One Drop of Love: A Multimedia Solo Performance on Racial Identity by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni at University of Maryland

Posted in Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Live Events, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-03-29 20:00Z by Steven

One Drop of Love: A Multimedia Solo Performance on Racial Identity by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni at University of Maryland

University of Maryland, College Park
The Stamp (Adele H. Stamp Student Union) [Directions]
Atrium Room
Friday, 2013-03-29, 17:00-19:30 EDT (Local Time)

Sponsored by the Multiracial Biracial Student Association (MBSA), Office of Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA), The Asian American Literary Review, University of Maryland Asian American Studies Program, and Hamsa.

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, Playwright, Producer, Actress, Educator

Jillian Pagan, Director

Q&A afterwards hosted by:

Steven F. Riley, Founder and Creator
www.MixedRaceStudies.org

One Drop of Love is a solo performance piece that journeys from Boston, Michigan, Los Angeles, and East & West Africa from 1790 to the present as a culturally Mixed woman explores the influence of the One Drop Rule on her family and society.


Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. ©2103, Evan Tamayo

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni is a leading activist concerning mixed race, and is an actor, comedian, producer and educator. One Drop of Love is her MFA thesis, and she will be using footage from her performances to make a documentary.

Admission is free.


Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni and Steven F. Riley. ©2012, Laura Kina

Ms. Cox DiGiovanni appeared in the 2013 Academy Award and Golden Globe winning film Argo (2012); co-created, co-produced and co-hosted the award-winning weekly podcast Mixed Chicks Chat (2007-2012); and co-founded and produced the annual Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival® (2008-20012). For more on Ms. Cox DiGiovanni and One Drop of Love, visit: http://www.onedropoflove.org.

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The Chowan Discovery Group: Documenting the Mixed-Race History of North Carolina’s “Winton Triangle”

Posted in Articles, History, Native Americans/First Nation, New Media, United States on 2013-03-20 21:53Z by Steven

The Chowan Discovery Group: Documenting the Mixed-Race History of North Carolina’s “Winton Triangle”

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2013-03-20

Vikki Bynum, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

Here’s another region of the South with a fascinating history of mixed-race ancestry. I discovered the Chowan Discovery Group after Steven Riley, creator and moderator of MixedRaceStudies.org, introduced me via email to the Group’s Executive Director, Marvin T. Jones. The “Winton Triangle,” located in Hertford County, North Carolina, encompasses the three towns of Winton, Cofield, and Ahoskie. Here, people maintain a distinctive identity rooted in Native American, European, and African ancestry.

According to Marvin Jones, the Triangle traces its origins to before the 1584 arrival of the English to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where Chowanoke (Choanoac) Indian settlements were prominent along the Chowan River. After the English invasion, diseases (to which Native Americans lacked immunity) and territorial disputes decimated and disrupted the Chowanoke settlements of present-day Hertford County…

Read the entire article here.

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Biracial versus black: Thought leaders weigh in on the meaning of President Obama’s biracial heritage

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-03-16 16:46Z by Steven

Biracial versus black: Thought leaders weigh in on the meaning of President Obama’s biracial heritage

theGrio
NBC News
2012-11-19

Patrice Peck

“If I’m lucky enough to have children, I won’t tell them that Barack Obama was America’s first black president.”
 
Thus began columnist Clinton Yates’ piece, “Barack Obama: Let’s not forget that he’s America’s first bi-racial president”. Published on The Washington Post website two days after the 2012 election, Yates’ piece explores the notion that singling out President Obama’s African heritage alone has resulted in an incomplete narrative of his identity.

“As a black man who plans to eventually start a family with my white girlfriend, I’m going to tell [my future children] that Obama was the first man of color in the White House and that America’s 44th president was biracial,” writes Yates. “What would I look like telling my kids that a man with a black father and a white mother is ‘black’ just because society wants him to be?” Yates’ stance on President Obama’s racial identity points to an on-going, complicated debate surrounding the president’s race and how he chooses to identify himself.
 
Since Obama’s second presidential election win, countless media outlets have analyzed the major support in voter turnout exhibited by African-Americans and Latinos for the president. At the same time, an overwhelming amount of racist backlash surged on Twitter for several days, signaling the fact that, for better or for worse, race will likely always be a predominant element to consider during Obama’s term as president.
 
Yet, most reports on and reactions to President Obama have failed to mention his biracial heritage. It is rarely addressed in discussions concerning how the public identifies Obama, or critiques of how the president identifies himself. Yates’ consideration of Obama as the “first bi-racial president” is rare in its vociferous proclamation to define the man by both lineages.

To widen this limited discourse, we asked some of the nation’s leading authorities on biracial and multi-racial issues to share their thoughts on the president’s self-identification as black, and the possible stakes of not addressing his bi-racial identity more directly. These leaders offer interesting and at times surprising perspectives on what it means to have not only a black man, but also a biracial man in the White House.
 
Here is what they told theGrio about this historic first. How do you think President Obama’s bi-racial ancestry influences the nature of his presidency?

Steven F. Riley, founder of MixedRacesStudies.org
 
In the paper “Barack, Blackness, Borders and Beyond: Exploring Obama’s Racial Identity Today as a Means of Transcending Race Tomorrow,” I explained that the president is black for three different reasons. I used a sociological framework, an ethnological framework, and a psychological framework. Number one, I say he’s black because he says he is. Number two, his heterogeneity, or his mixed background, is no different from people who are black. And then lastly, I say he’s black because he looks black, from a sociological viewpoint…

Yaba Blay, author of (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race and artistic director of the multiplatform (1)ne Drop project
 
Everyone seems to be negating President Barack Obama’s own story. The man himself has said publicly in print that, yes, his mother is white; yes, he is technically bi-racial, mixed race, whatever the language is people choose to use, but in this racialized society he is seen as a black man. And for that reason he identifies as black

Andrew Jolivétte, Associate Professor at San Francisco State University and editor of Obama and the Biracial Factor: The Battle for the New American Majority
 
For mixed people, being mixed you identify differently at different times and in different situations. I think the president is no different, so [a bi-racial] child still can take pride in [the fact] that President Obama is a bi-racial president. But he’s also a black president. I don’t think that they’re mutually exclusive. And that’s what happens often in politics when it comes to policy, that it has to be one or the other, not some sort of combination of policies that can be good. Because he’s bi-racial and always compromising and trying to find the balance between two different identities, I think he tries to do the same things in terms of his policy…

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Professor of Ethnic Studies at Stanford University and author of When Half is Whole: Multiethnic Asian American Identities
 
I think his identifying [as African-American] is very positive. On the other hand, I think there’s nothing creative or innovative or groundbreaking or revolutionary about [his identifying as black.] It’s very much following the status quo of the way that a majority of people expect him to identify… I personally didn’t have a lot of expectations about his ability to really go beyond what would be the mainstream position in terms of how he labeled and located himself. I have hopes that he might help us to go beyond these kinds of rigid racial classifications and categories. I think he could do that if he was able to identify himself more openly with all the different parts of his heritage…

Read the entire article here.

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The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White [Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2013-02-13 15:30Z by Steven

Daniel J. Sharfstein. The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 415 pp. Hardcover ISBN: 9781594202827.

Steven F. Riley
2011-02-28

“This is the decade of Tiger Woods and Barack Obama, where we talked about race combinations,” Robert Groves, director of the federal agency, said about forthcoming 2010 Census data in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt”. “I can’t wait to see the pattern of responses on multiple races. That’ll be a neat indicator to watch.”

The Toronto Star
December 13, 2010

While it is tempting to be as excited as Mr. Groves is in waiting for the census results of the racial makeup of the United States, I would suggest that the so-called “race combinations” that he speaks of have been occurring for quite some time. Much has been written in recent years about the “changing face” of America that foretells that we will become a “mixed-race” country, or as Marcia A. Dawkins states, a “Miscege-Nation.”  Yet, this is not wholly true, for we are not becoming a multiracial society, we already are a multiracial society.  We have been multiracial not for years, or even decades, but for centuries.

So while many may proclaim that an increasing number of self-identified mixed-race individuals will usher in a new era of racial reconciliation, we are fortunate to benefit from the excellent scholarship of Daniel J. Sharfstein, Associate Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, who points out to us that racial mixture is as old as the nation and it has not—in and by itself—led to racial reconciliation.  In fact, his portrayal of three families over a span of three centuries in his new book The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, shows that under the specter of white supremacy, racial mixture was—and may still be—a way-station on the road to a white racial identity.  These racial journeys occurred so frequently in American history they should be considered one of  the great mass movements of people such as the settlement of North America, the westward expansion, and immigration. Furthermore, these journeys from black to white did not necessarily involve a change of venue, but could occur in the same community over a generation or more.

Unlike the stories of the Hemmings and Hairstons that explore the white roots of black families, The Invisible Line is an important work that explores the “black” roots of white familes. Though “race” as we know it today is a social—not biological—construct,  Sharfstein reminds us that it was and still is a very salient social construct.  In fact, for the families portrayed in the book, “race” becomes a form of wealth/property, obtained (by “passing” if necessary) and inherited by future generations.  In The Invisible Line, Sharfstein avoids casting a pejorative gaze upon these “passers” and their occasional accusers and instead casts blame squarely on the shoulders white supremacy.  Early in the introduction, Sharfstein points out that…

African Americans began to migrate from black to white as soon as slaves arrived on American shores.  In seventeenth-century Virginia, social distinctions such as class and race were fluid, but the consequences of being black or white were enormous.  It often meant the difference between slavery and freedom, poverty and prosperity, persecution and power.  Even so, dozens of European women had children by African men, and together they established the first free black communities in the colonies.  With every incentive to become white—it would give them better land and jobs, lower taxes, and less risk of being enslaved—many free blacks assimilated into white communities over time…

After researching hundreds of families, court cases, government records, histories, scholarly works, newspaper accounts, memoirs and family papers, Sharfstein chose to focus on three families: the Gibsons, the Spencers and the Walls.  Each of these families left the bondage of slavery and took different trajectories on the path towards a white identity.

The Gibsons

The Gibson story begins in 1672 in colonial Virginia when a free woman named Elizabeth Chavis successfully sued for the freedom of a boy of color named Gibson Gibson… who was also her son. In a reversal of English law where the status of the child followed that of the father, the colonies in a bid to codify slavery enacted laws that set the status of the child to follow the mother, or as the saying went, “birth follows the belly.” Contrary to popular belief, the laws did little to restrict interracial unions—especially between white men and black women—but rather, channeled these unions for the benefit of the institution of slavery. For Gibby Gibson and his brother Hubbard, harsh laws against people of color encouraged them to marry whites. Sharfstein states:

Whites in the family gave their spouses and children stronger claims to freedom and had immediate economic advantages—while black women were subject to heavy taxes, white women were not.  Increasingly harsh laws did not separate Africans and Europeans.  To the contrary, they spurred some people of African descent to try to escape their classification.

The Gibsons took what I shall describe as a fast-track to whiteness.  After Gibby Gibson’s freedom he and his brother spent the next 50 years amassing land and, yes… slaves.  After moving to South Carolina in the 1730s as planters they were granted hundreds of acres. By the time of the Civil War they were part of the Southern aristocracy.  Two brothers, Randall Lee and Hart Gibson, again took the spotlight and became standout students at Yale University and later ,officers in the Confederate Army.  Randall was promoted to brigadier general in 1864.  Despite the Confederate defeat at the end of the war, Randall would be a successful New Orleans lawyer, a founder of Tulane University, and would eventually be elected to represent Louisiana for four terms in the House of Representatives and for nine years in the U.S. Senate.

Randall Gibson’s white identity went unchallenged until January 27, 1877, when James Madison Wells wrote in an article that, “This colored Democratic Representative seems to claim a right to assail the white race because he feels boastingly proud of the commingling of the African with Caucasian blood in his veins.”  This accusation was grounds for libel, but Gibson did not sue Wells.  He did not need to.  As Sharfstein deftly points out frequently throughout the Invisible Line, white communities were very much aware of “mixture in their midst,” yet chose to believe these individuals were white.  Even if a person believed that his or her whiteness was secure, accusing ones neighbor of being black could have unintended consequences, especially if your children had offspring with the neighbor.  “Race” became a socially agreed upon arrangement.   Thus, as Sharfstein wrote in a 2007 article:

“…the one-drop rule did not, as many have suggested, make all mixed-race people black. From the beginning, African Americans assimilated into white communities across the South. Often, becoming white did not require the deception normally associated with racial “passing”; whites knew that certain people were different and let them cross the color line anyway. These communities were not islands of racial tolerance. They could be as committed to slavery, segregation, and white supremacy as anywhere else, and so could their newest members—it was one of the things that made them white. The history of the color line is one in which people have lived quite comfortably with contradiction.”

Yet this contradiction was not the same of acceptance, especially in Louisiana, where Sharfstein says…

“the existence of a large, traditionally free mixed-race class meant that whites had long competed with people of color for jobs, land, and status…  …On the streets of New Orleans, it was famously difficult to distinguish one race from the other at a glance—many whites were dark, and many blacks were light.  Every day people witnessed the color line bending and breaking.  The result was that whites believed all the more deeply in their racial supremacy.  They organized their entire political life around it…. …Believing in racial difference—enough to kill for it—was what kept whites separate from blacks.  For white Louisianans, knowing that blacks could look like them did not discount the importance of blood purity.  Rather, they were as likely as anyone in the South to consider a person with traceable African ancestry, no matter how remote, to be black.  The porous nature of the color line required eternal vigilance.”

The Spencers

The Spencers took an inconspicuous path towards a white identity.  George Freeman, possibly the son of his owner Joseph Spencer, was emancipated at twenty-four years of age around 1814 in Clay County, Kentucky.  Through hard work and a large family, Freeman was able to raise a profitable farm, enough so that he could provide loans to other farmers.  By 1840, Freeman’s wife had died, but by then eleven people lived with him including his grown daughters with children of their own.  In 1841, the  Freeman farm would make room for another resident; a twenty-five year-old pioneer white woman from South Carolina named Clarissa “Clarsy” Centers, who was pregnant with his child.  Freeman and Centers were not married, and could not if they had wanted to because of Kentucky’s anti-miscegenation laws.  Sharfstein points out:

“Freeman and Centers were not the only ones in Clay County breaching the color line.  Several free black women were living with white men.  It was less common, however for black men to have families with white women, and their relationships were perceived as a far greater threat to the social and racial order.  After all, the mixed-race children of black women, more often than not, [became] pieces of property, markers of wealth, for their owners.  But the children of slave men and white women were free under Kentucky law, and they blurred the physical distinctions that made racial status conceivable and enforceable.  As a result, all such relationships were subversive, even those involving free men.

Moreover, the control that white men had over their families, something that approached ownership under the law, helped maintain the idea that all white men were equal citizens in a country increasingly stratified by wealth…  …That control was undermined when white women had children with black men…

At the same time white communities did not always respond to these relationships with reflexive deadly violence.  They were capable of tolerating difference or pretending it did not exist.  Across the South in the early decades of the nineteenth century, black men and white women were forming families and living in peace.”

In 1845, George Freeman and Clarsy Centers’ daughter Malinda was pregnant by Jordan Spencer, Freeman’s son or brother.  After three years and three children, Jordan and Malinda’s family was part of a clan of twenty people within three generations living on fifty acres on Freeman’s farm; that was to small to sustain them all.

By 1855, Freeman was dead, forced to mortgage his farm to fight a fornication charge because he could not marry Clarsy Centers. The family of Jordan and Malinda was forced to move 100 miles away within rural Johnson County, Kentucky.  When they got there they called themselves Jordan and Malinda Spencer and their new neighbors welcomed them into their community… and called them white. As Sharfstein states:

“In Johnson County and elsewhere, being white did not require exclusively European ancestry.  Many whites did not hesitate to claim Native American decent.  While Melungeons in Tennessee often lived apart and married among themselves, the Collins and Ratliff families in Johnson County were considerably less isolated.  Half of the worshippers at the Rockhouse Methodist meeting had white faces, and light and dark families were neighbors along the nearby creeks.  Many of the families themselves were mixed, like Jordan and Malinda Spencer’s.  Their community offered them a path to assimilation.  Although the Spencers were listed as “mulatto” in the 1860 census, dozens of Collins and Ratliff men and women were, at a glance, regarded as white.  Jordan Spencer may have been dark, but there was such a thing as a dark white man.”

The Walls

For the Wall family, the path to becoming white was a reluctant and painful one.  Orindatus Simon Bolivar (O.S.B.) Wall and his siblings were freed by their owner (and father) in the 1830s and 1840s and sent from their plantation in North Carolina to be raised by radical Quakers in Ohio.  O.S.B. Wall eventually ended up in Oberlin, Ohio.  With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, slave catchers could now demand assistance from federal and local officials in any state (including free-states) in locating and apprehending runaway slaves.  Sharfstein notes that,

“The act also permitted slave-owners to kidnap people and force them into federal court.  After a short hearing, a commissioner would determine the status of the person in custody.  Commissioners were paid ten dollars upon ruling that a person was a slave, but only five dollars if they determined that he or she was free.”

Thus even free and freed blacks lived in constant fear that they and their families could be kidnapped and enslaved.  Fortunately, there was no place more hostile to slave catchers than Oberlin.  A generation earlier, New England Puritans had built the college and the town in the northern Ohio forest, dedicating themselves to bringing “our perishing world… under the entire influence of the blessed gospel of peace.”  Oberlin Collegiate Institute, founded in 1832 was a school that educated both sexes and within three years took the then-radical step of admitting students “irrespective of color.” Oberlin did not just give blacks the opportunity to do business on equal terms with whites—it offered blacks the unheard-of possibility of real political power.   In 1857 the town voted John Mercer Langston to be its clerk and appointed him a manager of the public schools.  He was the first black elected official in the United States.

After the end of the Civil War, Wall was detached to South Carolina to the Bureau of Refugees, Freedman and Abandoned Lands, a new federal agency devoted to integrating former slaves into civil society, (otherwise known as the Freedman’s Bureau.)  His hope was “to do justice to freedmen” while “do[ing] no injustice to white persons.”  It would appear that his hopes would become a reality in the fall of 1865 when the Bureau had begun redistributing thousands of acres of confiscated property to freed-people, but President Andrew Johnson ordered almost all the land returned to its previous owners.  By the fall of 1865 former slaves found themselves no better than indentured servants.  As the hope of Reconstruction began to fade, he realized that to serve the righteous cause, he would need more than a title and a responsibility, more than the sanction of law.  He needed power. Wall would move to Washington D.C.

By 1877 Federal troops had abandoned the South, and as Sharfstein writes:

“Democrats had carte blanche to ‘encourage violence and crime, elevate to office the men whose hands are reddest with innocent blood; force the Negroes out of Southern politics by the shotgun and the bulldozer’s whip; cheat them out of the elective franchise; suppress the Republican vote; kill off their white Republican leaders and keep the South solid.  Countless thousands of Negroes in the South lived in conditions approximating slavery, shackled by sharecropping contracts, arrested on trumped-up charges, and sold as convict labor.  Every few days a Negro was lynched: burned, shot, castrated or hacked to pieces.”

Summary

The Invisible Line reveals that the trajectory of history is never a straight line.  The promise of the Reconstruction became the repression of Jim Crow. The Democrats of the past that sought defend slavery before and during the Civil War and deny basic freedoms to blacks afterwards are now the Republicans of the present who deny these events have any impact on the lives of black Americans today. Up became down, and black became white.

Perhaps the most emphatic paragraph in the book is on page 236, where Sharfstein describes the everyday pain in the lives of black Americans.

“The harder whites made it for blacks to earn a living, educate their children, and just make it through a single day without threat or insult, the greater the incentives grew for light-skinned blacks to leave their communities and establish themselves as white.  If anything, the drumbeat of racial purity, the insistence that any African ancestry—a single drop of blood—tainted a person’s very existence, accelerated the migration to new identities and lives.  The difference between white and black seemed obvious, an iron-clad rule, a biological fact.  But the Walls knew that blacks could be as good as whites and as bad, as smart and as stupid.  Blacks had just as much claim to schooling and jobs and love and family, to common courtesies each day.  The Walls knew that blacks could be every bit the equal to whites—and that their skins could be equally light.  As the United States veered from slavery to Jim Crow, O.S.B. Wall’s children did not stand up and fight. They faded away.”

This paragraph for me, offers a clear rationale why individuals chose to identify as white.  More importantly though, Sharfstein like all good historians, shows us how events in the past can be repeated in the present and in the future.  For the Spencers, becoming white meant fitting in.  For the Gibsons, becoming white allowed them to amass great wealth, to lose it (after the Civil War), and reclaim it. O.S.B. Wall lived his entire life working towards the goal that people of African descent could be free, prosperous, American and black.  For the Wall children, becoming white (even at the loss of financial status) was an escape from the indignities of being black.  The chains of oppression do not always result in resistance.  Sometimes the result is denial, surrender and assimilation.  Furthermore, Sharfstein, without saying so, reasserts the importance of influence of law and power upon the lives of his subjects.  Though it is now popular for contempary novelists and cursory historians to recount, reframe, and reimagine the stories of the individual lives without acknowledging the legal and social forces shaping those lives, this is simply unacceptable.  Fortunately, the works of Daniel Sharfstein and the late Peggy Pascoe remind us, as I like to put it, not to allow the history of experiences to obscure the experience of history.

Though The Invisible Line is about past racial migrations, the book says little if anything about present-day racial migrations.  Persistent economic and social disparity among racialized groups in the United States may lead to more Gibsons, Spencers and Walls in the future.  Just over a half-century ago, in 1947, N.A.A.C.P. Secretary Walter White said:

“Every year approximately 12,000 white-skinned Negroes disappear—people whose absence cannot be explained by death or emigration. Nearly every one of the 14 million discernible Negroes in the United States knows at least one member of his race who is ‘passing’—the magic word which means that some Negroes can get by as whites…  Often these emigrants achieve success in business, the professions, the arts and sciences. Many of them have married white people…  Sometimes they tell their husbands or wives of their Negro blood, sometimes not…”

Thus according to sociologist George A. Yancey, white Americans—despite demographic projections—will not lose their numerical majority status in 40 years or so.  For scholars like Yancey, Sharfstein’s secret journey to whiteness, may become a public parade.  Despite the increasing numbers and acceptance of interracial relationships and mixed-race births, intermarriage among non-blacks with whites far outpaces intermarriage between blacks and whites.  The future for Yancey and others is not a white/non-white divide, but rather a black/non-black divide.

With the increasing enactment of harsh anti-immigration legislation, it is indeed conceivable that many Asians and Latinos—particularly those with mixed European ancestry—may opt for a white identity through intermarriage with whites as a balm against increased anti-immigrant sentiment.  As sociologists Jennifer Lee and Frank D. Bean point out, “Asian and Latinos may be next in line to be white, with multiracial Asian whites and Latino whites at the head of the queue.”  If the notion that Asians and Latinos can become white seems implausible, sociologist Charles A. Gallagher points out in his 2010 essay “In-between racial status, mobility, and the promise of assimilation: Irish, Italians yesterday, Latinos and Asians today,”  “If you were Italian or Irish in the mid- to late- nineteenth century it was likely that, as a matter of common understanding and perception, you were on the ‘margins of whiteness.'”

While The Invisible Line is a remarkable book that should be read by anyone interested in the complicated racial history of the United States, it is not a book that trumpets a so-called “post-racial” era.   Sharfstein does an excellent job shattering the notion of racial difference and shows us that the African American experience is integral to the American experience as a whole.  Yet in doing so, he does not—and perhaps he should not—suggest that not only is the notion of  “difference” a fallacy, but the notion of “race” is too.  After all, shouldn’t the Gibsons, Spencers, Walls and their descendents transcend race at this point in time?  Race—or as Rainier Spencer suggests—the belief in race, has been, and still is such a potent force in American life, it may take three more centuries to dispense with it. For all of the current discourses on a utopian future filled with mixed or blended identities, these identities are still defined within same outdated and hierarchical social topology of the past 400 years.  Thus the consequences of the memberships within this multi-tiered topology still has the life altering outcomes—though not as extreme—as in the seventeenth century Virginia that Sharfstein describes.  Without a drastic altering or the elimination of this topology, individuals and families who can, will continue to make the journey from a lower tiered racialized status to a higher one and heap misery and scorn upon those who cannot.  In the end, Daniel J. Sharfstein’s Invisible Line, may not only be a window to the past, but also a glance at the future.

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The Multiracial Identity Movement: Countless Ways to Misunderstand Race

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-11-04 04:15Z by Steven

The Multiracial Identity Movement: Countless Ways to Misunderstand Race

MixedRaceStudies.org
2011-11-04

Steven F. Riley

In Jen Chau’s essay, “Multiracial Families: Counted But Still Misunderstood,” in the October 31, 2011 issue of Racialiscious, reveals just how much race is misunderstood by some activists within the multiracial identity movement and exemplifies why the movement—in its current form—is incapable of leading us into a post-racial future.

Part of the “quiet” that Ms. Chau is experiencing is due to the realization that President Barack Obama is not the multiracial messiah some had thought he would be. He is neither a messiah, nor is he—as he has stated on multiple occasions—multiracial.  Unfortunately, in many ways, the policies of our first black President differ little from our previous white President (George W. Bush). Is this the “black-white mix” we were hoping for? Perhaps the quiet is the palatable disappointment in President Obama’s first three years office. What part of “race is a social construction” does she not understand?  As succinctly stated by Professor Richard Thompson Ford,

“Because race is a social category and not a biological or genetic one, Obama’s mixed parentage does not determine his race. Mixed parentage may influence one’s appearance, and a person whose appearance is racially ambiguous can influence how she is perceived. In such instances, race may be a question of personal affiliation to some extent. And mixed parentage may influence how one chooses to identify. But for the most part, society assigns us our races. At any rate, Obama’s appearance is not ambiguous, and he unquestionably identifies as black.” (Emphasis is mine.)

A good first step would be to for activists respect Obama’s identity as they would like us to respect theirs.

My theory—which differs considerably from Ms. Chau’s—is that the “quiet” is due to fact that multiracial-identity movement is simply not the progressive force she and others think it is; and we—including activists themselves—are beginning to recognize that.  In many ways, the multiracial-identity movement mimics the tactics, ideologies and demagogueries of the right-wing conservative adherents that it claims to fight.

The problems with the movement are numerous, but they can be narrowed to three major issues: 1) Race as biology, 2) Ahistoricity, and 3) the refusal to discuss the role of white supremacy within the discourses of multiraciality.

After nearly a century of scientific acknowledgment that there is no such thing as “race” as a biological concept, why do some in the movement still pursue issues dealing with so-called “multiracial medicine?”  A truly progressive movement would preface all of its statements with the fact that “race” in short, was a concept used to justify the extermination and enslavement of non-Europeans.

Another deficiency in the multiracial movement is its unwillingness to acknowledge that so-called “racial mixing” in the Americas is a five-century—not four decade—aspect of our history.  Thus even if “race” were a biological concept, we are all most certainly “mixed” by now.  Rather than making hypocritical (demanding the freedom to self-identify for some but not for others) pronouncements on President Obama’s heterogeneous background, multiracial activists should also consider the heterogeneity of the First Lady Michelle Obama, the overwhelming vast majority of black and Latino Americans, and yes, a significant segment of white Americans. In 1927, 40 years before the mythological baby-boom that was allegedly brought about by Loving v. Virginia and just seven years after the last 20th-century census that would enumerate “mixed-race” people (Ms. Chau seems to have forgotten the seven past censuses starting in 1850 that counted mixed-race individuals), anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits, revealed that,

“The word “Negro” is, biologically, a misnomer, for the African Negroes, brought to the United States as slaves, have crossed in breeding with the dominant White population, as well as with the aboriginal American Indian types with whom they came into contact, so that there is today only a small percentage of the American Negroes who may be considered Negro in the ordinary sense of the term.” (The emphasis is mine.)

When an early 20th-century anthropologist—in the midst of an overtly racist era—can show more insight that 21st century activists—in the midst of the so-called “Age of Obama” era—we have a serious problem.

Lastly, the most deafening “quiet” within the multiracial movement, is its silence on the role of white supremacy in the continuing oppression and shaping of identities here in United States and around the world.  It is the ideology of white supremacy that created the notion of race as biology, then racialized and dehumanized, enlslaved, and exterminated people around the world for centuries—and continue to do—to preserve the current Eurocentric hegemonic paradigm.  As Professor G. Reginald Daniel has warned,

“We should be especially concerned about any half-hearted attack on the Eurocentric paradigm in the manner of interracial colorism that merely weakens rather than eradicates the dichotomization of blackness and whiteness, while leaving intact the racial hierarchy that maintains white privilege.”

The type of incidents that agitate the multiracial identity movement today are not the growing wealth disparities among racialized groups, or current vigorous attempts to curtail voting rights of minorities ahead of the 2012 General Election, but rather the freely chosen racial identity by the President or the chosen racial identity of the child of a Hollywood celebrity.  As Ms. Chau has stated, there are many ways that we have to fight racism and ignorance, yet the movement—particularly on the internet—is more interested in exploiting the bodies of young people by hosting “mixed-race” fashion shows that conjure-up images of Quadroon Balls from the early 19th-century or posting photographs of the allegedly “multiracial person of-the-day” in a self-aggrandizing exercise that Professor Rainier Spencer has coined as “miscentrism.”  At this rate, the multiracial-identity movement will be no more effective in combating racism and ignorance than a lukewarm decaffeinated soy-triple-shot no-fat latte at Starbucks.

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MixedRaceStudies.org

Posted in New Media, Papers/Presentations on 2010-04-11 05:23Z by Steven

MixedRaceStudies.org

A Paper Presented at
Who Counts & Who’s Counting? 38th Annual Conference National Association for Ethnic Studies Conference
Session: The race in “mixed” race? Reiterations of power and identity
Washington, DC
2010-04-10

Steven F. Riley

Abstract

In the paper I describe the origins of www.MixedRaceStudies.org a non-commercial website that provides a gateway to contemporary interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, history, law, etc.) English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism.  I discuss the inspiration, conception, development and future plans for the site.

Good Morning.

I would like to take a few moments of your time to describe an online resource I created a year ago called MixedRaceStudies.org.  Before I continue, I would like to thank Dr. Rainier Spencer and Dr. Sue-Je Gage for giving me this opportunity to speak to you.

The heightened visibility of self-described ‘mixed-race’ individuals in the entertainment industry and professional sports has of recent years has captured the attention and fascination of the American public.  This heightened awareness has even led to changes in the way our decennial census collects racial data.  Even more recently, the election of ‘mixed-race’ individuals across the country from mayors (such as this city) to the president of our country has led some to believe we have in fact entered a ‘post-racial’ society.

The skeptic in me has always questioned the validity of the American popular culture multiracial gaze.  To be honest, I too have occasionally succumbed to the gaze of increasing numbers of interracial relationships (like my own 24 year relationship with my loving wife Julia), and the offspring of such unions.  In the Silver Spring, Maryland area that my wife and I live in, interracial couples and mixed-race individuals seem to be everywhere.  And this, in a racialized society as ours is fascinating.  But, like many things, what is fascinating today may be irrelevant next week, despised next month, discarded next year… and rediscovered next century. 

I was drawn to the subject of mixed race because it is so complex.  I wanted to ask questions, and to share the answers and information I found along the way.  For me, current discourses about multiracialism in pop-culture today provide us with only a cursory understanding of the lives of ‘mixed-race’ people and the societal implications of their increasing presence.  The many shortcomings of pop-cultural discourses are too numerous to mention, but include.

  1. An utter lack of historical perspective.  This ‘new’ thing has been occurring in the Americas for over five centuries.
  2. An unwillingness to dismiss or even question the (scientifically proven) fallacious concept of ‘race’ despite the fact that mixed-race individuals—as Dr. Spencer says—embody its’ fallaciousness.
  3. An unwillingness to question whether our ‘fascination’ with multiracialism may in fact be due to the persistence of racism.
  4. A tendency to view the increased number of ‘mixed-race’ individuals of heralding in an era of a “post-racial” America.

To that end, I have turned my gaze away from television, away from rising and falling sports figures, towards the writings of individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to elucidating us about multiracialism.

Conception

 I began this journey, quite by accident in January 2008 when the son of a college friend of my wife Julia came to visit us for dinner at our home.  This young man—who we had not seen since he was a child—is the son of a black Haitian man and a white Jewish woman, mentioned to us that he was bringing along his girlfriend.  This caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time wondering about the girlfriend. I’m sure you have heard the phrase or question that “dare’th not speak its’ name”… “What are you?”  “What is she?”  I wondered was she “black” like his father or “white” like his mother?  Would he be in an interracial relationship like his parents?  Would his parents approve of the relationship? Was I asking myself a lot of stupid questions and what did it matter anyway?

As it turned out, our young guest’s girlfriend (now fiance) was in fact the daughter of a black father and a white mother also.  Were they an interracial couple?  Would their children be ‘mixed-race’?…. or not.

As the evening progressed, our conversation turned to politics and our preferred candidates for Democratic presidential nomination.  Julia and I supported then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, because… we thought she could win.  Our two young guests disagreed and were convinced—and convinced us—that this “black man of mixed heritage” named Barack Obama could indeed be elected to the presidency.

My journey continued after the election of President Obama and before his inauguration.  It seemed that everywhere I looked there were articles about interracial families on television programs, in newspapers, magazines and websites… again.  Were “mixed race” people in hiding since a previous victory, not in the electoral politics, but on the golf course in 1997?  Was America on the verge of a becoming post-post racial society?  What I yearned for was not another 15 second sound bite about the “changing face of America”, but an honest appraisal of what the apparent heightened visibility of mixed-race people really meant for America.

In February of 2009, I discovered the online podcast Mixed Chicks ChatStarted in May of 2007 by educator Fanshen Cox and author Heidi W. Durrow, this wonderful podcast promotes itself as “the only weekly show about being racially and culturally mixed.”  Available live or recorded via TalkShoe or recorded via Apple’s iTunes, the 150 episodes—I appeared as a featured guest on the 150thepisode this last Wednesday—provide listeners with insightful and thought provoking discussion surrounding ‘mixed-race’ issues.  After listening to several live podcasts, I found the hosts Ms. Cox and Ms. Durrow quite knowledgeable about all aspects of the ‘mixed-race’ experience.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the some of the listeners.  On many occasions, I would post links in the “chat room” to books and articles for fellow participants unfamiliar with terms such as “one-drop rule”, “Jim Crow”,  etc.  It was after a few weeks of this exercise, I decided to create an online resource to answer these many questions.

To obtain the knowledge to begin the process of building this resource, I purchased and read Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe’s ‘Mixed Race’ Studies: A Reader.  Considered by some the definitive anthology on the subject, ‘Mixed Race’ Studies takes the reader on a 150 year interdisciplinary trek encompassing the origins of “miscegenation theory” and false notions of moral and hybrid degeneracy, to contemporary discourses on identity politics and celebration, and finally to the critiques of these political movements.  Great anthologies like ‘Mixed Race’ Studies encourage the reader to further their scholarship by reading additional discourses by the various authors.  That was and remains the goal for my site, which I named MixedRaceStudies.org in April of 2009.

www.MixedRaceStudies.org  is a non-commercial website that provides a gateway to contemporary interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, history, law, etc.) English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism.

The site contains over 1,000 posts that include over 400 articles, 300 books, and over 100 papers, reports and dissertations.

The site is by no means an exhaustive listing of discourses on ‘mixed race’ scholarship.  Some examples of the scholarship that is not available on the site are as follows:

  • Non-English language resources.
  • Out-of-print resources.  This includes important texts such as Everett V. Stonequist’s The Marginal Man: A Study in Personality and Culture Conflict (1937) and other works.
  • Non-web-based resources.

I created this site:

  • For all of those who think that race is a biological construction.
  • For Daphne who thought interracial marriage was not legal in the US until 1967.
  • For those who have always wondered why people who have complexions that range from white to dark-brown are classified as ‘black’.
  • For the young student of my 40-something pal Bradley in Manchester, England who was asked if there were any ‘mixed-race’ people older than him in Britain.
  • For Mike who told me there “weren’t many scholarly resource available on mixed-race identity.”

The goals of the site are to:

  • Provide visitors with links to books, articles, dissertations, multimedia and any other resources to enable them to further their (and my) knowledge on the topic.
  • Remind visitors that so-called “racial mixing” has been occurring in the Americas for over five centuries and in fact, all of the founding nations of the Americas were mixed-race societies at their inception.
  • Ultimately support a vision of the irrelevance of race.

In supporting the vision of the irrelevance of race, I’ve been forced to ask myself the following questions.

  • Is the ideal of no racial distinction a possibility?
  • Does mixed race identity continue the racial hierarchy/paradigm or does it change it?
  • Will the acknowledgement and study of multiraciality help or hinder a goal of a post-racial future?
  • Will the sheer volume of mixed race people provoke change?
  • …But if everybody has been mixed already and our racial paradigm hasn’t changed in the last 400 years, what do we make of the changes in these last 40 years?
  • And what changes can we expect in the next 40?

Future plans for the site

After creating the site, I firmly believed that the audience would be individuals like myself—non-scholars—with a casual to moderate interest in multiracial identity issues.  At best, I hoped that parents or caregivers of mixed race children would find some interest in the site.  To my surprise, I have discovered that the overwhelming audience—at least by those who have contacted me—have been individuals in academia!  Many scholars in fact, are regular subscribers to the site.  A professor at the University of California has told me that his institution has been trying to set up a website similar to mine, but for now there are no funds to proceed.

As for now, MixedRaceStudies.org remains a labor of love, requiring minimal financial resources to host ($10.00 per/month).  Future plans involve utilizing my programming and database skills to produce a scholar bibliographic search engine and other features.

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Mixed Chicks Chat Interview with Steve Riley, Creator of Mixed Race Studies

Posted in Audio, Live Events, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-04-08 01:01Z by Steven

Mixed Chicks Chat Interview with Steve Riley, Creator of Mixed Race Studies

Mixed Chicks Chat (The only live weekly show about being racially and culturally mixed. Also, founders of the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival) Hosted by Fanshen Cox and Heidi W. Durrow
Website: TalkShoe™ (Keywords: Mixed Chicks)
Episode: #147 – Steven F. Riley
When: Wednesday, 2010-04-07 21:00Z (17:00 EDT, 14:00 PDT)

Steven F. Riley

Mike Peden (aka The Sports Brain, or ‘TSB’) is a journalist whose film “What Are You? A Dialogue on Mixed Race” screened at the 2nd Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. He will be interviewing Steven F. Riley (aka SilverSpringSteve) whose blog www.MixedRaceStudies.org has over 1,000 posts on the study of multiracialism.

Listen to the episode here or download it to your computer here.

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