Sunday, July 13, 2008

On Being a Bridge

(I am currently working at a summer arts camp, so my posts will be coming infrequently - I'll be back at it for real in another three weeks)

With all the racial politics going around, Obama's speeches and analysis thereof, we've all heard it a million times now - that multi-racial folks like me (and Obama) are a "bridge between the races." We are a "step towards racial understanding." In another 50 years, everybody is going to look like us, and nobody is going to care about race. Some day, we'll all just be "a shade of brown."

Well, I just wanted to put my two cents in on this one, and I call bullsh**.

That's right. I'm not buying it for a second. But, as the polite blogger that I am, I shall tell you why I feel that way.

First of all, I don't really buy into the statistics. Over the course of the last couple decades, there has been an increase in population of people who identify as multiracial. A large increase. If you want specifics, it shouldn't be hard to find, but I'm feeling lazy, so we'll just leave it at that. My first issue with the numbers is the semantics - "people who identify as multiracial." That's well-put. Because it has only been recently that we have been able to even claim a multiracial background on most official documentation (and still - not all). Therefore, I think a large part of this increase in reportage is simply a reflection of the ability to choose anything other than monoracial.

Documentation aside, I think there is also more of a feeling these days that identifying as "mixed" is acceptable. We come from a history of one-drop and Jim Crow and - up until recently - people just had to go with their darkest blood. Any of us who were bi-racial white and anything else would have just claimed the non-white race not too long ago. Hell - I bet my parents would have claimed me as simply "Asian-American" when I was a child.

And it's still not fully acceptable for some folks to claim "mixed" or "biracial" as their racial category. In no community is this more clear than in the American black community. First off, it's largely because there may be zero "black" folks in the entire United States that aren't mixed to some degree or another. However, in no other community have I seen such a feeling of betrayal when a bi-racial person claims "mixed" over "black." This debate has raged all over the place, and - for now - I don't mean to discuss it,* but it still isn't "okay" to claim to be "mixed" in many communities.**

So I think the statistics are a bit iffy. I don't really believe that there's this huge increase in interracial coupling going on that's going to make us all be mixed by 2060. Sure, there's likely an increase - but I think it's hardly exaggerated.

However, even if the numbers are increasing at an incredible rate, I don't think that's necessarily going to do anything at all to change perceptions on race. Why? Because I know it won't.

I agree that being bi-racial increases my racial understanding and makes me have more of a compassionate perspective on both sides. It really does. But is anybody else willing to hear it? Hell no. Mono-racial people (white and otherwise) absolutely love to discount those experiences and that perspective. Mono-racial people don't want to listen. It is so difficult for them to understand the mixed experience that they do what all humans like to do with things they don't understand - ignore it. And that's what they do. And it works quite nicely.

We all saw everybody's reactions to Obama's speech that included his white side and black side. People on both sides called him a "traitor" and distrusted him. Everybody thought he was trying to "play both sides," and so everybody doubted him. When, really, Obama probably does understand both sides. But there are very few people out there (that aren't mixed, themselves) willing to accept that.

So what if people can learn to get over that, and finally come to grips that being mixed really is a distinct experience? Well, we just get one more racial category. Look at Brazil. People really are all shades down there, and there are classifications for all those shades. And, still, lighter is treated as better than darker skin. It's just a more variegated racial hierarchy - not an end to racism or prejudice. So why do people think it would be any different here in the States? It wouldn't be.

Human beings group each other. We want to know who is with "us" and who with "them." And that's not something that's ever going to change. If people are more varied in their skin-tones and physical features, we'll just get more discriminating in our categories. We're already ridiculously varied - but only the few are able to realize that, like wine connoisseurs able to distinguish subtleties that the average consumer cannot. If everybody becomes a regular wine-drinker (or is mixed), that will just increase people's abilities to distinguish based on subtler nuances. The separation will continue, just the same.

And so I tell you - I am not a bridge. I could be, to a certain extent, if people were willing to listen, but we all know that that is an unreasonable request. I shall do what I can - mostly just to keep myself sane - but I will not risk high expectations in that. This blog is an effort to reach people (and teach people) in some way, but I'll be content with two readers that get something from it. Because I've been "mixed" too long to think that many more are going to be willing to hear it.

* Don't worry - I certainly will.

** I don't know how many times people have argued with me about whether I'm "mixed" or "Asian-American." I just love it when people tell me my own experience.


Anonymous said...

Call me an optimist but I think that once people accept that racial mixing is a good thing and should be encouraged that the perceptions of race will fall by the wayside due to being an out moded taboo. If you think of this quote:

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. --Arthur Schopenhauer

Certain events have a cyclical sense of irony. First in order to get rid of Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws it was ridiculed, second it was violently opposed (do I need to point towards the historic events?) and third, it was accepted as being a natural consequence of life. Unfortunately, right now we're starting back on that cycle, I'm not sure where we are at. Are we at One, two or on the cost to three as far as promoting interracial marriages as a way to deal with lingering racism? Some people do seem to scoff at this, but for what end?

Could the problem be greed? Is there money in causing racial strife instead of harmony? After all what would be more harmonious than interracial marriage and child rearing? If it is a case of greed that someone doesn't want this to happen they need to be faced down and if we need to take lumps for our beliefs then I am all for taking my lumps, nobody likes a bully in life and if these types who are using this as a way to make a cheap profit are shown as such, they'll be the ones on the defensive and on the way out once it is accepted that this is the way life is going and time to accept it.

Just my thoughts on this.

Here is a funny face down of someone who made some nasty comments to this Asian woman:

Notice the judo lesson she gave to the bad mouther.

Janine deManda said...

Chop-tensils - Thank you for articulating how frustrating the whole "make mixed people save the world from racism" tripe can be. I was tired of hearing it as a mixed blood before becoming a parent, and I just want to snarl at people who say it now that I have a kid. As you noted, Brazil has realized the "dream" of variegation with no end in sight for racism and colorsim. So, hello, let's not pretend that the actual, ongoing work of critical thought and engagement of behavior, policy, and practice is or will be *poof* magically done once we've all successfully miscegenated.

CafeLatteFuture - In the spirit of restraint, I won't say most of the things your post and your blog brought to my mind. Instead, I'll just say please read a damn book {or scores} by, for, and about mixed race people and our experiences before you volunteer us to save you, not to mention the country, from your own racism, internalized or otherwise.