“I have to be a healer … my ancestral colonizer’s blood runs through my veins.”
I’ve never been into identity politics. I’ve long felt that people spent too much time analyzing the labels of past generations and too little time feeling part of the mystery and miracle of humanity.
I’m sure this is, in no small part, because I am biracial. My first experiences of race were of people asking me to choose a side, choose a parent. People telling me that in spite of the love, joy, and wholeness of my family, I didn’t fit, or offering me unsolicited judgment about who they thought my parents must be. These people showed no interest in my actual experience.
My parents fell in love in South Carolina in the 1970s, in a way that surprised both of them. Their experiences were poles apart—poverty versus wealth, black versus white, outgoing versus shy. My mother was disowned by her family for some time after she and my father eloped, and they faced deep racism throughout their lives. But they are still in love today—visible, stable, solid, sweet, dedicated love.
I spent most of my childhood in Germany on military bases, as an army brat surrounded by a lot of other racially and culturally mixed kids. By the time I arrived at a Southern middle school, where the kids segregated themselves into white and black, I didn’t feel beholden to any labels.
This isn’t a universal experience for mixed people.
In middle school, high school, and college, I met more and more mixed people who seemed confused, depressed, distraught, or insecure. They felt like constant outsiders or pretended to be solely one race or another. Many were children of divorces or separations caused by cultural differences.
For a while, I thought my experience was a fluke. Then after college I got paid and unpaid work as an organizer, first working with active drug users and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS; then, after that program’s funding got cut, with efforts to engage grassroots community youth in electoral politics. I began to encounter multiracial and multicultural activists who were confident and politicized.
Now I lead the Ruckus Society. We work in places like Oakland, rural New Mexico, and New Orleans, in communities that have been blocked from political power. We train people in those communities to make themselves heard—to stage nonviolent protests and to create their own media.
In these communities, I get to know people who teach me how to tell and share my story.
Now I tell my family story as a love story, my political roots grown deep in the soil of my parents’ audacious, risk-taking, healing love.
People around me, community organizers and young leaders, are starting to speak more openly about their full identities without shame. They aren’t just crossing racial boundaries. They’re working across cultures, abilities, classes, faiths, sexual orientations, and genders. Their leadership is facilitative, healing, listening, solution-oriented, and grounded in love.
“I fell in love with multiracial people, built political relationships with multiracial people, and began to see my identity as something I could choose to define as liberating. It takes a monumental effort to make that choice within a culture that defines ambiguity as loss, where you are neither Chinese nor white. Multiracial existence is a struggle for empowered ambiguity.”
—Jenny Lee, Allied Media Conference/Detroit Summer
Is it more comfortable to be multiracial because we have a black president whose candidacy, for better or worse, was more viable because of his white mother? Perhaps. Politics are cyclical. Our sense of morality and humanity is more interesting to me. Is poverty, inequality, or war ever acceptable? I believe injustice happens when you deny your relationship to an “other” who is also suffering.
Whether we want to admit it, more of us are mixed race or cross-cultural than not. When we recognize our multicultural lineage, we become part of a transformation that’s emerging from every corner of society—from philosophy to complex sciences to environmentalism. Post-partisan, post-binary, we are starting to embody our whole selves. We are proof that contradictions can coexist, proliferate, and create rich, new possibilities. As we tear down the walls of colonization, a previously unimaginable future can become reality.
We must embrace our identities as strengths, see all sides, make moral judgments, and take big leaps in order to heal, especially when our heritage connects us to oppressors, colonizers, or practitioners of white supremacy.
If we repress any part of our histories and heritages, we do not receive the wisdom of how to be in relationship to each other and to the planet, and we contribute to the loss of cultural diversity. Displacement, slavery, rape, colonization, segregation, integration—“that is your indigenous story,” says my friend, Carla Perez, a racial and environmental justice organizer.
Those of us who have a white parent often benefit from the long-lasting effects of white supremacy. And if you grow up around white people, you may acquire a certain privileged know-how for getting ahead in today’s society. We have to acknowledge that privilege, and create a new vision in which survival is about wholeness. We have to work to ensure that we leave no part of identity or community behind.
“Gloria Anzaldua said … as long as we cling to our identity as the colonized, fighting against the colonizer, we … cement that relationship of power/powerlessness … social transformation depend[s] upon everyone seeing the power dynamic of colonizer/colonized playing out within themselves.”
—Jenny Lee, Allied Media Conference/Detroit Summer
We can only transform and love ourselves if we accept both the honorable and shameful aspects of our history and our humanity. Let’s not water down, whiten, or melt everyone’s identity into a false unity. Let’s use the vision of our cultures collectively to create solutions to the crises we face.
We have to shift the very goals of our generation. We can practice community in ways that are not defined by how well we succeed in white systems, but by how well we honor our lineages and our futures, learning from indigenous leaders to look seven generations into our collective past and future.
Multiracial leaders can be part of a pollination process. They can help all of us learn to collaborate, decentralize, and listen to voices at the margins.
I invite more people to tell their whole stories. I invite us all to step into our roles as healers. Race limits us—it is a concept designed to divide and conquer us. What really matters is expanding the capacity of communities to experience love.
“No one can use the framework of how brown we are to divide us—who we are comes from our heart, not someone else’s definitions.”
—Ron Scott, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality