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The 'Identity' Fairy (- by Lisa Jones, from her book 'Bulletproof Diva')

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  • multiracialbookclub
    A Conversation ... Who are you, what are you, where are you from, no, where are you really from, where are your parents from, are your grandparents American?
    Message 1 of 1 , May 26, 2007
      A Conversation ...

      Who are you, what are you, where are you from,
      no, where are you really from, where are your
      parents from, are your grandparents American?

      Are you from here,
      what's your background,
      what's your nationality,
      where do you live?

      Are you Black,
      are you White,
      do you speak Spanish?

      Are you really White,
      are you really Black?

      Are you Puerto Rican,
      are you half-and-half,
      are you 'biracial',
      Racially Unknown,
      Race Neutral,
      down with the rat race
      or the Human Race?

      Who are you?
      Where are you coming from?
      Who are your people?


      Excuse me,
      before you get all up in my business,

      don't you want to know my name?

      Should we keep it simple or
      run the extended-play version?

      I hail from `The afro-rainbow tribe'.

      Papa's "black" by way of Newark and South Carolina ,
      Mom's Jewish by way of Brooklyn and Eastern Europe.

      Ethnically -- I'm African American ...
      Politically -- I'm a person-of-color ...

      I know a Panamanian-American computer technician who
      is deep brown as a Senegalese and ethnically -- Latino.
      He speaks Spanish and Brooklyn-Italian blue-collar English.

      Ask him what he is, he'll tell you `black Hispanic'.

      I know a Caribbean-American architect who has lived
      on three continents, calls soccer football, and has a
      white great-grandfather and a Chinese great-grandfather,
      though he himself is gingerbread brown.

      This guy is from Grenada originally, though he
      "identifies" `politically' as

      I also know a music promoter, "black" who was raised
      by his mother, Jewish, in the suburbs of San Francisco .
      But from the way this guy swaggers and curses you'd
      think he was gangsta straight out of Compton .

      Trust me, all three guys are cute.

      Say I marry one of these guys, will our

      children be Multiracial, Multiethnic,
      African-American, "black", people-of -color?

      Will they be called "n*ggers," "cocos," or "sp*cs"?
      Will they live in an America where race,
      as Cornel West reports, still matters?
      Will they live in a war zone like Bosnia , where
      ethnicity, culture, and religion still matter?
      Or will AIDS and toxic waste cut their lives short before they
      can begin their pontificating, philosophizing, awfulizing,
      agonizing, rejoicing, preachifying, and signifying over just
      who they are in this shaky home we call the Americas?

      Last night I had dinner with a group of friends
      who are Asian, Latino, and African-American, and
      Combinations of the above Mixed with European.

      I love us dearly ...

      We value the ethnic histories, rituals, stories passed

      down to us from our families of origin, from our
      families of choice, and from our book learning.

      We swap these traditions, make up new ones ...

      The idea of a "Multicultural" category on
      the Census fills us with ambivalence.
      Is this just one more polite, largely academic
      game of 'Identity Hopscotch' folks are playing
      while Los Angeles burns?
      Still, we're keeping our ears open.

      What do you know about the groups that
      are behind this Census Movement?

      Are they a Multiracial, Interracial Mafia?
      Biracial Rambos and Contras?

      Are they White parents of Mixed-Race bambinos
      bartering for a 'safety-zone' for their Café-Au-Lait kids?

      Or are they regular folks searching for

      a new way to 'Identify' their families?


      This is what I know so far ...

      By the turn of the new century,
      will the numbers in the "other race,"
      now "Multiracial" category,
      have multiplied dramatically?

      Will America have become the brown
      stew pot that Time and Newsweek have
      been "warning" us about since the mid eighties?

      And call them "black", Multiracial or Hispanic
      (another Ethnic appellation concocted by politics),
      will the majority of these 'brown ones' still be poor folks?

      Or might all Americans check "Multiracial,"

      finally recognizing their heritage for what it is?

      Give us your off-the-cuff take on this Census Movement.


      ... Race is configured as choice,
      as a category on a school form.

      Race is not seen as a political/ economic construct,
      a battleground where Americans vie for power and turf,
      but  'a question of color', 'a (stick-on, peel-off)  label'.

      If there is an end goal to the Census Movement's
      efforts, it appears to be assimilation.

      I don't mean this in the didactic sense of chiding
      others for wanting their piece of American pie;
      I mean it as finding a place to fit in,

      creating a space of comfort for self,
      away from the choke hold of race.

      The business as usual of discrimination,
      against the have-nots,
      who are usually `shades of brown',
      and in favor of the have-sos,
      who are usually `shades of pink',
      is left undisturbed.

      When I heard that all state legislation for school
      forms would remain "symbolic" until the Congress
      and the Office of Management and Budget vote
      to add 'Multiracial' to 'the list of "official" categories',
      I scratched my head.

      And when I heard that the activists couldn't agree
      on whether those who checked the "Multiracial" box
      would be considered "a disadvantaged minority
      `deserving of federal protections'
      under the Voting Rights Act",
      I scratched some more.

      Why was this Movement ---
      potentially a vital movement for the
      acknowledgment of hybrid cultures/live
      --- being tied to a kite that no one could steer?

      Do you have other concerns about the Census Movement?


      Let's look at a few:

      Is race (and racism) left intact?

      CATEGORY, if the end goal is, as census activists say,
      to do away with the biological pseudoscience of race,

      Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror quotes
      an interview the playwright did with Angela Davis.

      Davis says she feels tentative about the meaning of
      "race" these days, but not tentative at all about 'racism'.

      People-of-color, whether they call themselves `biracial',
      Swirls (as they do in Fostorio, Ohio), or zebra Americans,
      are "disproportionately members of America's underclass" ...

      I was struck that the Census Movement had no 'alliances' with
      progressive organizations representing other people-of-color ...

      Was "biraciality" being constructed
      as a less progressive stance
      than 'Identifying' -- as a "person-of-color,"
      that catch-phrase invented in the eighteenth century,
      then popularized in the seventies, as an expression
      of solidarity with other p.o.c.s worldwide?

      CAPE TOWN, U.S.A?

      It's been asked before, and until I hear a
      good comeback, the question stands:

      Would "Multiracial" be akin to South Africa 's
      "Coloured" caste created under Apartheid? ...


      The Census Movement [and its "Interracial
      / `biracial' nationalists," as I refer to them
      playfully] claim "biraciality" as a mark of
      "racial" singularity, one that in America
      (where most "racial" groups are Multi-Ethnic
      and Multi-Cultural) has little grounding.

      Their insistence on `biraciality's'
      "unique" status [truly] borders on "elitism".

      They marvel at the "perks" of 'biraciality':

      -----That `biracials' have several cultures at their disposal.

      (Though don't we all as Americans?)

      -----They say things like " `biracial' people are free of
      bias because they embody both Black and White"

      (Can you fight essentialism with essentialism?
      [Why are black-white bi-racials the only
      group of bi-racials taken into consideration?
      And why are "bi-racials" the only Mixed-race
      group being taken into consideraton?
      What about tri-racials, quarter-racials
      and other types of Multi-racials?])

      Are we to believe that all "biracials "

      are 'chosen people', free of prejudice,
      self-interest, and ... fundamentalism?

      By proclaiming "specialness" aren't
      `biracials' still clinging to the
      niche of  [The] `Exotic Other'?)

      -----"How could we not love them,"
      boasted one White mother of her
      'biracial' children, "they're so cute".

      (Minus butter-pecan skin and Shirley Temple curls
      would they be less of an attractive proposition?)


      The writer Kristal Brent-Zook calls nationalism a
      search for home, for family, and for sameness.

      Young movements of any kind are prone to nationalism,
      yet it's hard to forgive the `biracialists' for indulging.

      A large part of why they disassociate themselves
      from `traditional ethnic communities' is just
      because of "their" hybridity, "their" lack of purity.

      Is there now to be "a `biracial' party line"
      to tow and "a `biracial' lifestyle" to upkeep?

      Interrace, a magazine chronicling the Census
      Movement and Interracial and `biracial' social
      life, called the actress Halle Berry 's choice
      not to marry Interacially a "cop-out".

      (One guesses they made this judgment about the
      race of Berry 's husband [at the time], baseball
      star David Justice, based on photographs.

      A few issues later, when Interrace found out that
      Justice happened to be [a bi-racial] "Afro-European,"
      -------- they "laid out the `biracial' carpet".)

      Are those of us who marry the same,
      'mono-race' partners now
      retro, anti-progressive?

      Have the Interracial/ `biracial' police
      determined that the only way to
      'change the world' is to breed "a new race"?

      "Like it or not," read a letter to a newsletter published by
      Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC),
      "racially mixed people are the most beautiful people of all."


      What's history got to do with it?

      As Black/White `biracials', when we distance ourselves

      from "the `African-American' freedom struggle"
      [i.e. The American Civil Rights Movement of the
      1950s and 1960s which helped to garner rights
      and freedoms for every single `minority' group
      in the United States -- ranging from `people-of-color'
      to-women-to-the disabled-to everyone who today
      can demand their rights be acknowledged], ...
      do we `fail to honor a history' that

      brought us to where we are today?


      And if it feels that way, and it
      shouldn't, how can we make it feel less so?

      Are there ways to be responsible to a history that
      we are indebted to without being imprisoned by it?

      I found the generalizations the Census Movers

      made about African-American's disturbing.

      Resistance from 'some' "blacks" to the
      Multiracial category was [repeatedly
      and falsely
      ] translated [as] resistance from
      " the entire" 'African-American' population".

      Aren't some of the parents involved in the
      Census Movement `African-Americans'?

      [In reality,] the bills to add the "Multiracial"

      category on the state level have all been
      introduced by `African-American' legislators.

      [In reality,] the Census Initiative has garnered
      support from "local chapters" of the NAACP.

      Essence magazine and other "black" publications
      spread the word about ... interracial groups
      long before their White counterparts.

      To say that `biracials' have been cold-shouldered
      by `African-Americans' throughout history, as some
      activists suggested, is "selective ignorance" [and
      an essentially false and unfair accusation].

      [The so-called] "black" communities have always
      been `shelter' to Multiethnic people, perhaps not
      an unproblematic shelter, yet a shelter nonetheless

      [The so-called] "black" folks, I'd venture,

      have `welcomed difference' in their
      communities `more than most Americans'


      Watching `biraciality' gobbled up so eagerly
      on the Donahue and Oprah circuit makes me pause.

      If it weren't such a `fashionable and marketable' identity
      these days would so many folks be riding the bandwagon?
      (And like the hip-hop club, media darlings of the late
      eighties, "the `biracial' lobby" comes across on television
      as having have "no agenda" other than its own pride-politics.)

      Are `biracial' people being offered up as
      the latest market ripe for exploitation?

      Interrace magazine sells T-shirts inscribed
      with Webster's definition of `biracial'.

      The ads urge buyers to "Wear the Right Thing"
      or to "end racism ... advertise in Interrace".
      New People: The Journal for the Human Race hawks
      ceramic wedding figurines in your choice of complexions.
      Not unlike trade or hobby magazines,
      both publications look at the world
      through one prism:


      Shouldn't we ask what makes 'biracial' people "a community"?

      What holds us together other than "a perceived sense
      of our own "difference" from the 'Ethnic' mains" ?

      Consider if the Mexican-Samoan kid in San Diego has the same
      needs as the black-Jewish kid from New York 's Upper West Side ?

      Maybe "politically" as 'people-0f-color', but do
      they share a definitive Mixed-Race 'Culture'?

      And if they do, should we call it "biraciality"
      or should we call it "American culture"?


      As my telephone travels made
      clear, the Census Camp is not
      minus attitudes of: --------

      "If you had a choice you'd
      be anything-but black".

      Biraciality was posited by some
      as `an
      escape from the
      "blemish" of Blackness'.

      Chicago mother Michelle Erickson
      asked me "quite innocently"
      if I knew how "degrading" it was
      "to be attached to categories
      like "black" or 'Hispanic'?".

      Kendra Wallace, a 'biracial' woman
      in her early twenties, pronounced
      `rules of membership' in the [so-called]
      "black" community to be too stiff – based,
      she feels, on such criteria as "hair texture
      and whether one speaks proper English or not."

      (Is `African-American'-diversity

      still that invisible to the world?

      One could have come away with a picture more
      complex by watching a week's worth of sitcoms.)

      A moment of cruel and unusual irony took place in
      a conversation with Project RACE's Susan Graham.


      Susan Graham is the mono-racially White mother
      of bi-racial children who created the organization
      called 'Project-RACE' in order to pressure the
      United States Census Bureau to head her demand
      that the application of the term 'Multi-Racial' be 
      limited to such an extremely narrow definition that
      it would only include those individuals whose parents
      have been listed in two separate "racial"  categories.

      Such a move would prevent people of MGM-Mixed /
      Mixed-Race lineage from being able to have public
      acknowledgement of the fact that they are Mixed-Race.
      (MGM-Mixed = Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed).]

      During "black" History Month, Graham's son returned
      home with some materials on Langston Hughes.

      Graham was disappointed that the school had
      failed to `focus on' Langston Hughes's `biraciality'.

      I reminded Graham that '
      African Americans' as a
      whole were a Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Cultural folk,
      and that Hughes never hid the fact that he had White
      family, yet he "cast his lot," as the expression
      went back then, with his darker-kin.

      Hughes's writing, one can safely say, celebrates,
      if not romanticizes `
      African American'  culture.

      Graham seemed irritated.

      "The One-Drop Rule was the only thing that kept
      him in the "black" community", she insisted.
      "If Hughes were alive today, he would choose to be
      Multiracial, he would identify first with Mixed-Race
      people and the work of her lobbying group.
      People of all races and cultures should
      feel free to claim Hughes as 'an idol' " ----

      But wasn't Graham aware of a rather painful history?

      One where [so-called] "black" people have had their
      every gift confiscated and attributed to others?

      Would this now happen in the name of `Multi'-racialism?

      Seems like you've exhausted the critical tip.

      Did you happen upon anything constructive in your
      telephone encounters with the 'Biracial'-Movement?


      Carlos Fernandez (who is from the Association of
      Multi-Ethnic American) said something that made sense.

      Official recognition of "Multi"-Racial

      'Identity'  may notend racism ---  it
      is --  however -- a necessary step.

      If we refuse to recognize that any 'material reality'
      exists between Black and White, we do nothing
      except enshrine these social boundaries -- and
      enshrine the political divide that upholds them.

      Certainly the daguerreotype of Mixed-Race people as
      "freaks of nature" could use a long overdue slashing.

      If the `biracial'-lobby can help in this regard, bless them.

      Says Kendra :

      "We're [seen as] invisible or our Identities
      are always problematized and sexualized".
      Our "bloods" are [falsely said to be] at war inside of us.
      If `Mixed race' were made "normal", we could look forward
      to the comic mulatto, the introspective, the slovenly.
      We might one day come to miss ye olde
      tragic mulatto, the world's pet mule.

      As much as I found myself resisting
      the `biracial'-nationalists, to deny
      a group the right to Identify as they
      wish to seems equally cautionary.

      In October last year the San Diego Unified
      School District, known for its conservatism,
      balked at admitting a little boy to school
      until his mother, Patricia Whitebread,
      who is [categorized as being] "black",
      assigned him an "appropriate race".

      (Unlike many school forms nationally,
      San Diego 's has no "Other" designation.)

      Whitebread refused.

      The school district admitted the child anyway.

      Later the district Classified her son as
      'Black' without Whitebread's permission.

      The activists I spoke to framed
      their cause as a Civil Rights Movement.

      Perhaps one not as transparently-vital as a Movement for
      Equal Opportunity in employment or fair access to housing.

      But certainly one consummate with
      Religious Freedom or Freedom of Expression.

      In Interrace, psychologist Francis Wardle, director of "The
      Center for the Study of `Biracial' Children", a clearinghouse
      in Colorado, makes a [rather arrogant, yet] passionate "appeal"
      [based on nothing more than numerous false assumptions
      he has made about the feelings of most
      for interracial family networks not to been seen as a
      'threat' [his accusatory words] to `
      African Americans'

      [It is not stated as to `why' he felt that this largely
      Mixed-raced Ethnic group would see them as a `threat']:

      "We are so aware of the need to
      improve conditions for so many Blacks ..."

      [Hmmmm ... 'Blacks' .... a term he has chosen to use in
      reference to the "race" of those of the  `
      African American'
      Ethnicity – thus, ignoring their largely Tri-Racial lineage]

      "... in this country that we are very puzzled some high
      profile Blacks spend time and energy fighting us ...
      We are not the enemy ..."

      [Hmmmm ... "enemy" ... interesting that he chooses to use
      this term – as if to give the false impression that that the two
      Mixed-Raced groups were, somehow at enmity with each other]

      "....Don't insist we must raise our children to belong to
      a distinctive and arbitrary racial or ethnic category"

      [Hmmmm ... an `"insistence" that this Mixed-Raced Ethnic group,
      has, for the most part, as a whole, never once made or implied].

      "Don't say that history and society must define who
      we am and what we want our children to become"

      [Again, something this group has never once said or implied].


      It is very interesting to observe how Wardle's
       "plea" is actually filled with baseless and
      accusatory implications against largely a
      Mixed-Raced group that, in reality, has
      always historically supported and tried
      to serve as a `refuge'  (of sorts) for those
      of who are also of Mixed-Raced lineage

      Perhaps the arrival of the `biracialists' might finally
      drive home to traditional 'Ethnic communities the
      need for more proactive "coalition" politics.

      Kendra Wallace thought `biracial' organizing would allow people
      to leave racial enclaves, build bridges, and in time, return.

      In the lore of the passing novels, those who
      "passed for White" (or in this case "stood for Colored")
      always found their way back to the "black" hearth.

      Of course the "black" hearth ... is [now]
      more fragmented and scattered than ever.

      At the dinner table last night we gathered, not to discuss
      the dainties of identity politics and the census, but to
      remember a close friend who died a year ago...

      I like to think of Eduardo Mejia, the friend we
      lost, as a Multiculturalist and global citizen
      cut from the cloth of a W.E.B DuBois.

      To Eddie, unlike Kendra Wallace, [the term "black"

      simply] embraced every 'Ethnic' community
      that wished to claim it
      (a belief he shared with
      the Pan-Afiicanists of the sixties and the British
      Asian-caribbean-African coalitions of the seventies).

      Would it surprise you that Eddie
      was a fair-complexion Puerto Rican?...

      He "identified" as a `black', as a 'person-of-color',
      as `Latino', as 'Puerto Rican', as a New Yorker.

      ----No one 'Identity' canceled out the other.---

      Knowing Eddie, [the term] "biracial" would
      have been a label either too precious or sterile.

      He would have told you in one breath that he was
      "a Puerto Rican from a Haitian block in Brooklyn ,
      who stands for ... the freedom struggles of
      people-of-color around the world" before
      he would describe himself as `biracial'.

      It wouldn't have been fierce enough, specific enough,
      or ultimately progressive enough for Eddie in his day.

      But that would've been Eddie's choice; you may decide otherwise.

      Eddie, I'm sure, would have loved you and claimed you just the same.

      What's your idea of art and scholarship
      that politicizes Multiracial?


      Certainly the visual art and writings of
      Adrian Piper provides keen example.

      Piper works genius in demystifying the political
      economy of what she tags "racial classification".

      Her call to American Whites to face up to their
      Black heritage (and to "blacks" to do the reverse)
      takes Multiracialism / Multiculturalism beyond
      p.c. arts programming and into the realm
      of configuring a new American 'Identity' ...

      Gomez-Penas work takes on America
      in the "Inter-Cultural Crisis".

      Writes critic Richard Schechner "Interculturalists"
      [such as Gomez-Pena] refuse "utopian schemes",
      refuse to 'cloak power arrangements and struggle's.

      Instead ... Interculturalists probe
      the confrontations, ambivalences,
      disruptions, fears, disturbances, and
      difficulties when and where cultures
      collide, overlap or pull away from each other.

      Interculturalists explore misunderstandings,
      broken messages, and failed translations --
      what is not pure and what cannot successfully fuse.

      These are seen not as disasters, but
      as fertile rifts of creative possibilities".

      Any last words of advice to those
      swimming in the Identity pool?


      As you get older, chances are you will

      "define" yourself `by your alliances
      with a multitude of communitie'.

      No `one' community will speak
      for you
      `completely' and no one
      should be so static
      as to not let you `share in others'.

      As for the `biracial'-Nationalists and their Movement:

      Check them out, debate them, start your own.

      Don't accept any position --- be it `biracial'
      / Multiracial / Interracial / African / Asian /
      or Latin American --- as a political catchall.

      Challenge all your communities to live up to you ...

      In coming to self, balance individual `Identity' with

      a `responsibility' to and a and critical eye on history.

      I'll never forget visiting the Afro-American
      Cultural Center at Yale as a pre-freshman.

      I wandered around the building looking at the posters and murals,
      remnants of the late sixties, of the days when [so-called] "black"
      students were admitted to mainstream universities in sizable
      numbers, of student protest for admission and retention
      initiatives, of sit-ins for ethnic studies departments ...

      A priceless moral and intellectual inheritance was being passed to me.

      On the train back home, I wept all kinds of tears:
      angry tears, tears of pride, gratitude tears ...

      Welcome to America ...  !!!

      (((-- excerpt from pp. 52-66 of the book
      `Bulletproof Diva': Tales of Race,
      Sex, and Hair
      (written by Lisa Jones).

      Lisa Jones is a FGM-Mixed 'Bi-Racially' categorized woman 
      who is a part of the largely MGM-Mixed Jewish 'Culture'
      and the largely MGM-Mixed African American 'Ethncity'.

      FGM-Mixed=First-Generational Multiracially-Mixed
      MGM-Mixed=Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed)))

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