The Politics of Multi-Racial Identity – Part 3 of 4

This section requires a brief moment of intellectual self-aggrandizing, and I apologize for that, but how race impacted my high school experience can only be understood in the context of what my high school meant for the city on a whole. Stuyvesant High School, initially founded as a trade school for boys in 1904, is a name with real power in New York. This power came from the expectations of a student going to Stuyvesant: it was an academic pressure cooker, a sink-or-swim environment and a feeder for the Ivy League and top-tier universities worldwide. Multiple schools like MIT, UChicago, Yale and Harvard employ admissions officers whose specific jobs are to deal with the Stuyvesant application pool. We boast multiple Nobel prize winners, Fields Medals, Intel Science Search winners, and influential alumni both in and out of the academy.

These are the sorts of things one might expect from an affluent private school. They are not common for a public high school with a majority of students qualified for free or reduced lunch. The element of economic diversity for Stuyvesant, combined with its role as a stepping-stone for a number of first generation immigrants led to its place as a source of constant pride for New York. A group of talented and ambitious low-income kids who, based on a single test, are admitted into the “elite” company of students who attend the school.

The question on the table is whether this economic diversity was enough to speak for one of the largest racial divides in high schools across the country. Eleanor Archie, an Assistant Principal during my time at Stuyvesant, was quoted as referring to the 11 black students admitted in 2013 as the fewest she’d seen in the 20 years she’d been there[1]. Currently, the school is 72% Asian, 21% White, 1% African American and 2% Hispanic. Black and Hispanic enrollment has been declining for a variety of reasons, some of which include former principal Stanley Teitel’s decision to end Summer Discovery, a program that allowed underscoring students to attend classes over the summer to earn an admissions slot. The Summer High School Institute, a program designed to help bolster underrepresented minorities, has seen a slew of budget cuts since its inception. Outreach to schools zones like District 7, poor and with few resources, is minimal, while normal support networks like families and communities come to the growing understanding that schools like Stuyvesant were never meant for them.

Whenever I brought up this astounding lack of representation for African Americans, Indigenous or Hispanic groups, I often received the response that Stuyvesant was diverse where it matters—in terms of class. What this economic diversity showed was that anyone could make it to my high school, and that the lack of racial diversity indicated a cultural problem within those racial categories. This was an objection essentially rooted in Marx. When he wrote that history was “hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”[2], he was not ignoring the colonial legacy of the early 19th century. He was placing that legacy as a direct problem of the economic ramifications of colonial rule. Colonial Marxists, like Frantz Fanon, could be seen in turn as developing these relationships as subject to the one of capital.

It is fascinating, then, that the philosophy of Marx is used in a conservative sense. The status quo of Stuyvesant is fully operational so long as it continues to subvert traditional classist assumptions about the role of income in determining long-term prospects. Setting this remark aside, these responses also demonstrate how racial comprehension failed in this environment where racial diversity was stratified. The discussion of “cultural problems”, for example, ignores a long history in which education was a valued characteristic, and how it steadily became de-valued as a function of racial discrimination. Any cursory glance at the rise and fall of Black Wall Streets demonstrate this. Further, the lack of serious representation within such an environment rapidly pushed discussions past points where they would normally be called out on their directly racist mentalities. As it is, the rationalizations created by classmates when a number of white male students created a video targeting a black female classmate based on race and gender reveal is astounding[3].

But here is a point where my experience as Multi Racial diverged from traditional minority narratives. The fact that I was also Chinese as well as Jamaican meant that the discomfort triggered by racial episodes also included the flattening of Asian experiences at the school. The same New York Times article that lamented the loss of African Americans at Stuyvesant would also hint that Asian representation was too high[4]. Descriptions of the Asian population as “invading”, or as particular Asian students as functionally equivalent contributed to an odd discourse in which no minority was really safe from critique. There was, of course, usually one face to represent Asian Americans at Stuyvesant: a Chinese one. This is despite the conceptual boundary between populations of people like Indians, Afghans, and Pakistanis and what American consciousness conceptualizes as “Asian”. As an example, it was not Chinese Americans who were targeted after 9/11. What’s more, the difficulties for some students in terms of being first generation, or largely lower class tend to be ignored when constructing this monolithic entity of “Asian”. It was almost as Asian-ness gave its beholder some sort of super power, which rendered the model minority myth and the elements of discrimination with which it is associated irrelevant.

In a world where all people are monoracial, the polarizing nature of model minority versus under represented minority may have been discomforting, but probably did not trigger existential crises. Was I taking advantage of one identity to bolster another? Is this an acceptable way to further underrepresentation? Am I a sell-out? I was expected to have fully developed answers to these questions by the age of 14, and as soon as I began talking about these things, I could expect my peers on both sides to remind me that I was not “Black” nor “Chinese” nor “White”. Paradoxically, I was also expected to “pick” a side, regardless of how well my peers policed those conceptual boundaries. One classmate, for example, insisted on reminding me that college admissions, would only see me as African American. And since my classmate’s impression of African American was uniformly that of the inner city, gangs and violence, I had no right putting that down on my application.

These sorts of statements were deeply ironic. I wasn’t Black enough to make it acceptable for college applications, but I was Black enough for girls to explicitly mention that their fathers would kill me if I touched them. I was Black enough to transform into an expert on slavery, reparations and segregation in the inner city for classes that could be devoid of darker faces. But, for whatever reason, I was challenged to put down only “Chinese” or “Chinese and White” on college applications. The fact that I had the audacity to identify with all parts of my empirical identity was a challenge in the atmosphere of hyper-competitive college admissions season.

I pre-empted this section by asserting that what mattered less was the empirical reality of race, and more what people saw of me. The signifier shifted from my mother, to what conceptual expectations my classmates had of particular racial distinctions, and where I stood in regards to expectations. This was also true of the world at-large. Prior to my arrival at Stuyvesant, people normally guessed at my ethnicity as “some kind of Latin American”. If they knew I went to Stuyvesant, these guesses shifted to “Middle Eastern, or maybe Jewish”. I had little say in how I was perceived, or what was assigned to me. In multiple areas of institutional applications, I had to pick whatever ethnicity I best identified with, and I doubt Stuyvesant included my cross-out of the Scantron bubbles, and the write-in, “Multi Racial” as an option in its report to the Board of Education.

While my identity was not directly negated in high school, it was undermined at many turns. However, I recognized the source of that undermining as classmates who, for the most part, had their own systemic problems with which to deal. I rejected class as the primary point of tension, but a majority of us knew and understood the experience of being low-income as a large difficulty. A number of friends were frustrated by a lack of understanding as to why affirmative action helped make a level playing-field, but I found it easier to discuss with my high school classmates, a majority of which had their own problems navigating the racial hierarchy.

The transition to the University of Chicago thus became a similar marker. I had spent eighteen years in New York, living amongst an incredibly diverse array of experiences in gender, race, class and orientation. Chicago, despite its “quirky” reputation, was largely an engagement with normativity in every respect. I had seen stereotypes of what life was like West of the Hudson River, but I had little real experience in engaging with that world. Unfortunately, there was little warning that I would be expected to engage individuals who had as little experience in diversity as I had in normativity.

 

By: July 2014 Guest Blogger- Marley-Vincent Lindsey

MVLphoto

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 (mvlindsey92@gmail.com) or through his notebook-blog (mvlindsey.wordpress.com). 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! facebook.com/MixedRootsStories)


Alicia Upano: Writer, Digital Media Specialist & Contributor to the Mixed Race Initiative

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We are excited to bring you a second interview in partnership with the Asian American Literary Review and its Mixed Race Initiative. Writer and Digital Media Specialist Alicia Upano is our guest. Alicia collaborated with Maya Soetoro-Ng to contribute writings to “Mixed Race: Is A Pandora’s Box” about their Hawaiian mixed experience. Join us as we explore the impact of growing up in the most diverse state in the union and how that informed her writings.  We want to thank Maggie Yiin for joining us in interviewing Alicia. Maggie was a Guest Editor for the Mixed Race Initiative.

 

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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: http://www.thegoyslife.com/Documents/Books/A%20People’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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZHH4ALRFHw .

 

By: July 2014 Guest Blogger- Marley-Vincent Lindsey

MVLphoto

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 (mvlindsey92@gmail.com) or through his notebook-blog (mvlindsey.wordpress.com). 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! facebook.com/MixedRootsStories)


The Politics of Multi-Racial Identity -Part 1 of 4

Race-thinking has two distinct aspects: the real, and the conceptual. Both of these are important in the development of the racial politics of identity. These politics surround both what we know to be true about race (the real) and what we are taught corresponds to that reality (the conceptual). What these aspects have in common is their role as signifiers in the categorization of people both for the state and the individual. Stuart Hall suggested that the entire construction of race was an exercise in turning the body into a text, something that is neat and well defined, in order that we might better understand it[1]. Skin color, and the physical associations based on that color, become signifiers that we use to organize and categorize groups of people in a way that is convenient for a plurality of the population. If this idea is taken with some merit, then we can say that a whole series of problems in discussions of race are problems of language. When we argue about stereotypes, negative or positive, we are arguing about how accurately we have read people in the context of the state. The confirmation of stereotypes represents a successful unification of the real with the conceptual.

The need to categorize is not exclusive to race-thinking; it is how we make sense of information. Without classifications and groupings, we are left with a variety of data that have little meaning behind them. Yet, if we look at race-thinking as a series of signs within language, then the importance of categorization is open to another set of problems. These are problems of relative identity. The French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, perceived language as a series of signs that were ultimately relative[2]. Particular words gained their significance only when defined in relation with their antithesis: “open” only really means something when compared with “closed”, “up” with “down”, and so on. “White” and “Black” is another example of these antithetical pairs. A long history is associated with these colors, and their applications. As one example, Augustine in the 5th century CE used the concept of light—another synonym for white—and the fall from light to denote those who maintained piety, and those who fell into sin, respectively.

“White” and “Black” as historical terms gained power within the conceptual that has never been fully developed. This history is also what complicated issues that made the line between them less distinct. And here, Multi Racial identities become actively political. To have someone who physically embodied White and Black is to actively challenge not simply the hierarchy, but the categorizations themselves. This was the reasoning behind legal prohibitions of miscegenation, as well as social de-valuations of Multi Racial Subjects. As Frank Furedi noted, in ”How Sociology Imagined Mixed Race”: “The research agenda of the emerging race relations industry was dominated by the imperative of damage limitation”. This policy began with the interactions of the Americas with Europe, and continued up to policing commercials for Cheerios[3]. It relied on lines that could be imposed and enforced to the point that policing boundaries became subconscious. Edward Said’s process of Orientalizing the East is another way of formulating the creation of this category. Orientalism is a way of creating such conceptual categories, where lines are very clearly defined in the subconscious, although they may be difficult to articulate—we might recall Justice Stewart on pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced with that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it”.

The political power of these subjects, of course, has been subverted to serve the role of structural power. As Antonio Gramsci asserted, the culture of the powerful became the culture of the state. Those whose identities challenged this cultural form of hegemony were inevitably perceived as political.  The scholar of the Classical World, or that of 18th century poetry is able to conceal political identity to her writings in a way that is never accessible to those whose histories were based on a past of permanent dislocation. We might say the “white” category has been established as default. As a result, those who study white areas cannot be said to be political—they seek to understand the history of our world.  And yet, even structures have their politics.  As Edward Said noted in Orientalism: “No one has ever devised a method for detaching the scholar from the circumstances of life, from the fact of his involvement (conscious or unconscious) with a class, a set of beliefs, a social position, or from the mere activity of being a member of a society”.

In this sense, the multi racial subject is paradoxically both political and apolitical. Within reality, her appearance is not enough signage to read her as belonging to the white or black category. However, her very existence is testimony to the long struggle at the periphery of such well-formulated categories. This means the mixed race identity is one that is always partially compromised: “What are you?” is less offensive for its depersonification and more for its historical erasure. Those who do not fit neatly in structured conceptions of race and culture do not belong, and need to be modified to fit with the worldview: “No, you can’t be Chinese!” the implication being that it violates some natural law of civilization.

What can we do about this problem? Our current solution, grounded in the empirical sense of what is feasible, suggests that it is merely a problem of experience. The whole debate about diversity is that experiencing the “real” aspects of people is enough to shift the “conception” of people[4]. There is no doubt that this must be part of the solution, however, it is not as simple as merging the boys and girls at a middle school dance. The beauty of ideologies is that they maintain their powers not simply in the real experiences of people, but also in how those people conceptually engage with categories through structures. As Arendt noted, part of the process of opinions turning into ideologies is this: “The appeal of both [in reference to history as an economic struggle of classes and as a natural fight of races] to large masses was so strong that they were able to enlist state support and establish themselves as official national doctrines”[5]. In short, factual blind spots that are tacitly endorsed by state action do not disappear through rectification. The larger ideological traces must be addressed as well.

I would like to show how a different approach to education is necessary, through my own experiences. While the origins of the problem in racial hegemony is similar to that of most minorities, there is still a unique encounter of the Multi Racial Subject as merging the expectations and identities of these two conceptual categories of “White” and “Black”. Just how fluid their assignment is can be seen in our own president, and his own struggle to fluctuate between seeming “Black” in some parts of his real struggle (encounters with police, for example) but also acknowledging his “Whiteness”. It is a microcosm of the multi-racial struggle on a whole, one whose solution is best presented in the words of Said: “All systems of education alas are still deeply, sometimes unconsciously, nationalistic. So I think we have to de-nationalize education and realize, and make it possible for people to understand that we live in a very complex and mixed world in which you can’t separate cultures and civilizations from each other but, in fact, history ought to be taught as the exchange and of course the clash of civilization”[6]. This process of nationalization includes a history by which we are invested in separating these categories, which cannot be so easily done in the context of the Multi Racial Subject.

I propose that my own experiences bear out to a more pressing issue—the socialization of racism. Children are aware of the racial boundaries that separate us, when they are a concern of those children’s realities. And they mirror the same sort of boundaries without consciously being aware of what they are doing. This is because they see the structures around them, and understand those structures to be models. A true humanities education is one in which the structures themselves become the subject of inquiry as much as any one particular subject. As a recent New York Op-Ed summarized: “Duncan said that Americans tended to be “ahistorical” — that is, we choose to forget the context of our past, perhaps as a way for a fractious nation of immigrants to get along.”[7] This context is essential, if we seriously seek to reform how race-thinking defines the worlds in which we inhabit.

A couple of warnings: one, these are my experiences. As such, I have little protection from the sort of critical cross-examination that is necessary for any sociological proposal. I don’t think of this as an answer—if I am lucky, it is the beginning of a question. The second is that, as I am a cisgender, heterosexual, male, several large aspects of identity are mostly put to the side. I don’t mean for them to be unimportant—rather, I have no serious experience being a minority in any of these camps, and would rather, like Foucault to the prisoners, “let them speak for themselves”. It is my belief each could write a narrative similar to my own, and those with multiple aspects could note the role of intersectionality in these debates.

 


[1] Stuart Hall, “Race as a Floating Signifier”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRk9MZvOd2c

[2] As an informal guide, the Wiki page on Deconstruction is helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction#From_diff.C3.A9rance_to_deconstruction

[3] For this particular commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYofm5d5Xdw . The comments had to be disabled.

[4] http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/BoardDiversityStatement-June2012.pdf . This statement is demonstrative of what is called “positivist” tendencies about diversity—its value is only determined by what it produces.

[5] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, published initially by Jovanovich in 1973, available here: https://ia600509.us.archive.org/7/items/originsoftotalit00aren/originsoftotalit00aren_bw.pdf .

[6] This was a review of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, given by Edward Said in a lecture. For the transcript: http://www.mediaed.org/assets/products/404/transcript_404.pdf . For the lecture itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPS-pONiEG8 .

[7] Timothy Egan, “Lost in the Past” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/opinion/egan-lost-in-the-past.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=1 .

 

By: July 2014 Guest Blogger- Marley-Vincent Lindsey

MVLphoto

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 (mvlindsey92@gmail.com) or through his notebook-blog (mvlindsey.wordpress.com). 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! facebook.com/MixedRootsStories)


MXRS reviews Belle

The Mixed Roots Stories team saw the new movie Belle on May 23, 2014. Below are some of our reviews of the movie!

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“Belle is a must see for fans of excellent storytelling! The movie direction was deftly handled by Amma Asante while ably assisted by the editing of Victoria Boydell and Pia Di Ciaula. At no point did I experience a moment that took me out of the story. Thankfully, they had an excellent script to work from by Misan Sagay. Finally, I have to state that the performances by Gugu Mbatha-Rau and Tom Wilkinson were pitch perfect. I really believed I was a fly-on-the-wall listening to the conversations of a family at particularly tense moments in their lives.” — Mark R. Edwards (Co Curator)

“If there is one message to take away from Bell, it has to be through the rising action of her assaulting her own flesh in frustration. How many of us can relate to, at any point, feeling uncomfortable in our own skin? The practice of systematically devaluing a life because of a concept of Race or privilege – a concept most, at one point in our lives, did not understand; nor, the reasons people can chastise and ostracize others for it while they believe it is in good conscience. It is a frustration we hope to suffer less from as time goes on. From beginning to end, Belle imbeds a persistent thought that reminds us how far we’ve come and how far we have to go toward not just an equal, but an acceptant society.” — Jonathan Andrew (Creative Technologist)

“In my opinion, the most thought-provoking moments in Belle are those instances where Dido tries to find herself in literature or art and laments that she does not relate to what she sees. Even today this lack of representation is relevant! Just how many films, books, or TV shows are made with the ‘others’ of society in mind? Not too many. It wasn’t until Dido allowed her story to be told (through the work of the painter) that she finally found herself in art. The story of Belle is one in which a mixed individual is dying to get her story, her experiences, and her astute observations out in order to change public opinion. Belle manages to beautifully capture those moments of progress and joy along with the moments of frustration and desperation that come with standing up for what you know is right. Belle is a wonderfully crafted film and is a must-see for 2014!” — Moya Márquez (Social Media Specialist)

“From start to finish, Belle was filled, with the complexities, created by society, that individuals of mixed heritage often face. It was refreshing to finally see these complexities portrayed honestly on film. Amma Asante artistically and boldly directs an amazing cast in the telling of this story, based on a true story.  Though it is set in Britain, in 1769, I would argue that many of the themes of identity are relevant today for mixed individuals everywhere. I enjoyed seeing the bond of sisterhood presented between Dido (Belle) and Elizabeth, that was void of the social contamination of their racial differences; proving that family is not limited by blood. Belle demonstrates that people are people and all deserve to be treated with justice, fairness, and love no matter the color of their skin, or the lineage of their parents. It is about time that stories of mixed individuals are being told void of the stereotypes that have plagued the mixed race population in the past. It is my hope that future films will continue to tell stories with mixed race individuals, interracial couples/families, etc. Bravo, well done, and thank you!” — Chandra Crudup (Co Curator)

Have you seen Belle yet?  If not, this is one to see!  Share your thoughts about the movie on our Facebook and Twitter.

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

skyphoto

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! facebook.com/MixedRootsStories) 
 

Skin. My Story Starter

Ten years ago this week, I was in the hospital with a rare acute allergic reaction called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. I had been taking a mild antibiotic that had Sulfa in it…I am allergic to Sulfa based drugs, but did not know it. It started with flu like symptoms and a sensitive rash that turned into blisters. Once my rash and blistered covered body worsened, and my ulcerated mouth made eating a challenge, I was admitted to the hospital.  I spent eight days and seven nights in the hospital as the Sulfa burned through my skin.

Skin.

My skin has always been a perfect blend of my dad (who is Black) and my mom (who is White). I have always LOVED and embraced being mixed. As long as I can remember, I made it clear to everyone that I was both Black AND White. In the 4th grade I even spoke to a university class, with my parents, about being mixed.

As I got older, I recognized that my skin changed with the seasons. In the winter, I was lighter. In the summer, I was darker. My ever changing color always makes picking out the “perfect shade” of make up a challenge! In the summers, I would try and get enough sun to last as long into the winter as possible.  This was mostly because I felt I looked healthier with darker skin.  I know that sounds silly, but it’s just how I felt, and still feel sometimes. My skin has always ignited discussion from others. I have usually taken advantage of their curiosity by answering their questions, sharing my mixed story, and educating them about what it means for me to be mixed.

Changing Shades.

As I sat in the hospital, a few weeks before graduating with my Bachelors of Social Work from Azusa Pacific University, watching my skin literally flake off my body, I had a lot of questions for the doctors about what the final results would be. At this point, the skin that had fallen off was leaving very raw, fresh, pale pink, and sensitive skin. There were spots of this new skin surrounded by darker, unblistered, and unaffected skin. One day the infectious disease doctor came in for his daily visit.

 

Me: “What am I going to end up looking like?”

Doctor: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Am I going to look like Michael Jackson?”

(I know this might make me sound vain…and maybe it was a little…but I had stopped looking at my reflection. I no longer recognized myself in the mirror, and was having a difficult time remembering what “normal skin” felt like. I was beginning to realize that I might never look like my old self again.)

Doctor: “Well its hard to tell. We don’t really know.” (Looks at my mom) “You will probably end up being about her complexion.”

(My heart sank. Not because my mom isn’t beautiful, but because I LOVED my mixed skin. That is who I am, mixed.  If it is washed away…than who would I be? I was speechless.)

My mom pulled out my senior picture to show the doctor.

Mom: “This is what she normally looks like.”

It was written all over the doctor’s face. He did not realize that I was mixed. I had been in the hospital for at least three or four days, and the doctor didn’t know I was mixed!

Doctor: “Oh, well, uh, we will just have to wait and see. Time will tell.”

 

WHAT!?!  You are the doctor! You can’t tell me what is going to happen! As I was quickly learning, no one really knew the exact outcome of Stevens-Johnson. They didn’t even know what was the best way to treat it or prevent it from getting worse. Nurses from all over the hospital came to visit me. They had worked there for 10 years and had never seen a case. The only thing the doctors could tell me is that it has to run its course as it works through my system and out through my skin.

The doctor left and I was left in epidermis limbo. I was forced to start the process of coming to terms with my current changing color of skin.

5_1_2004

Picture taken May 1, 2004. This was Day 7 in the hospital.

As my skin continued to flake off, my face was light, and like new baby skin. My arms and chest and back were spotted. Slowly the light spots gained pigment.  I was hopeful that my skin would even out. However, the light spots continued to darken, eventually hyper-pigmentating. Now I had my color back, but I was spotted. After about nine months, lots of prayer, and a series of microdermabrasion treatments with my Dermatologist, my skin evened out. I still have a few lingering scars, but only I see them.

As I reflect back on the experience, I am thankful, and feel blessed, that my mixed skin was restored, but if it hadn’t been…I still would have been mixed, for mixed blood runs through my veins. My worry was never that I might be different, or having to come to terms with an altered appearance. I think my worry was that if my skin was lighter, spotted, or looked like Michael Jackson, that it would no longer be a catalyst for conversations where I could educate others about my mixedness. For someone who has always felt comfortable with my mixed identity, the thought of that being stripped away was scary. I realize now, more than ever, that being mixed, for me, is more than skin deep. My skin would have still been a discussion starter…but for a new purpose…surviving Steven Johnson. Now my skin tells an even more complex story, not only one of my mixed heritage, but of surviving Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Who I am is obviously more than skin deep, but skin, for me… is a story starter.


The Things We Say to Each Other – by Guest Blogger June Snow

June & the boysIt was a beautiful summer day, I had recently moved to California and my kids were invited to a birthday party. The sun was strong but at Stevens Park there was a bit of a chill. The sun couldn’t reach me through the thick trees.

I remember the boys were excited. I found the party hostess. She had a sort of cold presence next to me. I had met her only once before, but it was unmemorable. I thanked her for the invite, commented on the weather and when her kids ran up, introduced them to each other.

I watched excitement grow in the eyes and in the entire being of my kids. My older son (experienced in birthday parties) quickly eyed the food, the presents, the goody bags. My younger son, oblivious to all that lay around him, was just excited to get playing.

Her two kids and my kids ran off to play. Although my eyes bore holes in the backs of my kids, I said, “They are all so beautiful!”

“It’s because of that blonde hair and blue eyes.”

Hmmm, I looked at my kids, did I mention I’m African American? My kids have black and brown hair. Their skin and eye color are almost the same description. Huh?! I thought, my kids don’t have blonde-hair and blue…
Oh she’s talking about her own kids.

Who says that to another parent?
Your kids aren’t as beautiful as mine? Is that what she just said to me?

As it turns out, we all say it. We look at kids, photos, videos, blogs, posts and respond, “Beautiful!” Leaving others to question, who is not beautiful?

I hear all the time, mixed kids are so beautiful– so does that mean unmixed kids are not?

I was hurt by this woman.  I think no matter what, we must always be aware of the things we say and spout out when we are not thinking.

(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! facebook.com/MixedRootsStories)

By: April 2014 Guest Blogger  – June Snow

photo June Snow is a mom of two wonderful kids – Blaise & Miles – and is also the Race Director, along with Rusty Snow, of the Santa Barbara International Veterans Day Marathon. Her family is from Belize and she grew up in Cambridge, MA.


In/visible Ethnicities – Portrait Project by Vanessa Newark

A portrait photographer in the United Kingdom takes on self-identified mixed-race individuals as subjects with lovely results:

This project is about how people of mixed ethnicities self-identify and explores how they have been identified through Census forms and in society. The work also highlights how the subtle differences between self-definition and ethnic categories are often too varied to fit within the single tick-box “Other”. (from http://www.vnewarkphotography.co.uk/)

Click here for more: In/visible Ethnicities Portraits

Follow photographer Vanessa Newark on Twitter here: @vnewarkphoto