Archive for September, 2010

When Our Bodies Betray Us and What We Can Learn From the Transgendered Experience

Posted in my theories about race that are true on September 30, 2010 by jerlina

I know it is well past time for a celebratory post but this isn’t going to be that post. It’s coming though I’m sure of it!

I was thinking this morning about a friend who is brown like me, she’s mixed too but culturally she is white. What do I mean? Well she is half Asian but it isn’t represented in any of her interests, who she chooses to spend time with, her music or food preferences etc. Ok, so my thought was “I wonder if she thinks her body is betraying her?” because her inner whiteness isn’t reflected in her outer brownness. I also have another friend who is white but he grew up in a black community. Culturally or internally he’s black but it’s not reflected in his outer whiteness. Sometimes I feel like “of course the whole world can tell that I’m a vegan anarchist buddhist multiracial lady who thinks too much” but then I get approached by people asking me questions like  “So as a black woman what do you think?” Usually I am thinking “I want to slap you.” What I’m getting at is that sometimes there is a disconnect between who we think we are and who people think we are by the information they’ve gleaned by looking at our bodies.

So this takes me to my next thought: transgendered people can teach us a whole bunch about living in bodies that don’t tell the whole story about who we feel that we are. Here is a definition of transgender brought to us by wikipedia:

Transgender  is a general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies to vary from the usual gender roles.

Transgender is the state of one’s “gender identity” (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s “assigned sex” (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex).  The precise definition for transgender remains in flux, but includes:

  • “Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these.”[1]
  • “People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.”[2]
  • “Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth.”[3]

A transgender individual may have characteristics that are normally associated with a particular gender, identify elsewhere on the traditional gender continuum, or exist outside of it as “other,” “agender,” “Genderqueer,” or “third gender”. Transgender people may also identify as bigender, or along several places on either the traditional transgender continuum, or the more encompassing continuums which have been developed in response to the significantly more detailed studies done in recent years.[4]

Similarly, when people identify with characteristics that are normally associated with people of other races it can feel like the body that they live in, which is an expression of that race, is betraying them. Our bodies are sending one message when our minds want to send another. I am thinking about one more friend now who is multiracial but his body looks white. His mind says “I’m a black man” or a multiracial man,  but his body is constantly sending out the message “I’m a white man.” Betrayal. Betrayal!

I love how deliciously confusing life is. If it weren’t confusing it would be so boring!

Isis King- America’s first transgender Top Model who is also multiracial. Go girl! (But I gotta say, she needs to eat something! Please!)

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Mixed Baby-Daddies

Posted in my theories about race that are true on September 28, 2010 by jerlina

I found this really cute page on the Mixed and Happy website which features mixed kids and their dads. Which makes me think, why are dads so often left out of the discussion of mixed race identity? We hear a ton from the mommies and the kids themselves but what about the dads? Weird.  http://mixedandhappy.com/category/babydaddy/

White Privilege, Black Power and Some More Kimya

Posted in kimya dawson, mixed celebs, my theories about race that are true on September 28, 2010 by jerlina

This is a post of many themes. First I want to start a theme that I will continue writing more about but it has to do with white privilege. I mentioned in my “why it’s better to identify as mixed” post that mixed people benefit from white privilege which I whole heatedly believe is true. This morning I thought “white privilege functions more like a spectrum than either you’ve got it or you don’t.” What does this mean exactly? Well because I’m fairly assimilated into white culture I feel pretty confident when going into situations such as national parks, meditation centers, farmers markets, job interviews, museums etc. that are full of white people. After a while I usually notice and get annoyed but for a while I usually don’t notice that I’m the only brown person around. So this is where the spectrum comes in. Mixed people often have more access to resources that are usually exclusively white (intentionally or by default) but that feeling of inclusion (which really manifests as NOT feeling excluded because of culture or skin color) usually has its limits. Also, poor white people usually don’t feel privileged at all. Especially if they are assimilated into black culture. Oh it’s all so wonderfully confusing! Well, I won’t go further because I don’t have much more to say about it now, but I will.

On the subject of Black Power i want to talk about mixed kids with black nationalist dads by way of another mixed celeb spotlight! Did you know that Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones)- founder of the black arts movement had two daughters with Hettie Cohen? They were both beat poets but then Baraka became a black nationalist, moved out of the Village, up to Harlem and left his Jewish wife behind. Or so the story is told. Their children Lisa and Kellie,  both became very successful and I happened to have worked for Kellie when I worked in New York.

I am really interested in mixed people with black nationalist dads. Danzy Senna in her book Caucasia also had a black nationalist father and even though she passed as white she chose to identify as black. Lisa and Kellie identify as black too.  A friend of mine, however, who had a black nationalist dad who left his mom for a more afrocentric lifestyle chooses to identify as mixed. Food for thought.

Dr. Kellie Jones is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Her research interests include African American and African Diaspora artists, Latino/a and Latin American Artists, and issues in contemporary art and museum theory. Her teaching covers the 17th – 21st centuries

Lisa Jones is the Author of Bullet Proof Diva: Tales of Sex, Race and Hair which I read in high school and thought it was pretty interesting. Lots of it dealt with her experience as a mixed person who identifies as Black. In the book she writes, “My mother is white. And I, as you may or may not have figured out, am black. This is how I choose to define myself and this is how America chooses to define me. I have no regrets about my racial classification other than to lament, off and on, that classifications exist period.”

Ok now time for more awesome KIMYA!!! Woot woot!

This song is called Walk Like Thunder and it’s the best ever!

Assimilation?

Posted in my theories about race that are true on September 26, 2010 by jerlina

This concept has not been on my radar but now it is. I’ve got two stories for you then a definition. Story #1: I work at the farmers market and for the first few weeks I thought “hmmm… this is interesting. There are zillions of mixed families walking around this place but I don’t feel good about it. What’s up with that?” Then this week it hit me: although there were people of different colors walking around they all seemed culturally assimilated into the predominantly white, upper-middle class culture of the market.  So, instead of there being a sense of diversity, it felt like stifling sameness. This could all be in my mind but who cares. Story #2: I was walking through east Oakland yesterday and this young black guy starts yelling at me “are you black?” He must have yelled it 1/2 a dozen times or more. I thought “dang, why can’t he tell that I’m black? Am I that assimilated?” So in this story the word was already on my mind but still, it made me wonder- am I disappearing into white culture to the point of being unrecognizable by other black people? Well I don’t think that will ever really happen, but it crossed my mind.

I think that mixed people are really susceptible to cultural assimilation into whiteness because we are half white. Is it possible to kinda be white and kinda be black at the same time? I guess that’s what it means to be mixed. But still, is this possible?

Here’s the definition I promised:

Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. It is opposed to affirmative philosophy (for example, multiculturalism) which recognizes and seeks to maintain differences.

The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New customs and attitudes are acquired through contact and communication. The transfer of customs is not simply a one-way process. Each group of immigrants contributes some of its own cultural traits to its new society. Assimilation usually involves a gradual change and takes place in varying degrees; full assimilation occurs when new members of a society become indistinguishable from older members.

Mixed Men I Know

Posted in oakland on September 25, 2010 by jerlina

I ran into this guy tonight who is really cool and strikingly mixed. His name is Jabali Sawicki and he is a principle at a charter school for boys in Brooklyn. It was interesting because he told me that a mutual friend of ours was helping him produce a documentary on black male teachers. When he said it I started scanning my mind for people I know who fit that description. It didn’t cross my mind until this moment that he probably thinks that he fits that description. Well, here’s a pretty cool video about Jabali:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3812177/nols_leaders_with_jabali_sawicki/

(None of this will make much sense unless you watch the video). So this returns me to my post on why it’s better for mixed people to identify as mixed. Jabali is Nols’ and Summer Search’s poster child for black male success but he hardly looks black and he was raised by his white mother. Might that have to do with his own success? Perhaps.  At least maybe a little bit.

So another mixed man I know is Miles Tarver. Miles and his brother Mitchell were both in a dream I had a few days ago, I was in a thrift shop and the gr… I won’t get into it here, it’s not so important. Well Mitchell and Miles are my god brothers and although they pretty much look Italian or maybe, just maybe Mexican, they too are half African American and half white. Like me! Miles was a basketball star in high school and went onto the University of Minnesota where he continued to play. Good for him! Here’s what I found when I googled Miles (I couldn’t find anything on Mitchell).

http://givehellgoldy.blogspot.com/2010/01/gopher-profiles-in-courage-miles-tarver.html

Another mixed man I know is my very own brother. He’s a yoga instructor, waiter at a vegan restaurant  and entrepreneur. He doesn’t identify as mixed but I don’t care. This is a link to his website:

http://www.coyoga.com/

My brother Jewel’s on the left followed by two more mixed men I know- Bryan is half white/half Indian and Jarett is half white/ half Puerto Rican. My uncle is on the far right.

Collectivism revisited

Posted in my theories about race that are true on September 24, 2010 by jerlina

Check out this deffenition of collectivism:

Collectivism: Collectivism is a social psychological term that relates to the manner in which humans identify themselves and prioritize their goals. Collectivism, which is the opposite of individualism, focuses on the priorities of the group and not the individual. In a collectivist society, people identify themselves with the goals of the group much more so than the goals of individuals. Collectivism also focuses on things such as fitting into the group, behaving in ways that are line with social norms, group solidarity, and gaining a sense of identity from being part of the group. America is a more individualistic country (we do value individualism) whereas many Asian countries place a greater value on collectivism.

So where does someone who is Asian-American fit into this or someone who is HAPA?

I’ve been thinking lately about my future and the idea of collectivism- moving forward within or as part of a community has really factored into what I want to do. I don’t want to take off to New York or Thailand or even go back to grad school where I’ll become super professionalized and have no time for my family. I am, however, a very individually minded person so it’s all becoming very confusing.

Kwame Anthony Appiah- Another Mixed Celeb!

Posted in mixed celebs on September 17, 2010 by jerlina

Another mixed Celeb! So exciting. I started reading a review of Appiah’s latest book The Honor Code in the New York times yesterday but got distracted so I can’t really tell you anything about it. Anyway, I did read his book In My Father’s House and loved it but it was super duper dense. Appiah is a professor at Princeton and teaches philosophy, ethics and race. He’s a super nerd and he’s gay! Cool. Here’s a link to his website: http://appiah.net/books/the-honor-code/. Biographically he was born in Ghana to an Ashanti father and British mother.