"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Bi-Racial, Not Black... damnit"

This above is the title of a trailer I saw on Facebook, a few days ago (watch the beginning, and then click again on the video to see the interviews.)

I have already commented on my feelings, as the mother of two biracial children, when facing the tendency to consider all children with some African or African American blood as black. It took me a while to warm up to Obama because of that only, because I felt that by declaring himself black, he somehow rejected his white mother AND white grandparents who raised him. I had to read his book, Dreams from My Father, to understand his search for identity and the way he came to terms with it, himself. And I've always liked and admired Tiger Wood's refusal to be labelled  a Black man, considering his diverse heritage, and how he came up with his own word (cablinasian).

Not that the subject comes up that often. We do not live in the US, and even though I often miss it and wish at times I could be back in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I've also always felt that it might be better for our daughters to grow up far from all the race issues that are so big over there. Not saying that there aren't race issues in other countries. Do I wish. But they don't seem to be as raw, painful and overly present as they are in the US.

Yes, racism is strong in India. The whiter the better. Still, Indians are brown people, which means that my children blend in perfectly, here. Recently, as we waited to hear about our next post, a couple of Latin American countries came up as possibilities, one of them being Argentina, and even though I did not veto it (I have a list of requirements that evolves with time, and our experiences; up till now, it included good internet access, a good school - although, as experienced here, what you see on the Internet or during a first visit of a school is in no way a guarantee that said school will live up to its promises - reasonable supply and security situation, not necessarily in that order) I had growing misgivings about it, and when it turned out that we're not going there, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Why? Well, Argentina is known to be a country of white people, and as I said to my husband, "If we must live in a society that is more backward than forward when it comes to race issues, I'd rather be in a brown racist society than a white one."

Anyway, the video and its title stirred some conversation. The documentary film maker, Carolyn Battle's website, mentions "Private Conversations" as a title for the movie, so not sure how the other one came about - catchier, maybe. No matter, I found it very interesting. 

I often wonder about how my children perceive themselves? Do they even think about it? I'm not sure. As mentioned before, here, I always tell them they're cinnamon in the case of the older one, and toffee brown, for the younger. But they're very aware of the fact that I'm white, and Dad is Black. The other day, we were at the beach in Goa, and two dogs, a white one, and a black one, were walking together, and my husband took a picture and they ran to show it to me, saying " this is Mom and Dad." But do they, or will they, one day, feel that they need to belong to one race or another, as did most of the people interviewed in this trailer? Will they feel rejected by one race or the other and feel they don't belong anywhere? 

One thing is sure, as a white mother of biracial children, I was glad to see this video. It may not be politically correct to say this, but I refuse to subscribe to the "one drop rule." I've said it before and I repeat it here. It has nothing to do with rejecting the black race, and all to do with stating the facts. My children are no more black than they're white, so why should anyone (including themselves) deny their whiteness? Reminds me of a time when teachers would ask children at the beginning of the school year, in France, whether they were from another country, and I would get up, along with the few other children of immigrant parents, and the teacher would invariable ask me to sit back because "You are French." It made me so angry. I was and felt as much French as I was and felt Spanish. To me, there was a clear line running down the length of my body, right in the middle, and one part was French, the other Spanish, and telling me that I was French only just because I happened to have the "right" passport felt profoundly wrong. I was only 6 or 7 at the time, so unable to articulate this as clearly as I do it, now, but I vividly remember my feelings.

Children (and adults, too, for that matter) should be allowed to embrace their heritages and diversity in all their fullness, wholeness and richness. No one should feel that they have to cut or ignore parts of who they are just so they can fit into the boxes offered them. And if the need to fit into a box is stronger, then create new and accurate ones that "feel" right, like Tiger Wood. 


Jo Ann v. said...

It is no surprise to you if I say I totally agree with you on this one ?? :-)

Katia said...

No, no surprise, Jo Ann. And it's good to know. Hope my kids will share our views, when the time comes for them to start thinking about identity issues.

alwinian said...

Hi Katia, greetings from Ottawa, Canada. Thank you very much for developing so much content and putting so much of it online. :)

I am considering moving to india for work, as an entrepeneur, so i typed in "living in india" in google and your page came up!

Thanks for the wonderful info about life in india. Salut.
kindly and all best, Alwin Tong.

Katia said...

Hello Alwin, and thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I went on the blog you kept a while back and could so relate to your feelings while traveling and backpacking (had to laugh at the nationalities of the backpackers. As you said, a French finds himself or herself lost in the middle of all the Australian, Brits, Dutch, and Germans from time to time. That was always my experience, anyway.) I hope your venture in India takes off and that all goes well for you.
Best of luck

Kimberly said...

As a person of African American and Persian heritage, I hate when people say things like "say biracial and not black" That's not true. I AM Black. I am Black and Persian. But to say "not Black" is completely wrong, and makes it seem like there’s something wrong with being Black. Biracial is NOT a race. You can be many different mixes and still be biracial. Saying “I’m biracial” does not necessarily mean anything more than “ I’m of two races.” Well which two? If you force your children to say they are "biracial NOT Black" you are doing them a great disservice. I personally always say I am Black and Persian and leave it at that. I have never once said I am “not Black” because that is FALSE. I am a BLACK person and I am a PERSIAN person. I really believe you are sending the wrong message to your children by encouraging them to say they are “not Black” would you also encourage them to say they are “not White”? This would be equally wrong. So while you may not intend to “reject the Black race” by saying “not Black” that is exactly what you are doing. Just simply encourage to say I am Black and White or I am White and Black, and leave it there. You don't have to NOT be one race.

Katia said...

Hello Kimberly, and thank you for visiting my blog, and for taking the time to voice your opinion so passionately. I never tell my children that they're not black. The distinction lies in them - or the people in that movie - not thinking that they are "black only" just because they happen to have black blood. This goes back to the colonial and ridiculous one drop rule. This is what bothers me. My children are fully aware of the fact that they are both black and white. They only have to look at their parents to know that. What I wish for is for them to build their identity upon the full spectrum of what they are, and I also hope that society and people around them will allow them to be, simply, without trying to push them into one box or another.

Jo Ann v. said...

I have to disagree with Kimberly.
I am Mixed. I am neither White or Black. By saying I am "Mixed" (I'm not biracial either since both my parents are Mixed and 3 of my grand-parents are Mixed), I am not denying anything because I am embracing the fact that many races blended in my genealogic tree. By saying I am black, I'd deny the fact a third of my family is Mixed and another third is White. By saying I am White, I deny the Mixed and the Black as well.
No, I am whole. None of my parents are black or white, so why would I say I am fifty-fifty ? It took me 25 years to get to this point and another 2 years to embrace the beauty of it.

Namie said...

And me, I disagree with both Kimberly and Jo Ann. ^o^

I'm technically half white and half black, with a prodigious scattering of other influences (native american, german, etc) and have never felt anything but white my entire life. That others felt the need to classify me as one or the other, or felt the need to see to it that *I* felt the need to classify myself as one or the other, was so irritating and unwelcome to me I've since become turned off to the idea of race entirely.

It's natural to feel obligated to educate your children about their heritage, but take care that you handle it with a light touch. This isn't to say that the knowledge isn't valuable, and this may sound absurd, but sometimes foisting race and customs onto your child can be just as damaging as withholding them. Being told you're different if you don't feel different is jarring. It shouldn't matter in the slightest what race you've descended from; your personality should be rooted in your experiences and your own perceptions -- what YOU have done -- and not what your ancestors have done.

I developed a complex before I had a chance to accept who I was, and now it's difficult for me to reconcile the blood in me. This isn't true for everyone, but I also know I'm not the only one. I'm sure you are aware of the importance, but -- this coming from a person who has been there -- handle with care. The first response to 'who are you' should never be 'I am this race'.

Katia said...

I really appreciate your comment, Namie. I actually wrote a couple of posts about this issue a while back on this blog, mentioning precisely that I was glad that my kids are living in India, right now, where the need to fit people into racial boxes is not so strong (for foreigners, obviously. The caste system, based on color, and even though officially abolished, remains incredibly strong in this country, but people don't seem to apply it to expats). I totally agree with you about the "light touch." I don't feel the need to advocate anything. Which does not mean I'm not aware of the necessity to be actively anti-racist. But when it comes to my children's identity, I tend to simply live our diverse life, and to wait and see. So this is more a conversation I've been having with myself, as I try to prepare for the questions that may or may not come my way, sooner or later.

AP said...