“A Future Unwritten”: Blackness between the Religious Invocations of Heidi Durrow and Zadie Smith

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion on 2013-10-24 21:36Z by Steven

“A Future Unwritten”: Blackness between the Religious Invocations of Heidi Durrow and Zadie Smith

South Atlantic Quarterly
Volume 112, Number 4 (2013)
pages 657-674
DOI: 10.1215/00382876-2345225

Brian Bantum, Assistant Professor of Theology
Seattle Pacific University

Race and religion were two aspects of the Western colonial project. Novelists Heidi Durrow and Zadie Smith reflect two related but distinct articulations of how to understand this relationship from within the black diaspora and in particular the legacies of “mixed-race” children of the diaspora. This essay argues that each literary exploration of race and place demonstrates the inherent complications of two strategies of negotiating racial and religious identity in contemporary society. While Durrow seeks to extricate her character from both race and religion, seeing religion as simply a cultural marker, Smith wraps her main character inextricably to the historicity of race and religion. Through these interlocutors, this essay examines how black religion might imagine its future in relationship to the particularities of its diaspora(s) and confessions of faith.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Novelist Heidi Durrow Looks Up [Book Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2013-08-27 04:10Z by Steven

Novelist Heidi Durrow Looks Up [Book Review]

Hot Metal Bridge: a literary magazine
Published by the University of Pittsburgh

Liberty Hultberg

The Girl who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow
(Algonquin, January 2010)

Durrow’s debut novel explores modern multiracial identity within one mixed girl’s experience of love, family, class, and beauty in an American society still defining these ideas decades after the Civil Rights Movement. The main character’s perspective, if sometimes a bit sentimental, provides a precise lens through which to view a delicately complicated and shifting world.

Rachel, daughter of a mother newly emigrated from Denmark and a Black American G.I., opens the novel as the only survivor of a mysterious, tragic accident that leaves her in the care of her grandmother and the black community in Portland, Oregon. Her curly hair, light eyes, and fair skin are the source of much attention and scrutiny, forcing Rachel to examine what it means to be Black…

Read the entire review here.

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Canon Fodder: ‘The Girl Who Fell From the Sky’ and the Problem of Mixed-Race Identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-08-27 04:08Z by Steven

Canon Fodder: ‘The Girl Who Fell From the Sky’ and the Problem of Mixed-Race Identity

Specter Magazine: A Brooklyn-based Art Journal
Ghost+Blog (August 2011)

Summer McDonald

Baseball. Apple pie. Buying items in bulk. Buffets. All help create Americana, that itchy, dry-clean only fabric that bonds even the most disparate of us. As fixated as Americans are with the aforementioned, perhaps no pastime has been more consistent than toeing, monitoring, and often crossing the color line. Heidi W. Durrow’s first novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010), a national bestseller and winner of the Bellwether Prize, explores the American obsession with racial categorization and identity through the (blue) eyes of Rachel Morse, a biracial girl forced to go live with her black grandmother in Portland, Oregon, after surviving a terrible tragedy.

With a black-identified biracial president in the White House, the timeliness of Durrow’s debut cannot be overstated. And perhaps Durrow owes a word of thanks to the POTUS for helping breathe new life into a conversation older than this hardly perfect Union we call home, for her work centers on bringing the mixed-race experience to the fore. With the tragic fall of Tiger Woods and Mariah Carey marrying Nick Cannon (still having a hard time grasping that), no other public figure but the POTUS–with help from blackcelebritykids.com–could help us keep our eye on the multiracial ball. Durrow does her best to keep us focused on the “beiging” of America through a Youtube channel, a film and literature festival, as well as a website. TGWFFTS is merely the fictional rendering of Durrow’s real life politics.

Or so it seems. Having no knowledge of Durrow’s other exploits might make gauging the larger theme of the novel slightly more difficult. Despite an interesting mystery at the core of the work, the narrative feels disjointed, incomplete, and contrived to the point of an awkward and unbelievable “happy” ending. In a very basic sense, Durrow tells way more often than she shows, rushing the stories of some of the more interesting, ancillary characters (Brick or Rachel’s father, Roger, for example), preventing the organic development of fuller, richer characters–and therefore a more compelling story– for readers to empathetically engage. What’s left, then, is Rachel’s underwhelming coming-of-age story slash devolution (the impression the novel leaves, not my opinion) into blackness…

…“I’m not black. I’m not white. I’m both.” Seems harmless and simple enough. And it’s a message Durrow, given her other work, might want her readers to have received by the end of TGWFFTS. But the idea of both, the idea of being a mixed- or multi-raced person, although a seemingly refreshing and timely one, especially since our country “came together” and elected a biracial president and everything, is inherently problematic, and for me, troubling. Mixed- or multi-racial identity in a United States context is hardly about racial harmony or progress, but instead reinforces racial hierarchies by relying upon the equality efforts spearheaded by blacks while reinforcing anxiety about (being affiliated with) blackness

…Throughout the 1970s and 80s, interracial couples and (their) mixed-race children slowly became more visible on the landscape of an apparently racially stratified society. By the 1990s, mixed-race citizens, parents of multiracial children, and heads of interracial families were lobbying the federal government for a multiracial category on the United States Census, a move they thought would legitimize the interracial family and mixed-race children. Although the effort failed, arguing for a multiracial category on the US census form garnered the movement national attention.

Though the discourse on multiracialism addresses all the possible combinations and hues of God’s racial rainbow, blackness is uniquely affected by the idea of mixed-race identity. First, the significance of the Lovings to the formation of mixed-race identity placed particular significance to black-white pairings. Second, identifying as mixed-race relies on essentialist, de-politicized, nuclear-family-oriented notions of race: (mono)racial parent + (mono)racial parent = biracial child, thereby implicitly arguing for a kind of respectability predicated upon sexual practices and behaviors acceptable to larger (read: white) society–a space blacks have been perpetually excluded from. Such manuevers inevitably silence the fetishistic aspects of discourses concerning interracial relationships in exchange for language that could be summarized by the colloquial, Lov[ing] conquers all.

Third, mixed-race advocates will often argue that they are working against the one-drop rule, or hypodescent, a statute established precisely to monitor blacks and keep them for commingling with whites. Although the one-drop rule excluded blacks, it also worked as an umbrella identity, a force which was employed as a galvanizing mechanism to gain equal rights during the Jim Crow and civil rights periods. Blackness, then, became both an inherently multiracial and sociopolitical identity that people rallied around to fight oppression. Multiracial advocates make a similar claim about the breadth of mixed race identity, and further suggest that being bi- or multiracial is a new, post-1967 phenomenon that thusly allows one to appreciate more than one culture or racial heritage. Belief in this description of multiracial identity as a novelty requires a limited, monolithic understanding of blackness that denies the racial mixture inherent to it. This not only constricts the meaning of blackness and black identity, but also takes those varying tenets of blackness and recasts them as constitutive of multiracial identity. This process leads to misreading and ahistorical cherry-picking of black culture in order to create a multiracial history that otherwise would not exist…

Read the entire article here.

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The Girl Who Fell from the Sky Explains What it Is to Be Mixed and Happy

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-08-27 04:07Z by Steven

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky Explains What it Is to Be Mixed and Happy

The Huffington Post

Marcia Dawkins, Clinical Assistant Professor of Communications
University of Southern California, Annenberg

Professors Ravinder Barn and Vicki Harman from the Centre for Criminology and Sociology at Royal Holloway, University of London are carrying out a groundbreaking research project about white mothers and mixed race children. Theirs is part of a wider study of mixed race children, youth and families that has spanned over twenty years. According to Dr. Harman, “white mothers of mixed-parentage children can find themselves dealing with racism directed at their children as well as facing social disapproval themselves.” Such is the case with Nella, the white mother of mixed race protagonist Rachel, in Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Read the entire article here.

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Heidi Durrow discusses her novel “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky”

Posted in Audio, Barack Obama, Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-08-27 04:04Z by Steven

Heidi Durrow discusses her novel “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky”

The Leonard Lopate Show
WNYC Radio (93.9 FM or 820 AM)
Friday, 2010-05-14, 12:00-14:00 EDT (16:00-18:00Z)

Leonard Lopate, Host

Heidi W. Durrow, Author

Destruction, Restoration

We’ll look into how Europe’s economic problems are creating political problems—we’ll check in on the state of the euro and on Greece’s ongoing debt woes. Then, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat talks about her debut feature film “Women Without Men.” Plus Heidi Durow discusses her novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. And Please Explain is all about art restoration!

Listen to the interview here. The audio stream is here. Download the audio clip (00:13:26, 5.4MB) to your computer here.

00:05:36 Leonard Lopate: The Bellwether Prize is for works that issues of social justice. You’ve attended law schools as well. Did you write this novel as social commentary?

00:05:47 Heidi Durrow: I wanted to explore this story ’cause I don’t think we talk about it often enough… about multiracial families and biracial identity. We had this great moment during President Obama’s candidacy when we got to talk about ‘biracial’ and the fact that his grandmother was white and his mother was white. And then on Inauguration Day he became our first black African American president. And we lost that opportunity to talk about biracial identity I think.

00:06:13 LL: Well, often when someone is biracial, the decision of the rest of the world is that they’re ‘black’.

00:06:21 HD: Yes. That was my experience.

00:06:21 LL: So Tiger Woods, who saw himself as very much being Asian—we don’t want to talk about his other problems.  But anyway, he was automatically ‘black’ and Barack Obama… he’s automatically ‘black’.

00:06:34 HD: And I think that’s fine. I do believe in self-identification. So that when people who are mixed-race decide to be one or the other, I’m absolutely for that. I just feel like, we lose stories when we don’t tell our whole selves.

00:06:48: LL: So what happens when someone like Rachel goes to school and is in classes where pretty much all of her classmates are black?

00:06:57 HD: They don’t understand her in the book.  And it’s the same thing for me, they just didn’t understand where I fit… at all. I remember being at home speaking Danish with my mother, having Danish food and then as soon as we opened the door and went outside, I was a black girl and it erased that whole story, that whole existence that was me…

00:10:54 LL: In addition to writing, you also write a blog with Fanshen Cox called ‘Mixed Girls Chat’.

00:11:00 HD: ‘Mixed Chicks Chat’.

00:11:01 LL: ‘Mixed Chicks’… Okay.

00:11:03 HD: Yeah, and it’s weekly podcast we do every Wednesday. And we talk about being racially and culturally mixed. So we interview people who are in blended families, parents. We had a Harvard scholar on, which is exciting.

00:11:15 LL: I would assume—from what I know—that something like at least 90 percent of all African Americans—maybe 100 percent—are of mixed race.

00:11:26 HD: I think probably we’re all mixed in some way. And that’s what I’m so excited about with this book. ‘Cause I’ve been doing some readings around.  And I find that people are sharing the fact that their families are blended… suddenly.

00:11:39 LL: So this is something that would not have been discussed in the past? People would have been forced to just make a choice… say I’m ‘white’ or ‘black’?

00:11:44 HD: I think that’s right… Yeah, I mean, remember the controversy with Michelle Obama’s—I think—great-great grandfather and they discovered that he was biracial. And there was a little bit of controversy about that… I think, because people wanted to say ‘this our first African American First Lady’ and wanted to really hold on to that as opposed to actually sharing the real true story of this man in her past who was biracial as well…

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“I Want to be Nothing”. Challenging Notions of Culture, Race and Identity

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2013-08-27 04:01Z by Steven

“I Want to be Nothing”. Challenging Notions of Culture, Race and Identity

Studia Humanistyczne AGH
Volume 10, Issue 2 (2011)
pages 75-83

Agata Lubowicka
University of Gdansk, Poland

This article tackles the issue of “hyphenated identities” in Heidi W. Durrow’s novel The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010), whose main topic is growing up as a girl of mixed race in a dominant black culture. This article examines how Rachel Morse, the main character in the novel, challenges racism and the essentialist notion of identity. Firstly, Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy’s approaches to that issue are introduced and discussed. Then in relation to their theories an interpretation of Durrow’s fictional character is delivered. As the third part of the article, elements of Danish culture appearing in Durrow’s are presented and analyzed as well as the novel’s explicit intertextual references to Nella Larsen’s authorship, another mulatto woman writer of half-Danish origin. In accordance with Gilory’s theory, the article’s aim is to show that Rachel’s identity is born in the process of self-reflection where Danishness becomes her ‘crossroads’ and thus to confirm that such phenomena as culture, ethnicity and identity are constantly constructed and altered.

Read the entire article here.

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Heidi Durrow~The Girl Who Fell From the Sky Into Our Hearts

Posted in Audio, Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, United States on 2013-08-27 03:59Z by Steven

Heidi Durrow~The Girl Who Fell From the Sky Into Our Hearts

Mixed Race Radio
Blog Talk Radio
2013-08-28, 16:00Z (12:00 EDT)

Tiffany Rae Reid, Host

Heidi W. Durrow, Author

On Today’s episode of Mixed Race Radio, we will meet author, speaker, and visionary, Heidi Durrow. Heidi is the New York Times best-selling author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books), which received writer Barbara Kingsolver’s 2008 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change, and is already a book club favorite.

Ebony Magazine named Heidi as one of its Power 100 Leaders of 2010 along with writers Edwidge Danticat and Malcolm Gladwell. Heidi was nominated for a 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Debut.

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Heidi is a graduate of Stanford, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Law School.  She has worked as a corporate attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and as a Life Skills trainer to professional athletes of the National Football League and National Basketball Association. Most recently she has served as the co-host of the award-winning weekly podcast Mixed Chicks Chat; and as a co-founder and co-producer of the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival which was featured in the New York Times, Ebony Magazine and National Public Radio

For more information, click here.

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Mixed Chicks Chat with Professor Rudy Guevarra

Posted in Audio, History, Interviews, Latino Studies, Live Events, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-07-16 17:46Z by Steven

Mixed Chicks Chat with Professor Rudy Guevarra

Mixed Chicks Chat (Founders of the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival)
Hosted by Fanshen Cox, Heidi W. Durrow and Jennifer Frappier
Episode: #261: Rudy Guevarra
When: Wednesday, 2012-06-20, 21:00Z (17:00 EDT, 14:00 PDT)

Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr., Assistant Professor, Asian Pacific American Studies, School of Social Transformation, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Arizona State University, Tempe

[This is the final episode of Mixed Chicks Chat.]

Rudy P. Guevarra Jr. is an assistant professor of Asian Pacific American Studies at Arizona State University. He is the author of Filipinos in San Diego: Images of America Series, and coeditor of Transnational Crossroads: Remapping the Americas and the Pacific and Crossing Lines: Race and Mixed Race Across the Geohistorical Divide.

His new book, Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego, is a social-historical interpretation of two ethnic groups, one Mexican, the other Filipino, whose paths led both groups to San Diego, California. Rudy P. Guevarra Jr. traces the earliest interactions of both groups with Spanish colonialism to illustrate how these historical ties and cultural bonds laid the foundation for what would become close interethnic relationships and communities in twentieth-century California and the Pacific West Coast. Through racially restrictive covenants, both groups were confined to segregated living spaces along with African Americans, other Asian groups, and a few European immigrant clusters. Within these urban multiracial spaces, Mexicans and Filipinos coalesced to build a world of their own. Mexipino children, living simultaneously in two cultures, have forged a new identity for themselves and their lives are the lens through which these two communities are examined. Using archival sources, oral histories, newspapers, and personal collections and photographs, Guevarra defines the niche that this particular group carved out for itself.

Listen to the episode (00:33:22) here. Download the episode here.

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I would say I consider myself more black than white, but more biracial than anything else…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-02-11 02:05Z by Steven

Well, I would say I consider myself more black than white, but more biracial than anything else…

…My identity is biracial. But I say that I’m more black than white because for a lot of biracial people I think this sort of an attempt to balance both parts of their heritage with equal weight.  In my life they’re not equal. The black side attempts to dominate. And I say that because for me, being a biracial person is to be a person of color in America. And so I tend to identify more with my non-white side than with my white side. But I say that I’m more biracial than anything else because my identity and my orientation as a biracial person seem to trump it all…

..I think it goes back to the point I was making earlier, about that for me, to be biracial is being a person of color, you know, in society. If you think about… going back to the days of segregation, there was no “biracial” water fountain in this country. You had “white” water fountains and you had “colored” water fountains and if you were biracial, you drank from the “colored” water fountain. You didn’t have the option of saying, “Oh, I’m half-and-half so I can drink from both.” That’s just not how it worked. So that for me, to be biracial is to be a person of color.

—Elliot Lewis, author of Fade: My Journeys in Multiracial America

Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow, “Episode 62 – Mixed Chicks Chat with ‘Fade’ author Elliott Lewis”, Mixed Chicks Chat, (August 8, 2008). http://recordings.talkshoe.com/TC-34257/TS-128390.mp3 or http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/audioPop.jsp?episodeId=128390&cmd=apop.

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Covering Multiracial America Requires Historical Perspective

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom, United States on 2012-11-18 18:33Z by Steven

Covering Multiracial America Requires Historical Perspective

Maynard Media Center on Structural Inequity
Maynard Institute

Nadra Kareem Nittle

Although people of mixed races have lived in the United States for centuries, authorities on multiracial identity say mainstream media continue to report on these people as if they are a new phenomenon.

In 1619, the first slaves were brought to Britain’s North American colonies. The following year, says Audrey Smedley, professor emerita of anthropology and African American studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, the first “mulatto” child was born. Thus, mixed-race people have a long history in this country, disproving the notion often mentioned today that miscegenation will somehow magically cure racism.

Most major stereotypes about multiracial people in America historically involved individuals whose heritage was black and white or Native American and white. Such people were largely thought to yearn for the same advantages as whites but found them off-limits because of the “one-drop rule,” which originated in the South and mandated that just a drop of black blood meant they were of color.

In the 21st century, newer stereotypes about multiracial people have gained popularity. Rainier Spencer, founder and director of the Afro-American Studies Program and senior adviser to the president at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says contemporary media coverage of mixed-race people isn’t filled with tragic mulattoes but with docile symbols of a colorblind America yet to reach fruition.

“Multiracial people are infantilized,” Spencer says. “They [the media] don’t treat them as fully capable agents. Mixed-race people are quiet and happy, and they don’t complain. They’re our postracial future.”

Spencer, author of “Reproducing Race: The Paradox of Generation Mix,” cautions that these notions are dangerous. The stereotype that multiracial people represent a bridge between races that will soon eradicate bigotry ignores the fact that such people were in North America more than a century before U.S. independence and that racism remains a reality.

This idea also lets the establishment off the hook, he says. “If mixed-race people are going to take us to a postracial destiny, then the power structure doesn’t have to worry about it. It’s very convenient.”…

…In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau permitted declaring more than one race on census forms. In the subsequent decade, several published articles reported that the mixed-race population was increasing, especially among young people.

But Heidi W. Durrow, who grew up as the only daughter of an African-American father and a Danish mother, would like to see news stories about multiracial people that don’t revolve around census figures…

Laura Kina, a founding member of the Critical Mixed Race Studies biennial conference and associate professor of Art, Media and Design at DePaul University, has similar concerns. She considers the idea that mixed-race people are new to be a stereotype. “They go back a very long ways,” she says.

Kina is the daughter of an Okinawan father from Hawaii and a Spanish-Basque/Anglo mother, according to her website…

Dominique DiPrima, host of Los Angeles radio show “The Front Page,” takes issue with the concept of multiracialism because she disputes the concept of race. “I think the media should differentiate between culture, ethnicity and race,” says DiPrima, daughter of Italian-American poet Diane di Prima and African-American writer Amiri Baraka…

Read the entire article here.

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