Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Swirl, Looking Beyong Racial Binaries

For most people, race is still mainly seen as "black and white." Either you are white or you are not. While many have connotations of what it means to not be white, or not be black, very little is discussed what does make those in between. Even less has been discussed about those who are of mixed racial ancestry. In most people's minds, many of these people are not considered white, even if most of the ancestry is from Caucasian relatives. For many years, people of mixed ancestry have been defined by "others", being those not of mixed ancestry, of how we should define ourselves and how others view us. That is why I applaud the people of Swirl. This is a multi-faceted and multi-layered issue that can not simply be defined as it has for many years as simply "black and whites". As with sex (male vs. female), gender (masculinity vs. femininity) and religion (Christian vs. non-Christan), these discussions are often defined and dictated by those in the majority and/or with the most power, all the while relegating all those that do not simply fall into either dichotomy to be largely absent from the discussion. That is why groups like Swirl are ever increasingly important in a society that must move forward. Check out the website and learn something new. Here is some words from the group's founder, Jen Chau.

...In 2000, many of us found ourselves having to explain the idea of mixed identity to others. From strangers to our own families, we have had to answer the questions of people who didn’t believe or couldn’t fathom that we could be “more than one thing” at the same time. We have been asked to choose time and time again — and that’s when we were actually presented with the choice — many times, people have chosen for us. Swirl was created in order to challenge the idea that identity is simple — something that can be discussed in black and white terms. I wanted to create a space where people could find community amongst others who thought about ethnicity and identity in more open-minded ways. I wanted Swirl to become a community of children and adults, young and old, interracial couples and families to share experiences, support one another, and to learn together in order to create change and move us from the borders to a space that was inclusive of all.

While many of us continue to get questioned or see the kind of close-minded thinking that shows how dysfunctional our thinking around race/ethnicity/identity is, there is definitely a sense that we have made some progress. Fluid and complex identities have been lived for ages. For many reasons, although mixed heritage people have existed for generations, we now find ourselves at a time when people are ready to recognize and acknowledge that our country has to account for people who don’t easily fit into one of the five archaic racial classifications (Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, White). Mixed heritage individuals are able to check more than one box on the US Census, there are mixed characters in primetime TV shows and Hollywood films, there are more books, organizations, and other resources out there for mixed heritage people, interracial couples, and mixed families. We have made some strides, but of course, there is so much more to be done. With that said, Swirl is committed to growing — both to serve more communities throughout the country, but also to take on more of the work that will initiate big picture change in this country.

We want to change the culture of how identity is thought about, talked about, and lived...