How My Parents Shaped My Mixed Race Identity

Parents are often the stewards of our development and the beacons of morality. So, how does one navigate themselves when their imparter does not share the same experience? My internal self-reflection of my own racial identity as a mixed race individual has been and will always be closely linked to my two monoracial parents, but I have also come to the realization that I did not have the same experiences as my parents growing up and they will not have the same experience as a mixed race individual despite their proximity to it. I believe this is important because this understanding of identity formation is not hard, fixed features like race, gender, class, or the intersection of thereof, but a continuous evolving amorphous object that changes over time. Many articles argue that locale of the minority parent as it relates to gender and to a smaller degree, if at all, social capital factor in the racial identification of mixed race individual (Xie, 1996; Schlabach, 2013), but I do believe that in the socioeconomic context of people’s lives parents play a part to children’s racial identity indirectly and directly (Heard, 2006).

My parents never married and had me at a relative young age (23 for my mom and 25 for my dad.) Both grew up with each other in suburbia Orange County in a city called Huntington Beach and knew each other through school. They suffered through teenage angst, suffocation and entrapment of the suburbs, and uncertainty to endure similar and different tragedies in their lives. My dad, who is white, was a military kid that never stayed in one place too long except for Huntington Beach and dealt with the family curse of alcoholism. My mom is Japanese American and she had to navigate a predominately white space while being a minority, unwind the historical trauma of internment and post-war Japan that my Nisei (2nd generation) grandfather and Issei (1st generation) grandmother carried, and negotiate the pressure of acculturation. In their inner circle of friends and family they had to deal with teenage pregnancy and suicide. This is important because it lays the context of having me at a young age, growing up while negotiating parenthood, and eventually my racial identity. It wasn’t until I understood this context that I began to really accept my mixed roots.

Shortly after my birth, my father’s whiteness opened an opportunity of upward social mobility by leaving his dead-end jobs in California and becoming trained as an airplane mechanic in Indiana. I ended up only seeing him during the summer and his presence was only felt through child support checks. I grew up mostly in his absence and because of that I understand the impact of the locality of the minority parent being a mother. During this time my mom eked a living on food stamps and medi-cal, while taking care of her children and my grandfather’s failing health. It was at that time I strongly identified with my Japanese side and became hyper-demonstrative to prove my “Japaneseness”. I understand when Martis wrote in a Salon article that she, “despised [her] father; his absence humiliated [her]. Not only did [she] loathe his withdrawn parenting, but I hated his genes. I inherited his dark skin and large nose” (Martis 2014). The absence of a parent for a mixed race individual can cause that individual to align themselves exclusively with their remaining parent’s racial identity.

T

he inescapability of your mixed identity despite your relationship with your parents become apparent through phenotypical markers like being branded by a tattoo. Your body becomes a signifier and an invitation for people to ask, “what are you/where are you from?” As Martis eloquently explains that she, “realized that inheritance is attributed with likeness; to belong to your family, you must look alike. Not alike in the eye shape, frown lines or smile, but alike in skin color. In our society, skin pigmentation is the greatest marker that sets us apart from one another. When a child looks different from her family members due to that pigmentation, her inheritance is questioned” (Martis 2014). Hair, body type, eyes, and skin color become a mosaic that links you to your parents and adds another layer to your racial identity. I was born with brownish curly hair that grew out to be black with slight curls only noticeable once it reaches a certain length. But those blonde/brownish hairs didn’t die at a young age, they occasionally pop-up as body hairs and in my mustache and beard as a little reminder to not forget my mixed roots. My hair and body type/ shape are imprints that link me to my father. My complexion, eyes, and other obvious features are things that I have inherited from my mother and embraced when I was younger because it was a tangible connection to being Japanese. Although Blackness and whiteness, therefore power, in American society is closely linked to the amount or lack of melanin in your skin, the one thing I didn’t overtly experience was colorism. I tended to be one of the darkest in my family; my color does change with the season and amount of time I spent outside. This was probably because my families grew up in Southern California with beaches and didn’t receive the same social cues or stigma to stay indoors or conform to white beauty standards. Understanding the relation of my body as it relates to my parents, along with self-love and body positivity, allowed me to accept my mixed race identity and challenge the notion of phenotype as a marker for race or ethnic background.

Although I wouldn’t consider myself as white passing, the socioeconomic differences between my dad’s life in Indiana and my mom’s in California taught me about white privilege and your association to whiteness. Even though race is socially constructed, we live in a system in which race plays a key role in power, accessibility of upward social mobility, and interpersonal interactions/ level of microaggressions. For example, my father had access to product signifiers of middle class America; He didn’t need to worry about food insecurity and could afford to buy brand names and the standard iphone/ipod/other products that help define the middle class. That was not the same lived experience as my mom, who hustled to get things on sale. I would get the occasional stares and comments, “who’s the Chinese kid with that guy?” but my proximity to my dad’s whiteness shielded me from far worse microaggressions. People in Indiana were friendly, kind, and hospitable to me.

 

It took me till I was 23 years old developing my career, that I developed an appreciation of what my father and mother did for me. Though I would have wish things were different and my father was around more often, I could not imagine having a kid before 25 and making a tough decisions regarding career and providing for a child. This allowed me to let go of my resentment towards him and acceptance of my mixed race identity. In looking back he did ease the racial divide the best he could. He spent time in Japan growing up while my grandfather was stationed there, even going to elementary school which bridged the gap. There was shoyu and furikake always on hand and our go to places to eat out was sushi. We always connected through baseball, despite him being a Yankee fan and me an Angel fan. I’m grateful for what my mother and father did for me, even though they are no longer together. It lead me to a deeper understanding of myself and how parent and child relationships affect the development of racial consciousness and identity formation. If this story connects with you, please comment or share your own experience on how your relationship with your parent(s) or chosen family shaped your identity.

 

Sources

  • Heard, H. and Bratter, J. 2006. “Racial and Ethnic Differences In Parent-Child Relationships: Does Mixed Race Matter?”Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America. <http://paa2006.princeton.edu/papers/61875 >
  • Martis, Eternity E. “Owning my mixed-race identity: Why I don’t have to choose sides.” Salon. N.p., 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Aug. 2017.
  • Schlabach, S. (2013), The Importance of Family, Race, and Gender for Multiracial Adolescent Well-being. Fam Relat, 62: 154–174. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00758.x
  • Xie Y, Goyette K. The racial identification of biracial children with one Asian parent: Evidence from the 1990 Census. Social Forces. 1997; 76:547– 570.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chris Weir is a haifu (half Japanese half white) community organizer that is part of KmB Pro-people youth (a progressive grassroots organization in Historical Filipinotown in Los Angeles) and Nikkei Progressives (a progressive organization based in Little Tokyo). Chris is an avid cyclist and his next project is organizing bike rides in Japantowns in Southern California with the hope to share local Nikkei histories, link communities together through biking, support local businesses and community programs, and share a vision for equitable and sustainable development and transportation. Professionally Chris works at APAIT (a local non-profit HIV/AIDS service organization that works to positively impact medical underserved communities through culturally competent and linguistically relevant programs) as an Outreach and Testing specialist. On his free time Chris likes to run, play with his Australian cattle dog named Kora, and try new things.


Mixed Roots Stories Performance Sampler @ CMRS 2017

Mixed Roots Stories Performance Sampler 2017

February 26th, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

At the 4th Critical Mixed Race Studies conference, four dynamic performers will share a sampling of their work followed by an open discussion with the artists on craft, process and engaging with themes of the mixed experience.

 

Elizabeth Chin and the Laboratory of Speculative Ethnology

The Jefferson-Hemings Complex
Elizabeth Chin is an ethnographer and anthropologist with a multifaceted practice that includes performative scholarship, collaborative research, and experimental writing. A professor at Art Center College of Design in the MFA program Media Design Practices/Field, she has published widely on children, consumption, anthropological practice. She has performed and done ethnography in the United States, Haiti, Uganda, and Cuba.

Gregory Diggs-Yang

Becoming Korean, While Growing Out My Afro: A Personal Narrative about a Moment in My Own Identity Development as a Mixed Korean and Black American
Gregory (Chan-wook) Diggs-Yang has a Bachelor’s (BA) in Education from Illinois State University and a Master’s (M.Ed.) in Educational Administration from UCLA. Greg has most recently moved from South Korea where he worked at Seoul National Universities as the Curriculum Coordinator for the IETTP (Teacher Training) and was a co-host of the Arirang Radio segment, ”Footprints of Korea with Chan-wook”. In addition he served as the President of the M.A.C.K. Foundation (Movement of the Advancement of Cultural-diversity of Koreans). A grassroots organization that supports multicultural schools and increases recognition and awareness of the diversity of Koreans. His areas of interest include multicultural education, mixed-heritage, and social justice. Greg is currently a doctoral candidate in the College of Education, Multicultural Education program at the University of Washington, Seattle. His dissertation looks at the support of biracial identity development through educational spaces.


Genevieve Erin O’Brien

Sugar Rebels

Genevieve Erin O’Brien is a Queer mixed race Vietnamese/Irish/German/American woman. She is an artist, a filmmaker, an organizer, a cook/private chef, and an educator who lives and works in Los Angeles. She holds an MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. O’Brien was a Fulbright Fellow in Vietnam, a recipient of the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles and Center for Cultural Innovation’s Creative Economic Development Fund. in 2016 she went to Hanoi, Vietnam as a US Dept. of State/ZERO1 American Arts Incubator Artist for a project highlighting LGBTQ visibility and equality. Her newest work More Than Love on the Horizon: West Coast Remix and Sugar Rebels were recently commissioned and presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

 

For additional conference programing and other details visit the CMRS website.


Mixed Roots Stories LIVE 2017 performers

Mixed Roots Stories LIVE Performance 2017

February 25th, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Mixed Roots Stories will open the 4th Critical Mixed Race Studies conference with live performances by the following:

karimi-standing-72Robert Farid Karimi

Disco Jesus – new work TBA!

Robert Farid Karimi is a community engagement specialist and comedic storyteller. He works with everyday people in cities, companies, and health centers worldwide on making healthy messaging delicious using comedy, culture and food with his culinary cultural engagement project: ThePeoplesCook Project. And, he speaks on issues as mixed race/consciousness, food politics, community deliciousness and the power of the Fool/Trickster to change the world. www.KaRRRimi.com

crystal-alad-3Crystal Shaniece Roman

Black Latina the Play

In 2008 Ms. Roman launched The Black Latina Movement, LLC (BLM) and began performing BLM’s first written theatrical piece: a one woman show about the lives of dark-skinned Latinas and African American Latinas entitled Black Latina. In early 2013 Black Latina received a new format featuring an all female ensemble cast starring Judy Torres; during the fall the revamped Black Latina saw the success of multiple sold out shows. Since 2013 Black Latina the Play has been on tour in the Northeast at campuses such as: Hamilton College, Penn State University, Community College of Baltimore County-Essex and Lehigh University. Most recently Crystal revised the one woman version of Black Latina the Play after being invited to perform at the Smithsonian Institute for Hispanic Heritage Month Festival Latinidad- Looking into Latina Women’s American Experiences September 2016.

 

carly-headshotCarly Bates

Musings of Rachel Dolezal

Carly Bates is an emerging artist from Phoenix, Arizona. With a background in music and piano performance, she is active in the Arizona arts community as a creative collaborator with musicians, movers, poets, actors: storytellers. Having recently graduated from Arizona State University, Carly is currently working with a local playback theatre company called Essential Theater and is also the editor for the Mixed Roots Stories Commons.

 

zave-martohardjono-mr-5-2-16-6337-credit-david-gonsierZavé Gayatri Martohardjono

Untitled (Balinese dance study)

Zavé Gayatri Martohardjono makes intercultural, geopolitical, boundary-defying, high glam performance, video, and installations. Interested in embodied risk-taking and cross-cultural imagery, they combine improvisation with their own cultural roots: Indonesian mythology and dance, queer iconography. Brooklyn based, Zavé has shown at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Boston Center for the Arts, Center for Performance Research, Center for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Movement Research at Judson Church, Recess, SOMArts, Winslow Garage, among others. They have been an artist in residence at the Shandaken Project at Storm King, La MaMa Experimental Theatre, Chez Bushwick, and an Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Workshop Fellow.

 

dsc_7157_tLisa Marie Rollins

Performing an excerpt from SIDE CHICK: This ain’t no Harlequin Romance

Lisa Marie Rollins is playwright, poet, freelance director and dramaturg. Most recently she co-directed Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment (Crowded Fire Theater) and a reading of Tearrance Chisholm’s Br’er Cotton (Playwrights Foundation). She is the director of All Atheists are Muslimby Zahra Noorbakhsh and was co-producer of W. Kamau Bell’s “Ending Racism in About and Hour”. Lisa Marie performed her acclaimed solo play, Ungrateful Daughter: One Black Girl’s Story of Being Adopted by a White Family…That Aren’t Celebrities in festivals, universities and academic conferences across the US. She was Poet in Residence at June Jordan’s Poetry for the People at U.C. Berkeley, a CALLALOO Journal London Writing Workshop Fellow and an alumni in Poetry of VONA Writing Workshop. Her writing is published in Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, River, Blood, Corn Literary Journal, Line/Break, As/Us Literary Journal,The Pacific Review and others. Currently, she is finishing her new manuscript of poems, Compass for which she received the 2016 Mary Tanenbaum Literary Award from SF Foundation. She is in development with her new play, Token. She holds degrees from The Claremont Graduate University and UC Berkeley. She is a Lecturer at St Mary’s College in Performance Studies, and a Resident Artist with Crowded Fire Theater in San Francisco. Lisa Marie is a 2015-16 playwright member of Just Theater Play Lab and Artist-in-Residence at BRAVA Theater for Women in San Francisco.

sasaki_fredFred Sasaki EAT TO JAPANESE: Achieving ethnic authenticity by eating, shopping, emojis

A step-by-step guide to being genuine authentic

Fred Sasaki is the art director for Poetry magazine and a gallery curator for the Poetry Foundation. He is the author of Real Life Emails (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2017) and the zine series Fred Sasaki’s and Fred Sasaki’s Four-Pager Guide To: How to Fix You.

 

 

The Performance will be held at the Norris Cinema Theater 850 W 34th St, Los Angeles, CA 90089

This event is Co-Sponsored by the USC School of Cinematic Arts

Free tickets will be limited. Check back for a link to register.

For additional conference programing and other details visit the CMRS website.

Day of walk-ins will also be welcome pending ticket availability.

 


I Wanted to Tell Him

Never sure how the word “dad” would sound coming out of my mouth or even the way it might feel as it slides off my tongue. What would it feel like for him to place a triple-scoop vanilla ice cream cone in my tiny five-year-old hand, and wipe the drips off my chin with a crumpled up napkin from his pocket, while we hear the people passing by whisper,

 

she looks just like him.

 

I wanted to tell him that when I think about how I grew up “mixed” the only word I taste is confusion and how it seemed to tower over my teenage mind like a translucent fog full of “what ifs” “how-comes” and “are you sure’s”. My Black mother raised me the best she could by herself, but I was angry, I’m still angry. My East Indian-Ugandan father, not visible, never visible, I can’t hug him like I want to. I can’t hear his voice like I want to … even when nothing else is audible.

 

I wanted to tell him that whatever memories I have of him always show up blurry and unrecognizable, fragmented and sparse except for the fact that we both like massive amounts of black pepper on our over-easy eggs (I learned this when I visited him at eleven years old and we both covered our eggs in the black sprinklings)—the very first similarity.

 

I wanted to tell him that it’s ok to call me his daughter, but whether or not he sees me as such I do not know.

 

I don’t want to know.

 

I wanted to tell him that I do not look like anyone else in my family. Some of the younger cousins are mixed in some way—but not my way. I don’t possess the soft beauty of my half Black, half White cousins. I do not possess the deep dark beauty of my mother and aunts because they hold the very things I always wished I had—there’s a beauty in knowing who you are.

 

I wanted to hide so that I wouldn’t have to answer questions about my father:

 

Is she Black? What is she? I think she’s East Indian. No, look at her hair, she’s definitely not Black. Where’s she from?

 

I wanted to tell him that when people ask who my father is I tell them about the eggs.

 

I wanted to tell him that I live in a city where everywhere you go, there’s mixed people. People dipped in all 364 shades of brown. People in coffee shops, bank lines, grocery stores, hair salons, libraries, crowded buses and over-booked restaurants. And when I walk down the street with my mother, my daughter, or my cousin, I don’t want to have to prove we are related by answering a series of questions, followed by a series of follow up questions, and then long stares, and “are you sure’s?” ending with my own deep sighs.

 

I wanted to tell him—to confess—that I wasn’t sure who I was back then or now, and that I told terrible lies to avoid the questions that always came:

 

You’ve got good hair. Why do your hair up. Let your hair down. Look how long your hair is when you straighten it. Smile, your hair is beautiful. Your hair looks good against your light skin, don’t you think?

 

I tell terrible lies.

 

I wanted to tell him that my then eight-year-old tri-racial daughter who’s now fourteen, used to ask me why she doesn’t have a grandpa, and that I had no answer for her because no one had an answer for me.

 

I wanted to tell him that when I look into the mirror now as a thirty-five-year-old mixed-race woman I still have no idea what I am supposed to see, and that I still wonder if living in between is ever a safe place to reside.

 

I wanted to tell him that when people tell me I’m beautiful it hurts for days and days.

 

When my daughter says she does not want to go to her dad’s for the weekend I tell her to hug her dad while she can. When she says her dad doesn’t understand, I tell her to explain things to her dad while she can. When I sort through old photos of my baby daughter smiling and posing with her dad, I say to myself, she will need these someday.

 

I tell her to write down all the things she wanted to tell him.

 

Then tell him.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

continuing studies shots of chelylene for brochureChelene Knight lives in Vancouver, BC and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio 2013 in the poetry cohort. Chelene is a Library Assistant at the Vancouver Public Library, and Managing Editor at Room. Previously, she worked as a Manuscript Consultant through SFU, and as a proofreader at Montecristo magazine along with other editor gigs with a poetry focus. She has been published in Amazing Canadian Fashion MagazineSassafras Literary MagazineemergeThe Raven Chronicles Literary Magazine, and in Room 37.4. She just finished her second manuscript, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of sonnets, prose poems, and letters which is forthcoming with BookThug in 2018. Chelene is now dabbling in short short SHORT fiction. Her first book, Braided Skin, was published by Mother Tongue Publishing in Spring 2015. Find out more about Chelene at cheleneknight.com and @poetchelene.

 


What Exactly is the Mixed Experience?

The idea behind a shared lived experience is that different people can identify with similar things that happen as a result of some part of their identity. Unfortunately, I have met too many people who don’t understand or accept that the mixed experience is on equal footing with any monoracial experience. I’ve listed five common experiences that I have noticed as a black and white biracial woman, but that apply to other mixed backgrounds, as well.

 

  1. Explain, Justify, Defend

Multiracial people are very familiar with constantly having to explain, justify, or defend who we are, our experience, and essentially our existence in the world. The most obvious example of this is the question that all mixed or racially ambiguous people know well: “What are you?” However, the issue goes much deeper than an inconvenience or awkward conversation starter. Sometimes, the answer to the question doesn’t satisfy the asker. It may lead to further explanation or in rare cases, even to an argument.

 

I am often mistaken for Afro-Latina. More than once, when a Latino person has asked me what I am and I respond, they can’t believe my answer so they continue questioning me. “Really? You have no Latina background at all? But you have the face of a Brazilian. (I don’t know what the ‘face of a Brazilian’ looks like, but it has been said to me.) And you dance salsa? You must have at least some Latina in you.” In this situation, my reaction may be amusement, annoyance, or simply boredom with the conversation. In situations involving monoracial black people, things can go a different direction. The dialogue can get much more heated and emotional due to a perceived betrayal or rejection of blackness. In my experience, any negative reaction is more commonly a subtle change in tone of voice or mood. I have a visceral reaction, as well, because I know this to be far from the truth and am hurt by the questioning of my right to accept myself as a complete human being and acknowledge my lived experience.

 

I often avoid these conversations entirely because even the most subtle slights become exhausting and the conversation has never resulted in increased understanding or even acceptance of my experience. Despite what some have been made to believe, acknowledging and validating different experiences among people of color does not create division; rejecting them does.

 

  1. Rejection

No one likes rejection, but everyone experiences it at some point. For mixed roots people, rejection can come from one or all sides of one’s heritage at different times. This reality is what leads to the common feeling of being an outsider and not knowing where we fit in in a racialized world.

 

Some multiracial people, myself included, are most comfortable in racially diverse environments because there is less pressure to conform to the group along racial lines. There is a certain trauma that comes with being rejected over and over again. After years of rejection based on race, you develop defense mechanisms and learn to avoid situations where rejection is more likely, such as a monoracial group setting. But when that avoidance happens, it can be seen as thinking you’re better or rejecting the race. Since we are rarely given a space to talk about mixed experiences, resentment and misunderstanding continue unaddressed.

 

  1. Acceptance — With Conditions

The other side of rejection–acceptance–still involves rejection in a way. Acceptance into a monoracial group often is contingent upon mixed people subverting their own unique experiences as mixed people. If you mention your mixed experience, you risk having to justify or defend it. (See #1) But if you never speak of your experience of being mixed, unless it’s to acknowledge light skin privilege, then you are acceptable. Again, I tend to keep those experiences private because I don’t want to be put in a position where I feel compelled to defend my lived experience.

 

Groups want to claim or reject multiracial people whenever it is convenient- to some people I am black, period. To others, if someone has a parent of any race other than their own, they’re not truly a member of that person’s race. To some white people, as long as you’re some shade of brown or ethnic looking, you’re a minority and that may be enough information for them. At least in my case, I’m sometimes treated as an honorary Latina because I can pass for Latina, I speak Spanish, and dance salsa. All of this can be confusing, especially for youth, and it is why I believe it’s incredibly important for mixed race people to have a strong sense of self despite what anyone else decides to project onto them.

 

  1. Fluidity

Fluidity, when it comes to the mixed experience, means the ability to move between different racial categories and having a variety of experiences with and entry points into different cultures. This wide experience can provide deeper insight into race and the way it plays out. It also means that your perceived and internally felt identity can change depending on your environment. While this is a privilege because it allows increased access to a variety of spaces, there are also downsides. In a world where everyone wants to put people in a box, fluidity can be confusing and very isolating. There is a particular kind of certainty and solidarity that comes with a singular racial identity, something multiracial people do not inherently have. As convenient as it can be to blend in with multiple crowds, it is human nature to desire and seek out one stable community that feels like home.

 

  1. Letting Things Slide Off Your Back

The term “microaggressions” has gotten more attention lately due to the increased dialogue around race. Multiracial people experience microaggressions just like any other minority group; some that are shared with monoracial groups and some that are specific to multiracial people. The difference is microaggressions come from all of the races to which we belong. Sometimes I feel on edge, ready to brace for the impact of microaggressions or outright aggressions from either side. A simple, dismissive “oh, but you’re light-skinned” can throw someone off balance regardless of the intention behind the statement. On top of that, multiracial people are not supposed to speak of the unique experiences they encounter. As I mentioned before, speaking one’s own truth can somehow be seen as a betrayal or statement of superiority.

~~~

 

None of this is to complain about being mixed race; there are ups and downs to everyone’s experience and I am not a fan of the Oppression Olympics. However, I do believe there needs to be more listening and understanding of the fact that our experience as mixed race individuals is no more or less valid than anyone else’s. It is my hope that one day this fact will not need to be stated because it will be implicitly known.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bio PicAisha Springer is based in Baltimore. Her writing primarily focuses on issues of race, feminism, and personal essay. She is a Contributing Writer for Hashtag Feminism, a blog examining feminist topics through a media lens, has written book reviews for STAND, the ACLU magazine, and was a 2015 Social Good Summit Blogger Fellow for the United Nations Association (UNA-USA). During the day, she works full-time at a civil rights nonprofit.

Aisha has a Master of Public Administration from American University and a B.A. in Spanish and International Affairs from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


White Dads

Being brown and having a white dad means something, whether people want to acknowledge it or not. Right now, I’m working on an anthology project—“WHITE DADS: Stories and experiences told by people of color, fathered by white men.” I’ve been loving the ways people are taking this idea, supporting it, and helping it grow. Thing is, though, absolutely none of us have the same story to tell about what it’s like being brown, raised by a white guy in a society that ranks validity based on melanin and race. This is a part of my story and the story behind WHITE DADS.

Answers are never just black and white–but in the case of biracial identity, sometimes, that’s exactly what they are.

When I was about five years old, I learned the phrase, “Pedestrians have the right of way.” To me, this translated to, “I am going to walk into the road, and you have to stop.” So with all the wonder and arrogance of a new kindergartener, I unfortunately made habit of walking out into traffic with the confidence of a queen. My mother calls this my “Bad Seed” phase. My older sister had to literally grab me by the shirt and yank me from harm’s way as cars backed out of the driveways I didn’t care to notice.

One evening in 1996, I was on out on a stroll with my dad downtown. While I don’t recall it being a particularly bustling evening, I know there must have been enough cars buzzing by to practice caution when near the road. What I do recall, though, is that I was being a brat, most likely because I didn’t want to hold my dad’s hand. I was probably insulted by the sheer fact that he thought I needed help crossing the street at all. Didn’t he know I had the right of way?

I broke away from his grasp and took off tearing down the darkening street. My dad, 6 foot tall, took off running right behind me, no doubt yelling for me to “get back here!” You’ll have to catch me first.

And then, right as the chase was getting underway, I almost ran right smack into a young couple out on a date. The woman was almost frantic.

My dad has told me about the brief interaction he had with that man and woman, all those years ago. Now, he laughs at this story.

“Those people thought I was trying to kidnap you!” he bellows.

It’s funny, you see, because I was little brown girl, being chased by a big white man on a darkish, half deserted downtown street.

I laugh at this story, too. My dad may be a lot of things—someone who, for example, doesn’t fully understand racial fetishization or the panicked terror of police brutality against people who share my skintone—but a stranger or my kidnapper is not one of them. How could those people not see that?

I’m African American on my mother’s side, and I’m a Russian, Polish Jew from my father. In a world where we’re so often told black and white issues don’t exist, I have been coerced into telling the world that’s exactly what I am: A black and white issue.

I don’t have my father’s hazel eyes or his ruddy, pink cheeks. I’m a brown girl, not as nearly as light as my father or quite as dark as my mother. I’ve got my mother’s melanin and big, brown eyes. My sister has the high forehead of the Native Americans we’re mixed with from our mom’s side of the family, and I’ve got the babushka face from my ancestors in Eastern Europe from our dad’s. You probably wouldn’t guess that’s why my cheeks are so round, though. And why would you? I’ve got my mother’s melanin and big, brown eyes, and that’s what people see. When I’m asked that degrading, yet common and impolite question, “What are you?” I know what they’re really asking is not “Who are you?” but, “What made you that color?”

The idea of having my father mistaken for a stranger wasn’t something that really registered with me until I was older. My mom and I were both brown, but my dad and I were both Jewish. Two of a kind on either side. It wasn’t until I was older that the fact that I didn’t get to be in control of how other people saw me, and by extension what they saw when they looked at my dad and I, honestly came as a shock of hurt. Because we didn’t immediately register as looking like the family unit norm, society told me that he and I weren’t two of a kind after all; not really.

 

I came to realize that rather than being seen as unique individuals, people of color are seen as a blur of the narratives and stereotypes centered around our ethnicities. This is the kind of faulty thought process that has led so many people to ask me, “How can you be Jewish if you’re black?” Or worse, the definitive, “Black people aren’t Jewish.” There’s always this opposition of my identity. I’m either too black to be Jewish, or too Jewish to be black.

In our society, black people don’t get to be dynamic. Black people don’t get to be seen as diverse within the general population. We’re seen as one big lump mass of the same experience, “The Black Experience,” it’s often called. And if you don’t fit neatly into that preconceived fold, the immediate conclusion is that there’s something wrong with you, not something wrong with the narratives that have been concocted around race identity. There’s this false idea that we all have the same, one story to tell from start to finish. We don’t even get to claim an ancestral nation most of the time. People simply say, “Africa,” like it’s all the same. And because we’ve been stripped of the privilege of knowing those nations, that’s almost  just what it’s become. We don’t get very many opportunities to be seen in the mainstream as individuals. We’re used as diversity, but not seen as diverse.

In parallel strides to the systematic and institutionalized racism that’s rampant in our country, this is a colorist society. “White” is typically and continually seen as the default race—even down to little things, like the color “nude” being a light skin tone—and it’s seen as the opposite of brown. Again and again in our male-run world, white men are the gatekeepers who make the decisions for us all. It’s obvious and undeniable that they’re the demographic with the most privilege in our country, and more often than not, the antagonists in stories about seeking social and racial justice.

These are things I know to be true about the climate of our world. My dad and I both know that they’re true. But what it also means, on a personal, individual level, is that I, a young, black woman, am seen as the the opposite of the older white man who is my father.

Enter WHITE DADS. This is the push back, the retort, the response, the healing process. This is a chance to share, laugh, process, and expose the immense diversity that exists in our communities, even within this one sliver of racial identity. This is a chance to tell our stories and say that we, the people of color with white dads, are valid, strong, and that we are not fractions of mismatched cultures inside a single being. We are whole, and who we are is enough.

Don’t let the specificity of the title fool you. In fact, it’s meant to be provocative. In some ways, it’s at odds with itself. Having to preface “dad” with a label, an explanation, can be an othering experience all it’s own. The theme may be specific, but it is by no means narrow.

On top of that, these days, so many brown folks are united under the “people of color” umbrella. This kind of budding unification is an astounding display of support. By choosing an often overlooked focus, potential is created to expand that unification in new ways and to publish those who are bursting at the seams with untold stories.

WHITE DADS is accepting all forms of creative expression from black, brown, mixed race, adopted and/or POC who have the unique experience of having a white father. This is meant to be an intentional, creative opportunity to speak on truths, tell stories and share art that fall within the thematic focus.

I’m tired of defending who I am. Fighting white supremacy and patriarchy, two things I care greatly about,  are political issues I invest a lot of myself into. At the end of the day, though, theory, “-isms,” and social constructs are not going to make my dad less of the father who raised and loves me. These are political issues. My relationships with my family are not.

It’s isolating be unsure of where your identity lies.There is not a universal truth or a simple answer. This project, like identity itself, is far too nuanced and complicated to ever be restricted to binary modes of thought; to ever be about just one thing or another.

These are matters I recognize to be authentic about my own story and experience, but there’s so much more to say. WHITE DADS can be a place for those stories to be told. It’s a space to explore the crossroads of where social and political constructs intersect with personal experiences and family, loving or otherwise; an opportunity to look into the nature of identity and family ties that are anything but black and white.

Submissions are open from Dec 1st, 2015 – Jan 15, 2016. Check out the WDZ Tumblr page for more information. Email whitedadszine@gmail.com with questions. Find more writing from Sarah here.

 


 

white dadsSarah Gladstone is a writer based out of Oakland, California. In addition to being a contributor for online sites such as Ravishly and The Huffington Post Blog, she also works on personal writing endeavors. WHITE DADS, a new zine anthology of stories, art, and experiences told by people of color fathered by white men, is her most current project. Most of her writing is creative nonfiction, poetry, and prose on topics relating to identity, race, and orientation. She appreciates all great forms of storytelling, magical realism, and the interconnectedness of art with social justice and humanity. When she’s not entangled with the written word, you can find Sarah debating the merits of pop culture, indulging in discount cinema, and generally trying to live a story worthy life.

Visit white-dads-zine.tumblr.com for more information on Sarah’s latest project, or email whitedadszine@gmail.com

Ravishly

Huff Post Blog

Racialicious

Twitter: @happyrocktalk


MXRS Episode 5 – Jenina Gallaway

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Jenina Gallaway recently joined us for a MXRS Podcast – Telling the Story Behind the Stories. You can follow her on her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/jeninagallawaysoprano and support her http://www.gofundme.com/z7tuys. Listen to her interview (also found on iTunes). Read her full bio below.

Jenina Gallaway, Headshot

Soprano, Jenina Gallaway, has performed internationally and throughout the United States in a wide range of genres. Operatic repertoire includes: Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, Vitellia in La clemenza di Tito, the title role in Suor Angelica, Serena in Porgy and Bess, Anna Maurrant in Street Scene, Mrs. Augusta Tabor in The Ballad of Baby Doe, and the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas.

 

Equally committed to the concert repertory, Gallaway has performed as the soprano soloist in Anton Bruckner’s Te Deum, Beethoven’s Ninth Syphony, Dvořák’s Te Deum, and Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder, among others.

A recipient of several awards, Gallaway was an Arizona District Winner and Western Region Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions where she received an encouragement award. She has also been a finalist in the Palm Springs Opera Guild Vocal Competition. In Tucson, Gallaway has been a first place winner in several competitions including the Ameilia Reiman Vocal Competition, Marguerite Ough Vocal Competition, and the Opera Guild of Southern Arizona’s Quest for the Best Vocal Competition. She has also received awards from the Opera Buffs, inc., Fe Bland Foundation Music Award, Society of Singers and the Village Voices Chorale.

Born and raised in Californina, Gallaway holds a Masters in Vocal Performance from California State University, Northridge, a Bachelors in Vocal Performance from Azusa Pacific University, and is currently working towards a DMA in Vocal Performance at the University of Arizona.

 


Netflix Binge Watch with Mixed Roots Stories

Do you binge watch shows and movies online? We do! We found these 6 programs on Netflix  that feature mixed roots discussions. Check them out, critically discuss them with others, and learn more! We have provided some questions to consider while watching each one, as well as further reading/resources to keep you thinking and critically looking at mixed roots stories!

 

We are just getting started with our Netflix recommendations, and we’d love your contributions. What films/TV series have you seen that are relevant? What critical questions can we explore when/after watching them? What mixed identity groups aren’t represented here? Send us an email to info@mixedrootsstories.org.

 

Trevor Noah: African American

From Trevor Noah:
Trevor Noah brings to film his unique brand of observational humor born of his mixed-race experience under the South African apartheid system. In his most recent stand-up special Trevor weaves together compelling stories with wicked smart observations on the inanity of the racial construct in the United States. The theme of Trevor’s presentation is his journey to America, because he believes he can be fully black here. A clip from Gabriel Iglesias StandUp Revolution:

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:

1) Can humor be an effective storytelling tool for change, especially on matters of race, culture and ethnicity?

2) As you watch Trevor Noah: African American, do you think his point-of-view effectively challenges our racial assumptions?

3) How does idea of mixed/blackness transfer between countries?

4) What does it mean to be “fully black?”

For Further reading/discussion:
Nancy Goldman makes an argument in her paper that humor can be a powerful tool for social change – Comedy and Democracy: The Role of Humor in Social Justice. 


 

The Fosters

From abcfamily.go.com/shows/the-fosters:
The Fosters is a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological kids being raised by two moms. Stef and her partner Lina have built a close-knit , loving family with Stef’s biological son from a previous marriage, Brandon, and their adopted twins Mariana and Jesus. But how will things change when they meet troubled teen Callie and her little brother Jude?

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:
1) What responsibilities do parents raising kids from different cultures than themselves have in teaching their children about those cultures?

2) Lina identifies as biracial – how does this affect her relationship with her partner, Stef, and her children? Do the conversations she has with her African American mother surprise you, or not? Why?

For Further reading/discussion:
Lisa Marie Rollins is a TRA (TransRacial Adoption) Activist. Her blog, poetry and live performance provide lots of insight into the TRA experience. Learn more here: https://birthproject.wordpress.com/


 

The Loving Story

From lovingfilm.com:
The Loving Story, a documentary film, tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving to examine the drama, the history, and the current state of interracial marriage and tolerance in the United States.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:
1) What do you think were the most compelling arguments made by the Loving’s legal team to persuade the Court to rule in their favor?
2) What are some of the other Supreme Court decisions that have had a strong impact on the mixed community?

For Further reading/discussion:
For a more in-depth analysis on Loving v. Virginia and the people involved, see Race, Sex and the Freedom to Marry by Peter Wallenstein (mixedracestudies.org).


 

Parenthood

NBC recently aired the final season (season 6) of Parenthood. You can catch up/re-watch the first 5 seasons on Netflix. “Parenthood bravely and delicately take on the complexities of family life leaving viewers full of emotion after every episode like all good comedy/drama stories should! In addition to other major topics (cancer, post traumatic stress disorder and more), this series follows an interracial marriage and their child, the process of a transracial adoption and has explored an interracial teenage dating situation.” (http://mixedrootsstories.com/parenthood/)

A few key seasons/episodes:
Season 2 – Crosby and Jasmine (an interracial couple) are trying to figure out how to raise their child and if they are going to work on their relationship or continue to be separated. Addie begins dating Alex, and her parents begin to question the relationship, pushing her to move in with her grandparents. But are they questioning it because he is a different race or because he has a history of substance abuse?
Season 3 – Crosby and Jasmine work out their differences. Julia and Joel interracially adopt a son.
Season 4 – Crosby and Jasmine have a discussion with their son about race (Episode 4). Julia and Joel take on the challenge of raising their adopted son.
Season 5 – Crosby and Jasmine expand their family with a new baby girl. Jasmine’s mother has ideas of how religion should play a role in the families life.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:
1) If your child brings home a partner with a mixed background (different race, culture, religion, gender orientation, country of origin, etc.) than what you expected, would you be concerned? Why? Would you voice your concern? How?
2) In Season 4 Episode 4 Crosby realizes there are situations his mixed race son will have to deal with that he won’t be able to protect his son from. How would you or do you answer these/similar questions?

For Further Reading/Discussion:
Raising Biracial Children by Kerry Ann Rockquemore & Tracey Laszloffy, takes on identity development with mixed-race individuals within a historical context and creates a framework to assist parents, educators, social workers, counselors and anyone who works with multiracial individuals.
Donna Jackson Nakazawa wrote Does Anybody Else Look Like Me: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Multiracial Children out of frustration in a bookstore, when she was unable to find a book that provided guidance on how to address the situations she was facing in her mixed roots family.

The appendix of both books have lists of useful resources!


 

Rabbit Proof Fence

Set in 1930, western Australia, Rabbit Proof Fence tells the true-life story of two “half-caste” girls who were taken from their families, by the government, and placed in a camp where they are trained to be servants for white families. The hope is for these children to end up marrying white Australian men so their aboriginal blood can be bred out. The girls escape and take off on a journey to find their family.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider:
1) The United States is not the only country that has had a history of hiding unspeakable events around race/color differences. What value, if any comes, from being aware of a global mixed roots history?

2) In what ways do institutions continue to support and enforce the separation of different people?

For Further Reading/Discussion:
“My Place” by Sally Morgan

“Daughter Dies With Her Story Still Incomplete”


Black in Latin America: with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

In this PBS 4 episode series, “Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. Discusses the massive influence of African ancestry on the history and culture of Latin America and Caribbean.” He goes to: Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider:
1) As Gates interviews each country, how does his North American views of “Black” influence his questions, interactions, and expectations on what answers he is looking for in South America?

2) Both North and South America have a history of slavery with “Black” or African people. How are these histories similar and/or different? What lessons can be gleaned from both continents mixed roots histories?

For Further Reading/Discussion:
“Black In Latin America” by Henry Louis Gate Jr. http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=31565

“Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies by Claudia Milian
http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=25463


Yuletide Angels – a celebration of many cultures and faiths

UnknownMargaret Bacon Schulze is a freelance writer of Okinawan/Anglo heritage. Her first book of fiction, Yuletide Angels, was published last year by electio Publishing. It’s the story of a mixed race family enjoying the many customs and traditions of the Yuletide season. A celebration of many cultures and faiths!

More on the book:

Dina is searching for a special angel to top her Christmas tree, one that looks like her Japanese, Irish, German, and Mexican sons. Her husband Julio struggles with his disdain of holiday hype.

Would you like to order this book? Here’s a link for more info: http://electiopublishing.com/index.php/bookstore#!/~/product/id=31016183


“I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know: A Southern White Woman’s Story About Race”

IMAG00271-150x150Thanks so much to Kaypri for letting us know about her mother’s book “I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know: A Southern White Woman’s Story About Race.” You can learn more about this moving and important story here: www.dorothystory.com – why not make it a holiday gift for a mother or grandmother on YOUR list!?

Here’s the description Kaypri sent us:
Dorothy Hampton Marcus is a Civil Rights Activist, truly ahead of her time. She jumped into Race Relations before it had a name, (in the fifties), and was one of very few Whites to do so. A Winston-Salem, North Carolina native, she grew up in the Jim Crow Era, not fully knowing what that really meant. In her undergrad years at Meredith College in Raleigh she had her first one-on-one inter-racial experience which this progressive all-womens school arranged. This event changed her life and by the time she graduated, she’d found a new passion. Determined to enlighten others with what she had begun to know, she found answers in the most unexpected places witnessing history along the way. For the next two decades she worked in a succession of “Human Relations” jobs throughout the U.S. putting off marriage and motherhood to do so. Even after marrying “late” at age 40, she never gave up on improving civil rights for all people. She was determined to share what she now knew well past her retirement when she started writing this story. She dedicated herself to finishing the book right up until the onset of dementia made it impossible for her to write another sentence. It was at that point that I realized it was up to me to pick up the baton which I started by completing the first draft of her book for her 80th birthday in 2012. It took me nearly two more years to flesh it out and publish it, adding my Daughter’s Notes along the way. I am truly proud to share my mother’s story with the world!