Thursday, April 30, 2015

One-Dropping and Multi-Dropping: Embracing Contradictions of the Racialized Self (A Personal Journey)

My exploration of my mixed race identity began in my early 20's after an incident I describe in my blog post entitled "There I Said It: Reflections on Identity from a Feminist Racial Hybrid". But I didn't exactly get thrown out of the Black community on Monday and proclaim myself as "mixed race" by Thursday.

My process for coming into my mixed race identity was slow because though I was socially ostracized from many Black peers by my junior year in college for outing myself as a "feminist",  I was still embraced by other Black people who didn't feel threatened by my public declaration.  Likewise, in my neighborhood which was predominantly Black but had a good number of Filipinos who settled in the area post World War II, people knew we were a mixed family.  I don't recall there ever being a situation where people treated me like anyone but a full member of that community.  I think why I experienced this ease was due to the fact that I was raised to be Black with Filipino traditions passed on by my Filipina great-gram. My great-gram placed more emphasis on us keeping her cultural traditions alive rather than insisting we call ourselves Filipino because she was acutely aware of how her mixed race children, grands, and great-grams were judged as Black.  So, I didn't go around saying I was "part this, or part that" which might have led to harassment or ostracism from the Black community.  I just said I was Black in public and in private, I could be both or neither if I wanted. 

It wasn't until I had taken a comparative Asian American history course in my first year of my MA program doing research for my project on Filipino Americans' differing practices of Catholicism based on region that I found myself wanting to learn more about the culture I practiced through ritual handed down to me by my great-gram.  I started purchasing Filipino cultural artifacts, books, and religious items from Filipino-owned shops.  I began reading, attending Filipino cultural events, attended mass more frequently, even hired a tutor to learn Tagalog (ran out of money before I could really learn much) and a host of other things so I could take it all in.  This period of "cultural immersion" lasted at least five years until I went to Ohio to work on my Ph.D. But I never stopped being Black....I simply wanted to embrace all aspects of my identity that I could.

When I went to Ohio to work on my Ph.D., I found easy acceptance in the Black graduate student community whereas the Asian presence was limited to mostly foreign-born Asians who viewed me with a great deal of skepticism.  So I was active in the Black Grad Student Association and socialized mostly with Black friends and the mixed group of friends from my Ph.D. cohort.   Most people in grad school didn't realize I was also Asian until a situation occurred where the College of Education had created a Ph.D. mentoring program for underrepresented racial minorities and some Black students got upset that Asian Americans were being considered "underrepresented" and included in the program.  A Black classmate of mine asked angrily "Why do they need mentoring? They are the model minority, right?"  I promptly explained the problem with her logic while informing her that I was a mixed Asian and Black person to which she replied "I don't see you as mixed race." Sigh.  I can't win for losing, I thought, reflecting on my undergraduate experience where I was told I wasn't Black enough.  Now, I'm too Black to be considered mixed race. Gah!!!!

From that incident for the remainder of my time in Ohio, I had to grapple with folks trying to guess my racial identity that I never really encountered in California.  It made me really uneasy because this fascination came predictably with me having to field 1,001 questions that prolong the conversation as people tried to wrap their heads around my answers:

"So what is your mom? She's the Filipino one, right? Wait, you mean that you're only 1/8 Filipino? How can that be if you are so light? Do you consider yourself Black, White or Filipino? Why do you act so Black? How can you consider yourself black if you are mixed?"

Fast forward about 3-4 years when I met my now-husband, a Black Brit from Manchester, England, in Ohio of all places.  On the flight to England to meet his family for the first time, I was asked by a random white Englishman the "what are you?" question.  This particular fellow assumed I was bi-racial Black and White and the conversation went something like this:

Him: "So which one of your parents is white?".  
Me: "Neither"
Him: "Really? Aren't you mixed race?" 
Me: "Yes but both of my parents are black. "
Him: "How can you be mixed race with two black parents?" 
Me: "If you live in a country which relies on old ideas of racial purity (one drop) and you were raised in Black neighborhoods, it is indeed possible to be mixed race with two black parents."
Him: "Why is everything so complicated in America?" 
Me: "Good question." 
Him: "So what are you?" 
Me: A multiracial Black woman.

The man appeared flustered by my embrace of what I now see as a cultural-political identity as opposed to solely a racialized one.  I am multiracial and Black.  I see myself as culturally Black and Filipino and racially Black, Filipino and White but more important for me is to both one-drop and "multi-drop" simultaneously.  I do this as a reminder to others of white Americans' insistence in relying on the "one-drop" rule to determine race status while feeling a sense of solidarity culturally and politically with the Black community.  I "multi-drop" because my Filipino identity informs who I am as well although maybe to a lesser extent than my Black identity because I came to fully accept myself as Filipino later in life and I multi-drop because although my White ancestry doesn't inform my cultural or political identity that ancestry is written on my body through my skin color, hair color, freckles, etc.  

It was during that exchange on that flight to England that I had finally felt a sense of "identity achievement" because I found a way to describe who I was on my own terms.  My identity as a multiracial Black woman is intentionally complicated and contradictory because I want others to see the utter insanity of forcing people into racialized boxes for convenience but also to tell others that I do see myself as part of the Black community and that my mixed identity doesn't take away from me feeling both/and instead of either/or.  I find calling myself mixed or multiracial to be insufficient because it doesn't connect me to a specific community but also feel uncomfortable in not acknowledging and embracing the culture of the women who raised me. So I embrace my contradictory racialized self even if others can't or won't.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mixed Race in Manchester - Intersections of Class and Mixed Race Identity

I spent the last three months of 2014 living in Manchester, England helping my mother-in-law through chemotherapy and navigating the National Health Services bureaucratic red tape to secure caregiver support and the like.  While I wasn't able to keep up with this blog, I did manage to work on my first novel and make note of how I was perceived differently than I normally am in the U.S.  Now these perceptions draw on my specific interactions so my observations are certainly not generalizable to all but I found the comparisons revealing.

Longsight Market

In the African and South Asian (think Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian) community of Longsight, being mixed race (as determined by skin color, hair texture and physical markers of mixed race identity) was not as common as in other parts of Manchester which were predominantly white.  In Longsight, I felt like the odd person out and though I have traveled to England many times before (mostly London and Manchester), I was not cognizant of being one of the few mixed folks in the bunch until I stayed more than a week in the area.  Home to mostly first generation immigrants to the U.K., Longsight appeared to demonstrate a kind of "racial insularity" that I had not experienced in other parts of the city.  Mixed race couples were, in fact, quite rare to find.  Africans stuck with Africans and Arab-Asians stuck with Arab-Asians.  Very rarely did I see interracial couples or children in this part of the city.  Simple conversations between Africans and South Asians weren't common either. Shops catered to either African/Caribbean folk or South Asians and only one vegetable grocer catered to both groups.  After several weeks of enduring stares because of my appearance and folks being fascinated or confused by my American accent, I wanted to find out if being in Longsight specifically had any bearing on my experiences.

Part of my bus commute route through Longsight

So when possible, I started venturing out of Longsight into different parts of the city including Manchester City Centre, Deansgate, Salford and Wythenshawe.  In these areas I saw more white English, East Asians, Jewish folk, and what I like to call "2nd Generation Black and Asian Brits".  These "2nd Generation Black and Asian Brits" tended to be in their 20's and 30's.  These Black and Asian Brits spoke English with proficiency, talked about football (soccer), shopped on the High Street, were well connected to technology and in many cases looked to be coming and going to professional jobs.  What stood out more than anything about these Black and Asian Brits, away from Longsight, was that they interacted socially with people of different races unlike the twenty and thirty year olds I saw in Longsight.  Whether on the bus, at the gym, walking near University of Manchester, younger generations of Brits interacted and conversed with people of different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds with an ease that just wasn't in Longsight. 

Now, it might be easy to simply say this was a function of younger people being more open and inclusive of difference which I'm sure plays an important role here.  But what I observed and later shared with my cousin-in-law and husband (both originally from Longsight) was that socio-economics or class played a significant function in shaping interracial interactions than one might expect.  I saw more interracial couples and groups of friends in more affluent parts of town.  My cousin-in-law who is married to a white English woman and has three bi-racial children lives in the suburbs and said that as a family they felt more uncomfortable in Longsight than they did in predominantly white, affluent parts of town.  Conventional wisdom, at least from a U.S. perspective, would assume that a mixed race family might be more accepted in the "Black" part of town regardless of socio-economic circumstances.  Yet, in a more racially insular place like Longsight, socio-economics may play a key role in determining one's educational level and exposure to different cultures.  Could Longsight's African and Asian communities be less tolerant of mixed race couples and families due to a lack of economic mobility making them cling to their culture and traditions to the exclusion of embracing difference in others?

My experiences in Longsight contrasted with other parts of Manchester seem to bear this out.  I traveled to Salford, an area that was once known for racial intolerance of Blacks, to get my hair done on two different occasions.  In both instances, I had to walk a few miles along a main road to/from the bus stop and at no time did I experience stares or was made to feel uncomfortable in any way.  I saw people of all different races and went into an African/Caribbean shop for ginger beer, a fish and chips restaurant (chippy) owned by Chinese and a mini mart owned by an Indian family. I saw mixed race couples and when I went to this "Black" hair salon, I wasn't the only mixed race Black woman getting services.  But as soon as I traveled back to Longsight, the East Asians got off the bus just outside of "Longsight" Proper and few whites even got on the bus and I was often the sole mixed race person on the bus for the remainder of the journey.  The difference between the two communities apart from the demographics?  Clear indicators of higher income in Salford (which is a working class community by UK standards) from bigger homes, cleaner streets, wider variety of shops and slightly higher prices for goods and services (including my hairdo).  

In most mixed race studies, the obvious emphasis is placed on race but based on what I observed, an argument can be made that we need to study the intersections between class and mixed race identity to see how the former shapes the latter.  Are mixed race identities more accepted in more economically affluent areas?  Do the children of immigrants feel safer to interact with different races intimately and socially in areas where residents have higher class statuses than areas with less economic influence?  How does class shape or affect interactions between mixed race and mono-racial folks?  Could a mixed race person's perception of hostility from monoracial people be more of a function of perceived economic mobility of mixed race people versus their monoracial counterparts?

Lately, I find myself wondering if my experience would be different in the U.S. with regards to mixed race identity and class.  And of course, this naturally leads to me to wonder if this will have any bearing on my feminist identity as well.  Until that extended stay in England, I never really gave class much thought to how I might be perceived as a mixed person.  Does my lighter skin automatically suggest an economic advantage, real or imagined, which affects how I am treated on a daily basis?  I certainly can recall a moment in high school when a fellow classmate, a dark skinned girl, said "Not all of us can be light and smart."  Honestly, I think I focused more on being called light that I forgot until recently how she might have conflated my mixed race identity and lighter skin as an economic advantage.  If that is indeed what is happening, then we need to explore the "currency" provided in mixed race advantage where Light or Mixed=beautiful+smart+wealthy.  Scary, it doesn't seem like we're ever really moving forward.

It's not enough that light skin Black folks in the U.S. have a distinct economic and social advantage over their darker skinned counterparts.  Now the light vs. dark skin debate has been misappropriated for capital gain (I'll leave the obvious ethnic sexism alone this time).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Maybe You're Just An Asshole: The Mixed Race Persecution Complex

"Black girls are always hatin' on me.  I can't help it if their man prefers light-skinned pretty women."  
"You have no idea how hard it is to be mixed race."

I get it.  Being mixed race in a mono-racial society is tough.  There still isn't much room for multiplicity in our society.  From race categories on forms, to Barack Obama being called the first "Black" president even as he was raised by his white grandparents, to people asking a mixed race person "what are you?" as if being mixed means you are freak, it is undoubtedly hard where it seems people want to force you into a box just to make their lives easier.  I get it....I live that same reality on a daily basis but I have also noticed another phenomenon that either few mixed race people acknowledge, understand or are willing to talk about and that is what I call "the mixed race persecution" complex.

It seems for so many ethnic and racial groups in this country, we engage in what has been referred to as "persecution politics" or "my oppression is greater than yours".  Jews will reference the Holocaust, African Americans will talk about slavery, the Japanese will talk about interment, Native American/American Indians will point to colonization and the reservation system.  All of these groups and more have valid complaints about their treatment as racial and cultural minorities and if we assume all women experience gender the same way or that there is equality in the oppression of the LGBT community, every group participates in the "Oppression Olympics".  I am not making light of these struggles or the hardships any of these groups face but I find it disheartening that people often attempt to use the collective pain of institutional discrimination as a way to win a debate.  When we should be working together for social justice for all, we still engage in a type of "Oppression Olympics" which pits one group against another while allowing those doing the actual discrimination to get off virtually unscathed.

So what happens when you are from two or more groups, whether it be two or more races, with a side of gender and a pinch of sexuality difference?  One might assume that a mixed race person of, let's say Jewish and African American descent, would be less inclined to engage in a "Whoa, is me. I'm Blewish and they hate me",  because both sides have experienced extreme discrimination, oppression and violence.  But the mixed race persecution complex is less about historical oppression and more about individuals who believe they are persecuted for being mixed race, real or imagined.

In general, a persecution complex is a term for a complex set of psychological behaviors based on the belief that one is persecuted.  People might feel persecuted for their religious beliefs or their political views or their sexual orientation.  You will often hear people say things like "Angry Gay Man" and "Bitter Black Woman" to refer to someone who is often upset or hostile about issues related to their identity.  For the mixed race person, this persecution complex is complicated by the fact that he or she might not feel supported or accepted by either racial side and thus the feel persecuted because they feel alone or must constantly defend who they are or are not.

But there is something to be said for someone whose only discussion on the issue of race and being mixed race specifically is about how "they hate me" or how hard their mixed race life is, considering the real hell that the Lovings endured to legitimize their union (See Loving V. United States, 1967).

Why is "hate" such a common term used by so many mixed race folks?  A casual perusal of many mixed race forums and discussion boards will reveal a similar sentiment and most of the time when I see these conversations taking place, it is generally someone who is mixed race and black who is talking about how other "mono-racial" black people hate them.  Everything from skin color, to hair texture and length to being smarter than mono-racial black people is discussed vis-a-vis the mixed race persecution complex.  And rarely do I ever see someone asking "could it be that they don't like you because you are an asshole not because you are mixed race?"  No, instead it's like a "bitch pit high-five" type of celebration which if not analyzed critically would make a lot of mixed race black folks look extremely shallow and petty.  The biggest irony is that the focus on the hate almost always seems to come from mono-racial blacks and not whites or other races which might not accept someone for being part black and something else.

To put make my point more clear, I tell you a story of a woman I knew from an online message board.   She often discussed her father's abandonment of herself and her "white" mother in favor of his new "black" family.   Black men wanted her because she was exotic and beautiful and even said she was harassed and assaulted by a black police officer in broad daylight because she refused to give him her phone number.  Her "black" half siblings hated her because she was pretty, lived in New York for a time and attended law school and complained she was too uppidity.  It was incessant and nauseating.  Then out of the blue she talked about her "white" aunt coming to visit and making her drive her to and fro while complaining about her driving, her curly hair and tanned skin yet she never said a cross word about the woman compared to what she would say about her black relatives.  When I asked, "How is your white aunt any different from your half black siblings who you say hate on you?" She took immediate offense, "You don't understand because you identify as black. Besides my aunt is from another generation."  Um, what?

So her aunt's mixed race hate was excused because she's older or because at the time I called myself black and part Filipina?  Neither of those responses helped to explain why she was willing to make excuses for her white aunt but blame her black family for all of her pain and suffering.  Hell, white people created the incredibly racist labels of mulatto, quadroon and octoroon to describe someone who "tainted" white blood with mongrelized Negro, Oriental or Squaw blood but too many mixed race folks are quick to let white folks off the hook for their racism.

Why do so many mixed race people excuse white purity ideologies which would not even allow many mixed white/black or white/other people to claim at least half whiteness but readily can tell you the date, time and place when a person of color said something offensive to them about being mixed?  My theory is that (1) there is an assumption that people of color should be more open to difference because they have been excluded and mistreated because of their difference and (2) the actual invocation of the term "one-drop" is often used by black people  to either invalidate claims of mixedness OR use as a way to police blackness in terms of behavior.  I conclude that part one of my theory helps to explain some of the root causes for the "mixed race persecution" complex to even occur and part two creates and reinforces such a defensiveness by mixed race people that they are unwilling to look critically at how white racism plays a major role in their exclusion or discrimination. 

Another contributing factor to the "mixed race persecution" complex is the fact that people who are mixed with white are not allowed to readily claim whiteness or the benefits that come from being white.  Thus, for someone like myself who is multi-racial, I find myself claiming my black and Filipina roots but only tacitly acknowledging my white roots. This could be because CULTURALLY, I am black and Filipina. But also it could be that since I am multi-generationally mixed, I have not had white relatives proclaiming me as "mixed race and white". American society has historically viewed my mixed-ness as polluting whiteness.  

Generally speaking, I think as Audre Lorde said, "There is no hierarchy of oppressions" and yet, we are constantly inundated with folks who want to trot out their pain as being more harsh and damaging than someone else.  But to the point of the mixed race persecution complex, I have a hard time within a number of mixed race communities because of general failure and unwillingness to confront oppression from all sides and to also use the pain of being mixed race a justification for distancing one's self from particular racial communities while never holding the group with the power to denigrate and discriminate against racial minorities accountable for their past and present racist conduct.  

Sometimes, though, people "hate" you....because you're an asshole.

The Mixed Race Feminist


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mixed Race Women and Beauty Politics: A Critical Commentary

It almost goes without saying that when you are mixed race and especially if you are a woman, you have to confront the issue of skin color privilege, exoticism and beauty politics.  So much of American social relations is wrapped up in a color grading system by which we are placed on a racial ladder by our physical complexion.  Whiteness most certainly goes to the top of the food chain all the way down to blackness.  Everything else is stuffed somewhere in between these two poles which ironically lends itself to those in the middle being less visible in the wider society.  Hell, we even have a way to describe the absence of those in the middle through the "black/white racial binary paradigm".  So, if you are brown (Chicano/a, Latino/a), yellow (Asian), red (American Indian) or rainbow (mixed race), you are generally absent from the conversation UNTIL the issue of beauty, body politics and attraction become the main topics.  Likewise, since much of our conversation about objectifying bodies is about women's bodies, it makes sense that a discussion about beauty and physical appearance includes talk about being mixed race.

Interestingly, the only time it is "good" to be mixed race in U.S. society is when it comes to discussing beauty and the body, especially if one is mixed with white and another race.  While whiteness sets the beauty standard by which all of us are judged, being mixed race affords women the opportunity to be both beautiful AND sexual.  In her essay, "I See the Same Ho: Video Vixens, Beauty Culture and Diasporic Sex Tourism", author Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting argues that the hip hop and beauty industries together promote a particular type of femininity in which women are expected to be hyper-sexual, fair skinned and ethnically mixed.  She goes onto say that hip hop music videos, particularly with the increase of black male sex tourism to Brazil, promotes the idea that being mixed race is the "best of both worlds" for a woman (at least from a beauty perspective).  A mixed race woman (particularly those who are white and black) is seen as beautiful for her whiteness and sexual due her blackness. Therefore she is prized over her black counterparts.  She isn't more prized than her white counterparts but is fetishsized as an acceptable alternative to a white woman. 

Whiteness and thinness have long been held as the yardstick by which women's beauty and bodies are judged. On the opposite end of the spectrum, black women have been viewed, as author Janelle Hobson puts it in her book, Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture, as "simultaneously grotesque and sexually gratifying".  A black woman is grotesque not only for her dark skin but also for the size of her breasts and butt.  Yet, the same things which are viewed as grotesque on black women's bodies have also been viewed as sexually titillating and even used as a rationale for white male rape of black slave women's bodies.  The presence of whiteness in a mixed race woman's body is supposed to somehow erase black women's grotesqueness while maintaining their sexual allure. 

This presumed "attractiveness" of mixed race women, whether intentional or not, creates tensions between mixed race women and mono-racially identified black women (particularly those with darker complexions).  I have always found it ironic that black men can say some of the most incredibly ignorant and hateful bullshit about darker skinned black women but mixed race and/or lighter complexion women bear the brunt of black women's rage. I have been accused of "stealing their men" (Wait, what? So I'm not black now?), accused of using my light skin to make white folks feel comfortable about black people and generally viewed as a barrier to black women finding a good black men by luring them away into my "Mixed Race Light Skinned Lair" (okay, so I made up the lair part but you get my point).

Below is a sampling of some of misogynistic and ignorantly color struck comments from some Black male celebrities to give you a sense of what I'm referring to (click to enlarge):

While I cannot speak for all mixed race women, who wants to be with a man who shows such utter contempt for women who may share similar complexions to their mothers?  Granted, these men don't represent all black men but I have encountered a fair share who hold similar beliefs and are primarily interested in me because I'm a "redbone" or "high yella". WTF, am I a damn dog or something?  Ugh! I recall going to a record store (oooh, dating myself) and the owner was so color struck that he refused to ring up my order until I told him my racial mix.  We went back and forth for at least 5 minutes with me saying "I'm Black" over and over again and he refusing to accept my answer.  He even went as far as to tell me, "I bet you have some serious Indian in you."  Actually, I have less than 0.01 percent of Native American ancestry but my complexion fascinated him for some reason.  When I finally relented and said I was 1/8th Filipina, he responded "I knew you had to be mixed to be this pretty."  Deep exasperated sigh.

Comments like those always bothered me even as a teen.  I didn't want to be preferred because of my complexion, hair texture or ancestry. There is no relationship between my lighter skin and my worthiness as a mate. Likewise, it is annoying and quite frankly insulting when I hear other black women assume I'm dumb or easy because of my lighter skin.  My racial background nor my complexion are indicators of my sexuality or my intelligence and it's high time that we address the fundamental problems of ethnic sexist stereotypes which affect all women of color at some point in our lives. There is a litany of these ethnic sexist stereotypes that are used against Asian women (Dragon Lady or Suzie Wong), African American women (Mammy, Welfare Queen, Sapphire), Native American women (Squaw or Princess) and Latinas (Spitfires).  While there isn't a formal name for an ethnic sexist stereotype of mixed race women, the sentiment is similar to all the others: these women are sexually lascivious because of their race and shall be used for male pleasure because of their gender.  Sadly, I don't see these stereotypes being disrupted anytime soon and in fact, if reality television is any indicator, these stereotypes will only worsen over time.

The Mixed Race Feminist

Friday, May 16, 2014

Defining Mixed Race Feminism

Disclaimer: This post might not make much sense as it is totally based on lived experiences and educated guesses.

Question of the Day: What is mixed race feminism?   Good question given mixed race and gender issues aren't often brought in conversation together even with the academic use of intersectionality theory.

Let's start with some basic terminology.  I define feminism as a critique on male power with efforts to change it.  In essence, for me, feminism is both a theory and a form of activism.  This means that feminism is for everyday folks; not just folks with degrees or lots of titles. Unfortunately, over the years, feminism has become a negatively charged term in which people often have a visceral reaction of nodding heads in support or shaking their heads in disgust.  These polar opposite reactions often come from a general misunderstanding of what feminism is and what feminists hope to achieve.  In her book, Feminism for Everybody, feminist theorist and cultural critic bell hooks talks about the ways in which people are eager to hear about her analysis of movies and other forms of popular culture, "But feminist theory - that is where the questions stop. Instead I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how "they" hate men; how "they" want to go against god; how "they" are all lesbians; and how "they" are taking all the jobs  and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance" (hooks, p.vii, 2000).  In my teaching in women and gender studies, I am constantly attempting to educate my students on what feminism actually means beyond salacious headlines from Fox News and the Rush Limbaugh crowds.  Feminism means being observant and critical of the way in which power is manifested, concentrated in the hands of a few and used against those deemed minority or "other".  But feminism also means being active in community uplift, fighting for social justice and using one's voice to combat sexism and other forms of oppression.

I view one's claim of being mixed race as a personal choice at self-definition; not simply a matter of DNA.   I object to "one-droppist" logic in which a person with any non-white ancestry can not claim to be of Caucasian/European descent.  I find it totally illogical that people of color (anyone who is non-white) often play the role of "one-drop" police when the policy and practice of "one-dropping" originated while African Americans were still enslaved and continued through the period of Jim Crow segregation.  Why would oppressed people use the oppressors terminology to limit our self-definition is beyond me.  I also object to the relative silence from the mixed race community (most prominently found via online forums) in calling out white racism which often forbids mixed race persons from claiming their white ancestry.  It is like whiteness is reserved for only "pure bloods" or "mono-racial" white people. Many mixed race people I have encountered say nothing about their experiences with racism from their "white side" but can give you time, date, place and even weather reports when they experience discrimination from non-whites.  I am  black AND Filipina AND white. I am not one or the other simply because the average American can't deal with multiplicity.  I belong to all of those groups and I have experienced acceptance and rejection from each group. Some more so than others (in the rejection department).

Thus, my mixed race feminism considers all of these gender and racial contours.  The confusion and complexity, the diversity and denial, the multiplicity and the misunderstandings.  In essence, I see mixed race feminism as a simultaneous critique of gendered and racialized standards of being and behaving with efforts to dismantle gender and racial scripts that limit our range of expression, our life chances and our ability to live free of "boxes" which says we must be "either/or" instead of more fully as "both/and".  I am mixed race AND black; feminist AND Filipina; white AND multicultural.

In my view, mixed race feminism challenges essentialism as well.  Originating out of philosophy, essentialism is the idea that certain entities must have or share a similar set of attributes to be recognized as belonging to that entity.  So for example, to be Mexican, one must speak Spanish.  Are you not Mexican if you don't?  Mixed race feminism challenges essentialism by accepting the diverse ways in which  men and women experience gender and gender discrimination while also challenging essentialist notions of race and culture that says you must choose one race even as you may feel uncomfortable taking sides against an important part of who you are.

My mixed race feminism goes beyond theory as well.  I am active in several mixed race online communities (mostly scholarly or social issue based), work in women's volunteer organizations which have been historically predominantly black or formerly all-white and some that are multi-racial.  I work closely and have even published research with colleagues in Asian American Studies about our experiences with race, class and gender growing up in Compton.  I live mixed race feminism as an academic, an activist and as a human being.  Thus, mixed race feminism is both theory and practice....a way to challenge our limited conventions in how we view, discuss and deal with gender and race.

Friday, May 2, 2014

There, I Said It: Reflections on Identity by a Feminist Racial Hybrid

When I first proclaimed myself as a feminist in 1993 through my campus' Black student-run newspaper, I had only a few months prior started reading and researching anything I could get my hands on by and about black feminist activists and scholars.  My mind was completely blown when I first read Deborah King's "Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness" about the triple oppressions of racism, sexism and classism that black women faced..  From there, I read bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, Barbara Christian, and several others.  Like a sponge, I absorbed as much as I could until I felt a strong urge to share with the world that I was a black feminist.

I wrote my article, "There, I Said It" as an act of defiance to the sexism I was experiencing within the Black Student Union at my university. I was tired of sitting in meetings to be told that I have undermined black men by not allowing them to have other women without complaint because that's what our ancestors did in Africa.  I wanted folks to know I wasn't someone who was going to stand for none of that "The Black Man's Guide to Understanding the Black Woman" bullshit which advised black men, "When she crosses this line and becomes viciously insulting it is time for the Blackman to soundly slap her in the mouth."  Naw, partner, even at the tender age of 20, I knew better than to fall for that okey-doke which many black men I encountered at my school liked to quote from.

But I was naively unprepared for the backlash against my feminist proclamation even as I explained that black women have had a long history of feminist activism (even in pre-colonial Africa).  Nope, feminism was for white women and since I was already so light (in complexion), I must be confused about my racial identity.  Up to that point, I had a only a handful of incidents where my skin color was an issue and because my mixed race mother and maternal grandmother experienced much of the same thing growing up, they prepared me with a type of "psychic armor" to deflect alot of hostility from folks because of my complexion or the length of my hair.  But my feminist "coming out" became completely undermined and overshadowed by questions of my racial identity and racial allegiance.  While I didn't learn the terminology to describe what I was experiencing until years later, the question of political intersectionality - being forced to choose one identity over the other - was a major turning point for me.

I was always militantly black until I had my blackness questioned for my "dalliance" with feminism.  I formed my high school's first black student union, attended statewide black student union conferences and immediately got involved with black student organizations at my university.  I never thought of myself as anything other than black, publicly.  Privately, we were black and Filipino.  Raised by Filipina great grandmother, black, white and Filipina grandmother and mother, we learned how to "identity switch" (sort of like code-switching) as a way to protect ourselves for ignorant backlash.  I could be all of who I was at home but outside of the safety of our home, I was black and I might even curse you out if you called me something else.

But my article not only struck a nerve with readers who were in opposition to my public declaration as a feminist, it forced me to decide whether I was willing to risk handing over my "Black Pass" in order to stay true to my new found feminist identity.   I refused to give up feminism in order to make folks feel comfortable and lost a number of friends along the way.

I was elected president of the Black Student Union the following year but the outgoing president gave keys to the campus office and BSU files to someone who wasn't elected - a Black male student.  The guy I went out with a date with and who was trying his damnedest to have sex with me, now treated me like pariah, even going as far as calling me "a race traitor" because I was running errands with a white male co-worker from my work study gig.  Once again, I had to find that "psychic armor" that was instilled in me by my mother and grandmother and keep moving.  It would take 12 years later before I was ready, however, to embrace my mixed-race identity and proclaim it publicly.  As with all racial-cultural identity development theories, everything is a process....

The Mixed Race Feminist

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Welcome to the Musings of a Mixed Race Feminist

Born out of frustration about the near complete lack of dialogue or scholarship on identifying both as a mixed race person and a feminist, this blog was created as a way for me to share my personal thoughts on living in a society which still relies on old conceptions of race as being dependent on skin color classifications and continues to treat women as the "Second Sex" despite the enormous progress made in terms of gender equality. 

I am multi-racial (African, Asian and European ancestries) and I am a feminist.  Actually, I have been a feminist longer than I have proclaimed my mixed race identity (details to follow in another post). In fact, it was my personal journey into feminism that eventually gave me the courage to identify as mixed race (but not without a great deal of resistance and backtracking - more later).  

I am a scholar who teaches in a Women and Gender Studies program and also teaches African American history.  In essence, I live the life of a mixed race feminist on a daily basis as  I confront sexism, racism and intra-racial discrimination in my work as a professor and in my personal life.  I see it as my duty as a scholar to "complicate master narratives" about race and gender in our society.

I don't think all white people are bad or all black folks are hatin' on me because of my light skin.  I don't think men are any smarter than women but I do think women's indulgence in 'raunch culture' (to quote Female Chauvinist Pigs author, Adrienne Levy) is contributing to hastening the backlash against feminism and all the gains women have made since the 1960's.  In other words, I think questions of identity are fluid, complex and requires us to be introspective instead of reactionary.

This blog will be part personal diary, part academic analysis, with a smidgen of sarcasm, brute honesty and utter insanity for good measure.  Questions?  Email me at

The Mixed Race Feminist