Rebecca Walker, Black Cool

One of the reasons I love Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness is that it celebrates the diversity of expression of blackness while at the same advocating that the heart of this culture can not be bought or sold. Or in the words of Michaela Angela Davis, “You cannot have our cool-ass Black style.” Davis goes on to say that there are no solid definitions of blackness, and it lacks the need for the validation from mainstream society. It exists as it’s own enigma, and when you try to change it or alter it, it dies (59). This collection has a lot of mixed love going on, firstly with the eloquent Rebecca Walker as its editor. In her introduction, she calls for the building of a “periodic table of Black Cool, element by element.” While this book is an excellent beginning, the movement reaches beyond the pages with the site Our Black Cool and an increasing Twitter presence.

Some of the other mixed contributors include Mat Johnson, Staceyann Chin, and Rachel M. Harper. Harper’s essay describes the tough black cool of her father, a trait that she found intimidating, untouchable and admirable. Within her community, men like her father “were fighting not only to assert their identities, but to create them, to solidify and define their myths. They were making the stories of who they are – to themselves, each other, and to the outside world.” This is something that bridges the experience of all people of color, and certainly a position mixed people take on every day.

Johnson, (whose new novel, Pym, just came out in paperback), writes about identifying (or being labeled as) a geek in the context of blackness. In a style that is complimentary to his fiction, his essay is a mix of humor, cultural criticism and academic analysis of what blackness is today. He writes: “Blackness is one of the few identities that comes with its own self-enforced expectation of expression. …Blackness can be a rigid identity, with people stepping out of line facing ridicule and admonishment, or worse, condemnation. Those who reject the perceived identity of Blackness can be seen as rejecting the whole of black worth itself” (14-15). Right? What more can you can say?

Read this book. Support this reclamation of Black Cool.

Listen to Rebecca Walker convince you even more:

Share your Black Cool. Here’s my sister and I sporting our early 90’s style and ‘fros.

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Marie Hara & Nora Okja Keller, Intersecting Circles

I stumbled across this anthology of writing in the library and was instantly grabbed by the title: Intersecting Circles, the Voices of Hapa Women in Poetry and Prose. It’s a substantial collection, just about 400 pages of thought-provoking, quality writing about the Hapa experience. Check out the anthology here. Reading it, I was reminded of the now classic reference for the Asian American mixed experience, The Sum of Our Parts, though Intersecting Circles was less academic and full of the heart and passion of its contributors. Here’s some quotes I appreciated:

  • For those of monocultural or strong ideological background, a definition of identity seems simple.  …If they belong to a powerful majority mindset, they often claim not to ‘see’ color…at the same time they ask for a definition. It’s their way of being polite as well as reflecting a choice about toning down their power -Marie Murphy Hara, “Negotiating the Hyphen”
  • I have learned the lesson most multiracial people must learn in order to live with the fact of not belonging: there is no identity for me “out there.” – Ai, “On Being Multiracial”
  • What lurked perpetually at the edge of my consciousness was a vague sense of otherness. A feeling of being slightly unconnected from the group, no matter which group I happened to be with. It had to do not with such superficial things as clothes or physical appearance, but with something more basic. Primal. My blood. -Nanea Hoffman, “All American Family”

 

Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out

I was very excited when this anthology arrived in the mail. Having visted the facebook page and read a call for submissions on Adebe DeRango-Adem’s blog, I had high expectations of what the editors would bring together in this book. It definitely held up to my own hype – it is a beatifully arranged mix of stories, personal histories, poetry and artwork that directly address the mixed race experience for women. It is broken into three sections: “Roles/Rules” (the ‘what are you’ questions, forming identity), “Roots/ Routes” (impact of location, intersections of ancestry and geography) and “Revelations” (wisdom gained from experiences). I found most of the pieces to be very well written and engaging. I highly recommend reading it! (Pick it up from the publisher or Amazon).

Here’s some of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “I noticed that often white women and black women had different ways of asking. White women: is that natural or a perm? …Black women: which relaxer do you use?” – Liberty Hultberg, A Mixed Journey From the Outside In
  • “You study me. …Without colour, until you are told how to fill it in…Searching my face like it is a map of the world. Placing foreign features…Exoticizing.” Erin Kobayashi, Pop Quiz
  • “We’re huddled on the tiny island of bed, quiet/ in the language of blodd: the house, unsteady/ on its cinderblock haunches, sinking deeper/ into the muck of ancestry” -Natasha Tethewey, Southern Gothic
  • “…I really made a concerted effort to appear blacker. My daily concerns involved embodying the cultural representations of what blackness meant to me” -Kathryn McMillan, Whitewashed
  • “I am keenly aware that in queer spaces I am more often ‘of Colour’ and in White spaces I’m more often straight…I get spoken In, I get spoken Out, through microinvalidations and microinsults. …Sometimes I lie. Sometimes not correcting is the lying. Sometimes its not.” -Kimberly Dree Hudson, Racially Queer Femme
  • “Identity is not a measure of bllod quantum/ it is a nationhood, it is a language, it is a family/ it is in my blood, my blood memory” -Shandra Spears Bombay, The Land Knows

Also see all of Miranda Matini’s “The Drinking Gourd,” Marika Schwandt’s “Mulatto Nation,” and Rachel Afi Quinn’s “Combination of the Two.” As quoted above, Kimberly Dree Hudson’s “Racially Queer Femme” rocked my world with its brillance; and for adding the word intersectionality to my discourse of mixed race identity. Thank you to Adebe and Andrea Thompson for editing this awesome anthology and bringing these voices to light.

Claudine O’Hearn (editor), Half and Half Part 1

Half and Half is a collection of essays from writers who are biracial and/or bicultural. The book includes big names such as Julia Alvarez, Malcolm Gladwell, David Mura and Danzy Senna, among many others.  Senna’s piece is my favorite in the first half of the collection; “The Mulatto Millennium” a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the “it’s hip to be mixed” stereotype. There is a lot of important material in the book, so I’ve broken it into two parts.

From Claudine Chiawei O’Hearn’s Introduction:

  • “Because most people didn’t know where to place me, I made up stories about myself. In bars, clubs, and restaurants I would try on identities with strangers I knew I would never meet again” (ix).
  • “What name do you give to someone who is a quarter, an eighth, a half? What kind of measuring stick might give accurate estimation? If our understanding of race and culture can ripen and evolve then new and immeasurable measurements about…our identities become possible” (xiv).

Danzy Senna, The Mulatto Millennium

  • “Strange to wake up and realize you’re in style. …I woke to find that mulattos had taken over. They were everywhere” (12).
  • “Mulattos may not be new. But the mulatto-pride folks are a new generation. They want their own special category or no categories at all. They’re a full-fledged movement, complete with their own share of extremists” (14).

Francisco Goldman, Moro Like Me

  • ” One of the first things I actually figured out was this: it doesn’t matter what my features actually are, the bigot looks only for certain recognizable markers – in this case curly dark hair, brown eyes, perhaps a certain roundness to the face – and does you the favor of filling in the rest” (55).

David Mura, Reflections On My Daughter

  • “It’s clear it didn’t matter to the neighborhood children that her daughter was of mixed race and part white. They saw her dark skin and ran” (82).
  • “I have a friend whose father is European American and whose mother is a Japanese national. She says when you grow up in two cultures, you aren’t split in half. Instead, there are two distinct beings inside of you” (87).

Julia Alvarez, A White Woman of Color

  • “It was clear to us growing up that lighter was better, but there was no question of discriminating against someone because he or she was dark-skinned. Everyone’s family… had dark-skinned members” (141).

Pearl Fuyo Gaskins, What Are You

What: A collection of stories from mixed race youth, interspersed with comments on the psycological and sociological impacts of these experiences from Gaskins. It’s pretty interesting- the titles of the chapters are a big clue to the themes Gaskins believes are most important in the experience of these youth: “I Don’t Think of Being Biracial as a Burden,” “Check One Box,” “Who’s That White Lady” (referring to the experience of having one white parent as a dark-skinned child), “My So-Called Identity,” “Are You Dating Me or My Hair,” and “Are You This? Are You That?”

Words:

  • “I never encountered outright prejudice from people, but I always knew there was something different about me. There were just these comments here and there. There were these things I experienced and knew about that they just didn’t” (33).
  • “People say, ‘Oh, I wish I was biracial because biracial people are the most beautiful people’. Biracial people are just really objectified, you know” (38).
  • “If you’re dark, or can get dark, you don’t really have to deal with that- that physicality of not being able to look like who you are” (41).
  • “In the United States, you can’t just be a little black, concludes G. Reginald Daniel [UC Santa Barbara]…you either are or you aren’t” (63).
  • “I hoped that my hair would tell me which way to ‘swing,’ and even more secretly, I hoped it would swing towards the brown-black straightness of my father’s Japanese head” (168).
  • “There are a whole bunch of issues around dating that multiracial people deal with. Like who you date can be viewed by other people as reflecting who you align yourself with.people percieve it as making a choice” (221).
  • “It’s the watering down of the exotic so it’s palatable. I realize the politics of it now” (237)