great deal of shame in regards to the racism I have experienced. I have felt and still feel misunderstood by those who perceive me to be too “Middle-Eastern-ish,” “not Chicana enough,” or “not white enough.” I am often asked why my name, Amalia, isn’t spelled with an accent, the way it is spelled in Mexico. And I am often asked, “What kind of name is Amalia—I mean originally?”

Lately, I have been trying to use my personal experiences to help challenge understandings of American whiteness and race. Lately, I have been responding to this question by saying, “Amalia is an American name.” Its ambiguity is part of the Middle Eastern story I am assumed to have. Its lack of accent is part of my assimilation story, part of my white story. And its accent fills in the confused space that is my México.

They say shame starts to lose its poison when it is turned into a story. And so I try.

 

References

Behad, Ali. 2005. A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ignatiev, Noel. 1996. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge.

Jacobson, Mathew Frye. 1999. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Roediger, David. 2005. Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs. New York: Basic Books.

Samhan, Helen Hatab. 1999. “Not Quite White: Race Classification and the Arab American Experience.” In Arabs in America: Building a New Future, edited by Michael W. Suleiman. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

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Amalia Mora photographAmalia Clarice Mora is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her doctoral research examines how tensions related to class, caste, and gender are negotiated within the context of music tourism in Goa, India. Her other research interests include interracial attraction and mixed race experiences in the U.S., and how sociocultural anxieties related to both manifest themselves in unofficial discourse and texts, such as rumor and internet comment sections.

Missing In Lawndale: The Daria Spoof Trailer’s Near-Total Whitewashing

By Arturo R. García

So late last week, this fake trailer for a live-action Daria movie started going around online:

The premise, which brings the eponymous anti-heroine back to Lawndale for her high-school reunion, is clever. And the casting of Aubrey Plaza is not only a great comedic fit, but it would be another great spotlight for her as a biracial actress in a lead role; if it were to come to pass, it wouldn’t be a bad follow-up at all to her work in The To-Do List.

But, while the trailer does maximize its time in showing us updated versions of Daria, Jane Lane, Daria’s family and representatives of the student body and town Daria was so glad to leave behind, Tanya at Geekquality noted the first glaring absence: no sign of Jodie Landon.
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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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Meanwhile, On TumblR: The Cheerios Ad Meme That Says It All

By Andrea Plaid

The meme not only encapsulates the foolishness of the outrage about the Cheerios ad, but the historical foolishness that banned interracial marriage in the first place–the ban that was overturned 46 years ago yesterday, which is now known as Loving Day.

You Mad Cuz My Parents Dont Match

So many Racializens and other Tumblizens liked and reblogged the post that it’s not only the most popular from this past week, it is–at 11,926 likes and reblogs (and counting)–the R’s most popular tumbl ever!

Thanks so much for the support, and keep checking out the R’s Tumblr!

 

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)

Table For Two: Dreams Of A Life, Or The Tragic Mulatto Spinster Goes To The Movies

By Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

JoyceVincent

From the joycevincent.com, a website set up by Dreams of a Life filmmaker Carol Morley

Dreams Of A Life, the 2011 “drama-documentary” about the life and death of Joyce Carol Vincent, a mixed-race woman of color found in her London flat in 2003 three years after she died, definitely made our race and gender antennae go up, mostly because we were so angry over the disrespectful depiction of Vincent by people who claimed to have known her. Keep the “people who claimed to know her” in mind as we drop in on this Table for Two…

Andrea: The race/gender axis gets really weird with this film, at least to me…

Tami: At first watch, it seems like the film and Joyce’s friends created a lot of drama around this woman’s life because they couldn’t sit with her death–and thJoyce-vincent-007e idea that sometimes pretty, young people die. They are inclined to portray her as a tragic figure, but some of the  evidence of her tragic downfall (Joyce working as a “cleaner,” i. e. maid) is ridiculous. What truly bothers me is that they continually paint her as “lonely and sad” when there is no evidence that she ever expressed those things. I don’t think people would talk about a young single man that way–even one who died alone in his apartment.

Andrea: Because they can’t believe that “one of their own” is a house cleaner. Paging Janelle Monae…

But it’s the “tragic mulatto” narrative to me. That she couldn’t find love in the black or white communities in the UK that’s so bent.

Tami: And there is lots of exoticizing about her rare beauty that men couldn’t resist. And “re-enactments” of her moping, stumbling around her apartment, and looking forlornly out of windows. It is as if any near-40-year-old woman living alone in a city must be tragic.

Andrea: We hear next to nothing of substance in Joyce’s own words. Instead, there are a lot of people who were supposed to be close to her–folks who you’d think would notice that she was missing for three years–who project a story onto her. And then the fact that she’s 37–the Tragic Mulatto Spinster. I was like, “Really, y’all?”

Tami: That is the perfect title for this documentary.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Russell Wong

By Andrea Plaid

Russell Wong. Via celebritux.com

Russell Wong. Via celebritux.com

I need this to be as much as an official record as to what may happen as a Crush post.

See, Senior Editor Tami Winfrey Harris and I are planning an upcoming Table For Two about Downton Abbey and period pieces in general. (The hold-up is my fault: I’m slogging through all three seasons. And I do mean “slogging,” like it’s a this-is-boring-the-hell-out-of-me-and-there-are-no-hawt-ass-people-on-this-show-to-at-least-alleviate-the-tedium struggle. I’m doing this for you, Racializens. Remember that, hear?) And I mentioned the dearth of sexy on the show to Tami. She contends that Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is all pale and dark hair and angular cheekbones and bad boy. And I’m, like, naw, Thomas got that Crispin Glover coloring I can’t get with (and looks like Glover’s socially well-adjusted younger brother). There are just no Colin Firths on this show, I whined. (And I said that as I don’t really think of Firth as spank-bank material–again, just me–but I know he turns the Masterpiece crowd all the way on.) We started trading sexy-in-an-unconventional-looking-way white dudes’ names (Benedict Cumberbatch for Tami; Adrien Brody for me) and hairy-chested white dudes (Hugh Jackman and Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn for me; neither of them for Tami, though she ‘fessed up that she’s down for the plush upper torso). We happily concluded that we’d “never throw down for a man.”

Then, just to make sure that she and I were solid on the “never throw down for a man” guideline, I ran this week’s Crush by her. Do y’all know what she said?

“I’d cut you for him!”

I was all, like, “Can we at least get out our calendars and arrange days or something?”

So, yeah…Russell Wong.

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