I have become what I jokingly call a "professional mulatto." That means when the Census numbers come out every ten years and show that there are more multiracial people and the multiracial population is growing rapidly (this is "news every 10 years by the way), or a story like the Rachel Dolezal case break, media folks often call me for comment.
We are an ahistorical bunch. As soon as a young person has had difficulty dealing with their mixed-race experience, s/he starts a Facebook group, or Tumblr or Twitter account to express their discomfort, or pride or confusion. The same is true of the parents of multiracial kids who are suddenly experiencing difficulties with the way that society deals with their multiracial families. But I wonder if they have bothered to see what the resources are before they begin their enterprises. Essentially we have believed that we are alone in our experience so long that we don't even look to see what other people are already doing or have done.
We look to Census activism, and parenting groups to lead us as a community rather than our artists. I think it is only through the poetics of social justice that we will be able to move the needle on this conversation about mixed race experience and identity.
We haven't taken our conversation to the mainstream. Our discussions are too insular. We have to explain as well as recognize that our stories are also part of the stories of white, black, Asian and Latino populations. We are part of "them" and importantly, they are part of "us".
I want to flesh out some of these points in future posts so stay tuned. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think!
I moved back to America at 11-years-old and got schooled in what race means.
It wasn't easy or comfortable, but most of all it was perplexing. I had always been American. I suddenly needed to embrace a hyphenated identity as a black American (we hadn't become African American just yet). And even though I was biracial, I had to identify as black.
As I grew older and struggled with the identity I'd been assigned (particularly because it didn't reflect my complete experience), I think I was most saddened by the realization that many of the black people I knew (in a mostly black neighborhood and school) could articulate a sense of uneasiness about being around white people whether in a business setting or a social situation. Their earliest experiences with coming into contact with white people had often been fraught.
I thought of this because of a Wall Street Journal article I read this week about the ways in which babies register racial difference. A new scientific reports has found something scientists are calling the "other-race effect".
"Our brains distinguish race insanely quickly, within tenths of a second. An other-race face tends to activate the amygdala, an ancient brain region central to experiencing fear and anxiety. Another brain region, the fusiform, helps us recognize individuals, read their expressions and make inferences about their internal state. When we see an other-race face, there is less activation of the fusiform, and we are less accurate at reading facial expressions."
It's disturbing to realize that babies are making their own meanings around difference at such an early age. But it does explain why some of my friends had those feelings of unease even when they didn't have or know of experiences that should make them feel uneasy.
I didn't have those kinds of uneasy feelings. I think because I was in a multiracial family where I was exposed to different kinds of faces and they all meant love. As the kid of an interracial couple and part of a multiracial family, I started to believe in "white goodness" from the very beginning.
The question is: is it possible to provide monoracial families the same kind of experience? Or is there a way to fill in the meaning of difference for children that are so young?
If we could answer those questions, we'd go a long way in healing racial divides. And as the journalist writes: "[I]f our early environment is racially mixed, race doesn’t become an Us/Them dividing line." Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing?
I took a workout class: Barre 3. Have you tried it? I was so anxious about going, but my friend prodded me to attend with her. Had she shown up a couple minutes later than she did, I was definitely going to flee. But I stayed and I was a bundle of anxiety. The other students were all young, lithe, flexible, and did I mention young? I'm not at all flexible, or bendy, and on the scale of lithe to husky I'm definitely on the husky side at this point. They all wore lovely (tight) leggings and tank tops (without bras). I was in two shirts, a jacket, two sports bras and my lounge pants that have the perfect amount of stretch. I knew I was out of my league. But when the class started I took a breath. Took a good look at myself in the mirror and thought: even if I do it all wrong, at least I will have tried. And no matter how silly I look, I'll have given myself the best chance I can today to have a productive workout that makes a difference in how I feel about my body.
Lo and behold, I did make it through. I struggled and I shook. And at one point I was certain that I was involuntarily twerking (they are real big into shaky muscle failure which is kind of scary but also kind of cool). But then the class was over and I was glad. I was proud of myself that I made that change today. I may even try another class there next week. Who knows?
telling you will make it more likely that it will happen. but clearly i'm not so sure. if you have followed this blog, do you realize i'm doing a whole different thing. this is really just about first drafts now. it's a true diary -- that's the idea now. i hope you don't know who i am. i just want to say what i think. but i need to say it publicly so that i pay attention. to myself. yeah, weird. but maybe it is working.
Clearly, I've got the Hamilton soundtrack on my mind. But then I was thinking seriously: what would it mean if I could create the best shot for myself? I've always hoped that someone would come around and "discover" me, or take me under their wing, or just cultivate all they saw in me. And I have had that to some extent with my editor, with my hero Barbara Kingsolver, with my friends who have believed beyond belief that I was going to do what I set out to do, and of course, my husband. But at the same time, I guess I have been thinking: where's Oprah? Where's the manager who sees and wants to spend the time and capital on helping me transform from "flygirl" to international superstar? Yeah, these are sad fantasies of "fame" but also it's a fantasy that maybe there is a someone else going as full tilt to making things happen for me as I have for myself. But then again, as I was thinking of those Hamilton lyrics, I thought: have I given myself the best shot? Am I doing all that I can within my control to "make it happen" for myself? Am I going full tilt for myself now? And the answer is no. Very definitely not. I didn't even make the time to finish my new year's resolutions planning. But it's not too late. So maybe I can map out in the next couple of days the clear steps I can take to get me closer to where I want to be in my life. I deserve the best shot -- especially the one that I can give to myself.
So the thing that has gotten in the way of me finishing book 2, or writing here, or writing anywhere for that matter is that I worry about who is listening and what they will think of these words. As a an "anonymous person" I had no such worry. I wondered why everyone wasn't listening. Well, not everyone, but at least a good number of the masses. I had new ideas and questions I wanted to share. Now, I worry about having answers. And the thing is: I have none. I remember when I first started dating my now-husband I told him quite matter-of-factly that I knew 80 percent of everything. I was 20 years old and very certain. I'm now 46 and very uncertain and would hazard to guess that I know maybe 5 percent of anything and have no idea what percentage of stuff I don't even know I should know about. All of that to say: these posts will be first drafts from now on. Like right now. I'm writing on the steps as I am about to walk out the door. There will be no considered ending like great essays. There will just be this: . . . gotta go. The uber is here. . .
There was something freeing about writing here on this blog when I started it almost 10 years ago. No one knew me. Heck, I'm not sure that I knew myself. I knew my obsessions and hopes and that I loved to write. That's what drove me. And then at some point I became "known" or a somewhat "known" figure when my book came out. I'm not famous but I'm a semi-public person because of my book and speaking engagements now. I realized I wanted to be careful about what I shared -- I wanted to be cultivated. Basically, I have been very busy "curating" myself. But that's really hard to do when my self is in a very different place than my curated self. That's where I find myself today. I want to write some very difficult posts -- posts about struggles that I'm going through as an artist and a person. I feel like it would help me purge or even think about new questions. Anyway, we'll see if I do this. I'm working up my nerve.