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