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Dear White People LA Times,

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted. I left the country the morning after Michael Brown was killed and only heard bits and pieces with my jet lagged mind over in Europe. I still haven’t got my head around what went on in Ferguson and continues to happen. And I’m back home now in Los Angeles observing a strange media era that resembles the seventies in a way with ethnically based TV shows like Goldbergs, Black-ish, and the upcoming The McCarthys touted on billboards all over town. Then I’m spending a lot of time in public elementary schools (part of a job that I don’t talk of much, but is becoming a larger, more impactful part of my life) observing a huge diversity of socioeconomic class and cultures, sometimes fretting over difficulties I see. But what got me this morning was catching up on the Sunday LA Times and reading this article on a film called, Dear White People, by filmmaker Justin Simien.

Here’s the passage that raised my hackles:

part of what has also set “Dear White People” apart is the distinctive diversity of influences behind it. Although Simien has been sure to acknowledge leading African American predecessors such as Spike Lee or John Singleton — he introduced an academy screening of Lee’s debut, “She’s Gotta Have It,” in Los Angeles over the summer — he has also made references to filmmakers Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, Fritz Lang and a host of others.

The article goes on to talk about how African-American millennials aren’t just influenced by black culture:

“I think the difference in our generation, the sort of African American millennial, is we were not only influenced by black culture, we just weren’t,” said producer Lena Waithe…

Okay… Where did jazz come from? Where did hip-hop come from? How did Chuck Berry or Ray Charles get their twang? Who did Jimi Hendrix reinterpret for his biggest hit?

First, it’s just insulting for the writer to posit that a people which encompasses 14% of the US population, rich as “its” cultural expression may be, would only be influenced by what was produced by that minority. Secondly, it’s sad that an artist would get seduced into such an oppositional statement as Ms. Waithe’s claim. (But I fully understand how something can come across as much more simple minded in an out of context quote.)

The affliction of racism gets into us all as it limits our thinking an tries to explain what’s always been there as new. Sorry for that rather generic statement.

But, Dear White People, progress is not in applauding people or yourself for stepping out of a box that was imaginary in the first place.

I’m looking forward to seeing the film. And I hope it reflects a richness that the LA Times writer or editor failed to truly reflect.

(And hopefully now that my hackles have raised, more writing will come!)

What Choice?

I sat down with a cup of coffee this afternoon to listen to the latest Radiolab podcast. As it plays, recent photos stream across the TV monitor of my blended family, my colleagues and collaborators. These are random shots of life. We’re at my Filipino/Italian nephew’s birthday. I see snaps of my nonagenarian friend, Lennie Bluett, who’d informed Clark Gable on the set of “Gone with the Wind” that there were segregated toilets on the set in Culver City, embracing Angela Davis, the activist and educator, at the memorial of my good friend Leo Branton, the lawyer who delivered the closing argument leading to her acquittal in 1972. I see the rhythm section from a recent recording session. I see my friends Ossie and Haize performing with me. I see photos from my friend Aimee’s visit with her baby Echo and more mixed babies in a mixed community. I see a photo of me meeting Grace Lee Boggs. It’s just so beautiful.

And then I hear this. It breaks my heart. OK, it’s an Appalachian story, so prejudge that as you may (though probably not a good idea…). It’s about a mother and two daughters, all “apparently white,” though two identify as black and one emphatically does not.

Listen. I’ll write more later. I have to run out to  Inglewood to meet my white mother at her black best friend’s home for Sunday dinner. I’m so grateful for the nourishment I’ve received from this community. It’s helped me transcend experiences I’ve had that resonate with this story.

Sweet Breakfast Cereal

When my girlfriend showed me this yesterday, I admit to thinking, “Wow, they’ve really done it!” It’s not the first commercial to show interracial families or visibly mixed kids. But something in the quiet, direct dialogue, the clear relationships, and familial care in this really got me. I hate to even spoil it for you by describing how the kid’s concern for her father totally hit home for me. So watch it now before I wax  melancholic:


Sure, the little girl is over the top on the cuteness scale. (She’s a throwback to Shirley Temple: overwhelmingly sweet, though watching  that creative mind turning is irresistible.) But what I’m feeling are the conversations overheard — or in which she’s been included — about the higher risk of heart disease for blacks, especially men. I remember the strange feeling I had wondering why my dad was more likely to have high blood pressure and heart disease than my mom. Would he develop sickle-cell anemia? Why do only black people get that?

I’m not surprised by the hateful comments that forced General Mills to shut down comments on the YouTube post. I’m glad that some people are. That’s collective evidence of some change.

What inspires me is that there was even a choice made to use an intact, thoughtful family who is  unambiguously  mixed to sell cereal. Sure, it wasn’t as big of a “[cref obamas-speech-on-race Julia Moment]” for me as when I heard candidate Obama talk about the feelings of bias in his own home with his own blood relatives five years ago. But it was pretty stunning to see the portrayal of a normal family, not cast as exotic or comic relief where normal life problems are examined and racial particularities are an implied fact of life.

A Radical Welcome on King’s Birthday

On the day we as a nation celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I’m thinking about how I spent his actual birthday on Sunday. My white Atlanta-born girlfriend — a woman who was in her mother’s womb as she made sandwiches for black families coming to ATL for MLK’s funeral — and I rolled out of bed and hurried out to All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Pasadena for a talk on King and the transformative God. The lecture wasn’t as promised, but rather the speaker, the African-American Episcopal priest, Stephanie Spellers, spoke on “radical welcoming,” welcoming “the other” into your community, uncomfortably adapting to them rather than asking them to conform to your rules alone. She spoke while needling us that the Episcopal Church is the whitest and richest church in the US.

We left later church service — where this Hawaiian-born, Irvine-raised mulatto knew the more of the Negro spirituals being sung than his ATL-bred partner — for lunch with my Filipina ex-stepmother. She is the head of what I call my extended Southern California family; especially now that no close relatives of my nuclear family are on this coast.

At Full House Seafood in Chinatown, we celebrated the 71st birthday of the 12th of 13 children with at least four generations present. I get a little confused, but I know my four-year-old step-nephew is the uncle of the five-year-old son of my ex-stepmom’s niece’s daughter. The eldest present were the 6th child of the 13 and her white ex-military husband. The youngest was the wisest-looking one-year-old I’ve ever seen who had clear designs on my woman.

My Italian/Filipino-American step nephew chased me around with poppers for a few minutes before we shopped in Chinatown for a bamboo steamer for my mother to take back to her small town in New Hampshire. Leaving Chinatown we saw the stirrings of a potential fight between a middle-aged Latino homeless-looking man and a young tattooed Aryan-looking man. After some face-on-face hateful speech, they both eventually walked away. I don’t advise getting into the face of an angry Aryan on a Sunday in Chinatown.

We drove back to our place on the busy road in a beautiful canyon for a short break.

A couple hours later we headed down to the Leimert Park area to Bryant Temple AME Church to hear the wonderful singer, Dwight Trible do a Martin Luther King celebration concert. We arrived late, so I listened behind the window while my girlfriend went to the restroom. From where I stood I could see my reflection in the pane and a woman who would not look away from me. I don’t know if she was mentally disturbed or just disturbed by me, but looking at her face and my pale reflection made me feel extremely white even as I listened to a dreadlocked woman quote and discuss my favorite speech — the “Mountain Top” speech.

We finally took our seats.

The crowd and the band were diverse, though I often find myself scanning for cultural tourists when I’m in a majority black setting, especially a church where so many members are dressed formally. I wonder if I am with my multi-culti hippie crew when I roll in and play music or support my friends onstage.

So to bring it back to the unsuspected start: this is the radical welcome and its partner, the radical seeker. As a biracial person in an era when claiming both is an option, you have no choice but to participate in a dynamic where your existence makes some uncomfortable. If you choose to claim your whole self and ancestry, you necessarily have to put yourself in positions where you will feel uncomfortable, perhaps a cultural tourist.

The woman may have stared at me, but the community embraced me at Bryant Temple AME.

I awkwardly sit in my extended Southern California family; I even remember horrible things being said in the home my father shared with my stepmother when they were together. But we continue to show up for each other, welcoming each other into our lives easing awkwardness with familiarity and love.

I know there’s a special excitement when I show up at All Saints because I’m young and darker than a lot of the congregation. But we’re getting to know each other better all the time.

My girlfriend and I were back home by eight. We had dinner with leftovers from the crazy chicken en Español. We watched a British sci-fi television series and danced around the living room to music from a melancholy Scottish band. I felt myself radically welcoming her.  It’s in relationships, political, community, and personal that we create community from chaos.

“New Again: I was with the Shark” – Gil Scott-Heron Tribute


From “All/Us/We: a Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron” curated by Kevin Spicer at Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica.

“Three Playing Fields” Poets & Writers/Connecting Cultures

This is from an event called Connecting Cultures, presented by Poets & Writers Magazine at Beyond Baroque last June. The piece itself is an excerpt of the longer piece I did for the Emmett Till Project last year at Highways in a show curated by Kevin Spicer. I also did a performance of “Three Playing Fields” for the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival this year.


Buddy Collette

I’ve just heard that Buddy Collette has passed.

Buddy was my friend. My last words to him were “I love you.” And his to me were “I love you, too.”

It was just a random meeting at Ralph’s market across the street from where I’m sitting right now, at the Farmers Market. I was in the produce section, squeezing oranges and this handsome elder gentleman came over to me and said, I bet you’re a musician. I was in my early 20s, with a little buzz around me, ready to take the rock ‘n’ roll world on, so I was a little used to this sort of thing happening. But this man had spark in his eyes. We spoke for a few minutes. I felt very encouraged by him. It felt sweet to be recognized by an elder. I imagined myself in his place someday, encouraging another kid. I wanted to be part of the tradition. I’d always felt such a gratitude when older black men, who’d had to struggle so much, stopped to give me encouragement — a post civil-rights kid, half white and quite privileged. It made me feel a little guilty. Yet it inspired me to be part of the tradition of giving back, of encouraging young people to be the best they could possibly be, and to affirm that you, as an elder, recognize the value in their expression.

After the man moved on, a younger white couple approached me and asked if I knew who he was.

“He said his name was Buddy,” I said.

“That’s Buddy Collette! He’s a jazz legend! You’re a very lucky guy.”

A few weeks later I was in the Bob’s Big Boy near my apartment on Wilshire Blvd, and there was Buddy at the counter. We said hello again and a friendship was born.

We never got to play together, but over the years I’d go to see him play or tell stories of the old days on Central Avenue, stories of him and young Mingus breaking bottles and stuff to give to Simon Rodia for the Watts Towers that were being built, or how he convinced Charles to give up the cello for the bass, and join his band. They’d jump on the red line and play in the train cars for fun. I loved hearing how he got the unions together, first through jam sessions and musical exchanges with the white classical musicians of Local 47, then the true amalgamation of the Unions. It’s amazing how different the world seems now. It’s hard to imagine my friend, in my city, not being able to join a group with other musicians simply because of his skin color. But that’s what Buddy and this community of artists had to deal with and, mischievously at times, navigate.

Then later, after his stroke, Buddy started to show up at my events a little more. It thrilled me when he came to the opening of a film I scored, or when I’d hear him talk up my talents and versatility to other people. When he came to see me at Kenny Burrell’s birthday performance at Royce Hall, he told me I had what Nat Cole had with my ability to sing. I should take that to heart more than I have.

One of my favorite conversations with Buddy was at a memorial for a dear friend of ours, Geri Branton. He told me that he was playing piano with his right hand. He was so excited by the voicings he was discovering. He had the passion of student just getting the concepts that would open the entire world to him.

That delight in discovery along with his deep memory was what made Buddy so special. His stories and music were so good because he was always attentive and curious. My sister and I took him to dinner one night at Versailles’ Cuban restaurant after seeing a play by Roger Smith about Watts. Again, he had a pouring out of memories and a delight in going to theater and us hanging out together. He just brought so much joy to my life! And he reminded me that there were always new discoveries to be had in our city and in our lives.

I’m also remembering the time sitting with him and Brock Peters at Geri and Leo’s 50th Anniversary party. Seeing these two men meet for the first time showed me the humbleness and excitement the greats have. They were passionate about each other’s talents and the growing each of them was still doing.

That spirit endures beyond the body, the spirit of affirmation, encouragement, aspiration and the desire to connect with other beings. Buddy connected me to the past, present and a vision of a beautiful future of respect, love and possibilities.

The Tender Balance of “Us-and-Other”

Today was my first day at Camp Obama.   I’m sure some would wonder why it took me so long.   Truth is I’m a cynic.   I’d rather imagine the good in people than face people and be disappointed.   It’s a fear.     And like all my fears, I eventually get around to the confrontation.   I think of it as my job.   I’m a singer songwriter because I was afraid to talk.   If I could get out 3 coherent minutes of an idea out, I thought I’d remedy it.   But I digress….

The gist of today was we’re in the last days of the campaign (not the Palin-esque Last Days), so what we have to offer is our personal stories.   We’re not going to wow people with policy at this point.   Argument is a waste of energy.   What we need to do is to motivate the already inclined to act.   So (and here’s some red meat for the haters) the first half of the camp was basically an autobiographical sketch workshop.   The task was identifying a personal challenge, explaining the choices we made because of it, and the outcome.   Yes it was Obamacentric in that we all had made choices to come and volunteer for this campaign.   And it had to be something that could be communicated in 120 seconds.

So I felt really esoteric when it came to my story.   I mean I write volumes about this stuff.   Our biographies overlap again and again.   I have millions of challenge>choice>outcomes that led me here.

Few kept it to 2 minutes – it’s hard with emotional subject matter.   But I like assignments, so I tried.   I offered the “nigger” story.

I was 5 and it was the days of Richard Pryor on vinyl.   My dad would call us “little shit asses.”   So you can’t blame me for being a foul mouthed kid.   I called a kid “nigger.”   I got beat up.   My parents explained the word to me and it began my journey into history and the language.   In Irvine a few years later I got beat up and called a “nigger.”

My corporal identity has allowed me to be perceived as oppressed and oppressor, included or other.   I focus on the inclusion in order to bring empathy toward the other for my peers.   I am the derided other, yet I’ve been included as family.   So take that a step further and include those for whom we don’t have a natural affinity.   Let’s understand their stories because they’re not dissimilar from your friend, me.

I feel like I’ve been able to do that through my music, it’s actually my mission.   I tried to do this a little through politics in college, but the pressure ate me up.   I said it was the “no Red States/Blue States” speech that got me, but really it wasn’t until the race speech (my Julia Moment) that I was in.   It’s that ability to speak in shared experience that I believe is Barack’s primary strength.

So is it all about race for me?   There are many biracial people out there I wouldn’t trust with my country.   Not many people would I trust with my country.   It’s what one does with his or her experience that moves me.   Obama does what I’d like to do in a larger forum.   I don’t agree with everything he does.   But that’s the great part about the conversation with those that are simultaneously “us-and-other.”     We see and can represent the humanity of those with whom we may differ from a rather unique perspective.   And if we’re practiced, we can hold this conversation in a really calm fashion.

I felt a little cold recalling this story to the group.   Name calling and childhood beatings seem rather existential when you’re talking with people whose narratives include present battles with healthcare and unemployment.   But it’s this essentialist tension that gives me the sense that Barack Obama has the skill set to hear the stories that will lead to effective leadership.   I’m not looking for an affective President, I’m looking for an effective President.   Affect is a large part of effective politicking, but something about the navigational balance of being “us-and-other” can blunt that when we’re trying for effective dialogue.   We’re not going to get a lot of red meat from Obama, but we will get a reasoned, educated and respectful discussion.

The Julia Moment – Obama’s Speech on Race

The easiest place to start is at the tears. And for me it was the mention of the white grandmother “who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world.”

I remember first really connecting to my black American self reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X while traveling in Europe. I was in from the beginning, along with the rage, understanding Brother Malcolm’s hatred of the “white rapist blood” within him even though the preponderance of “white” blood in me came from histories of love and directly from a courageous woman who moved across a continent and an ocean to marry a man who feared the social repercussions of his choice. And though Malcolm eventually re-evaluates his characterizations of the “blue-eyed devils,” embracing a multi-hued community of sincerity–a journey I joined in my reading–I was momentarily just as much with him when he proclaimed that the only thing he liked integrated was his coffee. I understood the history. Parts of my life connected viscerally to his narrative through my own experience and the stories both my father and mother told me. I was caught up in his intelligence and charisma. Ultimately I was inspired by his capacity for change and love.

My father’s generation have told me about the moment they saw Diahann Carroll on TV in her show Julia. She was simply a beautiful black woman, sans caricature, neither Madonna, nor whore. A woman.

When we talk of race in this country, particularly in this era, it is generally of tolerance, of how close we are or not to equality, of self-identity, or in platitudinous phrases and descriptions of colorblindness (“Love See No Color” [sic…and gag!]), of a post-racial society. We speak “people of color”–whose opposite, I guess, would be “people absent color(?).”

And I’ve heard all the justifications for black rage and white anger.

But in political dialogue I’ve never heard a self-identified black man, speak of the absolute love he receives from his white family, his complete connection to them, even as the nearly inevitable racial experiences create moments of tension within that primary relationship. This was my Julia Moment.

Most of my “friends of color” have had our moments when we said we’d never date a white person again. And I’ve been asked if that sentiment offends me, seeing that I must have some connection to my whiteness. How could a sentiment that I’ve adopted myself for a period “offend” me? During my time of self-segregation I discovered that cultural ideas were as jumbled and problematic in my limited community as they were in the larger community to which I belong by blood and experience.

That’s the complicated beauty of Obama’s speech from Tuesday morning. I cannot disown, we cannot disown the white, the black, the brown, the Asian, the native people of this land nor can we deny the legacies of what has happened in the past and what is happening now that creates division in our society. The “whole” experience, the identity beyond the hyphen that adds divisive distinction preceding the word American, is a world where we can hold the profound and profane in a single family.

I was my maternal grandmother’s first grandchild. She wasn’t happy with the idea that her daughter was marrying a black man. A year after they were, my grandmother and I started a love affair that would continue into my 30s. We’d hold hands at our favorite bench, looking out at the lighthouse, facing east towards old England, from where our ancestors came in the 17th Century. I usually sat to her left, so when I looked towards her, in the distance southeast was the land where some of my family was bought and brought to this country. Behind us was entire land that used to belong to a brown people and the coast where I was raised in the sunshine. Even further west is the island of Oahu where Barack Obama and I were born. And beyond that is the Philippines where my step mother was born and raised.

This isn’t a platitude or a list, this is our family. I don’t love everything that happens within it, we’re a complicated community, but the bond and the love is irrefutable.

(c) Jason Luckett, March 19, 2008

Perspective and Collective Assumptions

Prompted by Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed piece and blog today claiming venom from Barck Obama’s supporters with regard to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and alledged race baiting–which Krugman attributes actually to the media–I’ve just watched the YouTube video of the question and answer that started this conversation about MLK and LBJ. It is the reporter who picked the segment mentioning King, which was one of several illustrations of “hope” in Obama’s stump speeches, to quote back to Senator Clinton. I see no racist intent in her response, nor do I see it as a deviation of her “experience matters” campaign stance. And strategically, one never wants to add complexity to an argument that would cede ground to one’s opponent. But her response does echo a patronizing history of majority privilege. It does seem to reinforce the division of labor, that the marginalized should continue to campaign for their goals outside the system and that change is only achieved when an insider, a beneficiary of long established hierarchies decides to ratify the outsiders’ ambition. Couple that with former President Clinton’s mention of Jesse Jackson’s wins in South Carolina, excluding mentions of his own win or John Edwards win or Al Sharpton’s loss and you get a picture of Black leaders as marginal outsiders at the very least.

Is that playing the race card intentionally or does it speak to a deeper status quo mindset that views Blacks as inspirational figures but not worthy of consideration for administrative leadership? I don’t believe that Hillary isn’t sincerely inspired when she realizes that there is an African-American man next to a European-American woman on the stage next to her running to lead the nation. But I do believe that her drive for the office may blind her to the some of the slights people who are not European-American feel everyday. And I’m clearly aware that in my editing of this comment, I went back to insert the word “man” after “African-American” and I inserted “European-American” before the word “woman.” Is it a given that a person running for President is a man? And is it a given that a woman running for President is white? Changing our collective assumptions about people in this world should be a vital project for the “Leader of the Free World.” It should result in strengthening our international image as well as creating a climate for greater security for us domestically. I think all should avoid using “Missus Clinton” in reference to Clinton as much as all should avoid efforts to attach marginalized Black leaders to Obama, as Bill Clinton has done. Overall I believe that Senator Obama is better positioned to change collective assumptions. However inspirational is her potential to break the glass ceiling, Senator Clinton and her team seem too locked into past divisions of patronage based on race, class and other privilege to offer as effective leadership to a diverse nation and world. If you are baited, it’s your responsibility as a leader neither to bite, nor deepen the divide by short sighted or misleading comments. Obama will be tested and baited by the media as the Democratic candidate for President. It is unknown how he will respond to the “Clinton Rules.” But we do know that in her self-touted vetting process, Senator Clinton and President Clinton have both failed.

Are they race-baiting intentionally? Probably not initially. Are they trying to capitalize on racial politics? You decide. (Frank Rich thinks so.)

¡Sí­, Se Puede!

A couple days ago I added the subtitle: “Mulatto Moments in ‘Post-Racial’ America.” Of course I hope that everyone here would recognize the jest: how could you really have “mulatto moments” if there weren’t discoveries that weren’t based in truly segregated realities? But I’m consistently surprised. Years ago I used in a song: ‘The colorblind man sees better than the rest / I’m trying to believe it’s true.’ I’m convinced now, as I pretty much was then, was that the operative part of that compound is blind. (There’s a good Op-Ed by Uzodinma Iweala that appeared in the L.A. Times on Jan. 23 that breaks down the idea of “Post Racial” America.) And who really wants to be blind? I’m sure there were folks with me at the Democratic Debate in Hollywood on Thursday that saw “a man” staring down from all those posters for Barack Obama. I saw a man, too. But I saw a biracial man, who is called Black, or African-American, by himself and others, who kissed his white grandparents, like I kissed mine. And because I know a little of his story, I know that he’s spent some time here and there, in different nations, where different religions were dominant. And I was a little scared thinking about the joy I feel seeing old pictures of similarly hued Malcolm X (probably lighter than the biracial Obama, and definitely lighter than Denzel Washington), and Malcolm’s end. I wasn’t born then, Barack was 3, and things have changed. Now there’s real hope that a man that looks like that will lead this country…a country that was heavily invested in not giving power to anyone even the shade of a paper bag when he was born. (Follow the link and search around, a paper bag test was really the result of internalized racism, but you get the picture. When was Thurgood Marshall appointed to the Supreme Court? And what shade was he? The later’s answer is interestingly the day after Loving v. Virginia struck down all Anti-Miscegenation laws in the country, June 13, 1967.)

I’m glad I know this history and can see it.

I don’t need to know the concepts behind a great piece of music. I don’t need to know the lyrics. But I’m excited by that knowledge, intrigued by the confluence and how that contributes to the power of the work. And I’m annoyed by those who dismiss it, dismiss the traditions of the music. This isn’t because I’m getting old, the first song I ever wrote was influenced by Woody Guthrie’s use of traditional source material. I was 9.

So I’m equally annoyed by those who are ignorant of the history of color prejudice, who wistfully long for a period when it will not matter in the near future or, even more egregiously, claim that time is now.

Tonight I’m just getting in from a Black/Brown dialogue by way of a Poetry Choir Performance in Highland Park. Really, most of the crowd, however identified, was ironically the shade of a brown paper bag, give or take. Maybe this is post racial, where we’re all the same shade but the difference is the cultural traditions. But the shade (the cover that you can’t judge!) leads to a story of the alchemy. And part of that alchemy includes the history of prejudice and how it has impacted all of our lives, privileged and not.

But beyond that, ( ¡Sí, Se Puede!), history is fun and illuminating. I’m at the debates Thursday, and the blue English signs for Obama are all out. So I get the red one, which is in Spanish. I’m not bilingual. And I’m the kid who took French in my upper-middle class suburb. But I dug “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” better than “The People United will never be defeated” when we demonstrated against Aparthied back in the 80s. And I heard ” ¡Sí, Se Puede!” then. I heard it in the streets a couple years ago. And I’m completely thrilled. There are probably some cynics that will say it’s a co-opting akin to AeroMexico’s. But to me it’s an embrace, an embrace of the Farm Workers’ movement, et. al. I feel like only a true believer with the audacity of hope could think that he could use a phrase so identified with leftist movements to win a mainstream election while signaling his inclusion of people who have been historically shut out. And talk about inclusion, Obama even has a LGBT link on his page! (I wonder what Pat “see sah perda” Buchanan would say about that!). I’m just so excited that my generation, a generation with leaders that are post modern, recognizing the real presence of difference, of cultural circumstance, without bowing to the hierarchies of the past, has the chance to lead. That is the future, not some colorblind, bland, “we’re all the same” thing.

Yes we can embrace all these differences and thrive. Remember when multiculturalism was “hot?” Well now it just “is.” And we need someone who understands that intuitively, dare I say natively. We don’t need someone who’ll cynically use codified race baiting on the campaign trail, whether intentional or not, and I know it was Bill, not Hillary. (Remember when Bill Clinton discussed what the meaning of the word “is” is? I embrace ambiguity, but there’s a little cynical manipulation going on there. And I liked Clinton well enough. But both Clinton and George Wallace have won the South Carolina Primary along with John Edwards, Jesse Jackson and proto neo-con Henry M. Jackson.)

I said originally that this wasn’t going to be a blog just about Obama. And it isn’t, but this movement is really inspiring me.

And so it begins…

The beginning of this pet project, is to what I refer.

After the 2004 Democratic Convention Speech, I was blown away thinking that this was the America I know. This brown guy with a white mother and black father, born in Honolulu talking about unity. That’s always been my trip, same birthplace, similar circumstances, (though my father was from Mississippi and mother from Maine…which some might think is as radical a divide as Kenya and Kansas) our parents at the U of H though a few years later than Obama’s. But this isn’t about my similarities with a man whom I admire in any way other than a starting point.

Of course I always embraced my blackness and whiteness, Southern and Yankee background (however cloaked it was during my time of only claiming “Indian” in junior high school). And I believed it gave me a great opportunity of intimate access to Black and White America which felt very real and fairly exclusive to me in my 70’s and 80’s childhood. The Civil Rights Movement was “over” by then and I have no direct memory of King’s assasination or Bobby Kennedy, let alone real segregation. But I saw my Los Angeles family friends and my Irvine friends and received very different information from each.* So I took music and tried to tell stories in which people who believed they were like me could hear stories of people whom they deemed “other” while claiming my connection to both. It’s a struggle. But everything is a struggle when it comes to youth and identity. And it continues today with national, ethnic, sexual, and religious identities.

So my sister and I came up with this idea of a project where we would photograph people of mixed heritage and let that speak under the term ObamaNation to what we’re becoming as a culture. It’s a culture where identity is fluid, though where I feel respect should be paid to the legacies we represent. So, yes, it’s easy to say we’re all mixed, yet I don’t want to hear a white looking person using the N-word without the recognition of the struggle his Octaroon great-grandfather had with that word and what it represented. And I won’t use familiar epithets for a host of people whom may not be of my varied background, nor will you hear many disparaging mentions of our own pet names from me (our own being the “biracial” black, white with a little Native American and a Filipino step family group). Also, I appreciate the spoken resemblance to the “Abomination” that was claimed in the not so distant past about our existence as human beings.

But Sis and I aren’t photographers. We let it go. But in light of the historic win tonight for Barack Obama, I’d launch this conversation. I want to hear the stories of people who feel they are truly bi/multi-racial or bi/multi-cultural. What do those terms mean? I have no criteria. But I want to hear and create a spot where that conversation can begin in a truly inclusive spot. I’ve seen places where the biracial identity seems self-fetishized (which frankly irritates me as much as hearing from “mono-racials” how “mixed babies are always the prettiest!”). I don’t come from that point of view. I just want to know your experience and share a little of mine from time to time.

I’m not set up in a Huffington Post style at this point, so just use the blogger commenting system and if you’d like to create an article, just mention that in the comment and I’ll stick it up as an entry attributed to you. Or I’ll link to your blog. Let’s see what we can do. And if we get a roll going, maybe I’ll investigate some group blogging application and we can all contribute equally from different locations.


But how do you feel about Barack Obama’s victory tonight? I know I have the good kind of chills mainly because of the what I said above. I love that someone like me, who has had such subtle and more direct intimate encounters with so many cultures is nearer to being able to have the greatest platform in the political world from which to bridge divides. I know when I ran for student office at UCLA no one ran against me because all that had an interest in what my office provided believed I represented their interests. And anyone who may have wanted the position withdrew because they knew that fact made me unbeatable. I was nineteen and that experience of holding the office was why I never continued in politics, but I was able to set into motion some real cooperation and bring the “Cultural Affairs Commission” a little closer to the level of influence of the more commercially oriented Campus Events Commission. I knew songs were my mission after that. But Barack Obama, stuck with politics. He has been able to take the lessons that I didn’t want to ever be close to relearning again and turned them into ideas and orations that unite and educate a nation. I often feel I’ve accomplished in a room of multi-hued faces singing my songs of unity. But his stage is greater, in a tougher arena and his experience is a quarter century long. I have no doubt that he’ll be able to take those subtle experiences that us cultural shape-shifters have and turn elements of them into actionable policy that will bring the nation closer together and improve our global image.

Let’s talk.


*As recently as 2000 I learned that white people’s hair smelled like dogs when wet and wondered where I stood on the continuum from “good hair” to animal fur. Granted these were young teenagers, not peers, sharing this in a camp setting in a “blacks only” group to which I was a counsellor. The group’s facilitaor told me that came up every year for the stereotype list. So perhaps I shouldn’t event hint at a pass and should be more shocked that stereotypes, or at least such cultural isolation exists in the 2000s. We need a (real) uniter….