Starting a Different Conversation: On Mixed-Race/Biracial/Multiracial Visibility and Inclusion

Starting a Different Conversation: On Mixed-Race/Biracial/Multiracial Visibility and Inclusion

“It can be hard to talk about the complexity of visibility when “passing” is thrown like hisses at a dinner party, with no consideration to how it feels to “pass” — how it feels to be misidentified, mismarked, misjudged, misperceived, mislabeled, misunderstood. In a world where race relations are so often forcibly boiled down to black and white, it can be hard to raise my voice to start discussions about my unique experiences when broader forms of discrimination are hurting people in my community every day.”

“When white people see us, they often take on absurd, acrobatic leaps in conversation to let us know that they’ve picked up on our non-whiteness — even if they don’t know exactly what flavor of non-whiteness that is.”

 

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bell hooks and Loving a Feminist

I love a lot of things about my man. He’s funny, he’s honest, he works hard, he reads. His intellect and his artist’s eye will blow you out of the water. He’s well-traveled. You get the idea—I think my boyfriend’s amazing. I’m sure a million other girls would say the same about their significant others.

One of the things about this man that I will always remember is his reaction to this conversation between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks (who I was delighted to see address the fact that the lowercasing of her name backfired). I live on the internet and am constantly reading articles all over the place, seeing funny images and comics, commenting on statuses and blogposts…and so I’m constantly sending my boyfriend links. Anything that makes me think of him, that I think he’d laugh at or otherwise appreciate, that I need him to share in my rage about, I send it to him. My guess is that he only sees about 20% of what I send because he does not live on the internet— but what he does see, we usually talk about. I’ll never forget the morning I woke up, looked at my phone, and saw a text from my man— who, six months before, had no familiarity whatsoever with feminism— that said:

“I love bell hooks.”

Could there be anything more beautiful?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we (or anyone) have been able to completely escape the patriarchy. We had a lengthy argument one very early morning about the state of my armpit hair. We debated once, for days, women changing or not changing their names after marriage (and we come back to the topic often). Just recently, he told me that sometimes you have to let a man be a man and a woman be a woman. Outraged, I asked what on earth he meant by that, especially when he already knows darn well what kind of woman I am.

“I think,” he said, “my manliness would be when I say I’m done talking about something. And your womanliness would be when you just keep right on talking about it anyway.”

Which of course, I did.

There have also been times when racism goes completely over my head because I’ve never had to deal with it. We’ve both said, wittingly and unwittingly, sexist and racist things. The difference, I think, between now and before we were together is that we address those things, acknowledge them and learn from them, which sometimes is all you can really do.

By human standards, I’m a little new to the relationship game. I’ve been with my boyfriend about a year, and before that I’d been pretty darn single for almost four years. So I’m maybe not the MOST experienced or seasoned person to give romantic advice. I imagine, however, that when you’re with somebody and plan to do it for a long time, you find a lot of good in everything they are in do. Even in their annoying habits, even when they say the complete WRONG thing or don’t shut up when they need to, hopefully you even find a little good there (or at the very least, some amusement). I’m coming to appreciate most aspects of who my man is, and I hope that feeling is mutual.

It’s not hard to appreciate that he loves bell hooks, though, and there’s a Beyoncé/bell hooks post forthcoming.

Bill O’Reilly Bashes Beyoncé: Problems in the White Community

Just a few days ago, Bill O’Reilly showed several clips from Beyoncé videos and said something along the lines of, “Shame on you Beyoncé. You’re not empowering women. Look at all the teen/unplanned pregnancies in the black community!”

(Bill O’Reilly just wants to keep young black girls on the right path. Such a kind heart. <3)

“Disgraceful,” said my grandfather, who was next to me on the couch. Fox News is a favorite channel at his house.

Frowning and perplexed, I refrained from trying to question Bill O’Reilly through the TV screen. Instead, I’ll present my thoughts here.

Bill O’Reilly apparently criticized Beyoncé out of concern not only for young impressionable women, but out of concern for the black community. I’ve noticed that O’Reilly and Fox and a lot of news sources in general are quick and almost happy to point out problems they observe as belonging to “the black community.” Violence in the black community. Poverty in the black community. Abuse in the black community. Pregnancy, abortion, sex. You get the idea— you just take any problem you can think of, and you add “in the black community.”

So…where’s the concern for the issues of the white community?

I’m serious. Most of these newscasters are white, aren’t they? And just look at what’s been in the news lately:

-that Clippers guy, his rant and how he was just banned from the NBA

-that Bundy guy (really, how could anyone defend a guy named Bundy?) and his racist remarks 

this racist letter distributed in a neighborhood in Denver

-the KKK launching a neighborhood watch initiative. I sure do feel safer now!

How can you look at this and not see the ENORMOUS problem here?

Why isn’t Bill O’Reilly calling on the white community to call friends out on their racism, to discourage family members from associating with organizations like the KKK, to tell their children exactly why Cliven Bundy and Don Sterling’s remarks were so wrong? Forget the black community for minute, Fox, and take a look at all those aging white viewers you’ve got. There’s a definite problem, and instead of trying to solve it, the white community is just looking the other way, pretending these current events and remarks are all isolated incidents.

The closest any news source seems to have come to doing this is CNN, who seems to want to help the KKK change its image.  You’re right CNN— we don’t need to abolish the KKK, we just need to rebrand them and make them “new”!

As my grandfather would say, it’s a disgrace!

Fellow white people, please join me in my concern. There is a problem here, and it’s OUR racism. If we are the mainstream,  if we are the majority, shouldn’t we be striving to set a good example? We can’t continue to let these kinds of attitudes permeate and represent our community.

**And on a personal note, Bill O’Reilly— if you’re concerned about unplanned pregnancies, why aren’t you more concerned about access to contraception and less concerned about deprecating black female sexuality?

The Semiotics of Race, or: Walks on the Wild Side

The Semiotics of Race, or: Walks on the Wild Side

The ad was in a women’s magazine and if I remember correctly, was for a perfume. It featured a white woman lying in bed with a black man. The man’s shirtless back was to the viewer, making only his taut, muscular form and powerful-looking arms and shoulders visible. He was faceless, unidentified. The woman looked sultrily at us from over his mysterious form, satisfaction writ large over her features. She had partaken of whatever delights this man had to offer and was smugly, luxuriantly basking in the afterglow.

The ad copy was, “Take a walk on the wild side.”

My teacher used the ad as an example of how marketers can use certain words and images to convey large amounts of information subtly and effectively. A white woman having sex with a black man? How risqué. The implication: be a little like that woman. Spray on that perfume and feel like the kind of girl who has sex with faceless, muscular black men in ritzy hotel rooms because it’s an adventure, a thrill, a risk, something illicitly pleasurable.

These are the semiotics of race. This is why columnists will trip over themselves not to call Lupita Nyong’o or Angela Basset “beautiful”, choosing instead to use terms that call to mind a kind of savage, animalistic magnetism: fierce, striking, edgy, eye-catching. Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “cute” are for white women whose bodies and sexualities are not seen as wild, animal, or untamed. Black men are hulking, threatening, thuggish; white men are charming, sexy heartthrobs with hearts of gold. Brown women are exotic, with their “honey-coloured” skin and their “mystical”, “enchanting” beauty, unlike their white counterparts, who are held up as not only ideal, but knowable and safe. White people are beautiful; non-white people are dangerous.

Princess and the Frog…Disneyland. By GloZell

Took this from galaxycosmos on tumblr…it’s a 30 second video that basically clarifies why representation of all types of people is important.

From ForHarriet.com: Watch Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Adichie in Conversation

http://new.livestream.com/schomburgcenter/events/2831224/videos/45613924

Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Adichie talk books, writing, and race throughout the world.

Racism in the Family

My last post ended with a harsh statement, and I feel I’d better elaborate. Calling someone a racist is often thought of as the end, an accusation of a terrible crime bringing to mind the KKK, nooses and lynchmobs. But the cold hard truth is that we’ve all internalized racism in some way or another. This doesn’t make it okay, but it should at least make it easier to recognize. Often (particularly for white people) we enact racism in a way that we can’t even see, and because we can’t see it, we are immediately offended when it is pointed out to us. A person of color, however, doesn’t need to have racism pointed out to them: they experience it directly and perhaps on a day-to-day basis. Rather than write an essay on white privilege, let me take a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fabulous book, “Americanah” to try and convey what I’m talking about:

When you go shopping alone at a nice store, do you worry that you will be followed or harassed? 

When you turn on mainstream TV or open a mainstream newspaper, do you expect to find mostly people of another race?

Do you worry that your children will not have books and school materials that are about people of their own race?

(For more information, read the book. Or just hit up google. Go to the library. Even better, hop on tumblr and search tags like “racism” and “white privilege.” Hell, ask a black friend to be completely honest with you about their feelings on racism. The least you can do is listen without taking it so personally, because let’s face it— you’ve probably used them as a shield in some verbal “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”-type defense.)

More about all this social justice/racism/privilege stuff later.

What I’m saying is, it’s unfortunately normal to internalize a little bit of racism or sexism. Like useless and potentially toxic materials we take in when we eat, these things are there in most of the media we observe. Oftentimes, perhaps most times, carrying that shit with us is unintentional.

But my grandfather is not that type of racist.

To steal a quote from my boyfriend, my grandfather is probably the type of racist who might hear a statement like, “I’m not a racist, but I sure do wish all those black people would go back to Africa,” and nod in agreement. I get the feeling that, like Abraham Lincoln, my grandfather would have freed the slaves and then tried to get them the hell out of here. My grandfather is the type of racist who admires the way black people worship in church, the way black musicians have that extra rhythm, who once saw a black boy being made fun of in school and felt bad but did nothing, who thinks that intelligent black people are somehow the exception. He is the type of racist who has no problem talking and working with any person of color…he just doesn’t want them in his family.

I might be a little resentful.

Let me explain.

I’ve always been close to my grandparents— I’ve been very lucky when it comes to my family. My college graduation and my grandmother’s death weren’t far apart, and during that year I mentioned in my first blogpost, when I was working minimum wage jobs and trying to plan out my life, my grandfather and I sort of became anchors to each other. We had lunch weekly, we went to visit out-of-state family members together, we reminisced. I learned so much from him, about my family, about history, about his political views (always so very different from my own). Most importantly, I learned that people on very different planes of opinion can still love and respect each other, and maybe even find common ground. Our relationship reminded me of an India.Arie song: “If old people talked to young people, we’d be better people all around.”

My grandfather and I had done so much for each other’s perspectives. I hoped this situation, my relationship, would be something to widen his perspective on race. My grandfather loved and respected me, had always encouraged me in my studies and my travels, had scolded me for not becoming a doctor so that I could take care of him, and had never once remotely implied that I should just find a rich husband. There was also the fact that, as far as men go, my man is pretty great. Handsome, funny, smart, well-traveled. Not just good with people, but genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. My grandfather would need a pretty big wall of denial to think otherwise.

But what would drive it home, I thought, was that my boyfriend has the same hometown as my grandfather, the same name as my grandfather’s brother, and served in the military just as my grandfather and most of his family did.

So I told my grandfather about my boyfriend, his name and where he was from.

“He’s not black, is he?” my grandfather asked. I couldn’t believe it.

“Yes,” I said.

“I don’t know if I like that,” he said. “I always thought a cardinal shouldn’t be with a bluejay.”

On a bird, differently colored feathers may denote different species. But that isn’t so on a human being. I’ve seen the insides of many different human bodies, and the ingredients are much the same— fat, blood, muscle. Bone if you go deep enough. I told this to my grandfather. It didn’t seem to drive the point home.

“You talked about bones?” my little brother said later. “You should have told him that we’re all white on the inside.”

My boyfriend and I laughed. But my grandpa’s thinking bothered me for multiple reasons. Some were based on principles. Others were purely selfish— didn’t he love me? Why couldn’t I change his mind?

I did end up bringing my man to Memorial Day. He and my grandfather shook hands, chatted, and were friendly.

This is awesome! I thought.

Weeks later, my grandfather took me aside and said, “You should be with a nice white businessman. Your friend should be with one of those beautiful dark girls from Ebony magazine.”

I’m not sure why a businessman, but otherwise, I followed my grandfather’s logic pretty well: my “friend” and I didn’t match, and so while he would never say an unkind word to my man’s face, he would always silently disapprove of his relationship with me.

The Beginning

Nearly a year ago, I began dating a man whose skin was (is) a different shade than mine.

And thank god for that, because I’m so uncomfortably pale that many have been blinded by the sun reflecting off my skin. Kind of like a Twilight vampire, only less like a diamond and more like a fluorescent lightbulb.

But I digress.

I’m a white woman, my boyfriend is black. Let me clarify and say that I’ve never really had a type. I haven’t exclusively dated black men or white men, and the same goes for my boyfriend and the women he has been with. I’ve been involved, in varying capacities, with multiple “races” simply because I’ve been involved with multiple men. I’d probably call it a coincidence. Some might call it diversification. Others might call it promiscuity.

Whatever.

The point is, I wasn’t looking for any particular type of guy. In fact, I wasn’t even really looking for a guy. Or a girl. I was just working, and a dark-skinned man with locks walked up to the counter I was standing behind.

“Where’s my tequila?” he said. I struggled to remember what he was talking about, but I had recognized him before he’d even opened up the glass door of the shop. We’d met before.

Like many 20-somethings, I found myself with a virtually useless Bachelor’s degree and a steady cashiering job to help me save money while I camped out at my parents’ house and tried to figure out what the hell to do next. Somewhere (perhaps on the internet, or maybe from a family member), I heard millennials referred to as a generation of overly-qualified cashiers. It was a dishearteningly accurate statement.

I felt much like a child again. In fact, when I first spoke to my future love, I was reading a Batman comic book that my mother had brought home for me. I was 23. It was a newer Batman book than I was used to— Dick Grayson, I think, was Batman. Bruce Wayne was nowhere to be found, which already made it unfamiliar territory, and it turned out to be about Batman trying to stop a particularly twisted serial killer. (I know, it’s Gotham city, they’re all twisted— just trust me.)

Anyway, it was a great graphic novel, and I was utterly gripped by the story when the shop door opened and I looked up in terror.

“We didn’t mean to scare you,” said one of the men who had walked in. Both were black.

“Oh!” I said, and in an effort to show them that I was not only not a racist, but also totally smooth and cool, I held up my Batman comic and said that they’d caught me at a really scary part. Then I began to flip through the pages to find the goriest scene so far. We started to talk about Batman, and then about anime. (I didn’t know anything about anime, and I still don’t, but when a cute guy is talking to you, you work with what you have.) My future love, deep-voiced, locked and adorable, asked about a type of tequila that came in a pistol-shaped bottle. I told him my boss could order it for him and took his name and number.

I can’t speak for my boss, but I know never called him. I wasn’t sure if he’d wanted me too, and what would I say? “Hey, I don’t think your tequila came in but it doesn’t matter— I’m fun enough to hang out with sober.” It sounds like a pickup line recommended by some kind of 50’s homeschooling anti-alcohol program.

I forgot about him until his name, similar to an old folk singer’s, came up in a movie. Not long after that, he was back in the store asking about that bottle of tequila.

I scrambled to find it, realized it hadn’t been ordered, and then kept talking to him anyway. Finally he said, “You know, I really came back here to see you.”

“I was hoping you would,” I said honestly.

That’s how we met. It wasn’t online. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t glamorous. It just happened, and it was perfect.

When I got out of work, we went for a long walk together. I’m not sure if any person is ever 100% genuine at any moment in their lives. But I’d like to think that the two of us were mostly pretty honest with each other from the beginning. It was an attitude that would help us as time went on.

Being together has been an eye-opening experience. As a white person in a society that basically sets lighter skin as an aspirational value, you can bet I haven’t had to deal with too much racism in my time. As a man, my boyfriend hasn’t dealt directly with much sexism. And so this blog is about us, the things we teach and learn from each other, and the things we learn simply by existing as an interracial couple.

To start with, anyway.