Two days ago I was walking on my way to work and, as always, I have my coffee on Flinders Lane in central Melbourne. While waiting for my coffee, a well-meaning Australian came up to me and asked me what my ethnicity was. I had no idea who he was nor did I know what he wanted. Who is he, and why is he so enthusiastic to ascertain my identity–where I come from?
Did I find him racist and condescending? Yes.
Was there a power dynamic inherent to this question? Yes, there was.
On this occasion, I pondered the situation silently, which put the questioner in an awkward position. “Here we go again,” I told myself. Do I answer this, or tell him what I think, that he is just another racist trying to judge people by where they come from or what they look like? If I were to question or argue with him, would my actions be interpreted as reverse racism on my part? I chose to simply walk away rather than answer the question. Continue reading →
L.A. teenagers survive the treacherous world of peer pressure, drug dealers, juvenile hall and dysfunctional families. Kayla, an underprivileged Japanese American 16-year-old, endangers her promising future as an aspiring artist when she becomes involved with a drug dealer. It’s a new take on growing up bicultural in multicultural LA.
A friend recently asked me about the beginning of Swirl.
I told her how I started it. And why. She interrupted to clarify – she wanted to know how I felt. What specifically I was experiencing when I came up with the idea, when I took the first steps to incorporate, when it all came to fruition. I had to think about this – after all, it was nearly eleven years ago. And there wasn’t one feeling, but a pretty good mix of many emotions from the time the idea started to form in my mind, through the very first year of Swirl’s existence.
Hopeful – as I sat down at one of the big wooden tables in the Center for Work and Service on Wellesley College’s campus in April of 1999. The whole world ahead of me as I looked for my first job after college. I knew I wanted to work at an organization that served multiracial people and families. Confused and disheartened – about ten minutes into my research at the Center for Work and Service as I realized there were no mixed race organizations in New York City to which I could apply and beg for a job. Continue reading →
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.
Reader Nancy L sent in an article from the New York Times with an opening that made even this jaded activist do a double take:
RESTINGA SÊCA, Brazil — Before setting out in a pink S.U.V. to comb the schoolyards and shopping malls of southern Brazil, Alisson Chornak studies books, maps and Web sites to understand how the towns were colonized and how European their residents might look today.
The goal, he and other model scouts say, is to find the right genetic cocktail of German and Italian ancestry, perhaps with some Russian or other Slavic blood thrown in. Such a mix, they say, helps produce the tall, thin girls with straight hair, fair skin and light eyes that Brazil exports to the runways of New York, Milan and Paris with stunning success.
So this is how we’re going now? What is this, the hybrid vigor myth on speed? Continue reading →
Alicia Keys loves drama – and no, I am not referring to her current lovelife (you’ll have to read a different kind of blog to get that gossip, unfortch), I’m referring to her music videos. When it comes to star-crossed histrionics, both Keys’ music and videos always deliver the goods. Which I kind of like, most of the time; woman’s got a good set of lungs and a nice scrunchy crying-for-the-camera face.
But her latest video just gets on my nerves. “Unthinkable” stars Chad Michael Murray as Keys’ white lover, and shows reincarnations of the same interracial couple across several different decades, suggesting that from the 40’s up to today interracial relationships still face prejudice.
While I appreciate the way Keys uses time to show parallels between the racism of the past and the racism of the present, there are a few things about this video that strike me as deeply dishonest. Broken down for your reading convenience, here are my issues:
1. Only black people hate interracial relationships!
Okay Ms Keys, why do you only have black people showing prejudice in this video? From the 50’s to 70’s to the 80’s to the 00’s, all we see are black faces looking on at the Murray/Keys pairing with fury and even violence. Oh no wait, we get a split second of a white cashier looking at black/white flirtation with disgust…and then it’s back to black folks.
A video doesn’t just pop out organically from the brain of its creator: someone makes very specific choices and then very specific casting calls to mark race in a video. So why did Keys and her team choose to only show black people getting mad about the interracial love in this video?
This seems particularly problematic and dishonest in the “50’s” section of the video, where the optics, if you really look at them, are disquieting: a group of angry, bloodthirsty black men circle a defenseless white man with a puppy dog face.
So not only do we get a very racist portrayal of black people as aggressive and irrational in contrast to a lover-not-a-fighter white man, we get a profoundly skewed version of history. Anyone with a 101 knowledge of Black History Month knows that in the 50’s it was black men, not white men, whose lives were in danger if they so much as looked at white women. For some of our readers this will be well-trod ground, but let’s do a refresher just in case: Emmet Till was a 14 year-old black boy who was tortured and murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. And his story was not an anomaly; this happened to many black men. So much so that an all-white jury took all of 67 minutes to acquit both Till’s accused murderers. This didn’t happen in 1897, it happened in 1955.
It seems we don’t talk a lot about it, but to be sure, there are distinct pains, complexities and privileges associated with mixed heritage people. And I’m realizing that these distinctions can be quite fruitful to discussions of race and gender. For I realized that mixed heritage families are a perfect example of “families on the fault lines.” In other words, mixed families undergo a unique experience that may reflect and deify notions of privilege and hierarchy. At the same time, they hold vast potential to resist narratives of the normalized body.
In my case, I’ve experienced both privilege and oppression with my identity and family background. For instance, while folks in the Filipino community might easily classify me as one of them, this isn’t the case for those outside this community. Filipinos are so underrepresented in the media and other forms of public representation that people don’t seem to understand what it means to be a dark-skinned Asian. They seem to only think of East Asia when they hear “Asian” (as if the region of Southeast Asia doesn’t exist!). I’ve gotten Latino, Chinese, Indian–you name it. (And to be fair, I’ve inherited some of my father’s bi-racial characteristics which further confounds people.) There’s a sort of erasure and concomitant exotification that occurs just by virtue of being Filipino or any other underrepresented ethnic group.
On the other hand, there is a distancing from this Otherness that happens through my last name. I’m clearly not white, but my name–Anna Sterling–sure does sound white. It never fails as a conversation starter; by rote I explain that my paternal grandfather was an American soldier stationed in the Philippines during WWII. My father was bi-racial, hence the last name. I know for a fact that this last name has conferred privileges onto me throughout time–everywhere from fitting in with my white suburban friends a little bit more than those with more traditional names like Magpantay or Danganan to perhaps having eyes linger on my resume in job searches a few seconds longer. Continue reading →
by Guest Contributor Brandann R. Hill-Mann ( OuyangDan)
I grew up a happy, well loved child. I spent my summers resisting shoes and with water-logged skin, insisting I wasn’t cold, even when my lips were purple. My world was a moose’s walk from Canada where I straddled two worlds, never knowing it because I was blissfully unaware until I was much older that I was any different than the other people around me.
One world was that of my Mother’s family. Just off of a Reservation, humid and sweltering in the summer and man-high piles of snow and ice in the winter. We built houses with doors on the second floor, and two mailboxes to make sure you could reach one in the winter. A Northern Michigan Tribe with roots shared in Southern Canada’s First Nations, we were just emerging from that place where it was embarrassing to be ‘injun’. A Native fishing family, we were not exactly well off, but we had floors in our houses and indoor plumbing in an area where owning your own septic system was a sign of great privilege. My grandparents were well respected in our community for being fair and honest, if my Grandfather had a bit of a reputation for a temper if you were trying to be unfair to someone less fortunate than he was.
My mom met my dad when they were very young, and the stories varied depending on who did the telling – and I can’t ask him anymore since he’s been passed away ten years, but I know that my mom was about ten or so. She was about thirteen when they snuck smokes together, and I don’t know how old they were when they realized that they were dating. I do know that they spent about a year apart after my mom graduated high school, and when she showed up with me in her arms, my dad didn’t flinch, and adopted me straight away. Biological or adopted, I was fathered by a white man of European descent.
My Dad’s family was another world. His parents were first generation immigrants — depending on who did the defining — with my grandfather an unexpected surprise to his parents who had just immigrated from Italy, and my grandmother of Dutch parentage. My dad grew up in a privileged white world to a smart businessman of a father who ran a fair business in beer distribution. Every one owed my grandfather,or Papa Joe, a favor at one point or another, even if he had a bit of a temper if you were trying to be unfair. This family loved and doted on me, and I never knew that I was not of their blood until I was a much older child in need of a full medical history. My grandfather even created a unique nickname for me: wopajo. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World