Keep Yo Mixedness In Check…

Being the product of an interracial relationship you can engage both sides of your racial identity. You can form strong bonds with both sides of your family. There are times when you find out that that uncle you loved so much and thought was so cool when you were younger, actually is guilty of making nasty racist remarks towards people of color, the same people of color you share family ties with. There are also times when you’re sitting with a new group of friends and a woman goes on a tirade over afro-pessimism and how we, as black people, should not associate with caucasian people, yeah that means my caucasian father and his family too. Sorry, pops.

I strongly believe that the duality of experiences experienced by mixed individuals is an important conversation to contribute to our analysis and discussions on issues that contribute to race. But, with that said, we must continue to keep our mixedness in check.

While it is a terrible habit to have, one of my favorite things to do while I am passing the time is scroll my Facebook feed for the unnecessarily long arguments on issues regarding culture and race. I get a kick out of these arguments because they always end up resorting to the racial logic of the past. The past logic of Jim Crow, miscegenation, and de jure segregation. It is both sad and amusing to witness the logic people create on these threads. Although arguments over Facebook always end up in the wackiest of places, there are times where I pay special attention to the people arguing and how they handle certain issues of identity. It is always a treat and a cringe fest when I see a post read, “I am mixed so I can say…[insert issue on white police officers, Republicans, Black on Black crime etc..]” if there were a statistic on the amount of feedback these posts get I am confident that the stat would be very high indeed.

These particular Facebook posts are both intriguing and cringe worthy because I become obsessively interested in how their “friends” respond to the post, and I cringe at the poor choice of privileged words. Prefacing a post or a thought with “I am mixed so I can say this…” is a way of turning up your nose as if you’re at a higher advantage over everyone else. We as mixed individuals might have a different perspective as others, but that does not give us the right to invalidate others opinions because they do not share a mixed experience. Just because we are mixed does not give us an exclusive backstage pass into a discussion over certain issues. Those of us who are mixed and lighter skinned should constantly be aware of and checking the privileges we hold, and should be cautious when trying to convey our perspectives into issues that relate to our multiracial experiences.

No one experience or perspective is going to be the fix to our American racial issues. Contrary to popular belief, mixed people and mixedness are not going to be the magical cure to racism in this country. Sorry mixed Americans, we are not some special medicine to cure our wacked out racialized system. Our perspectives are no better than the Americans who don’t define themselves as mixed. I enjoy discussing issues and theories on racial identity, we can go for hours on the topic, but using your mixedness as an advantage over others to further prove why your argument is on the correct side is something that we as mixed people need to keep in check and leave at the door.


Kenneth Miks was born in Tracy, California, a small town right outside of the Bay Area. He is in his final year of his undergraduate studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Kenneth will be graduating with a major in sociology paired with a minor in African-American studies and will be continuing his intellectual journey into graduate school, with a focus on the social and cultural impact of the African diaspora that is felt globally.

Mixed Race Love

When I think about love, it’s for the mixed race. Many years ago, people hid who they really were just to please society. People who loved one another romantically had to endure hatred from those who were against one’s human right to love whomever their heart desired. Society has always placed persons who are mixed race in a box, never allowing a human to identify and embrace who they truly are.

At a young age my mother taught me who I was. In addition she taught me how to love, acknowledge and be proud of who I was. The history of my mixed race was taught to me by mother. She explained the history and culture of our, Native American, Black and European heritage. In addition, our ancectors and her parents were of a mixed race people. I was given an ancestry book which contains information and stories about my ancestors who were considered mixed race. She warned me on how ignorant the world is with their opinions. Keep loving, embracing despite what society says.

During my school years I only had one friend from each school; one school was predominantly white and the other multiethnic. One of my schools was located in a small town and the other in the inner city. My experience at each school taught me to sustain my love for myself as a mixed race person. Both of my friends were, mixed race just like me. Their parents taught them just how the world viewed us. They learned the same about being mixed race and the love for one self was already instilled. We had a strong back bone to sustain the love for one self. To this day I’m so thankful my mother taught me early on how to embrace my mixed race heritage, and not to change who I am for anyone, or to be placed in a racial box that was created by this world.

My advice for fellow, mixed race people is to never change who you are. Accept who God created and it is you. Learn the history of your ancestors; show them respect and pride. Love who your ancestors were, as it will sustain the inner love in you. Continue to show the media positive examples of people that are mixed race. Most importantly connect, work and change the mixed race community. We want our legacy to continue from generation to generation.14f1811b-34e0-4171-a120-7e5c76f5b600

Love always,

Lakia Shavon Lightner- founder Mixed Chicks Sorority




Lakia Shavon Lightner is my full name. I was born in Connecticut. My mother was a single parent and a professional teacher.  I’m the eldest of eight. And I have a new role as aunt.

Professional in: Public Relations/Women’s Studies.
Founder of, Mixed Chicks Sorority  .

A Higher Revelation

Mother’s Eulogy_2015

On our Mother’s birthday a couple of years ago, I wrote this essay about Minnie. To be honest, on this solemn occasion, no reverence, can truly capture her life’s journey.

Our mother just turned eighty-six. She’s not your normal octogenarian; she still slings baseballs overhand to Zeus, my sister Monica’s Rottweiler, to fetch. By any measure, that’s extraordinary. But, then again, nothing about Minnie is ordinary.

She’s a force of nature; the person in charge. No Leave it to Beaver June Cleaver type; she doesn’t abide the Norman Rockwell paradigm. Minnie is infinitely more independent, immensely more passionate, and unapologetically less servile.

In short, she’s a woman ahead of her time; a spitfire. A woman who doesn’t lament the past; a woman who bridged the generation gaps, who served as the head of the family long before feminism was defined, took hold, and became a social norm.

Our mother grew up on Riverside Drive, a predominately Latino neighborhood in west Tucson, Arizona. It didn’t take Minnie long to learn, that at the time, the Westside part of town offered her few opportunities.

She learned early to cope with adversity and became skilled at adapting to the circumstances at hand. She discovered that life most favored those who relished the challenges it had to offer.

She inhaled her formative years, intuitively aware that her youth was fleeting, perceptive to the fact that her surroundings and circumstances would determine her fate.

Not prone to indecision, she forged ahead, planted her roots on Valencia Road at the southernmost edge of town and, shortly thereafter, started her family.

At the time, Valencia was a bumpy, caliche-rutted two-lane dirt road leading to the Santa Cruz river and the Papago Indian reservation – and as our mother knew, to places far beyond.

Valencia, as Minnie saw it, served as a buffer, a dry, creosote, shrub-laden moat that protected her family from other-worldly in- trusions, delineation from which to launch her children to future endeavors.

As I’ve grown older I find myself reminiscing more about Mother. I remember how she wore her favorite straw sunbonnet while tending to a variety of red, white and pink roses which lined the perimeter of our front yard. Scores of cars would travel down our guardian highway. Invariably, as if pulled by some magnetic force, they would slow to a crawl, and make a U-turn to Minnie’s house of flowers.

Women of all ages, would exit from fancy cars and cross the cultural divide that was Valencia, to talk to Minnie about her roses. Somehow, they all seemed out of place in the desert, their fair hair shimmering in the sun; all pleasantly plump, their pale skins flush red, similarly attired in drab and muted cotton skirts.

I mention Mother’s roses and Valencia to make this point: Minnie knew where and how to grow things. She took hard earth and made things bloom.

She planted and nurtured; she tended to things that created life. She is our family’s Tree of Life. And true to the proverb that one should not judge a tree by the flower it displays. But rather by the fruit it bears, Minnie gave birth to and served as a surrogate mother to family members and friends, too many to mention.

I lovingly remember how she’d break the stillness of hot and dry summer evenings by cranking up the stereo to dance with my sisters, Gloria, Cecelia, Linda and baby Barbara. Each, alternately leading and following, swinging and twirling to a musical montage of Pérez Prado, Glenn Miller, and Motown. A Mother and her daughters, awash in music, wonder, and discovery reveling in the moment and each other. More than a decade later, she was still swinging – frequenting clubs to watch and listen to my Brother Dan’s rock & Roll band.

Another indelible memory was when we’d visit our Abuela and Minnie, and my sisters would tenderly braid our Yaqui grandmother’s regal, floor-length silver tresses. They would hover over her like attentive Indian princesses would a mythological, matriarchal God.

To see Nana imperially seated on her throne, a simple spindly- legged chair in the middle of a humble adobe home, surrounded by Mother and her daughters’ embraces is a recollection I cherish and often revisit.

Then, there was the time I had my high-school buddies over for an all-night poker party. Naturally Minnie sat in, and in her inimitable way through humor, contrived conversation, and an occasional ace-high bluff, figured how best to bet against each player at the table.

When it came to competition, regardless of age or gender, Minnie took no prisoners. She unrepentantly took their money and on one occasion even made a buddy of mine, cry.

As she laid down yet another winning hand and reached to scoop up the pot, one of the youngest players lamenting his luck, subconsciously let out an audible sigh, a visible tear in one of his eyes.

Aware that Minnie had noticed, he squirmed deep into his chair and contritely mumbled, “No…no…Mrs. Wilson, I’m alright, (cough, cough) there’s too much smoke in here, I just got something in my eye.” Nice try, bud. The boy never lived it down.

We played throughout the night until we lost all our chips. I remember the morning sun streaming through the kitchen window shedding light on the dining room table strewn with coins, greenbacks and cigarettes.

I recall Minnie leaning over the table to gather the last of her winnings. She turned to each of us, smiled, and whispered “Boys – never underestimate a woman.”

Trust me. I haven’t since.

But my most cherished memory of Minnie was when I was eight years old. Every day after school, I had to walk down a neighborhood alley in order to get home, and every day the local neighborhood bully would be waiting for me in that alley to taunt and terrorize me.

One day, my childhood tormentor sprang from the bushes, tackled me to the ground and proceeded to kick my skinny little butt. Battered and bruised, I limped home and told Mom.

Now Minnie, being Minnie, ordered me in no uncertain terms to go back into the alley and confront the bully once again. She wiped the tears off my face with a flour-encrusted dishcloth (she was making tortillas at the time) and gently shoved me out the back door.

I shuffled my way back into the alley to confront the bully once more. To this day, I wish I could say that I hammered on that boy, but the truth is, he kicked my ass, again.

But inexplicably, this time the beating didn’t hurt. I discovered that getting the crap kicked out of you – was no big deal.

I got up, my nose bloodied, but unafraid, refusing to admit defeat. On that single occasion, Minnie taught me to face my fears, to take a stand, to pick myself up. And, most importantly, she taught me never – but I mean never – ever – walk down an alley alone.

I haven’t since.

My younger brother Ric and sister Barbara, will attest to the time when without warning Minnie caught them sharing a toke and, just as surprisingly – decided to join them. According to my siblings, she was last seen that day sitting cross-legged on the living room carpet, sheepishly smiling, marginally coherent, listening to Springsteen, munching away on chips and bean dip.

You see, Minnie isn’t beyond exploring her boundaries. She experiments on many levels; her life, after all, has been a series of chances taken and odds overcome.

So when I saw my baby sister Monica’s video of Mom pitching the baseball to Zeus the Rottweiler, I thought, “Eighty-six? What is this woman made of? And all the while I’m witnessing this, Don Henley’s song “I Will Not Go Quietly” kept replaying in my head.

           “Too many tire tracks in the sands of time

                   Yeah, I’m gonna tear it up

                       Gonna trash it up

                       Gonna round it up

                         Gonna rip it up

                       I will not lie down

I ain’t no tiger

                     I ain’t no little lamb

                       Suppose you tell me

                 Who do you think I think I am?

                       I will not go quietly

                        I will not lie down

                   I’m brave enough to be crazy

                   I’m strong enough to be weak

             I see all these heroes with feet of clay

             Whose mighty ships have sprung a leak

And I want you to tell me darlin’ Just what do you believe in now?”

Well, Mom. We, your children believe in a higher revelation. That would be you.

We too, will not go quietly. We will not lie down.

Happy eighty-sixth, and many more – and please, Mom – give Zeus a break.

Frederico WilsonFrederico Wilson is currently the owner and President of an International Fluid Power Procurement and Sourcing Company; founder of a non-profit organization (under development); blogger at, focusing on multicultural perspectives and issues. He is a USAF veteran (environmental/missile inspection specialist); and former domestic and international professional in the Airline, Telecommunications, Sales, and Financial Securities industries. Originally from Arizona, he is a lifetime student of cultural anthropology and applied behavioral science. He attended Arizona Western and the University of Arizona and holds numerous military technical, and corporate management certifications and licenses.

He is of mixed Mexican, Indian (Yaqui Tribe), Euro-Iberian, and Cornish Celtic ancestry. He lives, works, and writes in metropolitan Seattle, Washington.

He is best described by a quote attributed to Anthony Bourdain when recounting the preparation of a Burgundy wine-base rooster entrée.

“So, they take this big, tough, nasty-ass rooster, too old to grill, too tough to roast. Marinate and simmer the shit out of it, before it’s tasty.”

Frederico is the author of a new book, Escaping Culture: Finding your place in the world. Find out more on his website:


Oh, Shoot! We’re the Grown People!

My mother was 20 when she gave birth to me. She was a single white woman holding her newborn brown baby at St. Mary’s Hospital, and I don’t really know what she was feeling at the time because I haven’t thought to ask her before now. I wonder, though, how her singleness, her age, and her race colored her experience of welcoming me into the world. Did my mother endure criticism because she was a young, unwed Catholic woman, just a couple of years past high school? Did she face a similar situation to the one Rebecca Walker describes in her memoir Black, White, Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self? Walker writes of reading the one-word question “Correct?” next to her parents’ races on her birth certificate, as if someone couldn’t fathom the possibility that a black and white union was not a mistake. I imagine—and like to think—my mother didn’t consider her status or age or race at all; instead I picture her overcome by sentiments new mothers typically feel—joy and relief and exhaustion, untainted by the world outside of the space between her eyes and mine.

I’ve also not thought to ask my mother how the social considerations of marital status, age, and race affected her as I grew older and as she mothered me in various contexts through the stages of my life. As a child, I thought nothing of the fact that my mother was unmarried, and I remember telling a playmate that I had no dad—really believing that I had no father, that my mother had sprouted me the way a plant shoots out a rhizome. I thought it was cool that my mother was so beautiful, strong, and younger than all the other mothers. And race? I didn’t know a thing about it for a long time. Not surprisingly, my first knowledge of it came through the issue of color. Still, my mother’s color in relation to mine never crossed my mind. My first awareness of color was of my color, perhaps because my mother’s was the same as the majority of people I knew, growing up in white communities as I did. So, in my childhood eyes, I was the different one. And for most of my childhood, I felt special in that difference rather than peculiar.

On a few occasions, though, people would ask me if I were adopted, and at those times I felt very peculiar—both unmoored and confused. Could they not see my mother in me? My upturned nose just like hers? The same crooked canine tooth? Our similar voices and mannerisms? And now I wonder, did my mother face similar questions? Did she encounter people who questioned her relationship to me, either benignly or aggressively? Were people ever hostile toward her when it became clear that she, a white woman, had paired with a black man? And what were the challenges she faced, both race-related and otherwise, as a young single parent?

These questions have only just begun to occur to me since I have become a mother. Unlike my own mother, I was married and in my 30s when I had my daughter. Also, my daughter and I share brown skin and therefore don’t face external questions about who belongs with whom. (In fact, at her school orientation, when I entered the room where my daughter was playing, another child turned to her and said, “Hey, brown girl, your mother is here.” Nope, no confusion there. Yes, I’m being both straightforward and ironic.) I am still challenged by motherhood and curious about my own mother’s experience and the way singleness, age, and race affected it. What I know is this: mothering is tough; single mothering tougher still. And here’s how I know:

It’s 5:00AM on a Tuesday morning, and my daughter calls to me from her bedroom. “Mom, I don’t feel well!” I leap out of bed, bang my foot on the nightstand, and limp across the house to her room. With one hand on her forehead, I know the deal: fever, sick day, no school for her…and no work for me. After the thermometer, the cool washcloth, the lullabies, she’s sleeping soundly again, but I know I won’t be able as the sun inches its way toward day. I sit before my computer and email all the necessary parties: her school, my students, the administrative assistant in the department where I teach. Then, I need to pore over my syllabi, making sure I can squeeze back in the work that will be missed today.

How much of this is familiar to you, women of the world? Whether you’re like me, a now-single mother, or whether you have a partner, most women with children are familiar with the scenario I describe. Historically, women have raised children. Women have been responsible for their feeding, for their entertainment, for their care when they’re sick. Across generations, across cultures, across races. Even when we work. We know this. And even the television commercials remind and train us in our role so that—often unthinkingly—we assume our place in the familial scheme.

I recall a particularly telling moment after my daughter’s father and I were separated but before we were divorced. Our child was visiting him for the night, and he called me (5:00AM again) to let me know that she was sick. “I’ll drop her off before I go to work,” he told me. What?! “Wait a minute,” I balked. “I teach today…”

But that wasn’t really an issue to him, and even I felt conflicted about my duties. I want to excel in my career and, in fact, I love my time in the classroom. I take my students and our plans seriously and don’t cancel classes lightly. At the same time, I strive to be an exceptional mother (don’t we all?), and I feel there’s no better place for my daughter to be than with me, especially when she’s sick.

“She’s sick. She needs to be with you,” he added, and this “compliment” was so well aligned with our cultural expectations, with my expectations of myself, that I quickly relented any opposition I might have entertained. Yes, I’m her mother; she’s my priority, I understood. “Bring her back,” I told him.

So today, when V. awoke feverish and needy, I knew I was expected to email her father and let him know her condition. I’m obliged to keep him apprised of her health when it’s abnormal, of unexpected visits to the doctor, of diagnoses that are made. Dashing off a business-like email to him, I felt highly conflicted about my position. Yes, I want to care for my daughter. No, it’s not right for me to hold the sole responsibility for her care, whether this responsibility has been imposed on me, assumed by me, or a little of both. I felt the itch of resentment, thought he should at least offer to take her to the doctor, if necessary, so that I could teach my classes today. Still, I didn’t really expect him to offer. I am her mother; she is in my care.

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I’m not suggesting, nor do I believe, that there aren’t plenty of balanced, mature, nurturing men in the world. Many of these are the hard working, committed partners of hard-working women; others are the often culturally forgotten single dads who work as hard as single mothers. I know many very committed and caring men who are admirable fathers and equitable partners.

Nevertheless, we can recognize that historically childrearing was women’s work, and in many cases it still is. And I’m not denigrating this task in the least. I know mothers do some of the hardest work that is ever done and surely the most primary, if not the most important (though I would throw my hat into that argument any day). And we know well the gains that the second wave of feminism offered in giving women choices regarding motherhood and career. Additionally, as third wave feminist Rebecca Walker has pointed out, while the second wave gave the following generation the choice, the third wave recognized that it was perfectly acceptable for a woman to choose motherhood over career if that was personally most fitting for her.

The third wave also allows us to recognize, though, that often the either/or choice is not the one that is made; many times, we women still want it all. I, for one, want to teach, research, publish AND I want to be the main caregiver of my daughter, have a from-scratch meal on the table for her every night, and keep the house pristine. Women like me are trying to embody what Michelle Wallace called in the 1970s the “myth of the superwoman,” and we’re suffering for it.

How? Well, I return to that internal struggle I feel about the care of my daughter when she’s sick. I sincerely want to be with her, and I recognize that I have a job to do. As the breadwinner, my job puts the food on the table; it is a fundamental resource in the very care I take of her. If I were to request that her father take her for the day while I work, I might suffer, however irrationally, a sense of inadequacy, as if I can’t do without him after all—and believe me, I’m not one to suggest that. Or as if I am somehow less of a mother if my care isn’t focused squarely on nurturing—on the cooking of chicken soup, tucking in of covers, and signing of songs.

Clearly, there are some problems with these nagging thoughts of mine, but am I alone in thinking them? I doubt it. Yet this self-awareness is useful. First of all, I’m coming to recognize the importance of support (Really? you ask me. You’re just now figuring this out, Superwoman?). Whether I want to accept her father’s support or not (and whether or not he would offer it), I am realizing that I do need others to have my back as I raise my daughter. That old cliché is true: it does take a village. I recall my own childhood again, and my maternal grandmother coming to live with my mother and me when I was six. She picked me up from school, cooked our meals, cleaned the house; in a way, my mother did have a parenting partner, and all three of us benefitted greatly. Considering this, I’m grateful for close friends in my life, for the welcoming school my daughter attends, for family a phone call away.

The second problem is a bit harder to rationalize my way out of, as motherhood has been so linked with nurturing. Whether my idealization of the mother care-taker is culturally conditioned or biologically inherent isn’t really the issue for me; rather, I recognize that, as her mother, I love to nurture my daughter, and I believe the sense of maternal security I provide can and hopefully will be an imprint that sustains her as she grows into a woman capable of mothering herself.

Speaking of mothering the self, I’m reminded of a scene in one of my favorite novels, Toni Morrison’s Jazz. After Violet’s husband has an affair, she and Alice converse about womanhood, life choices, and maturity.

Violet says, “We women, me and you. Tell me something real. Don’t just say I’m grown and ought to know. I don’t. I’m fifty and I don’t know nothing. What about it? Do I stay with him? I want to, I think. I want…well, I didn’t always…now I want. I want some fat in this life.”

Alice replies, “Wake up. Fat or lean, you got just one. This is it.”

“You don’t know either, do you?” Violet challenges her.

“I know enough to know how to behave.”

“Is that it? Is that all it is?” Violet is forced to ask.

“Is that all what is?”

And then Violet jumps in with my favorite line: “Oh shoot! Where the grown people? Is it us?”

“Oh, Mama.” Alice utters.

I love that exchange; it’s poignant and it’s real. How many of us, despite motherhood and seeming maturity, still don’t feel old enough or wise enough or capable enough to mother? We wonder if we’re mothering “right.” We wonder if we’re there for our children enough, if we’re teaching them well, if we’re guiding them wisely toward emotional intelligence and five fruits and veggies a day. Many of us look to our mothers, as I do, imagining they had all the answers by the ripe old age of 35. Like Violet and Alice, we look around and wonder where the real grown ups are and then sit back, stunned, calling for Mama when we realize we’re the grown people, even when we feel like imposters.

Perhaps we should take some comfort in that fact, in the realization that all of us—and our mothers, too—feel like imposters from time to time, but that’s only because we haven’t been down before whatever road it is we’re traveling. We haven’t yet encountered whatever challenges—in relationship, in age, in cultural codes, in you-name-it—that are still coming down the pike. That’s the point, though, right? We keep the growing edge of ourselves alive; we keep living and learning, trying and failing or succeeding, always facing the new questions that arise. As Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that give answers.” So even when we have to live the questions for longer than we’d like, perhaps we can comfort ourselves with the fact that, eventually, we will live ourselves right into the answers.

It seems to me my mother did. And I’ll be sure to ask her.


By: Tru Leverette, PhD.

[rescue_column size=”one-fourth” position=”first”]IMG_3976[/rescue_column] Tru Leverette works as an Associate Professor of English at the University of North Florida where she teaches African-American literature and serves as director of African-American/African Diaspora Studies. Her research interests broadly include race and gender in literature and culture, and she focuses specifically on critical mixed race studies. Her most recent work has been published in Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora and the edited collections Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speaking Out and The Search for Wholeness and Diaspora Literacy in Contemporary African-American Literature. She served as a Fulbright Scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, during the Winter 2013 term.

Switching it Up: Mixing Identities Over Time

I couldn’t understand why my mother was so outraged. I was eight, perhaps nine, and my great-aunt – my mother’s aunt – had just graced me with what she clearly thought was a compliment: “She could pass for Spanish!”

My great-aunt thought I could “pass for Spanish,” and that was enough to make my mother invite her own aunt to leave our house. I was young and probably even more naïve than some of my peers and had no idea what “pass” meant or why it would make my mother so angry. It was obviously a bad thing – I sure never wanted to pass, whatever that was! I didn’t see much of my great-aunt after that, though my mother fumed about that comment from time to time for years after.

Let me give you some background. I have two families of origin. I’ll talk about the second one first because it is the most important. I was adopted as an infant by what some would label “light-skinned” African American people and I was raised as Black. I was seven when my first adoptive mother died, my father remarried soon thereafter – again to a light-skinned, African American woman. But here’s where it started to get complicated. I learned I was adopted when my first adoptive mother died. The shock of that still echoes five decades later. I remember clearly that I desperately wanted to understand my story. My WHOLE story, not just what happened after my first few months in a Chicago orphanage. This is not a comfortable conversation for most adoptive parents, especially those who adopted in the 1950’s when birth parents were erased from birth certificates and new parents were assured that, through the miracle of careful matching, no one need ever know that their child wasn’t born to them, that their adopted child could pass as a birth child. But my place in the world had suddenly changed very painfully, my anchors ripped away, what I knew to be true turned into lies, two mothers lost before I was a decade old. And I needed to put the pieces together.

My new mom – who will just be called my mother from here – didn’t know much about my story. I heard several variations of my origins; my favorite was that my parents had met as college students; my birth mother was white and my birth father a student from Africa. He was Black, of course. Clearly that could never have worked out so I was placed for adoption. Even within the variations, the races remained the same and, suddenly, I was a mixed race person. My mom was mixed, too, with Caucasian, Creek and African American heritage, but she was raised and identified as black so, when I tried to talk about this new revelation and my identity with my equally mixed new cousins, I was informed by my mother to drop that, I was Black and that was that. My new family primarily identified as black, even though I know that they were sometimes perceived as perhaps of another background. No one thought about passing, as far as I know. We were proud of being black. So, I never brought it up again, though I frequently wondered about that missing mom, the first mom, the one who’d carried and birthed me and then gave me to another family.

I secretly tried on this mysterious identity. But I didn’t know anyone who identified as mixed; there were no popular figures, no classmates, no characters in the many books I read, who called themselves mixed. So, without some model as to what that identity meant and looked like, that youthful flirtation with a different racial identity did not have any way to take root.

Two decades or so passed. When my first child was born one of my first thoughts was that here was the first person I knew who was related to me by blood. We try to pretend that it’s not, but blood is important in American culture. Adoption is outside our norm and often not even on our social radar. People who didn’t know otherwise, always saw a resemblance between me and my adoptive family – I’d hear, “you look like your cousin,” “you’re tall like your dad,” or “you have your mom’s hair.” The miracle of careful matching. I recall once having to do a biology assignment in which we had to trace a specific inheritable physical trait through our family tree – I never knew if the teacher realized that I made all of my information up, or if she guessed that I or someone else in my family had been adopted. Even my mother would occasionally use the phrase, “Blood is thicker than water,” to stress how family should stick together. I don’t think she ever realized the irony.

After having a child, I decided to find my roots, if I could. I had been grafted onto another tree – a wonderful, welcoming, hospitable tree, but nevertheless, not the place I’d started. The saga of my search is a long story in itself so we’ll skip to the happy ending – I found my maternal side, the long-lost womb and first love. I was extremely fortunate that I was welcomed into the family with wide open arms as if I’d only been away for a while. Suddenly this only child had siblings, a host of new cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles. It was overwhelming and wonderful and mostly white. My two (older) half siblings were also mixed and there were other family members who were people of color, all welcomed in the family, but still very much a minority.

My birthmother and I were pretty taken with each other and that meant, for me, finding an identity that included her. It was easy to start calling myself mixed then. My older sister, who had grown up with our shared mother, identified as mixed – check both boxes or check other, don’t let yourself be forced to choose. We weren’t white and didn’t want to be or to try to pass as such, but we both embraced the mixed heritage that contributed to who we were. I reveled in this new identity because it gave me a connection that I had never experienced before. I gleefully checked both boxes when that pesky demographic question showed up. Not, as my mother had feared, because I wanted to be less black, but because I wanted to connect to my biological family.

Fast forward again to today. My connection to my first family of origin is solid. We see each other from time to time, talk on the phone, send cards, share via Facebook. And my identity has drifted back. I now check one box, Black/African American. It’s not because it’s what people see when they look at me, but because it’s who I feel I am. Maybe it’s because of the identity that I lived with for so long, but I feel that I can be a Black person of mixed roots, retain that solid personal connection with both my birth and adoptive families, and embrace all of the history that make me the person I am today.

Out of curiosity, I recently tried the DNA test offered by It returned my genetic background as 61% European. In the world, that means Caucasian. Africa contributed 38% of my DNA with the negligible remainder, traces of West Asia. This is interesting, I suppose, and if the demographic questions that come up on studies or surveys asked for my genetic identity, I would give a different answer. But, for now, I’m African American. It’s the identity that shaped my life and experiences in America. And it’s the one I’m happy with. For now. Check back in another 20 years.

By: Darlene Nichols


[rescue_column size=”one-third” position=”first”]20150213_092521-1[/rescue_column] Darlene is a proud Midwesterner born and raised, mother of two talented musical sons, librarian extraordinaire, and advocate for diversity and inclusion. Not only does she have a mixed race heritage, she is married interracially and has biracial children so issues relate to mixed identity, acceptance, role models, etc., have been of long interest. She has been a librarian at the University of Michigan for almost thirty years and, growing out of that role, co-edited a readers’ and researchers’ guide to finding information on mixed race people entitled Multiracial America: a resource guide on the history and literature of interracial issues. She lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and Sheltie and, occasionally, sons.

Claiming Race, Identity and a Right to Education

 It is my job to think about school. Everyday, I read, write, and speak about education. I ask, and often try to answer, the big questions. Like, why do we have schools? Or, what is the purpose of education? Even more specifically, how do I make sure all kids get the education they deserve? Since I now have my own children, these questions have taken on new meaning in my life. They have become personal. More than I expected, they have become questions that challenge who we are; who I am and who my children will become.


When I think back to my earliest years of schooling, I can’t pinpoint a specific moment when I knew that I was getting a different education that my friends. I grew up in urban public schools, not unlike the one my own kids attend today. I LOVED SCHOOL. I mean, LOVED it. All parts. Carrying the milk crate for snack, practicing handwriting, chasing friends on the playground. Later, the love grew to encompass algebra and writing, student council and more writing… I was good at school and that made every moment satisfying and fulfilling.

At some point, I began to realize that I got more credit than I deserved. It wasn’t just that I was good at what I did. Maybe, I thought, it wasn’t even that I was better than anyone else at school, at all. It did have something to do with having blond hair and blue eyes. It had to do with feeling free in a place that didn’t criminalize me. It had to do with looking white.

I am, perhaps, one of the more stereotypical American multiracial blends, one that connotes the taboo of race-mixing specific to slavery in this country. My mother is white and my father is Black, though his heritage includes European & American Indian and is evidenced by a “high yellow” complexion and wavy black hair. What is less stereotypical about my multiracial identity is that I look white, especially to most white people. And the result is that I benefit from white privilege.

As a young student, I don’t think I had any inkling of what white privilege was or what it meant for my freedom to think, learn, and do. I am well into my thirties now and I am still coming to terms with it. Being multiracial in a family that valued our mixed heritage, I wasn’t raised to think that my identity presented any contradiction to societal norms. Looking white, I also wasn’t confronted with the same degree of racism or prejudice that my father, or even my friends, experienced. It was easy for me to say I was mixed, to feel mixed, to be mixed; but that didn’t mean I had a personal understanding of what it meant to be a person of color.

We moved, when I was entering 7th grade, into a new urban district. When my mom went to register us at school, all three of us school-aged children, she was required to fill out a multitude of paperwork that included demographic information. She proceeded to fill out all of the corresponding bubbles for each of us. One sheet at a time, she shaded the Black bubble, then the white, then the American Indian. The administrator leaned over to her, this white woman with a racially ambiguous baby on her hip, and said,

“You can’t do that, ma’am.”

“Do what?” said my mama.

“Do that,” said the other woman, eyeing the paper. “It says, ‘Choose one.’”

“But my children are mixed,” said my mama.

The woman looked at my mother and looked at us. “Choose one,” she said.

My mom paused for a moment, looking the woman directly in her eyes. I watched her erase some bubbles and fill others in. I couldn’t believe what she was doing. Looking at each paper, I realized she had followed the woman’s instructions. The Black bubble was shaded in next to my name. Next to my brother’s, the American Indian bubble. For my sister, the white one. My mother handed the perplexed administrator the papers and walked us out of the office and back into the last moments of summer sun.

Despite my mother’s resistance to a monoracial system, it didn’t change the fact that I looked white to many teachers and peers. I want to think that if I had been browner or had coarser hair (which, as a child, I often prayed to God to be and have), the encouragement, support, and freedom that I received as a student would have been unchanged. But I know better. Then, as now, I see black and brown students, whether identified as multiracial or not, marginalized by a quickly evolving education system. If you live in Chicago right now, you know that Chicago Public Schools are under constant fire for the overall inability to adequately educate students, particularly students of color. If you are a multiracial parent, or the parent of a multiracial child, your child is perhaps included in the 4,202 students (1.1%) that make up CPS as of 2014. Or, like many other parents, you may have “labeled” your child as their predominant racial category. (No judgment: the pressure to label at all could be an entirely different blog post). What can be said for sure, is that if your child is not categorized as white, he is part of a 90% majority in Chicago Public Schools: people of color.

I bring up these statistics not to question the validity of reported racial demographics, but to highlight the increasing importance of our power and solidarity as people of color, regardless of who we appear to be. We ARE the Chicago Public Schools. Similar to most other urban areas in the United States, we are fast becoming the majority, even in areas like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, where students of color have climbed to a 75% majority in public schools. If you are multiracial, chances are you grew up in a mororacial suburb or neighborhood, or attended a minimally diverse school. Maybe you were one of a few multiracial students in your class. In Chicago, many neighborhoods and schools remain segregated along lines of race, giving the illusion that multiracial students remain somewhat invisible in often homogenous populations. However, multiracial students are not invisible in data. Our children are included in the achievement and suspension demographics. They are part of the “Black and brown” student population that is “at risk” for failure, according to statistical reports and analyses.

But we are missing the reality. We ARE the Chicago Public Schools. As families of color, we constitute the mass. We get to make the demands. We get to shape the educational opportunities for our children.

My appearance and my multiracial identity have become even more salient as my children have reached school age. I can’t really describe what it feels like to prepare your first kid for her first day of school. You won’t know this feeling until you have a little of your own, or maybe one that you are lucky enough to care for at the start of the school day. But, for someone who loved school as much as I did, this preparation was both magical and terrifying. Buying all of the school supplies, which is equal parts fun and exasperating; making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the shape of a heart to put in her lunch box; laying out school clothes for the big day. Holding her tiny hand in yours while you walk to school and letting it go as she runs, faster than you are ready, to stand in line with her class.

She is older now, this oldest daughter. She is 11, but she looks 17. She is tall and confident and the color of a caramel latte, or a new autumn leaf. She is smarter than I ever was and she knows it, I think. Like Omilaju Miranda’s daughter, she is teaching me what race means to her. What it means to be multiracial. What it means to be a person of color. She knows in ways I don’t; in ways I can’t.

Last year, I joined the Local School Council, an elected parent-school-community council, for my daughter. She doesn’t know it yet, but people will question her identity. They will try to put her in a bubble. I am there to make sure she never sees the need to fit inside it.

By: Briellen Griffin


[rescue_column size=”one-third” position=”first”]IMG_1381 [/rescue_column] Briellen Griffin is currently a doctoral student of sociology in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies at Loyola University Chicago. With a team of faculty and graduate researchers, she is currently studying the civic experiences of students in Chicago Public Schools as they navigate the competitive citywide high school admissions process. Brie has spent the last several years in Minneapolis, working as a school social worker in the public schools, helping to create quality learning opportunities for all students, and serving as a liaison for students, families, and teachers. Her current research interests are concentrated on educational access and equity for communities of color, developing socially just and community-grown models of teaching, and improving school-community relationships. She currently lives in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago with her husband and three kids, who attend their neighborhood school.


“I wish I had white skin,” my three year-old daughter said, swinging breezily at the park.

Gulp. “Why do you say that, Sweetheart?” I asked, outwardly calm but inwardly exclaiming, Shit! What do I do with this?

“Because all of the friends at school have white skin.” Very matter-of-factly.


I think about race a lot, both professionally and personally, and perhaps more than the average person. I work as a professor teaching race-related literature classes and grew up as a “brown-skinned white girl,” as France Winddance Twine has called mixed race girls raised in white households and predominantly white communities. I remember as a preschooler myself in the 1970s telling my teacher that I wished I had long, blonde hair (and presumably pale skin) and, though I’m embarrassed to admit this deep-seated desire I held at the time, pastel underwear. So I wasn’t entirely surprised that my daughter, the beautifully brown-skinned child of her mixed race father and I, would develop feelings similar to those I’d had as a child, given the predominantly white school she attended.

But so soon? And how did she internalize the idea that dark skin is undesirable when she hasn’t been a TV watcher and has been celebrated with Doc McStuffins and brown baby dolls?

Fast forward to five:

“I love my brown skin,” she tells her gymnastics teacher one day, but on another day this boisterous girl turns timid around her brown paternal grandfather and great grandmother. Or she hides behind her father’s back when she meets other brown skinned kids at the park. He tells me she seems afraid of black people and that she needs to know she “comes from this,” as well as from whiteness.

I’m feeling defensive, like my choice to live in the town I chose and have my daughter attend a Catholic school is being called into question because it effectively surrounds her with whiteness. And the cultural critic in me is nagging behind this more visceral maternal response. “Wait a minute. What do you mean, ‘She needs to know she comes from this’?” Not until later, when my maternal angst is temporarily calmed, can I tease out the implications of this remark. No, I don’t want to raise my daughter to believe she “comes from blackness and whiteness” as if they are some geographical location we can visit in time and space, as if they are a location where all of this cultural coding and conditioning just is and therefore makes sense, as if this ephemeral blackness and whiteness she “contains” could be pinned down to the pseudo-science of racialized blood or moral character.

What I want her to know is that she comes from people. These people love her and she needn’t be afraid of them because of the various colors of their skin. By extension, she needn’t fear people she meets in the world simply because of their skin; if there are people to fear in the world—and there certainly are—it’s because of their actions, not their appearance.

When I talked to her about “black people” after talking to her father, she stopped me. “Black people?” she asked, and I knew she was imagining someone the color of her tennis shoes or the car ahead of us. Having preferred more literalness with descriptions of people, I’ve always talked to my daughter about our brown skin and others with brown skin; even white people aren’t the color of notebook paper but more variations of sand and tan. I’ve challenged her when she describes the peach colored crayon as “skin color,” and I’ve asked her to hand me a skin colored crayon, holding out my hand to indicate I mean a certain shade of brown. I point out the people she considers having “white skin” don’t look like that peach-colored crayon or summer day clouds.

To her question, I replied, “I think that’s a confusing term, too, but that’s a term used for people who look like your Grappa and even your dad and me.” Although many people find my daughter hard to peg, usually asking if she’s from India, I’m sure there will be times when she’ll be called black as well.

We know racialized terms are used to classify people; unfortunately, these terms are also used to define and often limit people. We know white power and privilege exist. We know racism exists. We know unspeakable things have been done in the name of these realities. We know, too, that black triumph against these atrocities also exists. Black people have done amazing things throughout history. So have white people. Black people have also done some terrible things, as white people have, and in these statements, I’m not forgetting the power that’s coextensive with whiteness in the United States and elsewhere. Still, these terrible acts that have been (and continue to be) done are the acts of people, performed in the name and game of race, even when their ideologies become institutionalized to the point that we forget their original presence at the root of injustice.

I would rather my daughter come to the realization that race is an imperfect and often detrimental way of talking about perceived differences, whether these are biological (like skin color) or socio-cultural (like language use) and that these differences don’t map neatly onto so-called racial lines. Nor can these differences be equated with anything inherent, including a person’s worth, potential, intelligence, character, behavior, or proclivity for violence and therefore worthiness of our fear.

So the conversation will continue. I don’t want V. to be afraid of her family or to internalize this culture’s racism, which is certainly what’s happening when she shies away from other brown skinned kids on the playground or her own grandfather when she hasn’t seen him in a year. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that she’s somehow diminished because of her skin or, conversely, more special because of it. Given the sometimes subtle yet pervasive negative associations our culture makes with dark skin, and given the predominantly white community in which I’m raising my daughter, I want to normalize skin color difference, to help her see skin’s “meaning” as equivalent to that of hair or eye color, hair texture or eye shape—in other words, in itself meaningless though laden with historical baggage she needn’t help tote.

This past Christmas, V. was visited by an “Elf on the Shelf,” and, significantly, hers was brown with a short pixie cut that favored her own. When she first noticed it sitting on the bookshelf, V. morphed into a human pogo-stick, bouncing up and down like our floor was a trampoline: “I got my very own elf!!! And she looks like me!!!” A few days later, we found The Gabby Douglas Story on Netflix; since V. enjoys gymnastics and I’m pointing to positive images of black people, we watched it. Early in the movie, she noticed the family.

“They look like me, ” she remarked, smiling.

“Yes,” I affirmed, “they look like us.”

I’m comforted at this stage to know she’s seeing these affirmations of brownness and that, by extension, she can feel affirmed not just in our home but hopefully in the world as well.

Still, I wonder whose responsibility is it to affirm children’s worth? Surely the parents are primarily influential in this regard, but are we alone in valuing our children? What role do schools play? What role does culture? I’m not trying to reinforce the current cultural climate of over-affirming children to the point of narcissism, but children do deserve to have their worth and potential affirmed and encouraged, respectively. Given my daughter’s sometimes negative responses to her skin, I’d say schools and culture are clearly influential. This influence should not be taken lightly but consciously crafted so that socially we can move away from images and ideologies that suggest singular notions of beauty or worth. In so doing, we can move toward a time when individuals such as my daughter won’t look at their skin in order to define themselves or determine their value in the world.

By: Guest Blogger Tru Leverette, PhD


[rescue_column size=”one-third” position=”first”]adrap_logo [/rescue_column]Tru Leverette works as an Associate Professor of English at the University of North Florida where she teaches African-American literature and serves as director of African-American/African Diaspora Studies. Her research interests broadly include race and gender in literature and culture, and she focuses specifically on critical mixed race studies. Her most recent work has been published in Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora and the edited collections Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speaking Out and The Search for Wholeness and Diaspora Literacy in Contemporary African-American Literature. She served as a Fulbright Scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, during the Winter 2013 term.

Christmas without Ramadan

I’ve never really liked Christmas. It was the most forced family event of the year, defined by spectacular displays of anxiety from my mother and bad temper served up by my father, always in time for guests. While that doesn’t sound much different from others’ fun family holidays, there was another layer of dysfunction in it for me. My Dad is Muslim, a fact that we ignored for the entire year, not just on big Christian holidays. December 25th highlighted particularly well the lack of Muslim traditions in my immediate family, despite the fact that Lebanese Muslims outnumbered my English mother’s kin and me and my American siblings.

Let me walk you through a typical Itani Christmas (you Arabic speakers know how ridiculous the pairing of a large Lebanese Muslim family name and the word “Christmas” is). In the morning, my siblings and I woke up way too early and tore into our presents like obnoxious kids the world over. The gifts broke along gender and culture lines. As the one with the Arabic name and the insatiable curiosity for all things Middle Eastern, I would get the “cultural” gift (a subscription to Foreign Affairs was popular). “You’re so…Oriental,” my mother would often say, perplexed, in her British accent. Um, yeah Mom, did you see the Lebanese guy you married? Just saying.

My brother Stuart would get the “sports” gift, although all of us were athletic. And my little sister Fiona, the most American of us all, would get the “American” gift, usually trendy clothes and music that made me seethe with jealousy (apparently a cross cultural trait).

Before we had a chance to take inventory, my father was barking orders to clean up wrapping paper, salvage gift cards, and organize, organize, organize. It was like he was auditioning for the Captain’s role in the Sound of Music. Soon after presents, we piled in the car and drove to a nearby park to take the dogs for a walk, usually in a few feet of snow (Ohio. Enough said). Dad had all people and canines walking at a brisk pace, making the activity feel more like surgery prep in his hospital OR than fun in winter wonderland. Again, Christopher Plummer’s Austrian captain comes to mind.

Meanwhile, my mother was busy doing her own prep in the kitchen. The turkey—the crowning glory of an English Christmas dinner—was brined, dressed, and popped in the oven. The Brussels sprouts were chopped, the potatoes scrubbed. The best dishes were laid out, ready to display and serve the meat, overcooked vegetables, and Christmas puddings that had come all the way from Harrods. With amazement, we watched her recreate the Christmases of her childhood in post-war Britain.

But then came the Middle Eastern part of Christmas—hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouleh, lamb kabobs, and honey and nut-ladened sweets. You see, our Christmas always included the Lebanese dishes that we grew up on, the ones that my father taught my mother to cook for him when they were residents in London. It was delicious, and pure torture. Mom worried for days about the food and the guests. She became almost crippled at the thought of my father’s temper if things weren’t perfect. The food was always amazing, but my mother never seemed to enjoy it. While Dad entertained guests with awkward conversation, my mother usually sat in silence and the kids skulked off, not sure what to do.

No matter what kind of crazy family shit went down on Christmas Day, we came together around a feast of traditional English food and Lebanese dishes. Seriously, mezze and Christmas turkey…the best. Food got me through the uncomfortable reality that each year, we celebrated Christmas and ignored Ramadan. I didn’t know when Ramadan started, or how to properly break the fast at sundown. I didn’t know the customs around Eid al Fitr or Eid al Adha. But I learned all about Christmas, little baby Jesus, the three wise men, away in a manger. My Dad loved parts of Christmas like having a tree with lights, but kept his Muslim traditions private and shared nothing with his wife and children. The reasons ranged from laziness to bigotry. There was the subtle and overt racism—comments, knowing jokes, workplace reviews—that he faced while pursuing a surgery career in the US and the UK. And without a Muslim wife to educate the kids or a mosque to attend, it was easier to keep to himself and find a secular middle ground complete with Christmas trees and Easter chocolate.

As the kid with the Arabic name and the stubborn nature, I pushed away my mother’s holidays in response to the absence of my father’s Islam. I saw Christmas as a farce that hid my parent’s unease with each others’ religions. Seriously, how can you have one holiday without acknowledging the others? How can you only know about one half of your family? How can you have Christmas without Ramadan? I downplay Christmas every year because I feel like what’s the point? It’s only half of my story. I get frustrated. I’m scared that if I focus too much on one side, I will lose the other.

Many of us whose families span religions and nationalities cut corners to keep the peace, or make sense of things. We abbreviate religious traditions and holidays, and rely on food to help us come together and show love, even when it is confusing or incomplete. Don’t get me wrong, the cultural fusion that marks so many of our communities is vital—and delicious. But when Christmas rolls around each year, I have trouble getting excited ripping into the wrapping paper, going to “holiday” parties, or even having a tree. I am still trying to find the balance for myself. But having hummus with the holiday turkey, or baklava with my Christmas cookies? Not a problem.

By Zena F. Itani

[rescue_column size=”one-fourth” position=”first”]Zena Itani headshot for mxroots fest 2010[/rescue_column]Zena Itani is an Arab American activist, athlete, and adventurer. She is a public health practitioner with over a decade of experience building innovative organizations and programs, and using multimedia for planning, storytelling, and advocacy. A resident of Washington, DC, Zena now lives in Amman, Jordan with her family. You can find her in her garden in Jabal Amman and on Twitter at @ZenaItani.

The Politics of Multi-Racial Identity – Part 2 of 4

My childhood area of New York bordered the remnants of the Puerto Rican Loisaida, and edges of Chinatown. As a result, our class was a mix of working class Asians and Latinos, along with Italians and African Americans. My kindergarten class was a reflection of this composition, which would have made any proponent of diversity happy. Our cognition of race at this point was limited to what we interacted with in reality. We could perceive a correlation of skin color to racial identity—lighter individuals being white, and darker individuals being black, with Asians and Latinos having their own looks—and this correlation was hammered home by interactions with the families of students. If one’s identity was not made immediately clear by their body, the sign to be read was the body of the person who was generally responsible for the student.

This is where the fluidity of my own racial identity began. In my mind (and the minds of my five year old peers) I was white. My skin color might have identified me as Latino, but my mother was a working class, Western European woman and that identity became my own. Indeed, my first memory of directly engaging race was mentioning to my mother something about how I was white. To which she responded that my impression was a half-truth; I was part white, but my dad was also Jamaican and Chinese.

This was not the biggest surprise in my mind. I was cognizant of a difference between my mother and myself, but this difference was brought out by social interactions. What enforced the conclusion of my whiteness in the classroom was the presence of my mother, a white woman. However, this was not enough for all people outside the classroom and it was the interactions with these people that made me suspect there was more to my identity.  A prime example: there was a park near our apartment in which I regularly played. While the children played on the jungle gym, or by the sprinklers, our parents would gather and have the sorts of conversations adults have. Years later, my mom informed me about the subject of one such conversation: another white mother had seen me with my mother, and was not deceived. Thus, once I was out of earshot, she asked, “Where did you get him from?” This woman thought that my mother had a contact with a Latin American adoption agency.

It was not a moment of malicious racism, and the woman became apologetic upon realizing that we were indeed biologically related, but it did reflect a number of normative assumptions she had made and was comfortable with sharing in public. Her question did not entertain the notion that a biological relation was possible—it made the normative assumption as one of adoptive kinship. This is reflective of a historical consciousness in which the world makes more sense maintaining the strict lines that bind our conceptual categories of race to empirics, rather than suggesting that the lines between them could change.

Of course, it is difficult to say whether biological relations ought to be presumed as normative ones for society, but what I wish to highlight is the selective standard by which this question of normativity is raised. It was not any other relation between child and parent that was question—it was my mother and myself. This is a question continually raised by people who think they are clever: “How do you know what you are if you never knew your dad?” The separation of empirical verification and conceptual trust is one that exists in every parental relationship. For all any of these people know, their parents had lied about being their parents, and were actually ex-KGB operatives. These explanations are rejected because they seem more complex and difficult to maintain. However, when it comes to multi-racial identity, everything that does not have immediate empirical verification, is available for strict scrutiny.

These forms of “benign” racism were equally prominent within my peer group. In fact, by 2nd grade, my peers had become incredibly good at creating groups based on ethnicity, and policing those lines. Throughout my interaction with Asian friends, for example this was a common response I would receive when they heard I was Chinese: “No you’re not. You don’t look it!” This was another simple negation, one that seems benign, as it came from seven year olds with little world experience. We would expect this of children in the same way we might expect a child to disbelieve in purple potatoes until presented with one. But people are not potatoes, and this was indicative of a larger problem—namely the inability to differentiate between races beyond empirics. These early experiences with empirical validation of race would later be the source of my peers’ conceptual ideas of race. This wasn’t a failure of the individual, but one in which the American state itself has been incapable of understanding racial lines, both conceptually and empirically, as moving targets.

When a student learns history in elementary school, the typical revisionist charge is this history is the “old dead white dude” variant of history. My only contribution to this discussion is that even in the most virulent threads of historical fantasy, in which the Civil War was one of “Northern Aggression” there is some acknowledgment that other races existed, if only to be subservient to the white one. Yet, both revisionists and traditionalists police these very lines that we learned as children: races do not mix. Even the more progressive histories, based on popular historians like Howard Zinn, still spend very little time pointing out that Multi Racial identities exist[1]. And when this absence of mention is combined with the tradition of separation, it is no surprise that children cannot conceptualize Multi Racial identity as something possible. My identity was practically a unicorn—non-existent.

Part of this erasure is a refusal to engage with the reality in which we exist, and the history behind it. In middle school, our humanities curriculum was well developed, with emphasis on primary sources, and even a trip to the NY Supreme Court to argue the case for slave reparations. But there was always a sense that we were playing with dead ideologies—this court case was partially imaginary, in the sense that none of us were forced to consider race as an element of the present. I remember some peers being very surprised to hear that racism still existed as a politically powerful force, as though racism ended with Brown vs. Board of Ed. The failure of our humanities education was the inability to link this history with the social structures of the present[2].

This connection was made for seldom few of us as children, but I would suggest that the living experience of dealing with racial discrimination, combined with the historical knowledge of the past (and here, parents become teachers as well—for example, people who fought for civil rights) means that non-white children make this connection much more quickly. There are a variety of studies that show white students tend to be less aware of race as a profoundly influential factor in the possibility of advancement. By denying these connections, or at least failing to address them, the later work of “diversity” becomes exponentially harder—something I will return to in a later post.

My first engagements in which my peers became actively aware of the political stakes for race-thinking, and the ideologies it spawns was in high school. This began a long journey, one in which I had to begin navigating how I wanted to identify, and as what others wanted me to identify. I will go more into detail about this process later, but I will close with the basic distinction between my early childhood days, and my life as a teenager.

As a child, my identity as Multi Racial appeared to have few stakes involved. My mom, as a sign, meant passing was imposed upon me, and while moments of tension surfaced when this sign was challenged, they meant little in the grander scheme of my own opportunities. Yet, it wasn’t as simple as a conscious decision to act and appear white at all times. I still interacted with my peers, expecting them to accept my racial identity as empirically valid, regardless of the conceptual construction of my educational trajectory as white.

At a high school where the distance between my empirical and conceptual identities began to grow wider, the stakes became raised. No longer was the question whether I actually was Jamaican, or Chinese, but whether I had the right to claim that identity as my own. My peers became less concerned with the empirical, and more concerned with the conceptual.


[1] Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has become the standard form of popular marginalized histories:’s%20History%20of%20the%20United%20States-%20Howard%20Zinn.pdf .

[2] The literary scholar Gayatri Spivak has some powerful words on the role of the humanities in education within this lecture: .


By: July 2014 Guest Blogger- Marley-Vincent Lindsey


Marley-Vincent Lindsey is a freelance writer and independent researcher located in New York. He recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in history and is primarily interested in 16th century Colonial Spain, the influence of Christianity on colonial institutions, subaltern studies and postcolonial theory and the relationship between digital media and history. He will be presenting at the Sixth Annual  Conference on Power and Struggle hosted by the University of Alabama, and is publishing a paper entitled “The Politics of Pokémon: Socialized Gaming, Religious Themes and the Construction of Communal Narratives” in the forthcoming volume of Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet. When he’s not on the academic grind, he’s probably playing Starcraft and other related strategy games, skating or thinking about contingency plans for the zombie apocalypse. He can be contacted via email ( or through his notebook-blog ( He also really likes cats.


(due to an abundance of spam, we’ve had to turn off comments here, but please head over to our Facebook page – we’d love to hear and share your thoughts there!

The Family Pangaea

With a rich heritage rooted in various parts of the globe, Pangaea comes to mind when pondering our sons’ racial make-up. For the sake of simplification, we call Raf & Armand bi-racial, or multicultural since listing African, Native American, German, Italian, Scots-Irish & Mexican seems a bit long-winded. In addition, given the strong tendency towards fragmentation – culturally speaking that is – Pangaea aptly symbolizes the primordial unification of Earth’s land masses and therefore, humanity. As stated in an earlier exploration titled,  “I’m What?… ” my husband and I are on a mission to raise our sons to be whole, happy and positive contributors on this planet. And it’s about as general yet complex as it sounds. The notion of wholeness & embracing one’s full self is a work in progress, as we parents strive to follow suit in our own lives. Just what does it mean to be a man, woman, child, American, White, Black, and plain old human? I imagine many would agree that these are some seriously loaded questions, which brings me right back to that über ancient supercontinent that began to break apart about 100 million years ago. The massive drift largely responsible for the current global landscape laid the framework for the myriad of (often clashing) cultures & colors also known as contemporary humanity.

The family-mixed-roots-image

Referring to our young, loving, energetic duo, that which has been likened to a mixed bag of multicultural goodness also embodies the fundamental essence of human equality and oneness. The ever-evolving face of Mama Earth vividly illustrates the awesome beauty of inter-connectedness, and we pray, takes root in the burgeoning of a healthy sense of cultural identity for our beloved boys.

By: May 2014 Guest Blogger – Sky Obercam


Born & raised in Philly, Sky currently resides in the San Francisco

Bay Area. A full-time mamma, and creative spirit, she’s lent her voice

to The Source, Format Magazine, Bossip, Black Web 2.0, Vibe Vixen,

Frugivore, XO Jane and co-founded art & culture blog,

Visual Culture. Peep her blog, Mindless Culture vs. Sky Obercam, for

updates on new (and hopefully exciting) endeavors, as well as

entertaining tid-bits, info, and arbitrary rantings from the

self-proclaimed eccentric.

(due to an abundance of spam, we’ve had to turn off comments here, but please head over to our  Facebook page- we’d love to hear and share your thoughts there!