Friday, November 06, 2009

Never Mixed (Up) Enough

Today, we found out that my brother and his girlfriend are having a baby. To make a long story short(er), my mom is quite upset about the fact that my brother is having a baby with a white woman. My family is a deep mix of several cultures on both sides. My mother thinks it was perfectly okay for them to date. She's had the two of them over for extended stays and invited the girlfriend back for more visits. However, she is really quite upset about this pregnancy. She doesn't like the fact that, of all her children, only one of us chose to co-parent with someone she'd consider non-white AND on top of that, they wound up breaking up. So, all of my mother's sons and daughters-in-law are white.

At first, I thought it was a bit funny because my mom is mixed, but she still doesn't want any more of her children having kids with white partners. Earlier this evening, I was laughingly discussing this with a few acquaintances because it seemed like such a odd idea. There were a few other multi-ethnic/mixed folks in the conversation and I appreciated hearing about their experiences and the experiences of their ancestors who are/were also multi-ethnic. It wasn't long before I realized that they were the ONLY ones willing to talk about this. All of the white people just went along their merry little way, nignoring (feel free to familiarize yourself with the meaning of the term) the conversation going on around them. It didn't matter that most of them were white people who were well-acquainted with several of the people of color in the conversation nor did it matter to them that what we were talking about was a problem that mostly existed due to the actions of folks in THEIR communities.

At that point, the situation that my mom is worried about stopped being funny to me and I realized that there are no groups of white people, or groups with many white people, where they behave differently. Multi-ethnic people from various parts of the globe were discussing how whiteness had fucked over them and their families and, at best, the white people simply remained silent when this happened. Now, in a conversation on the internet, where the majority of folks in the "vicinity" are white, we were watching the same thing occur there, too. In fact, it wasn't until one of the women of color started talking about something else that anyone white spoke up again. Is it any surprise that this conversation did not end well?

My mom is proud of her heritage and has done her best to instill that pride in us. We were taught to never be ashamed or embarrassed about who we are. She taught me to reject it when people of color tried to say that I was too brown to really be mixed. She taught me how to answer white people who questioned why my relatives looked like they did. My mother says she's concerned about whether my brother's partner is really aware of what it means to parent a child who is a person of color. After listening to some of the experiences of several multi-ethnic people who were talking about mixed identities, I am a lot more sympathetic to my mom's views.

When that Justice of the Peace from my state got a lot of attention a few weeks ago because he wouldn't marry inter-racial couples, it was bothersome to see so many white people failing to consider the fact that a significant number of inter-racial marriages in that area (Hammond) really DON'T last. It's a really small place and it's known for being one of the most racist parts of the state. My mom lived there for a while but she was forced to move when my oldest brother was a baby. It seems like white people may not want to deal with that reality. I feel like none of the outsiders who were "OMG offended" about what he did really gave a shit about the situation that inter-racial couples or multi-ethnic people face from those who have no qualms about announcing that they think "race traitors" and "mutts" shouldn't be allowed to exist.

My mother's views about inter-racial couples having children are based on the realities that she's seen and experienced folks like us face. I suspect this may also be true with the justice of the peace. White societies aren't prepared to do a damned thing about how whiteness forces so many multi-ethnic people to live lives where other people of color have legitimate reasons to worry about whether any vestiges of white privilege will lead us to fuck over them in the same way that white people almost always will at some point. At the same time, we have to deal with how white people are never done with reminding us that whiteness is a club that multi-ethnic people of color will never be "mixed enough" to join. At best, we are expected to be less threatening versions of people of color--just mixed enough to make white people think their world isn't lily white, but not so mixed that we start exhibiting those "pesky" tendencies often associated with the non-white world. Like my mother, I hope that my daughter and my nieces and nephews will never be mixed up enough to be willing to settle for playing that role in the lives of white people they will encounter throughout their lives.

"No Santy Claus? Well, I'd expect a heathen niglet like Riley to say something like that, but Jazmin I'm surprised at you! Being a mulatto and all, you s'posed to have more sense."
(A Huey Freeman Christmas)

The above quote is taken from a conversation that starts at 8:23 on this video)


Vanessa said...

While I'm really not prepared to grant that judge enough to say he's
inspired by anything other than naked racism (his "But I always let
black people use my bathroom" comment really sealed it for me) I do worry about what kind of identity Abbie is going to be allowed to forge for herself as mixed-race vs. white. I mean, I don't even know what to "call" her.

I wonder if you've read Obama's first book, Dreams from my Father? It gets a little sanctimonious towards the end, but I quoted a passage in this post awhile back:

"When people who don't know me, black or white, discover my background (and it usually is a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second
adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some
telltale sign. They no longer know who I am. Privately, they guess at
my troubled heart, I suppose -- the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds."

And this I could have written myself.

I suspect also the cultural difference between Louisiana and New Mexico, though, also prevents me from understanding where your mother is coming from 100 percent, though. I mean, growing up here, being black is just as "exotic" as being mixed-race, which would usually mean being hispanic and anglo or native and anglo.

maevele said...

this really gives me something to think on. It reminds me of the family drama that ensued when my step nieces' grandmother expressed concern about how white my stepsister was raising her kids, and we had to try to get through to my fricking stepdad that she didn't mean she wanted the kids raised 'hood' which was how he took it, but that it wasn't fair to the girls to basically ignore the fact that they're mixed until they go see their black grandma, leaving her as their only non white role model.

Anonymous said...

Does it occur to you that during this discussion when the whites didn't participate that they felt they didn't have a right to comment? How about that they have shame that others like them have treated others of color in atrocious ways for so long and still do. An example for comparison: friend of mine is German and after all these years carries guilt for what her country is infamous for. Yep, sometimes white people feel tongue tied and afraid they don't know how to talk appropriately without being judged for being white or just for their ignorance in a particular word usage. I made a big error when meeting a group of young men who were friends of my nephew, the one man introduced himself first "and these are my brothers," he said,introducing all by name as we shook hands, all nine of them of differing shades of color. Stupid as a rock, thinking literally, I said, "You are all brothers???" I couldn't help but wonder how their mother managed to raise that many boys who were born so close in age to each other. Well, there I go again. I used the word boys. I'm scared to talk sometimes, even to my own relatives. Yes, my family is very intermarried and it is so easy to stick one's foot in one's mouth. So, here's a white woman's comment. I hope you look upon it as a person's comment.

bint alshamsa said...


I'm quite sure that it wasn't a situation where the whites felt they didn't have a right to comment, since they certainly talk about race when it has been convenient for them. In other words, when talking about race can allow a white liberal to position themselves as more enlightened than another white person, many of them have no qualms about speaking up in these discussions. However, when there aren't any white people to impress, then silence is their default reaction.

The fact that people of color often feel tongue-tied or are afraid of being labeled with all of the common stereotypes (e.g. Angry Black Woman, Sapphire) doesn't stop white people from expecting us to know how to conform to the norms they establish. The fact that these standards are ever-changing doesn't keep us from being a target for all of their frustrations, so these fears you mentioned aren't legitimate excuses for nignoring people of color.

For instance, white society has proclaimed itself as the final arbiter of what is and isn't a real family. When people of color make statements about who is and isn't their family, white America has no problem deciding that they aren't REALLY family. I've experienced this with my sisters. You said that you couldn't help but wonder how their mother raised that many boys of the approximately the same age. Well, that doesn't mean you couldn't help but question whether the young man was really telling the truth about the connection that he stated he had with the other guys. You could have asked them what it was like growing up together, if you really wanted an answer to how his mother coped. However, you put him in a position where it's being implied that he might be lying.

Of course, if you didn't talk about that experience you had, then you might not ever figure out how to handle it better in the future. So, joining in discussions about race is really essential if a white person wants to eventually stop seeming/sounding/being ignorant about the lives of people of color. When white people avoid conversations about race/racism they are doing so because it is convenient for them. They don't have to deal with race so they can opt-out of these discussions.

It's only when people of color are discussing something that affects them that they will jump in and start talking regardless of whether they might wind up saying something really asinine. That's pretty good proof that nignoring has little to nothing to do with white people being worried about saying something ignorant.

Z said...

Great post. I know that when I go silent it is definitely because I don't want to seem ignorant, with some of my motivations being that I don't want to derail and recenter my white concerns.

Often that leads to me making jokes about my white privilege, which is some way of addressing, but frames me as not ignorant, when of course I am.

Thanks for the post. It's going to challenge me.