Mixed-Race Identity: Celebration?
Let me be clear from the start: I am critiquing, not criticizing. Criticizing judges, has a moral hierarchy, is more “truth oriented.” I come from an intellectual background that struggles to critique–to point out crevices, junctures, and points of diversion that may open to new possibilities that present multiple locations from a single space (as opposed to criticism which tends to negate and/or annihilate whatever it points to). What is “multiracial” and “bi-racial” for? Who does it serve? What does it do or not do? Why?
To begin, my father is African-American, with Cherokee, and perhaps Welsh ancestry. My mother’s heritage is Japanese, Chinese, Austrian, with perhaps an ancient tie to people from the Thailand area. In today’s post-modern terms, we might call ourselves (myself, my parents and ancestors) by many names. The names point to categories of nation, tribe, ethnicity, race, and class. And most importantly, we must note that these categories I have just named, are all European and Euro-American categories, which had precursors in imperial and colonial histories, now globalized in a globalizing (i.e. neo-colonizing) world.
In speaking with my mother over four decades and particularly for my book, before her passing away, she brought out many notions of the way Japan and China were, before the insertion of western and particularly American idealisms and cultural ways. These were disruptions and also an avenue for many Asian nations to view themselves as inferior (so they must “catch up to the west”) and also invigorate their own ways to form single identities as “nation” and to enter a world that was becoming “global.” From the imperial and colonial and World Wars to the Cold War and globalization, United Statian and European configuration of the world and its mappings, cannot be ignored. Within this, was race science.
Difference and hatred and ignorance existed long before colonialism. But what colonialism and nation-building techniques brought, were far-reaching, globalizing notions of categorizing and framing, into already-existing categories that were often quite different. So as a multiracial, or biracial, the notion itself is already problematic, yet must be used.
From this stance, you can see where I’m coming from when it comes to this distinct notion of “mixed-race” identity, and bi-racial, multiracial distinctions.
These distinctions, these creations of language-concepts related to racism, will be carried by any notion of a category. And in today’s world, if we do not, then we may lose our own histories to the more dominant ones who control the historical facts, knowledges, and discourse of who everyone is. These things, after all, are created by those who have won the last wars. These “last wars” are most markedly the ones where thousands and millions died at one point or another, with bombs, communities, and cultures exploding and changing and dying away. The “wars” also include those of discourse and labels and terminologies which, then, link to forgetting, losing, killing off, annihilating, twisting, lying, exploitation, laws and policies, regulations, expulsions and imprisonments, burning villages, and the like. This last part I have taken as inspiration from Michel Foucault’s pointed description of laws and nation-states and what they entail.
So with this big-picture in mind, the question is: What is the mixed-race and multiracial movement in the world and how do I–as the writer in this blog–think of it?
Well, it will take a person to be intimate with my thinking, over long periods of time, encountering my works, to get a grasp of it. But for the sake of this blog post in particular, I will keep it concise as an introductory summary.
My entry point here, is to see the celebrations and pleasurable notions of a future of mixed-raceness. I would rather point to, prioritize, and examine *Mixed-ness* as opposed to mixed-race-ness.
In this vein, my experiences in mixed-race and multiracial movements have mostly been pleasant and shallow, with a hint of a superiority against mono-racial people, which already ignores the histories and legacies of mixed-ness already in place but unrecognized or acknowledged. What I mean to say is that people act as if “more and more” people are mixing their “race” and it is the “wave of the future.” This can only be so by the notion that mono-racial people are the majority (which I do not ascribe to). What is the majority are people who have lost, forgotten, and refused mixed-ethnic and mixed-community identities in their past. Notions of purity are the norm and socially dominant. And when we include notions of single origins to histories, people and things, then it begs people to name single identities. For Americans, this is also pleasurable, since the cultural norm in the United States is to be “simple and straight-forward.” Anything complex, is considered complicated (and therefore unwanted). The collapsing of American metaphysical/national memes (such as simple is better), and mixing this with Eastern notions of simplicity, as a way to call themselves “global” or “diversity-oriented” or “open-minded,” reinforces these tactics of non-thinking and to move forward in a linear progress away from primitive pasts to a modern future. Convincing oneself that being multiracial is moving forward in progression is one of the pitfalls which creates future resentments (and present ones), in the assimilating notions of mixed-race identity. It then becomes yet another colonizing activity, assimilating into yet another hierarchy of people and communities. It pretends to be blind to the multiplying of racisms that become engaged in bringing in many more racial and ethnic labels that have histories of war and oppression with each other. Although folks will pretend that everything is happy and progressive, things in reality are far from it.
To be sure, multiracial, biracial folks may have more skills that can navigate the multi-ness of modern life today. Most of this modern life, when it comes to identity, is yet another intense need to label. Label label label. Everything has a name. It’s a thing. People become objects, things. When things are placed, there are positions. These positions, in the world, become power relations that cannot be escaped. Power relations are usually about financial resources, material resources, histories of relations, and discursive resources–the power to control thinking and the labels themselves. Tropes and memes nowadays, travel quickly, passing themselves off as truth. Truth versus truth. This is the colonial game. Now in the multiracial arena, this must play out in multiple forms.
It is truly pleasurable to meet mixed people who grapple with critical engagement, with decolonizing. This term is loaded and has multiple meanings. Decolonizing, for me, is to look at histories of using words, resources, histories, identities in ways that make certain things dominant, while other things are made less important or disappear altogether. The uses of memory is what we are talking about. If one’s community has been injured by another community, in our histories, we will remember this in our bodies in certain ways, with or without certain kinds of emotions, violence, repelling, hiding, disturbance, and resistances and pleasures. For those outside of those histories of relating, their view of what happens between two or more people with these histories, may be troublesome. How this is seen and engaged, then, becomes an aspect of addressing our identities with their messiness. But every person’s identity is related and/or linked to histories of oppression in some way. If we are colonized, we would like it to not be there, and for “all to be peaceful” and for all of us to “get along.” What this takes is what people-of-color cry foul about, in relation to white supremacy, for instance.
What happens in this kind of peace (repression) is usually two things: Resentment (backing away from arguing or dominating or fighting or debating or hashing it out or….) towards the person wanting peace; and the chance for it to intensify at a later date. In fact, for me, this is what history is, in general. Incidents and resentments and histories that have not been taken care of. For others, they do hold it in. What becomes later: cutting and other sorts of self-mutilation, drugs to numb out the pain, excessive partying and addictions, uncontrollable rage, cancer and other diseases of stress, nerve disorders, etc. Many so-called personal problems, are most-often sociological and historical, having to do with un-addressed notions of class, caste, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, size, etc.
For example, in my own experience in Mixed-Japanese movements for instance, I would say 70% of the time, White-Japanese mixed persons would control the format, the dialogue, what language is used, what issues to be brought up or not, what is prioritized at events, and the somewhat metaphysical conditioning of events and policies a group were working with. Often, there was little effort put forth in anti-black prejudices and the circulation of white priorities. Often, what makes these moments intense, is that these white supremacist orderings, usually unspoken and understood as a certain rationality and hierarchies of priorities, would be combined with yellow supremacy, or a sort of “Japanese” patriarchal norm–which is also very hierarchical in nature, which are inadequate in dealing with difference in relation to Japanese-ness, and this link with white supremacy. White supremacy combines neatly with yellow supremacy, especially after the U.S. Occupation of Japan.
In addition, within Japanese communities, there is a relationship to the Japanese caste system. Often, depending upon the organization or group, certain kinds of Japanese hafu, from specific backgrounds related to Japanese caste and class, would rise or fall depending upon those designations. This creates certain kinds of tensions, unless groups are taking care of these as they happen and not wait until things explode between people and groups, fracturing the group in many cases.
From my own experience, it is okay for there to be fragmentation, as certain people can be with their own kinds, etc. But if the larger group had room to incorporate and empower, then it would work out better in the long run. The issue I point to, is that when groups do not take care to address these multi-pronged aspects of identity, history, place, and race, issues will follow the group and perhaps become unsustainable.
How are decisions made? Who has what skills in the differences that arise in contact and negotation with each other? What kinds of events are prioritized or challenged? Usually, white supremacy is seen as “evil” and often collapsed with white people and “white ideas” and conversations about this aspect of decision-making and worldview, are backgrounded for this reason. This makes for the continued racism of White-Hapa circles at the expense of becoming not mixed-race Japanese, but mixed-white-Japanese hapa. Name it for what it is.
But it must be repeated here, that this is not for all groups and all people. There are the 40% of Japanese mixed-race groups, Hafu groups, and Hapa groups, who have very skilled members who have taken care to think of histories and difference in relation to being mixed, and questioning and shifting and adjusting in relation to new negotiations across difference. Again, this takes skill, and not “naturally” done.
Mixed-ness should be celebrated but not as something better, or a place of pleasure, or a place where people have engaged in a colonizing of linear notions of progress toward a grand future. Things and matters addressed, perhaps there needs to be increased engagement with the use of these labels and what they mean. Having a world where people do not label, would also be a scary notion. We would all become a world where difference is not acknowledged. I am also critiquing movements that say that we are all “human.” We are, but it does not alleviate the pain humans cause against each other. The pain is usually caused by colonial ways in which we have learned to consider and respond to difference.
Difference. How shall we move forward?