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.