The 'Identity' Fairy (- by Lisa Jones, from 'Bulletproof Diva')
- 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',
down with the rat race
or the Human Race?
Who are you?
Where are you coming from?
Who are your people?
THE IDENTITY FAIRY:
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 `African-American'.
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?
THE IDENTITY FAIRY:
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.
THE IDENTITY FAIRY:
... 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?
THE IDENTITY FAIRY:
Let's look at a few:
Is race (and racism) left intact?
INSTEAD OF FIGHTING FOR A NEW RACIAL
CATEGORY, if the end goal is, as census activists say,
to do away with the biological pseudoscience of race,
WHY AREN'T THEY IN THE TRENCHES CASTING
STONES AT INSTITUTIONAL RACISM?
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? ...
ARE WE SPECIAL?
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' [alleged]
"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 NATIONALIST VIBE.
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
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."
THE NEW STEPFORD PEOPLE.
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?
IS BIRACIALITY POLITICAL SEDITION?
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'.
NOTHING BUT A PHOTO-OP?
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:
ARE WE FAMILY?
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"?
DOES BLACKNESS REMAIN A STIGMA?
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."
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?
THE IDENTITY FAIRY:
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.)
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 African-Americans]
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?
THE IDENTITY FAIRY:
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?
THE IDENTITY FAIRY:
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
community 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'.