(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why does my racial identity matter?

Or: What Being Multiracial Means to Me

TW: mild homophobia, trans*phobia and racism, mild language

Race isn't something I usually talk about on this blog. It's partly because I had a white suburban middle-class upbringing and identify primarily with (most) of our dominant white culture. In part because of this upbringing, I don't feel a strong tie to any one racial culture enough that I would identify as a person of color (or as having much of "a race" to begin with, which if I'm being honest, is a white privilege). That's a huge part of my experience.

At the same time, I'm often perceived as a person of color. I get the "What kind of asian are you?" questions (since it's well known that I'm a quarter Japanese) and the "I'm so jealous of your perma-tan" (because even at my palest in late-February, I'm still darker than most of my peers) and the "Look at you, little Filipino ladyboy" (because just because I'm kinda brown and gay and dabble in drag apparently means I fit into a whole subset of trans* identities). And, yes, technically by blood I'm mixed race. As my mother revealed to me the weekend after I graduated high school, the white man I grew up knowing as my father wasn't my biological father. My middle-namesake, some man in a grainy  2x2 photograph whom I'd never met or even knew existed until that moment was my father, and he most definitely wasn't white.

Does this mean I have an answer for what kind of not-white I am? No, it means that anything you arbitrarily decide to label me is a viable guess, but since those aspects of my race aren't something I have experienced, that I have lived my life completely divorced from, I literally cannot answer you because I don't know. And I know, that's troubling for some people. The only reason I'm not having some kind of racial identity crisis as I write this post is because I've created other spaces for myself and grounded my sense of identity in other intersections. I can afford to not worry about my race because I've already established my identity as a gay, atheist, queer, English major, artist/poet, runner, leader with a flair for making odd choices in outfit work (to give a few examples).

This is also a huge part of my experience.

When I see friends and activists stand on stage and talk about not belonging, of not being enough one or another, of forever existing between, they're telling part of my story. I see the need for the anti-racist projects in the United States and they're something I care about and am constantly thinking about how I can be a better ally and stand in solidarity with, but I also don't feel comfortable taking up active space in communities of color because the way I experience oppression is primarily as a gay male and not as a person of color. To use some of the language I've been gifted through academia (another privilege of my background, and an opportunity I'm grateful for), my racial being is situated in a liminal space that reifies me as both a POC and as not. Or if you prefer, I'm a bit of a walking , fucking contradiction.

I bring this up because I recently read a Jezebel article about this Cheerios commercial:

In my opinion, it's pretty innocuous and exactly what I'd expect from a Cheerios commercial. There's the innocent child who doesn't know anything about heard disease, but is highly concerned with it because our media does a poor job educating us about the realities of cardiac disease, and there's the parents who are there to explain things only to realize they themselves are the objects of their child's concern. Which, when you put it like that is kind of a bittersweet, fucked up narrative and points out a troubling reality of our culture. But of course, that's not what people are up in arms over. Apparently it's the whole bit about this being a biracial family.

Which is ridiculous because how does the representation of a family in a cereal commercial affect any of us other than potentially showing that there are a variety of valid family experiences? If you're afraid of or offended by that, get out from under your rock.

And I guess the question that it comes down to is: Why does this matter?

Why does my racial identity matter? Why does the racial identity of a fictional television family on a cereal commercial matter?

It matters because our race is part of our story. For many of us, it's integral and (in most cases) inseparable from our experience as a human being because as an American society, it's part of the underlying social narrative we create about people's lives. Even if I don't identify as brown in the majority of circumstances, the fact that other people read me as such means that it still has a concrete effect on my life.

Videos like this one that made the social networking rounds:

Shouldn't ring so painfully (and humorously) true.

I accept my place with the unique set of privileges and oppressions that come with being multiracial while socialized white, and do my best to use my autonomy as a human being to not let these preconceived conditions dictate who or what I will be.

For me, my racial identity will always be complicated. I have no history except those that I have adopted as my own and have adopted me in turn. That's part of what makes me so wonderfully (and problematically) American in the most Melting Pot of ways, and I will do my best to make sure that my experience doesn't impede on or co-opt (see appropriate) the identities and experiences of others.

And it matters because I've asked told you it matters. This, too, is part of my experience, and I am not alone. And if you respect me, or anyone like me who has had similar experiences (and trust me, we've all had similar experiences), as a human being, you will listen to what I say matters.