Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Bis and the Mixies and the What Are Yous?

The following post is not really book-related, more race related so if you hate those kind of discussions, stop reading after my next sentence. There will be a return to bookish posts tomorrow. Stop reading. Still here? Yay! Be warned this post is full of abstract thoughts, ramblings and BUTs.

It would seem the universe is trying to tell me something. First I read the Latte Rebellion (I definitely recommend you read it!) which is all about mixed race kids, bicultural kids, multiracial, whatever you want to call us 'mutts' (which I say out of complete love). Then I'm in school working on an online college profile. My counselor wrote my ethnicity down as Latino. Which is a first because once people see me they automatically assume I'm Black (unless they themselves are Black and then they usually ask me what I'm 'mixed with'. I used to wonder how they knew and when I was in 8th grade or so someone explained to me it was because of my hair...), but if they just hear my last name they automatically assume I'm Latino. But then again, I'm not so sure my counselor had ever seen me before...Regardless I wanted to change the profile to reflect my bicultural status, especially since this was profile was used to find scholarship matches. But I couldn't. The application would not allow me to list more than one ethnicity, so I ended up picking 'multiracial'. But here's the thing I'm not multiracial. To me being multiracial is different from being bicultural. Multiracial=many races. For ex: someone like the main character in The Latte Rebellion who is half Indian, and a quarter Spanish and Irish. However her best friend Carey is half Chinese, half European/Caucasian/white. To me Carey would not be multiracial, she would be bi cultural. BUT she's also multicultural because I'm sure her European side is made up of every single European country (ok I'm slightly exaggerating but you know what I mean). Bicultural is what I am, made up of two cultures. Black and Latina. A Blatina. I asked my college counselor why I couldn't put two ethnic groups down and she said multiracial was the same thing. But it's not. And perhaps this is the dilemma multiracial kids face because by checking such a broad term, we do not get to acknowledge each side of our cultural heritages. I want the world to know that I'm Black and Panamanian because I'm still trying to reconcile both cultures and being able to show them both would make me happy. What's worse is that no multiracial scholarships popped up! So I'm going to have to change my ethnicity to Latino, write down all the scholarships listed and then switch to Black and write down all those scholarships.

THEN after the college incident, I was directed to the New York Times article, More Young Americans Identify as Mixed Race. This article gave me some good food for thought but this and a conversation on Twitter have left me thoroughly confused. Thus I wrote this blog post to try and write out my thoughts AND to get feedback. I'm even using bulletpoints to make it easier for myself (and others). Any thoughts you could give me/personal anecdotes would be greatly appreciated.

  • Is Asian a race? I used to always think multiracial would be Asian, Black and white. But now I think multiracial could also mean Asian, Latino and Black. But Latino is not a race, it's an umbrella term for a culture. Hence the reason as to why I'm not BIRACIAL, I'm BICULTURAL. BUT biracial (I thought) only applies to half-Black, half-white? Someone who is half Asian, half white is usually not referred to as biracial, right? See how confusing it gets?

  • Why don't people understand that multicultural does not just mean people of color? Multicultural means someone who has more than two cultural heritages. So you can be Irish, English and German and call yourself multicultural. Seriously I wouldn't care and other people shouldn't either.

  • By that same token though, don't be one of those people who on cultural heritage days lists: "10% Irish, 2% Scottish, 50% German, 1% Cherokee, 10% Greek" etc. I HATE that. When you are less than 10% just stop. Unless you actively celebrate that culture.

  • Why are people so quick to try and say that they are 3% Black and 5% Native American? Unless you've faced prejudice because of that, I really don't wanna hear it. One time one of my white friends came up to me all excited because she found out she was one eighth Black and Native American (I forgot the tribe). I just looked at her. She was never going to face prejudice because of that fact so I found it hard to get excited with her. BUT there's the 'one drop' rule too. See what a mess this is?
  • Not to be stereotypical but anyone ever notice how Southern Black people always claim to be Native American (usually Cherokee)? I say this out of love because my mom is from the Sot uh (but she's never seriously made that claim, only as a joke).

  • Am I one of the only people who see myself as bicultural? I've never really heard anyone else you that term but that's what my parents always say :)

Some days, I feel more Black than Latina (which is most of the time but I'm working on that). Other days it's the reverse (when I'm listening to Spanish music, salsa dancing, etc). Any bicultural/mixed race people feel the same way? (Awesome T-shirt from whatRugear, I WANT)

  • I would be furious if President Obama called himself a white president because he is biracial. I wouldn't mind if he said he was the first biracial president but he is also the first Black president so everyone who got upset that he checked Black on the census needs to CALM DOWN. Again, it's the one drop rule, he looks Black, faces prejudice because he's Black so obviously he's going to acknowledge his Black heritage first. again, I wouldn't have minded thought if he checked biracial (is that even a census option?) but he is not multiracial.

Don't try and make us mixies and biculturals choose sides. It's annoying

  • I don't understand the fuss about joining ethnic clubs? I'm a member of my high school Latino club and my high school African American club. That's what I didn't get about The Latte Rebellion, why couldn't Asha have joined the Latino and Asian clubs? Don't get me wrong, I love the idea behind the Latte Rebellion but still.
  • All of you people who want 'Caucasian' clubs and a 'Caucasian history month' (yes more than one person has said that to me)..I don't even know what to say. NO
  • O.M.G. stop complaining when someone from a different race/culture dates someone outside their race/culture. It's the 21st century, deal with it
  • Most importantly: I'm tired of hearing that race and ethnicity does not matter. I want it to matter. Being Blatina does not DEFINE me, but it's part of what makes me who I am today. I don't want a color blind society, I want a society that embraces ALL colors, without question.

Whew. I'm sure I left out some important questions and facts so fill me in. What do you agree or disagree with?


  1. Haha, I think almost every person of color (loL) goes through trying to wrestle through these questions during different points in their life. I don't really have any answers but they are things I have thought about, talked and discussed before. I'm not mixed, just black. I think that when most people say biracial they think it just means black/white. I don't know why. Maybe that's why the counselor lady thought multiracial was so ubiquitous. It's going to be very hard to change these semantics even as the need to evolve race definitions in America grows. You're always going to get someone whining oh my god, why isn't there a white history month! Most of the time it is too tiring to talk to this person but maybe you'll be the person who has the energy to have such a conversation. Very thoughtful post. :)

  2. Wow, this is a thought-provoking post! I am white and my husband is Vietnamese-American, and we have two kids, so this is a compelling topic for me. We do consider our kids to be biracial, and I don't think that term applies only to half-Black, half-white- I think it's any two races. And at least according to the US Census, Asian is considered a race. But I think your question about whether or not it actually is a race is really interesting! It definitely raises questions about what is considered a race and why.

    I have GOT to read The Latte Rebellion!

  3. I am White, but I'm very proud of my ancestors; the Irish who came over in the Potato Famine, the Scandinavians who landed here without knowing a word of English, and the German who worked here for years to save up enough money to bring his wife and son over as well.

    I have heard biracial used to describe other mixes besides Black/White. Bicultural isn't a term I hear very often, but it makes sense. Most people still think of Latino as a race instead of an ethnicity, I think.

    IIRC, the 2000 census was the first that allowed you to check all races that applied, continued with the 2010 census.

    As far as joining the ethnic clubs, my old roommate's father is Black/Latino and her mother is French/Native American. When people asked her what she is, she answered "all of the above". She didn't really feel she fit with any one group. There was always an undercurrent of "you're not ~really~ one of us". And her experiences didn't match the Black, Latina or Native American experiences, partly because she wasn't really welcomed into any of those groups. She didn't look like anything but herself.

    She also had trouble with scholarships, IIRC, since they didn't have multiple options either. We didn't have a mixed race club at that school but if we had, she probably would have been first in line to sign up.

  4. I have definitely heard biracial to describe people who are Asian/White. I do (please forgive me) get confused about Latino and Hispanic, what they mean and when I'm supposed to use them. My brother-in-law grew up in Costa Rica and has a Costa Rican dad and American mom, but people will say he and my nieces have Latino features and so if it's a culture what does that mean?

    Asian, I think, is also an umbrella term, but as someone mentioned on Twitter to you, you can often tell the differences between different Asian people of different countries--something I only was able to do after living in Japan and traveling around Asia for a bit. BUT using Asian as an umbrella term gets confusing, because in the States we usually mean Japan/China/Korea/Thailand/Vietnam etc. but in England they usually mean Indian and Pakistani.

  5. @Liana-I think I'm having this awakening even sooner because of blogging, but good to know I'm asking the same questions people have been asking for centuries! I'm naturally impatient so I probably won't be able to have a conversation as to why we won't ever have a white history month but I was surprised that people would actually think that/dare to say it out loud.

    @Allison-Your comment makes me think that yes biracial should apply to half-Asian, half white/Black because I do consider Asian a race. But then I was talking to Natasha at Maw Books and her husband is Vietnamese (I can't remember if she said Vietnamese American) but she said that he considers Vietnamese to be his race. Does your husband feel the same way?

    Yes you MUST read The Latte Rebellion :)

    @Sylvia-I did worry that this post would come across as me telling people not to be proud of their heritage and that is not at all what I meant.

    Most Latinos I know see Latino as a culture so it's interesting that you say that many people think of it as a race. Because when I think race, I think skin color and Latinos can be Black and white. We have different skin tones.

    I would sign up for a mixed race club too but also the actual clubs that represent one half of me, but I can totally relate to feeling like you don't fit in. I still deal with that but I think I've gotten better at ignoring that, hopefully your friend has too!

    @Amy-I barely know the difference between Latino and Hispanic myself. All I know is that Hispanic was coined by the government. I'm not sure why I use Latino more (maybe because it has a Spanish lilt to it?) but I do.

    See I would be sorta annoyed if someone told me I had Latino features because like I said above, Latinos come in all different colors. For example: some cubans have light skin and green eyes. Mexicans look tan, they often reflect their indigenous roots. Dominicans are usually dark. So yes what does it mean to have Latino features?

    Exactly about the distinction between Asian here and Asian in the UK! I found out they even used to call all non-white people in the UK 'black.' Fascinating stuff. From my dad (who grew up in an extremely diverse neighborhood) and from my reading I've learned to distinguish different Asians based on last names but unfortunately I' m not informed enough to be able to tell based on appearance.

    The consenus so far is that biracial should also apply to Asian/white or asian/black. But that would make Asian a race....

  6. We live in the south part of San Jose. When I went to sign Addie up for Kindergarten I had to explain that she was bicultural and spoke two different languages. The lady behind the desk looked at me like lord somebody please help this poor little southern white lady out. My husband is Dutch and grew up WAY different than I did, most of Adisyn's young life was spent in various cities in Europe which is very different than an American city, she had an extremely hard time adjusting.

  7. No comment, but this response to the Times article was on point:

  8. I didn't think you were saying that. =)

    Well, the few Latinos I know introduce themselves as Mexicans or Cubans, not "Latinos". But I don't really know anyone who thinks of Latinos as White or Native American or anything else. That could just be the ignorance of my social circle though; I'm too far north for my city to have a large Latino population (immigrants usually stay close to their homeland's climate).

  9. @Zetta Great article, thanks for linking.

  10. I love the fact that you have thought this issue through so carefully and expressed your thoughts so well. I'm a high school teacher, and race is a constant conversation (or non-conversation) in my school. Like you, I am irritated by people from the dominant culture who want to claim their club or recognition day. The dominant culture gets recognition every day. The other day a new student transferred into my English class. Before he even got to the door another student asked "what are you?"! I hope in another generation we will all be so "mixed" that no one will need to ask, or care.

  11. Great timing! I just had this conversation with one of my Library students yesterday (she is biracial). We talked a lot about does a person pick one race/culture to identify with more (she does), does it matter, at what age did she really start to think about it, etc.

    My daughter is biracial and definitely identifies with one over the other, but probably because she lives with me, not her dad and there really aren't many Arabs in her life. Actually, she's only 10 so I don't know how much she thinks about these issues yet. I am always making sure we talk about both sides of her and it mostly comes up when she has to fill in a form. She does make a point of checking "other" and listing both (yes, I've encouraged that)

  12. Ari, these are very interesting thoughts and I'm glad you shared them with us.

    I'd definitely consider any mix of two races or ethnicities "biracial" or "bicultural" (however the person wants to identify). I don't think it just needs to be Black/white.

    I had heard that "Hispanic" is a term invented by white people to describe people of Latin descent, while "Latino" is a term invented by Latino people to describe themselves, so I generally use "Latino" unless someone prefers another term.

    Talking about culture is sometimes confusing to me because I don't really feel like I have a culture. I mean, I guess I'm some blend of German and maybe English? But I don't really know and I don't really identify or celebrate either culture, so I guess I just describe myself as "American".

    Oh, and I agree wholeheartedly about "Caucasian appreciation" or whatever. Just... no.

  13. Aaaah! *cries* I wrote a HUGE LONG response and Blogger killed it.

    *weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep* Maybe I'll try to rewrite it later, but for now, I'm too distraught. Great post, though. I definitely don't mind this deviation from the book talk. :)

  14. You could probably get scholarships for being both Latina and Black. I don't think they'd disqualify you if you just so happen to be both.

    And I agree, this is all too complex and confusing. I'm just Black and I find it confusing only in the sense that my family says there's more than "just Black" in our family. I guess race is confusing for everyone. I have Caucasian friends who feel they don't have a culture either and I have so many friends that are trying to balance between their respective culture and the American popular culture. I guess you just can't catch a break... =/

  15. Lovely post which have opened my eyes and made me understand some controversy around race. BTW there's just one race- HUMAN race, which is no race at all but we used to call it like this for too long.

  16. Is it maybe about visibility the way that people classify biracial people? I'm thinking of a celebrity over here who had (she died) white skin, but also had black relatives further back in her ancestry and she didn't get called biracial, the same might go for Asian people who still appear Asian in terms of skin colour even if they have some white ancestry.

  17. Does anyone remember this being discussed during the last census? So many people wanted to be able to describe themselves as something as other than one single "race". But politicians argued this would limit funds for race based initiatives. From this, I think came the classification of 'multi-ethnic' on some forms and the 'we're all one race: human' movement. (Yeah, there used to be 5 Human Races.)
    If you were to look at me, you'd swear I was mixed with something and I can't deny that I am, but I was raised Black. You can't tell me who I am! I don't think we can tell another person what ethnicity they are because it's not just about appearance, but with what culture they've learned to identify.
    Um, Ari, when it comes to scholarships for you ethnicity will be a moot point. You've got BRAINS!!!!

  18. Wonderful post, Ari, and Zetta, thanks for linking to that article. My parents joked that back in the day (late '50s) their marriage was considered "mixed," because they came from two widely different ethnicities and cultures, even though they're both white. With Sicilian spoken in our house, and Sicilian food and attitudes, I definitely felt bicultural growing up.

    Fascinating to me to see how things have changed from their generation to now. I have 6 nieces/nephews, 4 of whom are biracial. My grandniece and grandnephew are multiracial, and I wonder if when they get older, will they consider themselves bicultural? (Chilean/American?) or multicultural (Japanese/Chilean/Sicilian/Hungarian?) Or something else that will make sense to them?

    Interesting question about whether Asian is considered a race. I guess I always considered it a catch-all term like "white" -- many ethnicities and cultures arising from the same general region of the world; related, but very different from each other.

    In college, I had Jewish and Japanese-American friends whose parents were adamant that they date and marry within their culture/race, b/c they were afraid of losing their heritage. Of course my friends all thought their parents were being ridiculous. Is this something people still worry about? Do Asian or Latino or Black parents today worry about this with their kids?

    About people who want Caucasian clubs/month/whatever...this kind of thinking befuddles me just as much as when people like Glenn Beck refer to "white culture." What "culture" IS that? It's a meaningless term. My cultural upbringing was different from friends who are Polish, or Irish, or those who didn't identify with any predominant ethnicity. And it completely ignores religious influence. Growing up Catholic (vs. Protestant or Jewish or Muslim) was a HUGE cultural influence; if I meet another person of a different race, but that person also grew up Catholic, we find we have LOTS in common. (Guilt, anyone?) So to me, being white means mostly that I benefit from white privilege. Do we need a month celebrating that? Ha! Every day in America celebrates that.

    "I want a society that embraces ALL colors, without question." YES.

    I believe this conversation will only get more important, and more prevalent, in years to come. One question I have -- will it change the face (literally) of YA lit? Dialogue like this will, I hope, go a long way towards doing that.

  19. I don't have any answers, but I think it's important to ask questions like these. USian notions of race and culture have changed dramatically over the years, and I expect they will continue to do so as long as some people are privileged over others.

    As for whites with Native ancestors, I think recognizing them (or claiming them) is a way of denying privilege.

  20. @Pam-Your family is multiracial, plain and not-so-simple ;) I had to laugh at the poor southern white lady part because I didn't know you were Southern! Addy is so fortunate to have two great cultures to represent/celebrate.

    @Zetta-People need to stop being so desperate to find evidence that America is post-racial because we aren't and they aren't going to find it for many, many years. Excellent article, thanks for the link!

    @Sylvia-That's awesome that the Latinos you know introduce themselves by their country. For me, Panama is so tiny, I just say I'm Latina because many kids my age have no idea where/what Panama is.

    But in Latino culture there is a definite color bias between light and dark. For example: many Cubans are very light with green eyes. But there are also Afo-Cubans, Cubans with darker skin. I know some Cubans who are light who would idetnify themselves as white Latino (just as there's an option for non-white Hispanic or whatever). It's oh so complicated. Because then you have the Mexicans who are oftentimes tan due to mestizo (indigenous + Spanish) heritage and then you've got Panamanians and Domincans who are usally dark due to slavery ancestry.

  21. People think there should be a white history month?! Isn't, y'know, every month unofficially white history month?

    I know this is late, but I stumbled upon this post and it reminds me of a BBC programme I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago. They were interviewing a mixed-race woman and got onto the topic of Obama identifying as black. She said that she, along with many people of her generation with black and white heritage, identifies as black because of discrimination and a need to stand together with the black community. A lot of younger mixed-race Britons ask her why she's denying her white heritage, because they identify as black *and* white. I think this speaks of an increased acceptance of multiculturalism within Britain. Ethnic identity is not so much about discrimination and the 'Other' as it is about embracing one's own heritage. It's not perfect here, of course, and I'm not naive enough to believe that there's no racism, but I'm hopeful that we're on the way towards a society in which we can celebrate our differences without being divided by them.

  22. Be glad that your friend came to you excitedly about being of African descent. I know people who won't own up to it because it's shameful to them. Somehow, blackness seems to be still a shameful thing and I see it even in the media and in cultures, including Latin.


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