Scholarly perspectives on the mixed race experience.
“I always joked with my friends that I was ‘light’ not ‘white.’ Half Latino and half white. Just what does that mean? When the name Bengochea precedes me, I am always asked to explain. You don’t necessarily guess my Cuban roots by looking at me, but maybe you should look harder. As a person of mixed race/ethnicity, I have always wrestled with my identity. In certain contexts I feel that I am not Hispanic enough, and in others I feel like I am not expressing myself completely unless I reference my mixed ethnicity. As I get older, I become more comfortable in these situations and learn to embrace the fullness of who I am. In a black-and-white society, I am the grey; I am other; I am what cannot be clearly defined.” —Matt Bengochea, Project Coordinator, President's Office
The Great Character theme for the month: Rebel. Today: Sam White from Dear White People (2014), written and directed by Justin Simien.
As a biracial gentleman, it has been blatantly clear to me my entire movie-going existence that my distinct mixed race experience must be just some fairytale figment of my imagination to those shining the greenlight in Hollywood. Characters of multiple ethnicities typically find their stories swept under the dirty rug to give the red carpet treatment to the “more relatable” struggles of the interracial couples that give birth to us instead.
Enter the bold, brave, brilliant voice of Justin Simian, an auteur screenwriter/director of African-American descent and gay sexual orientation, inspired by his own outsider college occurrences. With Simian’s slick, super smart 2014 debut being the racial satire Dear White People, we receive a nuanced black and white female protagonist played by a charismatic actress that has the added layer of understanding stemming from actually being of mixed heritage herself. Heavily armed with a movie camera, a radio mic and a public speaking voice, Sam White, superbly played by Tessa Thompson (Selma), puts a modern spin on black activist Angela Davis reimagined in a bohemian chic Denise HuxtableLisa Bonet fashion sensibility.
SAM WHITE: Dear white people, the minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man, Tyrone, does not count…
Katherine Coleman was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Her mother, Joylette, was a former teacher and her father, Joshua, a farmer who worked extra jobs as a janitor. At a very young age, Katherine, who was the youngest of four, showed signs of being a math prodigy. She says she counted everything. “I counted the steps. I counted the plates that I washed.” And, “I knew how many steps there were from our house to church.” Katherine believes she inherited her gift for numbers from her father. “He originally worked with lumber. He could look at a tree and tell how many boards he could get out of it.” One of Katherine’s favorite stories explains how her father could figure out arithmetic problems that confounded some of her teachers…
…On the bus ride to this first assignment (in Marion, VA), Katherine says she had her first experience with racism. She says when they crossed from West Virginia into Virginia, the bus stopped and all of the Black people had to move to the back, which Katherine did. Later, they had to change buses. All of the white passengers were allowed on the bus, but the Blacks were put into taxis. Katherine says the driver said “All you colored folk, come over here.” But she would not move until he asked her politely. Katherine also said her mother warned her, “Remember, you’re going to Virginia.” And that she said, “Well, tell them I’m coming.” Katherine says the racism was not as blatant in West Virginia as it was in Virginia.
Katherine Johnson in 1985 at NASA Langley Research Center.
In 1939, Katherine married James Francis Goble and started a family. The Gobles had three daughters, Constance, Joylette and Kathy. Though Katherine had resigned her teaching position, in 1940 she was invited to return to her alma mater for a graduate program in math. She believes that college administrators were quietly trying to avoid a segregation-related lawsuit. As a result, she became one of the first blacks to enroll in the graduate program. But she was unable to earn her advanced degree. Her husband fell ill in what would become a protracted fight with cancer. To help support her family, Katherine quit school and returned to teaching.
During a trip to visit relatives in Newport News, Virginia in 1952, her sister and brother-in-law told Katherine they believed that opportunities were opening up for Black women in mathematics at a nearby aeronautics research facility. The next week, the Gobles relocated so Katherine could pursue her dream.
Later this year a memorial statue to Mary Seacole will be unveiled in the gardens of St Thomas’ hospital, overlooking the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament. Sir Hugh Taylor, Chairman of Guys & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Mary Seacole was a pathfinder for the generations of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who have served the NHS over the years and she remains a positive role model for the current generation. The Trust is proud to be hosting the statue, not least because it speaks to the diversity of our local population, our patients and the staff who work here.”
It was 160 years ago that Mary first set foot in the Crimea to feed and nurse British soldiers and she stayed there for the remaining 18 months of the conflict. Sir William Howard Russell, The Times newspaper’s Crimean War correspondent praised her efforts. In 1857 he wrote “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.” He would have been sad to see that Mary was virtually forgotten for a century following her death in London on 14 May 1881. This was despite an obituary appearing in the pages of The Times!…
Building on the findings of the Being Mixed Race panel discussions during WOW 2013 and WOW 2014, this workshop expands on issues identified during the previous conversations and focuses specifically on issues of terminology, colourism, hair and parenting. Led by visual sociologist Emma Dabiri.
Emma Dabiri is researching a PhD in visual sociology at Goldsmiths, and works as a teaching fellow in the Africa Department at SOAS, University of London. As a commentator she is frequently invited to contribute to discussions relating to Africa and the African Diaspora on topics including futures, gender, feminism, identities, literature, film and the politics of beauty. She has published in a number of academic journals, as well as in the national press and is one of the BBC’s Expert Voices.
TORONTO — As Metis actress Tantoo Cardinal prepares to receive a lifetime achievement award, she remembers what originally inspired her to begin acting more than 40 years ago: anger.
“It wasn’t about a career at all — it was about having a voice,” the Edmonton-raised 64-year-old said in a telephone interview this week.
“I don’t know if people really can appreciate what that experience is — of attempted genocide, generations and generations and generations where your language is outlawed, your creativity is outlawed, anything you think or say or do is actually outlawed…
I have been drafting this letter since I was ten. I am twenty and tonight is the first night I will write these words outside of me. I don’t know what they will look like here. Honestly, I am scared to see them uncoiled and still damp from the sweaty palms that have enclosed them for a decade. I am so accustomed to holding fistfuls of aching, rambunctious words around you, Dad. More than anything, I wish you would ask me to open my hands, and actually listen to what you see, what I say, what you hear.
But that is not how we work, is it? I give you the words you don’t know how to ask for. We know all our scripted prompts for loving cautiously. We are used to trafficking in glass blown conversations. I will not, I cannot, do this with you anymore. I love you too much for this, so listen.
Dad, you are a white man. I know this might come as a shock because people do not tell you this too often. You are not approached on the street, in the movies, at the workplace, and ordered to explain your race so strangers can “read” you properly and treat you accordingly. You have both the privilege and the curse of living in the unmarked, white blind spot of the American racial imaginary. If you have enjoyed living there, departing only to return comfortably home to White every night, I’m afraid you have a problem.
Me. I am your problem…
…Dad, since then you have flickered. You are swallowed by whiteness and become racially inaccessible to me the moment my race comes to the fore. When I become Black Girl you become White Man and we are not each other’s anymore…
In an article entitled “Hired Men: Ontario Agricultural Wage Labour in Historical Perspective” Joy Parr wrote the following, telling, words:
Scholars too have claimed that from the beginnings of the province, agriculturalists’ desire for independence combined with the rigorous seasonality of rural work to determine that “no hierarchical labour organization would persist ilz Canadian agriculture.” Yet in each successive generation from the settlement phase onward, rural wage labourers have been essential to the functioning of the province’s persistent and unmistakably hierarchical agricultural system. Through two centuries of clearing, tilling, seeding, and harvesting, the relationships between land and labour and capital and labour have changed, but the reality of the rural hierarchy has been as enduring as the season.
The ‘rural hierarchy’ examined by Parr for Ontario also existed and endured in the Prairie region of Canada. Census data available since 1891 reveal that hired men, over the age of fourteen, were always an important component of farm labour on the Prairie; they represented 13% (6,000) of all rural workers in 1891, 19.4% (84,000) in 1931 and 14.1% (46,000) in 1951. Yet, standard histories of North American agriculture have had difficulty probing beyond the positivist myth that surround the ‘Family Farm’. Few studies discuss in any detail the existence of an impoverished underclass of rural wage workers. Even oral history projects dealing with rural inhabitants have tended to be celebratory; charting the progress of a community since its pioneering days without much regard or analysis to the price paid by some individuals for this ‘success.’ Or, other rural oral history have been apocalyptic lamenting the demise of the Family Farm again without much regard for the consequences ofthis economic and social restructuration for people other than the owners of farms or the businesses that service them…
Claudette M. Williams, Senior Lecturer
Department of Modern Languages and Literatures University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica
Charcoal and Cinnamon explores the continuing redefinition of women of African descent in the Caribbean, focusing on the manner in which literature has influenced their treatment and contributed to the formation of their shifting identities.
While various studies have explored this subject, much of the existing research harbors a blindness to the literature of the non-English-speaking territories. Claudette Williams bases her analyses on poetry and prose from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic and enhances it by comparing these writings with the literatures of the English- and French-speaking Caribbean territories.
Williams also questions the tendency of some of the established schools of feminism to de-emphasize the factor of race in their gender analyses. A novel aspect of this work, indicated by the allusion to “charcoal” and “cinnamon” in its title, is its focus on the ways in which many writers use language to point to subtle distinctions between black and brown (mulatto) women.
The originality of Williams’s approach is also evident in her emphasis on the writer’s attitudes toward race rather than on the writer’s race itself. She brings to the emotionally charged subject of the politics of color the keen analysis and sustained research of a scholar, as well as the perceptive personal insights of an African-ancestored Caribbean woman.
Though the main focus is on literary works, the book will also be a valuable reference for courses on Caribbean history, sociology, and psychology.
If you’re a hip-hop fan, you may already be familiar with the genre’s latest heavy hitter: Nitty Scott, MC.
This year alone the half-Puerto Rican, half-African American artist has been called the next big MC and a woman you should know. And when Nitty’s not creating new music, working on a video project for her mixtape The Art of Chill, or preparing for her NBA All-Star Weekend performance, where she’ll be opening for Drake, she’s emailing fans about mental health and bringing up issues of sexism, sexuality and sexual orientation during interviews with New York’s Hot 97.
This is a lot for any artist, but especially for a 24-year-old working without a manager or record label support. Somehow, the Michigan-born, Orlando-raised and Brooklyn resident is doing it (and killin’ it!), making her an inspirational Latina and all-around badass.
Take a read and find out for yourself:…
…What do you hope your music can accomplish?
On an individual level, I want what most artists want: to find themselves through their art, express themselves uninhibitedly and be able to make a living off of that as well. Once the music takes me where it needs to, I want to break into more philanthropic, humanitarian efforts. Music is the medium and the vessel that will carry me to the level of influence I need to make the world better, as cliché as it sounds. In the scope of my culture, I want it to bring light to the experiences of Afro-Latina women growing up in this generation, really be one of the people who help fill a void and represent us honestly and with nuance…
A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts, Florida Atlantic University
Racial identifications are continually influenced by and constructed through one’s environment. Building on Jean Baudrillard’s “The Precession of Simulacra” and Gaston Bachelard’sThe Poetics of Space, this thesis argues that houses and clothing are the material objects that allow characters Birdie Lee from Danzy Senna’sCaucasia and Helga Crane from Nella Larsen’sQuicksand to construct their mixed race identities. Birdie Lee’s childhood home is the place where she develops a mixed race identity. When she leaves that home, she is forced to take on simulacra in order to pass for white. Without a stable childhood or adult home, Helga Crane’s wardrobe becomes the space where she unconsciously develops a mixed race identity. Her clothing choices allow her to simulate an entirely black identity that masks her mixed race heritage. Ultimately, the fates of Birdie and Helga are determined by whether or not they can occupy a space that is accepting of their mixed race identities.