Race in America III

I finally found this article that I read in the Indiana Daily Student last week about a talk that I didn’t get to attend by  Cathy Bao Bean, a Chinese American author.  I found the quoted comments pretty frustrating.

From the article Author encourages people to ‘lighten up’ about multi-culturalism:

Bean said it was difficult for her to choose which culture she wanted to be part of because it was impossible for her to be part of both.

“You don’t have to choose; learn to be pleased with yourself,” Bean said.

Overall, Bean told audience members to embrace as many cultures as they can and have some fun while doing it.

She advised all the students in the crowd to try to study overseas and said it is “a little like not getting a joke when everyone else does.”

Bean said although it is difficult, multi-racial people should not try to limit themselves to just one culture.

“When you have to choose, try to choose the one that will keep the least doors closed,” Bean said.

I hate the idea that issues of race and culture are weighty because of the attitudes of people possessing or considering those identities and that it is their sole responsibility to manage that weight.  Maybe it would be easier to “lighten up” if everyone considered race in our culture and the nuances, subtleties, prejudices, and privileges that go along with it.  I think these comments overlook the fact that someone’s racial identity is often not chosen by that person, but by their community, friends, coworkers, family, the government.  Most importantly I think the idea that trying “to choose the one that will keep the least doors closed” glibly overlooks the fact that many people of color or multiracial people have made this very choice, but that this choice has been painful, confusing, and as a result things have been lost both for individuals and for the culture at large.

Still, it’s scary because I think that replacing difficult and complicated issues with ‘the lighter side’ has such resonance with many people.  I think about this as I remember the punk show last night which was just kind of wild and Dionysian and at breakfast this morning when Chiara told me she felt like Silvio Berlusconi had replaced his most recent campaign to become prime minister of Italy with a series of crude jokes.  I don’t want to leave the things that are troubling behind me, I want to have a feeling that they’re not being considered alone.

scary times, exciting times

This morning, it was storming in Bloomington, with the thunder long and booming, so it sounded like bombs.  A few booms were followed by the sounds of sirens, and even though I knew it was just coincidence, the sense of danger, destruction, and things ending did not seem impossible.  I read in the New York Times that the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s; when I called my father, he told me that he tells the men in his prison job skills class that the suggestions he has for them are not as good as the ones he could have given last year, and in this comment, about the difficulties one family is facing with healthcare, even in light of increased government support in Indiana.  I can’t escape a sense of nervousness on everyone’s faces, whether it’s my friends or people at the grocery store.

Still, I read this article about Barak Obama and mixed-race identity in the New York Times and it made me excited.  From the article:

“I think Barack Obama is going to bring these deeply American stories to the forefront,” said Esther John, 56, an administrator at Northwest Indian College in Washington, who identifies herself as African-American, American Indian and white.

“Maybe we’ll get a little bit further in the dialogue on race,” Ms. John said. “The guilt factor may be lowered a little bit because Obama made it right to be white and still love your black relatives, and to be black and still love your white relatives: to love despite another person’s racial appearance.”

Americans of mixed race say that questions about whether Mr. Obama, with a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, is “too black” or “not black enough,” as the candidate himself brought up in his speech on March 18, show the extent to which the nation is still fixated on old categories.

“There’s this notion that there’s an authentic race and you must fit it,” said Ms. Bratter, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University in Houston who researches interracial families. “We’re confronted with the lack of fit.”

I’m sure that for myself, and for many other people who identify as multi-racial, that we don’t need the New York Times or Barak Obama to validate the stories that are our stories, but I have to say that it is exciting to hear them repeated so publically and personally. I hope, that with every telling, whether it is at a crowded political event, in the national media, amongst friends, or in a fiery confrontation on the street, that this is the first warmth of a burning consciousness that race, like so many things in our world, is something that cannot be ignored, that is complicated, subtle and brutal, that is painful and beautiful and something that we define our collective humanity because of, and not in spite of.