I’ve been part of the Mixed Remixed Festival since I was a featured writer in 2014. I was also a chair at the 2012 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference (CMRS). I’ve participated in three events for the Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC) and have promoted them through blogs. Suffice it to say, I have my hands in three of the biggest mixed race / multiracial organizations. And you know what? I love them all.
Each of these organizations brings something unique, valuable, and necessary for the mixed race community. I can’t speak as someone in a multiracial relationship, or as one who has mixed race kids, because neither is true for me. However, even when there’s an event that I don’t think fits my personal experience, I recognize its importance for others.
This year at the Mixed Remixed Festival, I saw parents and children of all different ages and hues, which has been true for all of its past four years. While the festival is for everyone, I think there is no denying that it plays a special role for those of us who are mixed race ourselves. Each year, people break down crying, including the founder, Heidi Durrow, who works tirelessly year round to see this event come to fruition.
We cry because we finally have a space where our very existence is the norm. Instead of being a zebra in an otherwise black or white space, we’re in a room filled with zebras, and with those who brought us into this world. In fact, for the past two years, the recipient of the Storyteller’s Prize has been a black male in an interracial relationship who works to bridge the color divide. The festival also makes us feel validated as artists, chosen to share our personal experiences through film, music, and the written word. In this space, our voices matter, and everyone in the audience nods their head in understanding — something we don’t get on the mean streets.
In order for the festival to run, it needs sponsors. This year, no one was allowed to film, and no one did. Sure, people took little videos on their phones and were encouraged to do so, but anything else would violate the contract between the board and the sponsors. And the festival needs those sponsors in order to exist. Does this take the limelight away from others? Maybe. But it doesn’t take away one’s ability to be present at the festival itself.
I would hate to see those who attend Mixed Remixed, CMRS, and MASC to do anything other than support each other fully and without reservation. Mixed Remixed supports the arts, CMRS supports scholarship, and MASC supports families. Within these foci, there are of course necessary and important overlaps. And we’re strong because we’ve become strong together.
The Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference valued my scholarship on the “tragic mulatta genre” by accepting my master’s thesis about this topic for a panel. I felt recognized, understood, and in a community of peers. The same has been true for the MASC events I’ve attended, and the same is true when I walk through the doors for Mixed Remixed. I don’t know what the future holds for any of these organizations, but they each hold a special place in my heart, and I wouldn’t be who I am professionally or personally if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of those involved.
I stand by Heidi Durrow 1,000%, just as I stand by Laura Kina, et al. of CMRS and Delia Douglas and Sonia Smith-Kang of MASC. It’s because of these organizations that I’ve moved to Los Angeles, made amazing friendships, written a book and countless articles, and have been steadily working on a memoir to discuss my life with my black father. Parents: we see you. We know you’re there. And we’re grateful for these communities that have popped up over the past few years that see us, too.
On October 20th, I was fortunate enough to see the Hollywood premiere of Loving, which is set to release in the US on November 4th. Check out my article about the event here on Multiracial Media. I include quotes from other attendees, among them one of the child actors.
I can’t watch TV without noticing race. I know when the first black extra gets a speaking role on a certain show. I’m aware of whether a white character is dating an Asian, an Asian character is dating a black person, an Indian is dating a Russian… well, you get the picture. So when I checked out some of the new shows in this season’s lineup, I definitely had my subconscious antennae up and wondered if they would satisfy my mixed race reality. I was pleasantly surprised, for the most part.
I’ve never been that interested in time travel shows, or at least those that go back in time instead of forward. Let’s be honest, if you’re a person of color in the United States, it’s best to stay in the present. Even if I get into a classic movie like Mansfield Park, I’m suddenly separated from the protagonist at the first mention of slaves.
The creators of Timeless either naturally wanted to appeal to my demographic, or they did so in order to boost ratings. Whatever their motives, it seems to have worked. Rufus Carlin, played by Malcolm Barrett, is a genius coder who flies the time machine, as he and his companions try to thwart a possible villain at crucial moments in history. Carlin gets to tell off racists of past centuries while, of course, hoping not to get shot dead in the process. Since he’s a central character and not another Rue, I’m guessing he gets to live.
There’s nothing extra special about Notorious race wise, but it does co-star one of my celebrity crushes, mixed race actor Daniel Sunjata. He plays opposite Piper Perabo’s Julia George, and the two have a professional yet flirty relationship as a news producer and a criminal defense attorney, respectively. While the race representation in this show is fairly standard, I’m enjoying seeing a mixed race lead.
One thing that does leave me wanting, though, is the portrayal of Sunjata’s brother Bradley Gregorian, played by J. August Richards. It’s not apparent what Richard’s role is yet, given he only gets about five lines an episode, if that, and mostly to give Sunjata’s character Jake Gregorian an emotional compass. It’s also slightly annoying that Richards and Sunjata look nothing alike, and not just color wise. It’s as if the casting director thought, “Here’s another black actor. He’ll do for the brother,” without considering that not all black people look alike.
I couldn’t get past the first episode of The Good Place, and even that was a bit excruciating. It’s not so much the race representation in this show that leaves me wanting; rather, the storyline just seems a bit (very) bland. However, it does irk me that the central conflict seems a cheap knockoff of Selfie, which was tragically cut short after one season. Both shows center around a white female protagonist who tries to be good through the influence of a male protagonist of color.
In Selfie, Karen Gillan and John Cho’s characters had sexual tension that put the storyline into the well-known “will they or won’t they” category, which worked for this couple. However, in The Good Place (at least through the first episode), Kristen Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop has no redeeming qualities and no interest in her “assigned soulmate” Chidi Anagonye, played by William Jackson Harper. Instead his whole purpose is to teach Eleanor how to be good in the afterlife. Jackson, from Texas, also loses his “Nigerian/Senagalese accent” before the first episode is over, and no one seems to mind.
By far my favorite new show of the season, This Is Us is a sentimental drama about a nontraditional family. The narrative takes place in two different timelines–the present day and the 1970s, and it centers around two white twins and an adopted black baby who was born on the same day and raised with them. The narrative doesn’t gloss over the racial implications of an ethnically blended family, which includes K. Sterling Brown as the adopted son. Nor does it shy away from displaying race-based tension within the family structure itself.
Brown’s character Randall was raised lovingly by his white family, but still desperately seeks to know his troubled black father who’s dying of cancer. It’s a storyline all to familiar to me: it’s one I’ve lived. This Is Us‘s blending of Shonda Rhimes-like racial exploration with Parenthood-like sentimentality makes for the perfect fall favorite.
I look forward to the next episodes of each of these shows (well, except The Good Place), and I’m enjoying seeing plotlines that include relatable roles.
What happens when a young, mixed race boy asks his mother what ethnic day is meant for him? The Los Angeles Dodgers have special days for certain ethnicities, but none celebrating mixed race heritage… until now.
Sonia Smith-Kang and her business partner Delia Douglas approached the Dodgers about creating a Mixed Heritage Day. The Dodgers obliged, and yesterday about 200 people came to celebrate at a game against the Chicago Cubs. I arrived with my friend Jennifer, and at first I had trouble trying to find Delia and Sonia in the bleachers. I scanned the faces of the children and adults, trying to spot a large grouping of people set apart by varying skin tone and racial admixture. Funnily enough, I had difficulty finding them in the crowd, because the bleachers were filled with fans of all different hues. There wasn’t much that set this group apart, and that was the point. Los Angeles is becoming increasingly diverse and increasingly mixed, and having a day to celebrate a mixed race heritage is thus tremendously important for children who grow up in interracial families.
The Dodgers displayed “Mixed Heritage Day” on the jumbotron in between innings, just as they do for other cultural days at the stadium. This day was a bit different from most, however, because Sonia and Delia were presented a certificate by the Los Angeles mayor, who himself identifies as mixed race. Adults, children and families gathered together in celebration and community as they cheered their team to victory. It was a victory not just for the players, but also for the families who saw their love recognized and validated just like any other.
Sonia and Delia plan to make Mixed Heritage Day a yearly tradition. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to see what went down in 2016!
When I was a little girl, I looked up to my dad the way most little girls look up to their fathers. I liked watching the way he’d cross his legs while he smoked his pipe in contemplation. I liked lifting my dumbbell while he lifted his barbell. I liked telling people that my ex-prison father could beat them up at a moment’s notice.
My parents split up when I was three, but I still saw my dad fairly regularly—until he moved three hours away when I was seven. It was when my dad moved back to our area at the start of middle school that he started to fall from his pedestal.
Last Friday I did a reading for Camp Real Pants at Astroetic Studios in Downtown L.A. The event was an offshoot of the AWP (Association for Writers & Writing Programs), and as I could afford to attend the conference itself, it was nice to be somewhat near the action, and right in the thick of a related event.
In honor of the reading, my friend Mike put together lovely chapbooks, which are currently for sale. “(not) Mixed (up) Messages: On Dads, Death and Mixed Race Daughterhood” is a combination of excerpts from my memoir and a couple of my published articles. All blend together to poignantly wrestle with the three Ds mentioned above. I’m still at work on the memoir but am excited to share some of the finished pages with anyone who’s been following my journey, and with those who haven’t!
“Shannon is a fearlessly vulnerable, beautiful, and brave voice. Her stories and experiences inspire me to accept myself for who I am—to be myself and not who others tell me to be.”
Yesterday I watched the most recent episode of The Bachelor on Hulu, and I’m sorry if this is going to ruin the anticipation for anyone, but Jubilee got sent home in the middle of the cocktail party.
I’ve watched The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchise off and on for years. When I start a season, I always continue until the end, but I’m not drawn to it every season. This season, however, will be the first one that I end abruptly, and I’m not sure if I ever want to watch the show again.
The Bachelor and Bachelorette had always been a fun diversion — a way to witness interactions between people, root for favorite contestants, and wince at relationships between houseguests or between men and women that go extremely sour.
This season was different though, because of Jubilee (which I wrote about here). I’ve always felt a bit removed from the show. I’ve always been intimately aware that my life differs greatly from any of the girls who vie for the guy’s hearts (and I’m usually not much into the guy’s heart anyway). But with Jubilee’s date with Ben, I finally saw myself in a contestant. Not just because she was Black, but because she was Black with very similar struggles as my own.
I kind of knew when Ben put Jubilee on a pedestal that she would inevitably come crashing down. Not because she’d do anything wrong, but because pedestals are very lonely and unsteady places to be. Jubilee was for Ben what many Black women are to men — and sadly not just to White men like Ben.
After Ben said goodbye to Jubilee, with the same expression and many of the same words that I’ve heard during my own breakups, I said goodbye to The Bachelor. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I also remembered something I’d written when I was about 21, and I dug it up to share with my readers.
This essay is a very hard one to share, because it touches on things that are very personal, and I wrote it completely stream of consciousness at the height of emotion. Though it’s a bit exposing, I think it’s important to share with my readers because I’m guessing at least one of you feels now the way I did then. The family relationships I’ve mentioned in the essay have now been strengthened, I now know certain struggles aren’t so black and white, and those romantic relationships are a thing of the past. That last line of the essay? It’s where I am now.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s what I wrote back in 1998.
Back Seat Girl
It happened to me again today. Sarah* was with me, getting milk. Chad* and Adam* were in the electronics department. I have learned to like Sarah, to become her friend. But then, as she tells me she won’t be home when her parents call, she says, “Oh, they’ll understand, because they know about Chad.” I respond, “Oh, are you guys dating or something?” (I say this quite calmly, but in my mind I am screaming, because I am once again on the outside of the circle.)
“Well, I don’t know,” she replies. “I don’t really know what’s going on.” She also says this calmly, and adds emphasis by shrugging her shoulders as if tossing the idea out of her uninterested mind. But I know inside, she is bursting to know if they will in fact have a romance. I drop the subject. I realize that I am always in the back, while she is always in the front. Does she get the front seat because her father is a missionary? Because she is a prize? I see them talk. I see him express concern to her about missing her parents’ call because of the outing I have requested.
I am taken back to Southern California, to the long freeway drive to Disneyland, to David* and Patricia* in the front seat, to me, in the back of the van (the extra, invisible guest). I am taken back to observing them from my place in the back, to watching them flirt, to seeing her get out of her seat and kneel in the middle so that he could put his arm around her. I remember the tears. I remember the desperation I felt. I remember the pain, and the pain returns, and it runs down my cheeks in a salty stream. The pain is a little girl, watching her mommy flirt with a man who would rule her life, a man who would separate her from her mother’s protective love, a man who would place this little girl on the outside of the circle.
I remember driving Daniel* and Kim* around. I remember how when I moved away, Daniel got a truck and Kim was the one to be the front seat girl. I remember the agony I felt as she told me about their minute-long kiss in this front seat. My boyfriend and my best friend. “You thought you were so special,” a voice inside me said. “But remember your place.”
I remember the community group of my church. I remember sitting in that wealthy house, I remember sitting in that circle, sharing about our lives. I remember the man I thought attractive. The man who pursued another girl after the meeting. A girl who had spoken of her father, who was known in the Christian circle. “So that man is really your father?” the young man asks. “Yes,” she replies, with pride. The man thinks her a prize. The man asks her if she needs a ride home. “No,” she replies. (She has a father, remember? A father who provides for her needs.) To him, I am invisible. The man does not ask me to be a front seat girl. My father was a prisoner. Does that make him lacking in love for his daughter? Does that make me any less of a prize? Does that mean I am destined to be a backseat girl?
I remember home. I remember the house in Santa Cruz that I called home. I remember the house that I called home, but wasn’t. I remember the loving arms that held me for a moment, only to let me go. Those arms in which I was not allowed to get comfortable. Those arms of my grandmother who said, “You are special, but you do not belong here.”
I remember the holidays. I remember all the families coming together to form a whole. All of those immediate families that I was not a part of. I remember all of the families grouping together, in order to introduce us to a new relative. But where do I go? Where is my “mother,” my “father,” my “sister,” my “brother”? I see the new man’s eyes scan his relations. I see his eyes come to me. They are puzzled, perplexed, these eyes of his. As if he is seeing a rose among poppies. “She is not in the circle,” his eyes say. I smile, pretending that I do not know my difference. Pretending that I am indeed a poppy among poppies.
I feel like a girl in a candy store. I feel like a black girl in a candy store. I feel like a black girl in a candy store in the segregated South. I stand there, my mouth watering as I look at the delicious candy. I see the girls line up, one after the other, buying their chocolate. I approach the man behind the counter. No, his face tells me in a cold stare. This is not your place. This is not for you. I watch, my heart growing hard.
The man takes me into the back and whispers in my ear, “You can have the chocolate if you work for it.” I reluctantly agree. I feel cheated that I have to work for my chocolate, and the other girls merely pay with the coins given them by their fathers.
I pick up a broom, and I sweep. I pick up a mop, and I scrub. I am proud of my good deeds. I approach the man behind the counter, but he is not satisfied, so I give some more of my hard labor. “It will pay off,” I say to myself. “Soon I will have the best chocolate in the world. It will turn around and I will be the girl buying chocolate at the counter.”
Hours turn into days. My circle of friends disappear. They are upset that I spend all of my time working at the store. But they don’t understand—Just a couple more chores and it will all turn around. Just a couple more hours and I will be the girl buying chocolate at the counter.
Each day I work, I watch the white girls go up to the counter. I see them buy their chocolate. I become dismayed. I feel angry. I feel cheated. I feel second-class. I long for the man behind the counter to give me my candy, but he never does.
I’ve been thinking a lot about color / race privilege and why it’s such a hot button issue for the biracial community. In a Facebook group that I moderate, for mixed race women of African-American or African descent, members have been arguing about issues related to color privilege and mulitiracial privilege: a) whether these are separate privileges, b) whether monoracial people also have privilege, c) whether the biracial / mixed race community should shoulder privileges even though we didn’t ask for them, d) whether the black community uses color privilege and multiracial privilege as a way to silence multiracial voices.
For anyone not familiar with the recent discussion around privileges, most noticeably white privilege, this vlog is an excellent place to start.
To sum up the vlog, everyone has privileges that they didn’t ask for but that are undeniably real. For instance, white people are more likely to peruse items in a store without being watched. They’re more likely to see themselves represented in the media and to not have their race be at the forefront of their identity. For example, a white person is more likely to be “Roger,” instead of “my white friend Roger.”
In my opinion, both color privilege and multiracial privilege are very real. With color privilege (also referred to as light-skinned privilege), the lighter one’s skin is, the more access he or she has to both safety and representation. What separates color privilege from multicultural privilege is that the former refers to melanin, and the latter refers to racial claims to identity. In the multiracial community, skin tones vary widely, and for this reason one multiracial person may not have as much access to spaces as another. The difference between color privilege and multiracial privilege isn’t something I came to on my own, but the person in my group who brought it into the discussion was, in my mind, completely on point.
So why is it so hard for us in the multiracial community, and those with light-skinned privilege, to accept these realities without feeling defensive? Are we just reacting the same way some people do when confronted with white privilege, or does it go deeper?
I came to the realization that the struggle we have as multiracial / light-skinned individuals is that, unlike the white community, we are being judged and labeled by someone who shares part of our ethnicity. While their labeling is completely accurate, the way that it often takes place, and the rhetoric that often surrounds it, is that biracial / multiracial / light skinned people do not have claims to black experiences. This rhetoric on the one hand asserts realities about racial politics, but it also feels like rejection from our own kind.
Many women in my Facebook group feel more rejected from the black community than they do from the white one. Some seek out connections to this community while others don’t, but in general we all want to feel that we’re connected to that part of our ethnicity. However, our reality is often that we aren’t able to enter black spaces, because the black community sees us as privileged individuals. Therefore, our rejection and lack of connection tends to come more from the black community itself.
There’s no easy answer to this conundrum, and certainly not all in the black community reject multiracial / light-skinned peers. I have a handful of black friends who accept me just the way I am don’t seek to invalidate my experiences. They also know that I understand their struggles, and that I understand their struggles are often much more difficult than mine.
In my experience, when biracial / mixed race / light-skinned people declare and embrace their blackness, they’re not doing so to deny the discrimination of those who are more black / darker than they are. Rather, they are seeking an allegiance with a racial group while also understanding that their membership is different.
I believe it’s vitally important for black and multiracial people, and dark-skinned and lighter-skinned people, to both accept the reality of color privilege and multicultural privilege and know that we are all in this fight together. When we lower our defenses, our ears open to realities that go beyond our own.
Anyone who watches The Bachelor knows what happened Monday night between Jubilee and the other members of the house. For anyone not familiar with the show, allow me to fill you in.
The Bachelor, like many reality TV shows, is known for being extremely whitewashed. This season, one of the few people of color has lasted through a one-on-one date, which sadly is especially surprising since she’s Haitian and very dark-skinned. Naturally, Jubilee had a hard time opening herself up both to Bachelor Ben and then to the other women in the house.
Jubilee is a refugee and U.S. war veteran who was adopted after her entire family perished in Haiti. I’m not adopted, my family didn’t perish, and I didn’t go to war, but I still understood Jubilee’s reserve.
When Ben used words like “strong” and “genuine” to describe her on their one-on-one date, that also felt intimately familiar. These words have been used to describe me more than any others (even as men are breaking up with me). Jubilee’s date went refreshingly well, and in a way that has never felt so intimately familiar to me, as I usually feel a bit removed from the participants.
Back in the house, the women attacked Jubilee with what a friend accurately described as a “pack mentality.” They questioned what Ben could see in someone who was obviously so different from both him and themselves, with one woman telling the diary cam that Ben needed a soccer mom, not “someone like her.”
Ben stood up for her in a way bachelors rarely do on the show, but I don’t want to focus on that, because, while my instinct is to praise him, he was just acting the way any decent guy should. Instead, I’d like to share a little something I wrote when was 17, which eerily echoes many of Jubilee’s sentiments. It’s a little corny, but bear with me. I was 17, after all.
* * *
I know of a girl who is silenced. I have known her all of my life and I will know her until the end of eternity. Only I know what goes on in her mind. Only I know the untold secrets that lie at the bottom of her heart. She shares them with me and me alone. I am the only one whom she trusts unconditionally.
She is a short girl with dark skin and far darker hair. Her eyes brim over with dreams and ambitions. On her face is a look of longing and of passion. This girl has a deep desire to make a difference and to share her ideas. Yet she rarely ever voices them.
Conversation is hard for the girl. She is afraid of rejection, afraid of being laughed at. What if she opens her mouth to speak and the words that flow from her mouth are met by silent stares? What if she opens her mouth to speak and nothing comes out at all? She is a continuous ground watcher, afraid to look in the eyes of disapproval.
In seventh grade the girl was mostly alone in a crowd. She ate with a group of people whom she hardly knew. She would self-consciously eat her lunch as fast as she could get it down, trying not to draw attention to herself. A year later, a boy from the group was surprised to hear the girl say hi to him. “You never talked before,” he exclaimed. “I thought you were deaf!”
Part of what makes the girl so afraid to speak is that she knows that the physical aspect of her is different. The girl has one eye that doesn’t move properly, which makes it hard to look at people without turning her head to face them. She has a massive head of kinky, layered hair which she can never wear fully loose. The girls with straight, fine hair could never understand that.
Growing up in a Caucasian society, the dark-skinned girl always stands out in a crowd. However, if she is ever around African-Americans, she never fits in there either for her skin is so light. She is too black to be white, yet too white to be black. Mostly, people don’t know what she is. Oftentimes, these differences seem to work against her instead of for her. She is constantly reminded that she sticks out in a crowd and that causes her to fold up in the attempt to be immune to hurt or criticism.
This girl wants someone to listen to her hopes and dreams. The girl wants someone to believe in her who won’t say that her dreams are dreams and nothing more. This girl is me.
* * *
Twenty-five-year-old Jubilee mirrors this younger self. I remember vividly being invited to a game night of white acquaintances when I was about 19. All my high school friends were white, but we all held family secrets and didn’t fit into “normal” society. I drove to the apartment where the game night was hosted, parked my beat-up car, and walked up to the door. I heard the women laughing inside… laughs that seemed so carefree. Laughs that at least in my mind came from girls who had parents who called them and wished them well. Girls whose families helped them navigate the adult world instead of leaving them to their own devices. And I suspected that these girls had never felt judged, ogled or dismissed for their skin.
Now that I’m older, have developed close friendships, and have a family unit that is refreshingly intact, I look men straight in the eye and know my worth even if they don’t. I can walk confidently into a room of women and know I belong there, even though my story is likely much more intense than theirs.
I don’t mind, now, that I’m complicated. Even though the women in tonight’s episode proved that the pack mentality is not dead, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who has felt silenced for standing out in a manner I couldn’t control and now wouldn’t change. Whatever Jubilee’s path ends up being, I hope her future is filled with connections and self-love that she never thought possible. I hope she can stare that soccer mom pack down with fierce confidence.
Spoiler alert for anyone who’s not caught up to episode 5….
Unfortunately, their end was just like mine with so many others. It’s honestly like watching myself on TV. No answers, but comforting somehow to know my personality is so closely shaped by my experiences. Here’s to bright futures with men who see us as equals instead of on a lonely pedestal. Not a pity party, just looking forward to what lies ahead!