race manners

Since I’ve been back on the blog, I have said very little about the so-called biracial experience.  It amazes me that it’s still easier, even for me with all of my good “mixed” intentions, to talk about black and white.  I forgive myself for this because without the black and white there is no mixed.  Without the baggage of white vs. black stuff, there is no need for the mixed discussion.  So, I suppose it’s only natural.  It is little disappointing personally that the middle ground isn’t where the conversation begins for me.  It’s on the ends of the spectrum.  But I also suppose that this is natural.  I suppose this has been the disappointment of my life.  And I suppose that this is how we get to the middle ground.  By exploring the ends and inching toward the middle.

A couple of things in Jenee Harris’ article jumped out at me:

1. “My white mother has developed an acute sensitivity to the subtle ways prejudice and bigotry pop up in daily life.”- 

I wonder if my father would say he has developed the same.  I think so…I think that happened when he entered into a relationship with my (black) mother and grew deeper as he witnessed my experience… but we never talk about it…

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me with my parents:)

2. “Well-intended”– re: “adults loved to tell me that people paid “good money” for hair like mine (think 1980s-era perms on white women)” and “A friend got the biscuit analogy…: God burned black people and undercooked white people, but removed her from the heavenly oven at the perfect moment.”

Well…if the intention of the (white) person who said this is to make the biracial person feel better about the perceived plight of their kind…well…i guess one could count that as a good or harmless intention. But I think that summation signifies complacence.  I, however, have to challenge this notion.  You see, giver of said “compliment,” in your quest to make me feel better about being my invisible, displaced, misunderstood, marginalized and tragic self you put me on the receiving end of your pity, your assumptions and judgements.  I do believe this is usually unconscious.  I also must acknowledge that it is an assumption I’m making. Yet there’s a reason that I assume that this is the intention behind the compliments.  The assumption is based on experience, but even those are dangerous to make. It’s the tone with which these comments are usually, subtly uttered.  If you’ve been the biracial person in this kind of conversation, I think you know what I mean.

When I engage in this kind of innocent interaction I can be left feeling frustrated, upset, and worst of all unseen.  It is depressing.  It is literally a depression of my spirit.  Of my freedom.  A depression of my freedom to just be and simply experience this life without being saddled with the weight of the stigma of a couple hundred years of prejudice, condemnation, fear, greed, inferiority, superiority, discrimination, and antagonism.  My take on it is that some people assuage a fleeting feeling of guilt over the fact that this is the biracial’s lot in life by reminding us (and/or reminding themselves) that I should be happy because I have good hair and tan skin which, I infer from your comments, should make up for the fact that on the whole the society we live in cannot acknowledge or understand how I exist.  I thought there was more to that sentence, but I think that’s it.  Our nation’s identity continues to be wrapped up in race and all the baggage that comes with it.  For that to remain intact, biracial just can’t really be.  I don’t think that needs to remain intact.  I think things are shifting.  So slowly.  But they are shifting and I hope I stay awake enough to the shift to feel when my assumptions based on past experience are truly no longer valid.

On the other hand, I’m fairly certain that most of my response falls into the category of  “Oh, come on, stop being so sensitive.

Or am I just being truthful?  That’s the stuff that this brought up for me.

Biracial Children: Racism Advice for White Parents

Race Manners: Comments about the superior beauty of your biracial child aren’t just weird — they’re troubling.

By Jenée Desmond-Harris

Updated Monday April 8, 2013

The Root —

“I’m a Caucasian woman with a biracial child (her father is black). I live in a predominantly white community. Why is it that whenever people discover that I have a ‘mixed’ child, they always say things like, ‘Oh, he/she must be so cute/gorgeous/adorable, those kids are always the best looking. You are so lucky.’ 

I know they mean well, but it seems off to me, and maybe racist. Do they mean compared to ‘real’ black children? When a German and Italian or an Asian and Jewish person have a child, black people don’t say, ‘Mixed children like yours are always the best looking.’ (Plus, it’s not true — not all black-white biracial kids are the ‘best looking.’)

Am I being overly sensitive by feeling there’s something off about these comments? If not, what’s the best way to respond?”

I chose this question for the first installment of Race Manners, The Root‘s new advice column on racial etiquette and ethics, because it hits close to home. Like your daughter, I’m biracial. Like you, my white mother has developed an acute sensitivity to the subtle ways prejudice and bigotry pop up in daily life. I should know. She calls me to file what I’ve deemed her “racism reports.”

And let’s be clear. Americans of all races say bizarre things to and about mixed people, who can inspire some of the most revealing remarks about our black-white baggage. Just think of the public debates about how MSNBC’s Karen Finney, and even President Obama, should be allowed to identify.

But the comments in your question often come from a good place, and they’re often said with a smile. When I was a child, adults loved to tell me that people paid “good money” for hair like mine (think 1980s-era perms on white women) and for tanning beds (again, it was the ’80s and ’90s) to achieve my skin color. Thus, the grown-up argument went, I should be happy (even if these trends didn’t stop people from petting my curls as if I were an exotic poodle, nor did they give me the straight blond hair I envied, and it’s not as if I was on the receiving end of the beauty-shop payments).

A friend got the biscuit analogy. Wait for it: God burned black people and undercooked white people, but removed her from the heavenly oven at the perfect moment, she was told.

Awkward. Well-intended. Poorly thought-through. A window into our shared cultural stuff about identity. These statements are all these things at once.

That’s another reason I selected your question. When it comes to remarks that are so obviously dead-wrong to some of us, and so clearly innocuous to others, there’s often little energy for or interest in breaking down the explanation that lies between “Ugh, so ignorant!” and “Oh, come on, stop being so sensitive.”

I’ll try it out here.

You’re right to be bothered by the remarks from the Biracial Babies Fan Club. Here’s why: These people aren’t pulling an arbitrary appreciation for almond-colored skin and curls from the ether. Instead — even if they are not aware of this — they’re both reflecting and perpetuating troubling beliefs that are bigger than their individual tastes. Specifically, while “mixed kids are the cutest” is evenhanded on its face, treating both black and white (and all other ethnic groups) as inferior to your daughter, I hear it as anti-black.

As Marcia Dawkins, the author of Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity, told me, “The myth that mixed-race offspring are somehow better than nonmixed offspring is an example of ‘hybrid vigor,’ an evolutionary theory which states that the progeny of diverse varieties within a species tend to exhibit better physical and psychological characteristics than either one or both of the parents.”

mixie girl

And just take a wild guess how this idea has popped up for black people. You got it: In order to demean and oppress African Americans, thought leaders throughout history, including the likes of Thomas Jefferson, have said that black-white mixed offspring are better, more attractive, smarter, etc., than “real” blacks and not as good or attractive or smart as “real” whites, Dawkins explains.

So alleging that mixed kids are the best of anything sounds different when you consider that we’ve long put a wholesale premium on all that’s whiter and brighter.

Nowhere is that premium more stubbornly applied today than when it comes to the topic at the center of your question — beauty and attractiveness. In recent memory, we had to re-litigate the harms of colorism when Zoe Saldana was cast to play the lead in a Nina Simone biopic. Tamar Braxton and India.Arie have both been accused of bleaching skin — as if that would be a reasonable thing to do.

A writer lamented in a personal essay for xoJane that she was sick and tired of being complimented for what black men viewed as her “mixed” or “exotic” (read: nonblack) physical features. (As far as I know, “you look a little black” is not a common line of praise among other groups.) Black girls still pick the white dolls in recreated Kenneth Clark experiments. Harlem moms can’t get Barbie birthday decorations in the color of their little princesses. We treated rapper Kendrick Lamar like the department store that featured a wheelchair-bound model in an ad campaign when he cast a dark-skinned woman as a music-video love interest.

Against this backdrop of painful beliefs that people of all colors buy into, yes, “Mixed kids are the cutest” should sound “off.”

As the mom of a mixed kid, you signed up for more than just the task of venturing into the “ethnic” aisle of the drugstore and learning about leave-in conditioner. You took on the work of hearing things like this through the ears of your daughter, and you agreed to have a stake in addressing racism. The fact that these comments bothered you means you’re on the job.

So if it’s at all possible, you should explain everything I’ve said above to people who announce that your daughter is gorgeous based on racial pedigree alone. If you’re shorter on time or familiarity, you could try a reminder that there’s really no such thing as genetic purity in the first place (“Great news, if that’s true, since most of us — including you — are mixed”). As an alternative, the old cocked-head, confused look, combined with “What makes you say that?” always puts the onus back on the speaker to think about what he or she is really saying.

Finally, just a simple, “Thanks, I think she’s beautiful, but I don’t like the implication that it’s because of her ethnic makeup,” could open up an important introductory conversation about why comments about superior biracial beauty aren’t true and aren’t flattering, and why the beliefs they reflect aren’t at all “cute.”

before this hurts too much

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to racemanners@theroot.com.

The Root‘s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America.

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the effect of skin tone

The Science of How We See Obama’s Skin Color

Andrew Romano

When it comes to the policies and politics of Barack Obama, it’s no secret that liberals and conservatives don’t see eye to eye. But according to behavioral sciencist Eugene Caruso of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, these differences in perspective may literally be a difference in perception. In a new study, Caruso and colleagues Emily Balcetis of New York University and Nicole Mead of Tillberg University asked a group of undergraduates which of a series of photographs of Obama–some of them secretly lightened and darkened–best represented who he is as a person. The results were striking: while self-described liberals tended to pick the digitally lightened photos of the president, self-described conservative students more frequently picked the darkened images. The more one agrees with a politician, in other words, the lighter his skin tone seems; the less you agree, the darker it becomes. To discuss how political affinities influence perception–and how politicians and the press could take advantage of these findings–NEWSWEEK’s Andrew Romano spoke to Caruso. Excerpts:

How did the study actually work?
Essentially we were interested in whether political party influences how people literally see the world, and how they may see different depictions of candidates as representative of who they really are. So to test this we gathered up a bunch of photos of Barack Obama and digitally altered them to create a version where his skin tone appeared a bit lighter and a version where his skin tone was a bit darker than it appeared in the original photograph. And then we just showed people several different photos and asked them to rate each one on how much they represented who he really is. What we found was that participants who told us that they had a liberal political orientation rated the lightened photographs as more representative of Obama than the darkened photographs, whereas participants who told us they had a more conservative ideology rated the darkened photographs as more representative of Obama than the lightened ones. 

I’m no expert here, but you’re confident that it’s the skin tone that changes “representativeness” in the eyes of the voter, as opposed to something else about the photographs—like pose, or background, or facial expression?
That’s a great question. What we did was essentially take three different photos with three different poses, and created for each photo a lightened and a darkened version. And then we randomly selected the combination of pose and skin tone that we showed each participant.

So your findings about “representativeness” were consistent across poses—the conservative will be twice as likely to say a “darkened” Obama was representative, regardless of which image of Obama was being darkened?
Right. We were experimentally able to isolate the effect of skin tone because some people saw a lightened version of pose #1 and others saw a darkened version of pose #1—and independent of the pose the lightened versions seemed most representative to liberals and the darkened most representative to conservatives.

Were you surprised by the results?
A little bit. Some of my research deals with how people who have different views on a subject are able to try to understand the views of someone on the other side, and the general finding is that people aren’t particularly good at really coming to understand the perspective of someone with whom they disagree. Beyond that, though, I got interested in this notion of whether our beliefs can actually affect the way we see the world—of whether they can actually affect our perception of objects or people in our environment. And it turns out they can.

Ultimately, what does it mean that someone believes a lightened version of Obama is more representative of him than a darkened version, and vice versa? What are the larger implications of these differences in perception?
Partisanship can affect all sorts of beliefs. It’s not surprising that a liberal and a conservative who read the same health care bill would come to very different conclusions about its merits. But I think our work is more akin to having a liberal and conservative look at the exact same physical copy of a bill sitting on the desk in front of them and disagreeing over how thick it is. That is, even something that we feel we should be able to see similarly, like a person’s racial identity or physical characteristics, can be influenced by our desire to see that person favorably or unfavorably.

But isn’t there a chicken or egg relationship here? Do conservatives see Obama as darker and are thus prone to dislike him, or do they dislike him first and then see him as darker because of it?
That’s a great question. One of the things we’re trying to do now is experimentally try to tease those two options apart. Basically, what we have in our current paper, the one that’s out now, is correlational studies of Obama where we don’t really know what comes first or what’s causing what. The first study in the paper tries to address part of what you’re asking. If we get people to think about a novel candidate and simply manipulate whether they agree with a candidate or not, we can show that people who think this novel biracial candidate agrees with them later report that the lightened photos are more representative of him, suggesting that if you agree with someone then you may come to see him as lighter. From that we can speculate, exactly as you have, about the reverse path—and that is, seeing images of someone when his or her skin tone looks darker may cause people to like that person less than seeing images of that person with lighter skin tone.

read the entire interview here

happy 40th anniversary, sesame street! xoxo!

SS.OscarCakeFood Network’s Challenge Sesame Street Cake

As Sesame Street celebrates its 40th Anniversary, Time Magazine wonders whether President Barack Obama is our first president from Sesame Street.

“The President is every bit as much a product of the show, but it’s not just his age and mastery of the alphabet that make Obama the first Sesame Street President,” writes Nancy Gibbs in Time, in the cleverly titled “Tickle Me Obama: Lessons from Sesame Street.” “The Obama presidency is a wholly American fusion of optimism, enterprise and earnestness — rather like the far-fetched proposal of 40 years ago to create a TV show that would prove that educational television need not be an oxymoron.”

Meanwhile, in Newsweek, Lisa Guernsey gives us the story of “The Show that Counts: How Sesame Street Changed the World.”

“It is, arguably, the most important children’s program in the history of television,” writes Guernsey. “No show has affected the way we think about education, parenting, childhood development and cultural diversity, both in the United States and abroad, more than Big Bird and friends. You might even say that Sesame Street changed the world, one letter at a time.”

Guernsey goes on to give a wonderful detailed history of the development of the show, from its days created by the Childrens Television Workshop to now, and the spectacular effect it’s had on the ability of television to be both an entertainment and education vehicle.

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Today’s kids have Big Bird in common with their parents and possibly their grandparents. That kind of thing may only be possible on “Sesame Street.”

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GOOGLE CELEBRATES SESAME STREET’S 40th ANNIVERSARY


conditioned to the method of white superiority

I’d love to see the show that this article details.  All whites are racist!?  I have a hard time buying that.  Prejudiced or biased, maybe.  I think all people are no matter the color.  Anyway, it upsets me greatly that the black father of the mixed-race girl doesn’t want to expose her “secret.”  Um…. how is she supposed to form a positive, all-encompassing identity if her black father is hiding from her white friends?  I wonder if this will be on BBC America.

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TEACHER: ‘ALL WHITES ARE RACIST’

29th October 2009 by Peter Dyke

DailyStarUK

A Bombshell new television show will tonight claim that all white people are racist.

An American schoolteacher and anti-race campaigner will conduct an experiment for Channel 4 to prove how prejudiced Britain is.

Jane Elliott, 76, whose nickname is The Bitch, travelled to the UK for the test.

Part of the show features former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made up as a black person and US President Barack Obama as a Chinese.

Elliott is given a group of 30 volunteers, of mixed age and race, and splits them into two teams based on their eye colour.

Those with brown eyes are treated well, but those with blue eyes are ridiculed, humiliated and insulted.

Her aim is to create a mock “apartheid regime” to make the blue eyed people experience prejudice, discrimination and racism.

However at the end of the experiment, set in an old warehouse and lasting several hours, the white and black volunteers end up in a bitter row.

Some even walk out. Many of the white volunteers claim that black people do not have the monopoly on discrimination.

A middle aged white woman says: “They think racism is just for black people. I’ve had comments made about me because I’m blonde and white.”

However one dad, who is black, reveals how he never picks his daughter up from school because her mum is white and he doesn’t want anyone to know she is mixed race in case she is taunted.

At the end of the experiment, Elliott claims the white volunteers have shown their true colours.

She tells the C4 documentary tonight at 10pm: “White people should feel guilty about their behaviour.

“You don’t do things because you’re white, you do things because you’re ignorant.

“We are conditioned to the method of white superiority from the moment of birth.”

stop-racism

barack like me

BarackLikeMe.small

David Alan Grier: Is beige the new black?

Comedian writes about how Obama has made being multiracial cool

excerpt from chapter 2

Every pundit from Larry King to Atlantic magazine agrees: black is in. All shades of black. Which is good for most people, because so many of us are of mixed race. Myself included. It’s mind-boggling that we have ended up here, at this point in our history. There was a time, only a few generations ago, that being of mixed race was not so cool. In fact, it was illegal to try to pass yourself off as a different race. If the authorities found out, you lost everything — your position, your home, and all your possessions. You’d be separated from your family and often lynched.

President Barack Obama has changed all that. People now want to be mixed. Bi-racial, tri- racial, quad- and quinti-racial, how many you got? The more the better. Multiracial is the hot new facial, the best look in the book. Mixed race is the new superrace. If you look too black, people seem disappointed. They look at you and say, “You’re just black. Oh. That’s too bad. Are you sure? Anything else in there?”

They’re looking for the Obama mix. It’s like a new kind of coffee. “We just came up with it. Try this. The new Obama roast. It’s the perfect blend. Strong, but not sharp. Seductive. Bold. Sweet. Smooth. And not too dark. Not like that Dikembe Mutombo roast they’re brewing across the street.”

And why not be black like Barack? He’s the coolest guy on the planet right now. He’s bigger than any rapper, more popular than any rock star. He’s huge. We admire him and kids aspire to be like him.

…It’s still hard to get my head around this, though, the idea of acceptance that comes with the Barack Obama presidency. There is a part of me that acknowledges — and remembers, historically — that people of color who tried to deny any part of themselves were suspect. They would have to make a decision and stick with it. If it was found out that they were denying a part of themselves, they would be accused of running away from themselves and be rejected by their own. We’re looking at a whole new playing field as of right now. You can embrace all the parts of you. You can say, forthrightly, “I am who I am. I am all my parts,” or even, “I am all my parts, but I am embracing this particular one. This is who I am.” And we, as a people, will embrace it as well.

Excerpted from “Barack Like Me” by David Alan Grier with Alan Eisenstock. Copyright (c) by David Alan Grier.

i like my coffee like my presidents'

diversity in dialogue

I was first intrigued by this article because I once had dreams of going to Amy Grant’s alma mater,  Vanderbilt University.  Then I got to the “biracial factor” at the end and I knew I had to post it.  I’m encouraged that this program has garnered such interested and seems to truly be seeking open and HONEST dialogue.  “Mandatory honesty.”  I like that.  I don’t know an institution can mandate honesty, but it’s a great idea!  And I think it’s also important to remember that once talking about race was considered racist.  I’ve totally been accused.

Race, not immigration is hot topic at Scarritt-Bennett’s Diversity in Dialogue program

By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • September 28, 2009

Prevailing social wisdom says race, politics and religion don’t make for civil conversation.

But this year, for the first time, the Scarritt-Bennett Center had a waiting list of people who want to participate in its multi-week group dialogues on race in America.

The program, dubbed Diversity in Dialogue, is one of two small local groups that meet over a six-week period to foster discussion and understanding of various hot-button topics.

The conversations are led by group facilitators trained by Scarritt-Bennett. They lay out a series of ground rules that include only one person speaking at a time, mandatory honesty, and what’s said in the circle stays in the circle unless specific permission to share is granted.

“Participation tends to go up and go down,” said Diana Holland, the program’s coordinator. But when race is being discussed “in the media or is part of the general national affairs or even seems to be a big local issue, we do see more interest.”

The 2008 election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, has led to many conversations behind closed doors about race, its meaning and its impact, said Tony Brown, a Vanderbilt University sociologist who specializes in social psychology, as well as racial and ethnic relations.

“There was in some circles so much regret that (Obama) was elected and fear about what sort of change this moment represents. Then, there is so much joy,” Brown said.

“I think the fact that both of these emotions were happening in large circles simultaneously just flooded the social system. That conversation couldn’t be held back to private spaces anymore.”

But having honest conversations about race isn’t easy or simple in a country where terms like “post-racial” are being thrown around after a long period in which talking about race was itself considered racist, Brown said.

Jessica Swader is a person who longs for a world where labels — particularly those attached to race — don’t matter. Swader, a biracial 22-year-old Vanderbilt University graduate student with a biracial husband and two children, said she too often finds herself on the receiving end of commentary about how her behavior and choices are “white.”

“I feel really strongly about racism,” she said. “You know my culture, my skin, they don’t define who I am or what I like. I define that.”

Swader says she is hoping to emerge from the six-week, two-hour sessions with a better understanding of the way that people think about biracial individuals — why there is a persistent demand for biracial individuals to identify as one race or another.

Swader says she arrived at the group’s first session last week with the assumption that the group of people who voluntarily came together to discuss race would be almost completely black. Instead she found what she described as a good mix of people younger and older, black and white.

The latest circle formed includes six black participants and eight white.

Diversity In Dialogue logo

birthers

A couple of days ago I came across a well written letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Daily News addressing “birthers.”  I’ve been trying to ignore the birthers.  Too crazy to waste time on.  But of course I do have an opinion, and Rev. Weathers echoes it.

THERE are many who aren’t going to agree with my assessment of the questions about the citizenship of President Obama.

But the questions say to me as an African-American that whatever President Obama does will not be accepted by a certain faction in this country because of his race.

Hawaii became part of the U.S. in 1959. President Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. The state of Hawaii has confirmed that Barack Obama was born in the state, which answers the question and places a period at the end of the story. Yet we still have some on the extreme right who continue to perpetuate this propaganda because they have never accepted the fact that America has elected its first African-American president.

If the critics of President Obama don’t believe he was born in the state of Hawaii, they have a right to sue Hawaii for falsifying records and committing fraud. Would they go this far? No, because they know they don’t have a case. The birthers’ story illustrates that they will not accept President Obama because of the color of his skin.

Rev. Dr. Wayne M. Weathers, Philadelphia via

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