Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Yesterday I attended a workshop in London centered around research focusing on mixedness.  The aim was to gather Ph.D students and junior faculty and have this group discuss, both in a large group and smaller seminar groups, methodological and conceptual issues that arise when conducting research around mixedness.  Needless to say the workshop left me tired, annoyed, pissed off (rather than pissed on), and with a headache that only a nice cup of tea, a warm chair, trash tv, and some sweatpants could cure.

The concept of mixedness is a troubling one to define - but a definition or mutual starting point is necessary in order to have engaging and meaningful conversation(s).  That was the first problem with this workshop - it was open to various disciplines with numerous definitions and focuses (or none at all), with a lack of focus on how to talk about research that uses mixedness as a conceptual tool.  Whereas I examine how mixedness is used in the recreation of British national identity, and the implications that has on the ground with ethnic/racial identities, others at the conference were interested in motherhood experiences and having mixed race children, single mothers with mixed race children, mixed disabilities households, mixed religious households, psycho-social and clinical experiences of mixedness, and to top it all off one woman was interested in examining the mixing of paint and other artistic materials in the creation of expression (yes, she was serious and at this point even my ass was hurting).

Now, I can handle this to a certain extent.  But what really troubled me was the presentation given after lunch and before we were to split up in our small groups once again by an older mixed race sociologist/clinical psychologist on the pain of being and claiming a mixed race identity.  Her 20 minute talk outlined the stuggles, negative experiences, confusion, societal disconnect, and overall pain and suffering of individuals who are mixed race black/white.  In her conceptualisation of mixedness she focused on the horrors of black/white mixed race experience, her own pain evident in her shaking hands and strained voice, drawing on sociological and clinical theories and research that back-up and support this dominate paradigm.  As I sat there listening to her dismantle the validity of self-identifying as mixed race because it undermines the unity and strength of blackness I felt me chest grow tight and may hand form into a fist.  

Does mixedness automatically mean mixed race and mixed race experiences?  Why, why do we have to rehash this same old tired story of pain and confusion when we talk about mixed race?  Why does mixed race mean only black and white? Why if you are of this mixture must you identify as black or be seen as a race traitor?  More importantly - why is there no interrogation and/or reformulation of blackness that allows a place and space for mixedness in its construction (along with homosexuality, femininity, rural life and a host of other aspects of identity)?  

Growing up in the far South side of Chicago with a white stay at home father and working black mother I saw my difference as part of who I was.  But in reality my mixedness was, and is, only one aspect of who I am - as it is with anyone else.  Identity is a tricky complex thing that no one has a clear head around.  So to hear a mixed race woman who identifies strongly as black because of her inaccessibility to mixedness as a identity is sad - but it is not the only story of mixed black/white individuals, and that lens in not the only way in which to understand, interrogate, research, and disseminate mixed race experiences.  The narrative of the tragic mulatto must change if we want to expand research and really engage with current processes of racial identity.  Yesterday's workshop made that very clear -  so I can say confidently that I identify as mixed race and black - the two are not mutually exclusive and they can and should share the same space, especially within the context of America (that is a whole other discussion for another time).

Within research we need a rigorous interrogation and examination of the various ways in which the concept of mixedness is used - not just dismiss the issue as unimportant or make the concept so big that it includes everything from identity to paint.  So I hold onto mixedness as a conceptual tool and I seek to understand how the state (the literal government and not some postmodernist idea that says you can't define it cause if you cant define it why look at it?) uses mixedness as a political tool to re-imagine and redefine Britishness in order to make Britain a fair equal society while at the same time legislation is making many within black and ethnic minority communities feel more excluded.  So, when focusing on mixed race experiences please let us move the conversation on, allowing space for issue of pain when needed but also of acceptance and just the everyday.   

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