January Commons: Intercultural/Intersectional/Interactional (2017)

We launch the 2017 series of the MXRS Commons with Intercultural/Intersectional/Interactional, featuring a conversation between Solveij Rosa Praxis and Elizabeth Liang. Together, they explore the intersections that exist within mixed bodies and the intercultural communities we build with these very intersections. 

– Carly Bates, MXRS Commons Editor


Why Reproducing a Mixed America Through Interracial Hetero-Reproductive Sex Cannot Cleanse Us of Racial Difference and Injustice: A Queer Mixed Race Anthropologists’ Call for Historicized, Anti-Racist, Cross-Cultural Interactions in Empowered Queer and Intimate Relationships

Solveij Rosa Praxis

Facing an uncertain future, one vision of America that many may find themselves turning to for hope and comfort is that of a mixed America. In 2013, amidst popular imaginings of “post-racial” Obama America, National Geographic published a piece entitled “The Changing Face of America.” [1] The issue partnered a photo series of multiracial people that did not meet conventional standards of appearance within mono-racial categories, with the U.S. Census Bureau’s demographic projections that racial mixed-ness would be the dominant reality in the U.S. by 2050. Immediately, the “face” of the future “average” American was swept up and enthusiastically disseminated by scientific, political, entertainment, and social media sources, including an article entitled, “National Geographic Determined What Americans Will Look Like in 2050, and It’s Beautiful.” [2] Faces of real, not digitally-produced, multiracial people became central objects of interest, put on display by the media and re-posted by millions of social media users with expressions of awe, fascination and desire. One piece began with a narrative that “in a matter of years we’ll have Tindered, OKCupid-ed and otherwise sexed ourselves into one giant amalgamated mega-race.” [2] Many reportings and repostings expressed assumptions that interracial, heterosexual reproductive sex would produce “beautiful” mixed people and a society liberated from racial distinctions and violence.

Centralizing the face of a light-skinned, mixed woman meant to exemplify racial ambiguity, the National Geographic article began with a fetishizing gaze assuming normative racial distinctions, asking “What is it about the faces on these pages that we find so intriguing? Is it simply that their features disrupt our expectations, that we’re not used to seeing those eyes with that hair, that nose above those lips?” [1] The presentation triggered conditioned racial coding regarding the political, cultural and racial significance of mixed bodies, and the internalized assumption of heterosexual sex as having the dominant, fundamental role in establishing and shaping society. This piece is for those of us marginalized by this public debate, contributing to political approaches centering non-normative, cross-racial intimacies and relationships. I present three fundamental issues with this heterosexist and racist vision of heterosexually reproducing a “mixed America,” and historicized, anti-oppression responses.

1. The utopian vision of “mixed America” conceives of mixed race people and a mixed society as resolving racism and racial tension because of their racially “ambiguous” bodies. The focus on the facial and bodily features of mixed people, coded as racially ambiguous by a presumably monoracial public’s gaze, suggests a belief that racial difference and racism naturally arises from essential, categorizable physical differences among racial groups. It posits that racism would be erased through the deconstruction of normative racial bodily appearances and reconstruction of unfamiliar, potentially de-racialized mixed bodies, ignoring that racial difference and racism have been historically created through political and cultural effort. This belief was itself invested in by white supremacist regimes to form the fundamental architecture upholding structural racism. Denaturalizing beliefs about the foundations of racism, in The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander describes how the wealthy planter elite of 18th century colonial America developed an ideology of naturalized racial distinction and hierarchy to secure an exploitable labor force and prevent a multi-racial, or multi-group, alliance between indentured European servants and African slaves. [3] It was politically expedient to invent a white supremacist ideology that the “degraded status of Africans was justified on the ground that Negros, like the Indians, were an uncivilized lesser race.” [3] Historical knowledge of wealthy white colonial elites’ political intentions points towards the potential of building cross-racial alliances among oppressed peoples, a political program which many mixed race people are uniquely positioned to facilitate. Given the historical contingencies of racial categories and hierarchy, we may regard the next few decades as potent with opportunities to disrupt structural racism with strategies challenging the internal logics of essentialist, natural racial difference.

2. Envisioning mixed bodies as a cleansing and modern development in American social life erases mixed peoples’ presence throughout history, and that their cultural, political realities are shaped just as much as the lives of others by racial categories and structures. Colonial elites were especially preoccupied by the existence of mixed race people as a “dangerous conduit for moral contamination and political subversion,” [4] fearing their bodies and cross-racial social lives would undermine racial separation and hierarchy. But mixed race people have not been an inherently ‘progressive’ force throughout history, having been re-defined, erased, stratified, fetishized and assimilated, among other tactics to maintain white supremacist capitalist hegemony. The U.S. state notoriously categorized mixed race people with white and black biological parents as black, and therefore still enslaved, to maintain the racialized slave labor system. Many mixed, lighter-skinned black people were assigned relatively higher-status roles within the plantation, based on the notion that a closer appearance to whiteness made them superior to darker-skinned black slaves. [5] Colorism was, therefore, also intentionally invented to stratify racial groups and maintain white supremacy. The fetishizing presentation of mixed, light-skinned people like the “beautiful” woman on the cover of the National Geographic issue relies on colorist frameworks of value, reifying the notions that monoracial people of color and dark-skinned people are less desirable and worthy. The colonial white supremacist conception of the Americas as a blank slate, or exotic “New World” for utopian imaginings, is perpetuated in the treatment of mixed race people’s bodies as exotic new frontiers for production of a future America, made beautiful through the cleansing of both racial difference and white elites’ accountability. This particular conception of mixed people is rooted in the goal of white American liberalism to avoid both actively challenging and taking accountability for structural racism. Packed into seemingly apolitical, ahistorical language such as “beautiful” and “average” are political agendas for America to, through the seemingly “natural,” mathematical, racial “science” experiment of reproductive heterosexual intercourse over a few generations, nullify racial difference and violence. Ethnically cleansing people of color and disassociating whiteness from accountability, the nation is mixed into racial perfection, integrated unification, and harmony. Mixed race people can be utilized in this manner when made passive products of heterosexual reproduction, exotic, fetishized objects of desire, and deracialized blank slates. Mixed people are political and cultural agents, many learning to perform cultural labor while navigating within, between and across racial difference by necessity. Rejecting a burdensome role as exotic, unproblematic blank slates for white liberal American Dreams, we must see ourselves as complicated people with agency and real histories, cultures and positionalities who can actively facilitate cross-racial relationships and political activity.

3. Embedded in a vision of a mixed society reproduced through heterosexual reproductive sex are “hegemonic ideologies of Anglo-European societies” in regards to gender and sexuality, privileging heterosexual sex as “real sex” and envisioning heterosexual reproduction as the primary, basic form of a productive relationship, a nuclear family, and the foundation of American society. [6] Centralizing heterosexual reproductive relationships as the primary productive force shaping racial realities and making our racial selves suggests current realities of structural racism are a natural state as a product of heterosexual reproductive power, which has formerly resulted in a population without agency to resist fundamental racial inequalities and violence, and now will be equally powerless in a world yielded by interracial heterosexual reproduction. Racial accountability, cultural sharing, and generative politics can be developed within interracial heterosexual relationships, but reliance on their hetero-reproductive power to change the “face” of America and erase racial tension is self-defeating. Rather than investing in imagining society as being hegemonically reproduced in the context of heterosexual marriage, we can realize the resilience and generative power that exist within queer relationships, intimate friendships, and other connections in which our emotional labor is committed to building multiracial communities, and interracial intimacies, sometimes reproducing or educating children.

To develop useful interpretations of the significance of a transitioning multiracial population in America, I suggest historicized reflection upon the many tactics used in orientation towards mixed people to reconstitute white supremacy, including assimilationist agendas based on colorism and anti-black racism. Transitioning to interracial hetero-reproductive mixing won’t abort that political struggle. Concealing old racist dreams in “future” mixed faces, objectified as passive products of “natural” heterosexual power, exoticized as new and cleansed of history and culture, is ultimately a disempowering, cynical exercise for us all. Dismantling structural racism requires the courage and creativity to deconstruct essentialist ideas that naturally racial bodies produce racism, see mixed people as agents embedded in history, and challenge the notion that heterosexual reproduction is the most powerful force founding and reshaping society. Mixed people do not exist outside of history, culture or politics; nor do any of us. We must imagine ourselves, mixed race and otherwise, as agents with power to enact cross-cultural, cross-racial emotional labor. Our multiracial relationships and selves interact on spectrums of queerness, friendship and chosen families, communities, and other intimate forms of connection, within which we can create the power to reshape personal and political realities.

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Solveij Rosa Praxis is a mixed, latinx and white, queer woman who believes in our ability to work together to build social and economic systems based on nurturing and resilient relationships. She tries to balance being a caring friend with building movements for labor/immigration justice and getting her B.A. (2017) in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. She would love to hear from any folks, mixed or otherwise, passionate about creating cross-racial/cultural coalitions centering working class people, communities of color, immigrants, queer and trans folks, disabled and mentally unwell people, and other folks resisting white supremacist capitalism.

QUESTIONS & RESPONSE

What kind of roles can mixed race people uniquely play in forming cross-racial personal and political relationships between different racial communities?

As mixed race people, we can each connect to the many racial communities that correspond with our heritages by supporting their businesses, attending each other’s  events, and forming friendships and political alliances with members of those communities. This is not always easy, as a person’s racial heritage does not necessarily equate to the culture(s) with which they identify. However, it is both our unique privilege and burden to be a bridge between a monoracial community and a mixed-race one, and between two or more monoracial communities.

We can do the same with racial communities of which we are not members at all, whether we identify with them culturally or not. We can also show how our differences from any and all racial communities needn’t be an obstacle to forming relationships with them. We can do this by being both excellent listeners and thoughtful advocates for ourselves.

Given historical tactics of colonial, white supremacist regimes in dealing with mixed race people, how should we interpret and respond to current tactics of U.S. American elites towards a growing mixed race population, particularly with recognition of queer, non-normative relationships?

Solveij, your interpretation and response is a powerful one, in my opinion, in that it reminds us that heterosexist beliefs are part of white supremacy and thus cannot help society to accomplish true inclusivity and communion; this is an exemplary, vital work in mixed race studies. We should all protect and validate queer, non-normative relationships in mixed race communities and everywhere by educating people about them, using our voices and media platforms.

I find respectful, in-person dialogue to be one of the best ways to get a point across. A private conversation can be an excellent opportunity to remind people that a “mixed race utopia” is a white supremacist notion, and that a “post-racial utopia” can only be achieved when everyone’s “emotional labor is committed to building multiracial communities, and interracial intimacies, sometimes reproducing or educating children.”

Elizabeth Liang


ALIEN CITIZEN: An Earth Odyssey

Elizabeth Liang

http://cargocollective.com/aliencitizen

On losing language

“On gaining language(s)”

“On dual citizenship and national identity and whatnot” 

ARTIST STATEMENT/BIO

I am an actress, writer, producer, workshop leader, and the co-host of the podcast Hapa Happy Hour. My multi-character solo show, ALIEN CITIZEN: An Earth Odyssey, is my true story about growing up as a dual citizen of mixed heritage in Central America, North Africa, the Middle East, and New England. The show addresses the intersections of identity in terms of race, language, gender, nationality, class, and culture. It is the only intercultural solo show currently touring that highlights the experiences of being multiracial, binational, multilingual, nomadic, and female—living among many different worlds—all at the same time. Every experience depicted in the show is transitory, yet some are echoed in different ways across the time and space of my character’s life.

For the last three years, Alien Citizen has toured the US college circuit; the US Embassy and international schools in Panama and Singapore; festivals Off Off Broadway and in San Francisco (where it was sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center and hosted by the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts); and I was the first American artist and the first Guatemalan artist to perform at Tjarnarbíó Creative Center in Reykjavík, Iceland. Alien Citizen was also the closing performance at the Women Playwrights International Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

There are other mixed-race scholars and artists who also had peripatetic, international upbringings, and I think our voices are important to critical mixed race studies dialogue.

The video excerpts of Alien Citizen are directed by Sofie Calderon, filmed by Rod Bradley and Abram Pineda-Fischer, and edited by Elizabeth Liang and Daniel Lawrence.

QUESTIONS

Who are you when you are from everywhere and nowhere and race is not the number one identifier in many places outside the USA?

How are other mixed-race artists dealing with nomadic issues as they pertain to the mixed-race experience? My final draft of Alien Citizen does not include scenes in which North Africans think I am North African, but this happened to me in real life when I lived in Morocco and Egypt. Are other artists delving into the experience of being misidentified outside as well as inside the USA?

RESPONSE

Due to mixed people’s invisibilization in the US, many people do not have the frameworks or language to talk about mixed identity. I’ve noticed a common multiracial experience is explaining ourselves and our worlds, endlessly, and still not getting the meaning across. Performance can express meanings in visible, tangible ways that powerfully reach audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with inter-cultural experiences. I thank Elizabeth Liang for enacting her own experiences, which resounded with desires to connect, to comfort, to express confusion.

This is urgent work for healing and imagining collective action. Moments that resonated with me, as someone who has crossed between white and latinx communities, were portrayals of what happens when aspects of our cultural history and language, or those associated with our identities, are lost or hidden from us. Elizabeth’s work poses the question: ‘who are you when you are from everywhere and nowhere?’ I’d also ask: ‘why do we find ourselves in that position?’ and bring our attention to structural causes. For many people with inter/mixed -racial/cultural lives, our estrangement from place and culture is intimately related to violence forcing displacement, assimilation, and the material and cultural destruction of our communities. I am particularly aware, as a daughter of an immigrant, of how my identity is created, not just by being from ‘nowhere,’ but by being displaced, estranged, or disconnected due to economic oppression, imperialism, state terror, and other forms of violence. Being moved far from some experiences in both awareness and geography, we may become more attuned to the emotional and intergenerational trauma of this violence through our parents. Performance, thought, and organizing which delves into our past, with the trauma, interconnectedness and resilience that is there, is needed for mixed people and others as we build self-awareness, historical understanding, relationships, and movements.

Solveij Rosa Praxis

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