Talk about your mulatto moments! The Mixed Roots festival is a place you can do that and have people nod, laugh, and hug you in recognition. There may still be some furrowed brows, but it’s a safe house. Your friendly blogger is reading excerpts of his piece from “The Black Body” there. Sharing the mic with me in Readings Program 1 is Tai Babilonia, Carleen Brice, Kevin Mihn Allen, and Kerina C. Pharr.
Don’t miss this festival. It’s centered around the largest “Loving Day” celebration on the west coast!
The Black Body Anthology is coming out on the 1st! I’m one of 30 essayists included and it’s pretty great company! Check it out on Amazon or the Publisher’s website. But you can truly find it everywhere, I think. Also come to the reading on the 10th @ Skylight Books, if you can. All the info is listed on my gig page.
I’ll have an essay in a new anthology to be released on October 1, called the Black Body. You can preorder it now on Amazon. I’m not yet famous enough to be listed among the contributors, but my essay will be right there in the first three along with Innaugual Poet, Elizabeth Alexander! Very exciting!
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.
*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….