Beyond Blackness and Whiteness: Activists of Mixed Race Speak Out

Beyond Blackness and Whiteness: Activists of Mixed Race Speak Out

The Los Angeles Review of Books

Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

SHORTLY BEFORE Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s names became viral hashtags on social media, the latest flare-up in the ongoing conversation about race and racial justice in the United States had been sparked by actor Jesse Williams’s speech at the BET Awards. Some went so far as to call his speech “racist,” with more than 26,000 signatories petitioning to have the Grey’s Anatomy star ousted from the show; a choicely worded tweet from Shonda Rhimes promptly shut down that noise. Others asserted that, as a man of mixed race, Williams should refrain from speaking on issues of blackness, to which author Shannon Luders-Manuel responded in her essay “Can Biracial Activists Speak to Black Issues?” for The Establishment:

Blackness cannot be taken away from us. Biraciality cannot be taken away from us. They exist as tangibly as our skin, made from Europe and Africa. We are the colonizer and the colonized. We are the oppressor and the oppressed. We bleed for our brothers and sisters. We carry on our backs the weight of what one half of us did to the other. We slip easily into white spheres, taking notes and taking names while nodding our European heads.

As one of the fastest growing demographics in the country, mixed Americans are broadening the discourse on race, identity, and the American experience. Can having a biracial or mixed identity provide a vantage of both privilege and oppression? I posed this question to Heidi Durrow, author and founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles; comedian, writer, and activist Tehran Von Ghasri; and Aaron Samuels, co-founder and COO of Blavity. Their perspectives were as varied as their personal stories, and, for some, fraught with mixed emotions.

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