By Candice Louisa Daquin
In 1967 the US Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, ruled that blacks and whites had a legal right to intermarry. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of white and black biracial Americans doubled, while the population of adults with a white and Asian background increased by 87%. (Pew Research) “horizontal hostility” describes black mixed-race experiences of societal black rejection, and how this perception of ‘(in)authenticity’ impacts self-perception and the expression of ethnic identity.
Recently something that happened to me personally that segued into a greater story of biracial identification in America. I have lived in four countries in my life so far and nowhere has racial identity been as contentious as in the USA. When The Queen died, like many others, I did a post saying ‘Rest in Peace’. I am by no means, a Monarchist but serving for 70 years felt like an impressive feat. I was immediately jumped on by a few who felt I was a pro-colonialism and “white privilege oppressor”.
As a psychotherapist, I often bite my tongue and do not express myself when others are insulting or being triggered. I have grown to respect the value of doing this, because too often it inflames things when we say anything to clarify or defend contentious subjects. However as this was posted publicly, I had to clarify. My point is not about what happened to me, but about the assumption that individual made in calling me a “white privileged oppressor.” Likewise, assuming I am white.
If people of colour decide the degree of melanin in another’s skin represents their race and culture, this will only end up emulating what was done to people of colour by white-skinned racists. Two wrongs do not make a right. It is something that comes up a lot as we discuss what it means to be a person of colour. African-American presidential candidate Ben Carson accused President Obama of not being able to understand “the experience of black Americans” because he was “raised white”. It is more common for those mixed-race than a singular race to fail to ‘please’ either side.
Just ask celebrities like singers Mariah Carey or Shakira who have struggled with this their entire lives. Or singer Lenny Kravitz (Black, Jewish, and Native American) who is quoted as saying when he had to fill out the ‘race’ sections on school forms, “My great-grandmother’s Cherokee Indian. My father’s a Russian Jew. My mom’s Bahamian. [I thought], ‘what the hell do I put on this thing?’ The teachers came over and [said], “Black. That’s what you are.” And so, so many parts of your heritage are just squashed. ‘That’s it.” (Huffington Post, 2013). Obviously if you can ‘pass’ then you have that attending privilege. Where I live about 70 percent are Hispanic and only recently there is talk of ‘white’ Hispanics versus ‘brown’ Hispanics, which goes back to the caste system in countries like Mexico, where historically the darker you were, you’d be considered serving class because you were more ‘Indio’ and if you were lighter, you were considered more Spanish. Ultimately these sub-categories seek to further divide people rather than describe them.
Fortunately, this racist tide is beginning to turn as people understand skin colour should never confer privilege even if historically it was warped to do so. Perhaps like any culture, there is a desire to stand out from the average, so anyone different may be admired more, if you are lighter than average, you may be admired more (or less), and vice versa. Ironically in countries like England, Canada, France, Germany etc., if you are darker skinned, you are considered more attractive and admired for being darker skinned, in countries where everyone is trying to tan and become darker. So, we have two polar opposites, parts of Asia where women may even bleach themselves to be lighter, and parts of Europe (and America) where people may literally die to tan.
In this day and age, so many of us are ‘mutts’ meaning we are so mixed; we carry Black, Asian, European, everything. But we’re still striated into colors because of racism and casteism. They are not the only reasons, it’s also about how we identify and how others identify us.
“Individuals who do not fit monoracial categories may be oppressed on systemic and inter-personal levels because of underlying assumptions and beliefs in singular, discrete racial categories” (Johnston, Marc P, and Kevin L Nadal. 2010. “Multiracial Microaggressions: Exposing Mono-racism in Everyday Life and Clinical Practice.”). I was assumed to be Anglo because I look it, so as far as others were concerned, I cannot understand the experience of being of colour because I don’t have any colour. Even if I were married to a person of colour with children of colour and my parents were of colour, it would be about my individual experience. But the flaw lies in assuming we can have an individual experience. We can’t. We are moulded by our family and our ancestors and whilst some of us may not know where we come from, DNA testing makes it more possible. This should alleviate some of the worst racism, but it hasn’t. Both sides seem further apart than ever before.
Author and activist James Baldwin defined his stance thus: “he was a Negro by choice and by depth of involvement–by experience, in fact.” Meaning, even if someone did not ‘look’ black if they were, and identified as such, they were. The one-drop rule is a long held legal principle of ‘racial classification,’ prominent in the 20th century United States. It asserts any person with even one ancestor of black ancestry (“one drop” of “black blood”) is considered black. Before the American Civil War, free individuals of mixed race (free people of color) were considered legally white if they had less than either one-eighth or one quarter African ancestry (depending on the state). Equally during slavery in America being born to an enslaved mother, made them automatically enslaved from birth. Racial integrity laws have existed throughout time with different groups and are essentially used to oppress a particular group. In theory they could be easier to enact now, given DNA testing.
Ironically, I have more blood of ‘colour’ than many, who if we were in a photograph together, would be assumed to be of colour, whist I would not. Which is understandable, but what is not understandable is when people deny mixed-race individuals their identity in seeking to label them or condemn them for being able to ‘pass’ ethnic groups and racially distinctive groups vary but can also be the same. Respecting someone’s ethnicity and race are necessary in order to avoid becoming as bigoted and discriminatory as the past.
When George Zimmerman fatally shot Treyvon Martin, he was called a ‘White Hispanic’ for three reasons. One he was light skinned. Two his last name was a non-Hispanic name. three, he shot a black child. It was an example of the media manipulating the truth in order to make Zimmerman more of a racist seeming person. Perhaps Zimmerman is just a bad racist, or maybe he would have shot a kid no matter their skin colour, we may never know. We know Martin called Zimmerman racist things like ‘Cracker’, but since society says a person of color cannot be racist then that was not considered. Whist most of us hopefully want violence against young black men to end, we shouldn’t deny that much violence toward young black men is perpetuated by young black men. Lack of opportunities seem to kill young black men as much as racism but maybe the two are the same thing, coming from difference directions.
What we can say is our society hasn’t given young black men chances and that can lead to increased temptation toward crime or violence. Surely if a young black man is shot for simply walking down a street, nobody should justify it. Just as with Brianna Taylor and so many innocents, killed for the colour of their skin. However, we should be able to make this argument without turning the perpetrator into a white man when he was not. It is a classic example of manipulating the truth in order to make it more about racism than it may have been. Or it was purely about racism, but if two people of colour cannot be racist then how can it be? There are so many issues here what we do know is two wrongs don’t make a right.
Pew Research has found most Americans who are mixed race, identify with one race (61 percent) because they ‘look’ like that race. Which points to how we look as continuing to be the determinant for racial identity even if it’s inaccurate and often leaves people feeling they have lost half of their identity The survey also found that the way people may describe their personal racial background does not always match the way they think others see them. “Six-in-ten Americans with a white and black background (61%) believe they are seen as black; only 19% say they would be seen as multiracial (an additional 7% say they would be perceived as white only). The shift is happening, case in point, Rachel Dolezal, who was the head of the local chapter of the NAACP and identified herself as African-American. But her Montana birth certificate said she was born to two Anglo people. Dolezal earned a master’s degree from the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., and was a professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University. Her contemporaries assumed she was African American. It shows that whilst for many years, people with black heritage may have sought to deny it, now some Anglos seek to be black.
One of my best friends had a red-haired white mother and a Jamaican father. She was 70 percent ‘Anglo’ because her Jamaican father was not entirely black but mixed race himself. But she ‘looked’ black and identified as black whist her brother looked white and identified as white. Which are they? Is identity sufficient to say? Or how others perceive us? I can say I’m mixed race but if I tell people I’m a black woman or a Latin woman I might be laughed at because I don’t look like I am. Would it even be right to say so? What is right? It depends upon whom you’re speaking to. These are reductive discussions of identity that parody race and don’t allow individuals to say who they are.
My siblings could look black whilst I could look white, it can leave people feeling like they have racial imposter syndrome where a person feels they are appropriating a culture that actually not their own! If we feel liminal like we drift between cultures but belong to none, isn’t that often because of the stereotyping that goes on even within cultures as much as without cultures?
I’m Jewish but I do not believe in God, nor do I go to Temple, so when I have tried to join Jewish writing groups, I have been shunned as not being Jewish enough. When I worked for a Jewish organisation, I was considered Jewish, but I was the ‘wrong’ kind of Jew because I was Mizrahi and Sephardi rather than Ashkenazi. In other settings, I wasn’t brown enough to be considered a Mizrahi or Sephardi jew. The absurdity of all the micro aggressive ways a person can be catalogued or disqualified wasn’t lost on me. It is worse for some who are more obviously mixed race but don’t possess whatever that group demands for admission but are also racially attacked by other groups. For example, what does ‘you act white’ really mean? That you are not speaking with the right accent, or that you should know another language or wear different clothes or? My other friend is constantly told she is not Latina enough because she has no accent, and her Spanish is perfect rather than Tex-Mex and she likes to eat Indian food. Does one group have more of a ‘claim’ to being of colour?
Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com
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