Multiracing, Multiraciality, Power and Change
In the US, commentaries along with the raising of the subject of So-called Multiracial and Biracial identity, have become more visible in the last year or so.
I’m thinking that since the 2000 Census, when the question of the choices given by the Census in that year and previous to those years to be inadequate in representing reality, was one of the conduits for beginning this dialogue in our present condition.
In the most recent, previous incarnation of this dialogue on mixed-ness in the United States and globally, it was Amerasian realities between the post-World War II period and post-Southeast Asia/Vietnam War period.
In that particular incarnation of the dialogue, mixed-raceness was bound up with militarism in the way it was discussed, in the winner/loser formations of postwar cultures, and the levels of insecurity, dominance and submission, and ideas of purity that control much of the colonial and postcolonial realities carried over into today.
However, the difference in today’s talk on mixed-race identity, is not so dominantly wrapped up in militarism and postwar structures of thinking. With President Barack Obama’s identity, to more prominent entertainment/sports figures self-naming themselves as biracial or multiracial, there has been another upsurge of talk on multiracial and biracial identity.
There is now this talk of “post-racial.” Typical of colonized mentalities and discourse that circulates among peoples and places, the idea of “progress” and “transcendence” continues to engage people to escape suffering and annoying aspects of race-talk, and also to feel more “positive” and “enlightened” through such talk as “post-anything.” For people-of-color or white or other colors, it is essentially escapist and swimming in denial to say “post-racial.”
As most well-thinking thinkers and artists know, any “post” in front of a condition of society, or times, does not mean any transcendence or “going past.” It is well-known that any “post” *includes* anything within what it is post to, but in different forms.
For instance for myself, as a child of “Post” “War” (postwar) Japan, means that my legacies live today. Although World War II, the Pacific War, the Allied Occupation of Japan, and the Korean War, are all “over,” I know that in many ways they are not. In fact, many of the qualities, conditions, thoughts, creations, institutions and manifestations that set-up war, that create war, and derive energy from war today, are now more a part of all of our identities (yes – ALL). Time moves, lives move, but to get from somewhere to some other “where,” there is that which is depended upon.
After all, how can one be seventeen years old or thirty years old or 70 years old, if one were not five years old? We adopted, adjusted, took on, believed, not believed, manipulated, used, ran away from, internalized the boundaries and contours of war and war nations. No one escapes this reality.
Is that five-year-old you were – completely finished and gone today? The emotions, the relations, the things we learned, the disciplining of our identities under our parents and siblings and institutions, the shopping places, the ways we move, the ways we think of things in relation to our parents and grandparents and their parents etc. who lived with war–aren’t they all alive in some way today?
The scary thing is that I talk to many people who say that that five-year old (or whatever age we choose, or whatever experience or memory we may name and remember from childhood or younger years), is gone.
How is this possible?
Also, war is not an event. War itself, is a culmination of what has gone on before. It is what we call “peace.” In peace-time, war is being created somewhere. It may not be here and have anything to do with our identity as whatever label. It is a part of it in distance or proximity.
So in thinking about my postwar identity, I think about non-identity. When I think about War, I think about a world without war. How is this possible? I never experience war. But my mother was bombed by the U.S. My Father fought in Vietnam, and befriended Korean villagers on Jeju Island in the Korean War, when he met my mother in Japan during a re-stationing. War is a part of me.
And even for those whose lives seem far from war, one or both of your relations, or someone in an institution you were raised in, experienced war, racism, domination and oppression, at one time or another, in one way or another, as victim or perpetrator.
Then how about other things? What is “war?” Japan and Korea, Vietnam and almost every other nation, have all come about from devastation and total war, including the violence of boundary-making. The boundaries of countries were made as a result of and during bloody battles and exploded bodies and cultures. There is no such place as a “peaceful” place, unless it has looked at its past and atoned. I know of no such place.
Multiracial people today, many of whom are caught up in “feel-good” or even “superiority” as multiracial and biracial identity, are also speaking through their scars, their invisibility, their being non-accepted, their wanting empowerment. In so wanting, there is the need, perhaps to be “empowered” and “to be superior.” Some folks think multiracial people are superior to others. They–then– become the other side of the same colonial and imperial coin of progress and science the “proof” of progressing from the one to the two or three, progressing from mono-racial to biracial to multiracial, setting up hierarchies once again. It is boring and dangerous.
However, I do think that there is room to empower. We must, as any kind of person, no matter what racial or ethnic or national or cultural make-up and self-naming. These names we use are taught to us and are unreal. Yet they are very real. This contradiction can’t be escaped.
For a gaze from the point of view of social justice, I hope we can see that in order to make change, we must understand histories that we do not know. We can’t know everything, but it helps to know as much as possible, to learn and reflect on things that are uncomfortable. In the US, history and political identity-development and power relations is something not studied or cared about. I think these are the places we must study.
For instance, why were poor urban African-Americans and Asian business people and Asian urban poor children in California, often in violent relations to each other in the 1990s? These were and are not “natural” occurrences of human faults. This kind of judgement and gaze is simplistic, moral and erasing of different generations and what has gone on before. It is focused on race and not the actual production of “enemy” identities between minority cultures that are ‘set-up’ by dominant forces. Politics and history.
Race, as we know it in institutional practice, is an invention of Western/imperial dominance, to put a hierarchy onto colors and ways of living and speaking and being, to make a certain color and way superior to the others.
In other places, racism certainly exists and has pre-existed colonialism. But it was configured differently and through different means, perhaps, and also with differing intensities. The difference is that colonialism globalized certain dominant forms of looking at difference. Race and the categories it makes and performs, are ways of setting up certain forms of power-relations. This includes the ways in which we may resist by denying race, by homogenizing race. Let us all become middle-class, hard-working, pleasure-seeking, self-serving people that resemble the best of the global elite yet without the power? I don’t think so.
Now, in today’s “global” world, we have become less diverse in our thinking, while the various forms of racism have become normalized because in globalization, these forms are solidified more and more and more.
But remember: Social justice thought understands that nothing is totally one way or another, one thing or another. Nothing is totally dominated all the time in every way. This is why wherever there is dominance, there is resistance.
Thus, I view multiracial and biracial politics as one of the ways in which there is resistance to the eventual total unification of certain ideas of race and color and ethnicity.
But this is where i throw in cautionary notes. In looking at race and racism, we must see its micro-mechanisms, not its overt 19th century and early 20th century manifestations. Today there is an increasing danger in viewing race and racism in ways that are blind to class and internalized racism. For instance, if Blacks acted more like Bill Cosby and his family from the television show, they are acceptable. Many Blacks aspire to that kind of “blackness.” Why? In this way, poverty is kept in place, in order to maintain that position of “superiority” and “ideal.” We need something in order to say or be something else. Institutions often maintain these structures in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
So Multiracial and Biracial identity formulations and insertions into society is very important and I participate in it.
At the same time, I will work to dismantle it in the future, and to critique the way the insertion operates in society.
Often, race and racism leave out legacies and histories, and only point to moral binaries and have assumptions about ideal human beings behind them—all the while, the so-called “ideal” human beings are never ideal after all.
Others, who have killed so much of *themselves* in order to become that ideal, are nothing but tools of national dominance or cultural dominance while spreading self-loathing and psychological forms of normalization, calling it progress, when it does nothing but kill diversity.
It is a battle. Make no mistake it is a battle. And it is not yet another battle: mono-racial verses multiracial. There are many battles going on simultaneously.
The most sensitive of us, can perhaps take joy in thinking through this complex arena of social change, forgive our shortcomings, and to move in the world as best we can, with humility and empowerment, educating ourselves and providing fruit to reflect on. If we really go deep, I think we will realize that ‘being happy’ ourselves–as individuals, is not enough. That is the American and globalizing “game” assimilating us into the globalizing colonial mentality that erases history and makes us happy, healthy, productive–which, in turn, makes us weak, malleable, ignorant and consumer-oriented (including ideas of “beauty”).
What is hidden is what will bite us in the “…..”
My own Amerasian identity, is only that as a form of communication. My multiracial identity is only a way to talk about history, cultures, legacies that are a part of my experience, or ways to communicate with people. Identity is real in that we live with these residues, only to create other residues into the future.
That place in-between, is where I feel we must act in all directions, according to our own particular make-up and effectiveness. But that “in-between” is not a watered-down, confused, isolated, mixed-up, not-clear identity. Stop the hierarchies. Stop the isolation. Stop the homogenization. See self, see history, see the power relations. Then we see who we are, who they are, who we must become.