Ten years ago, I was suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea, and I “slept” about 16 hours a day in my aunt and uncle’s basement in Carnation, Washington–a little town just outside of Seattle. Each night before bed, I’d watch a bit of Grey’s Anatomy, which, while filmed in California, is set in a fictional Seattle hospital.
Fast forward a decade, and I just spent an evening with Jason George, aka Dr. Ben Warren, at a private event put on by Multiracial Americans of Southern California. Jason approached MASC about raising money for the organization by hosting a fundraiser with himself as the prize.
Jason is married to Indian poet Vandana Khanna, and together they have three children. His family represents the growing multiracial demographic of the United States, which is accurately reflected in the makeup of Southern California. Jason’s mission is to embrace and celebrate this cultural shift and views it as a way to bring people together. He certainly did that tonight, by checking any “celebrity-ness” at the door and mingling warmly with us everyday folk.
Caitlin S. of Tennessee was the lucky winner of the fundraiser, though she says it took her a while to believe it wasn’t a scam. She hesitantly called to confirm her prize, and then sat speechless at work. She brought along her good friend Elessia whom she’s known since college at Southern Adventist University. Caitlin and Elessia say their friendship was almost instantaneous, and they text each other multiple times a day.
Even on the plane ride over, Caitlin and Elessia weren’t sure they hadn’t fallen prey to some elaborate scheme, but their luck wasn’t too good to be true. MASC put them up in a hotel for an extended weekend, and they spent a busy day chatting up Grey’s Anatomy cast members on set, sitting in on ON with Mario Lopez, and then chilling at a private screening of the Grey’s season premiere with Jason and some of the MASC crew.
As we watched the episode, Jason treated us to tidbits of behind-the-scenes information. Having stopped watching Grey’s at the end of season five when it seemed like one catastrophe too many, I was pretty out of the loop; though now that I’ve met a cast member, I may find myself picking up where I left off. Regardless, it was a quintessential Hollywood experience to watch an intimate taping, and I felt like my life had come full circle from those dire, sleep deprived days.
Conversation was lively and continued even after the scheduled event. Jason, Caitlin, Elessia and many MASC members reconvened in the main part of the cafe, and I and two friends of mine, one Colombian and Indian and the other Black and White, stood talking in the warm Santa Ana winds about our experiences with race, the current political system, and our beliefs about how to improve the world we live in. Tonight we got a taste of what that world could look like, as races came together in unity and understanding.
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!
LA Times writer Michelle Maltais has created a public celebration of Loving Day stories on the LA Times Medium page. Several of the stories may be chosen for publication in the paper or on LATimes.com. Click below for mine, and contribute your own! If you do, let me know and I’ll be sure to check it out!
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.”
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!
My father was a proud paralegal for the NAACP back in the 80s and 90s. He marched in rallies for race equality and was actively involved in uplifting the Black community. When I was growing up, he often had me watch the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize,” which documented the events of the Civil Rights Movement. Nestled inside my baby book is an autograph from Black Panther leader Huey Newton.
When I was a little girl, my dad said, “People will want to label you as only black, but you’re biracial.” My dad wasn’t ashamed of his blackness. Just like many fathers, he loved that I resembled both of my parents. My dad knew the world would see me as more black than white, but he wanted me to identify in a way that honored both sides of my genealogy. This was true even after my parents split up when I was three-years-old…
Last Thursday I attended the Multiculti Mixer in Brentwood, California. The free event featured a reading by well-known actor Taye Diggs who read from his new children’s book Mixed Me, dedicated to his son Walker. This book follows on the heels of its predecessor “Chocolate Me,” Diggs’ children’s book about growing up black.
The Multiculti Mixer was a veritable utopia of mixed race belonging. A pretty even blend of adults and children, about 60 or 70 guests packed into Kidville Brentwood for a panel about raising mixed race children, a fashion show by some of the children themselves, and of course the celebrity reading and book signing. My (white) friend and I handed in our tickets — one general admission and one “blogger/influencer” — but once we stepped inside we realized everyone was on equal footing, and we loved it. Kids of all different hues and all different hairstyles ran in and out of rooms, including the arts and crafts room set up just for them. Parents appeared relaxed at not having to anticipate sideways glances or outright stares. Everyone smiled big, and often.
Taye Diggs walked through the front doors during the panel with absolutely no pretension. My friend and I had just taken a picture in front of the event backdrop, and as Diggs crossed the threshold, a little girl squealed and wrapped her arms around him. Diggs didn’t seem to mind. He stood around with everyone else during the fashion show, with his nearby bodyguard as the only visible indication of his status.
Diggs wasn’t the only celebrity present for the event. Biracial Grace Colbert, famous for the controversial Cheerios commercial (controversial merely for featuring interracial parents) attended with whom I assume to be her mother. “I liked your commercial,” I said to her as we stood in line for something or other. “Thank you,” she replied quietly, either tired of the statement or naturally reserved. Either one, of course, is completely valid in my opinion.
The Multiculti Mixer fashion show, featuring garments from Mixed Up Clothing, was the most positive and inspiring runway show I’ve ever seen. Family members and other onlookers snapped pictures, cheered, and clapped as children did spins and twirls down the tiny center of the room. The children pranced with confidence and jubilance that seemed to go beyond the attention they received. Instead, they seemed intimately aware that they were being praised for their appearance in a manner devoid of ogling or exoticizing. They were, in that moment, free.
When it came time for Taye Diggs’ reading, the children gathered together on the carpet as if it were just another library story hour. Taye Diggs sat himself down on one of the little chairs and began reading from Mixed Me:
They call me Mixed-up Mike
but that name should be fixed
I’m not mixed up,
I just happen to be mixed.
As someone of Taye Diggs’ generation, I couldn’t help but be amazed by both his book and the event. Mixed race adults didn’t have children’s books that explained their biracial experiences. We weren’t in commercials or on the cover of cereal boxes. There were no mixed race events, and no one to speak on our behalf like Diggs has for his son. The event left me with no feeling of envy, however. Only a swell in my heart that this gathering is just one of many to emerge in our bourgeoning nation. It’s my hope that these children will grow into adults who don’t realize how lucky they have it because mixed race inclusion will be the norm. It may be a naive hope, but events like these prove we’re moving in the right direction.