Tag Archives: silencing

I don’t want to be the new face of America, but thanks anyways

If there’s one thing tolerant people love, it’s photos of mixed people.

This National Geographic piece and accompanying photo essay made the rounds a couple of months ago, and while it’s well-intentioned, I’m starting to wish that the media could talk about mixed people without exhibiting us.

Every few years the newest census data rolls in and some major news outlet writes or films a trend piece about mixed people and how we sometimes identify as more than one race and how race is changing and the mixed child is going to be the new face of America blah blah blah and inevitably this piece is accompanied by a photo gallery of mixed people, sometimes user-submitted, sometimes taken by a photojournalist on staff, sometimes artistic (see above). These photo galleries are in theory a great way to increase the visibility of mixed people and give voice to their stories, but in practice…I’m not so sure.

Here’s the truth, plain and simple. If you’re a mixed person, people really really care about how you look. Not just like, your friends or your family or whatever, but random people like the store clerk at CVS, the checkout lady at the grocery store, the server at the restaurant, your coworker’s mom or even just strangers who initiate interactions that are based around commenting on the way you look and some combination of the questions where are you from/wait no where are you really from/wait no where are your parents from/wait no what is your ethnicity. People will guess your ethnicity and feel proud of themselves when they get it right, tell you that you are such a interesting combination of features, tell you that their daughter married an Asian/Black/Hispanic/whatever man and how they wonder if their babies will look like you, ask you who you’re dating and what their race is and then calculate the percentage of each race your babies would be, and you know what? IT IS REALLY WEIRD. IT IS SO WEIRD.

I’m all for giving voice to the voiceless and increasing visibility and all that, but when a major microaggression faced by mixed people is constant commentary about their looks, does a photo essay exhibiting mixed people in all of their unexpected-combination-of-features glory accomplish anything more than giving people more examples of unusual physniogamy to gawk at?

I mean, the answer is yes. It is more than that. The version of me that existed ten years ago needed to see mixed faces in media, needed things like the HAPA project to help her feel less alone, to help her realize that there were others out there who looked like her and sometimes felt like her. There are things about these projects that are empowering. It can be empowering to stand up and say, “I am here. This is what I look like. This is who I am” and have people listen.

But the version of me that exists now wonders how many more times the same article is going to be written before something changes other than the date. How many more headlines will be written about the new face of America before people stop sticking the words “new” “change” or “different”  in front of my face like it’s a surprise that I’m American? Before people stop contrasting me to the “old” face, whatever that is? Before people stop finding it so damned interesting that my parents had sex? (Just so we’re clear, the only thing that’s new about interracial sex in America is that these days, it’s typically consensual.)

When does my face cease to be a statement? When does it become a statement I can control?

I’m tired of feeling like my existence is curated by someone else. The faces that the media chooses to represent me and people like me are not necessarily representative, because the whole point of doing a photo essay on mixed people is to take and show pictures of people who look “interesting” and “different,” not to show pictures of mixed people who aren’t obviously mixed. You can walk out your door every day and see someone who looks white or who looks black or whatever; you’re here to see something NEW.

But at the same time, you’re here to see something that adheres to a certain aesthetic/ideal of mixedness- the ideal that people have when they stop interracial couples on the street and tell them that their children will be beautiful.  There is a comfortable, identifiable version of mixedness that doesn’t challenge expectations or beliefs about race, because you can TELL that they’re mixed and then can project whatever stereotypes upon them that you need to in order to feel comfortable interacting with them, and then there’s my quarterish-Chinese boyfriend who looks white but checks the Asian box and who no one ever believes is what he says he is.

When you look at me or him or anyone else, you’re not color blind.

Despite what you want to believe, the construct of mixedness does not abolish race because mixedness can only exist in a system where there is something to be mixed. Mixed people do not exist outside of racial politics–we do not live in a fairyland where no one will judge us for the shape of our eyes or the color of our skin, and even if we can pass as ambiguously white it hurts us to use a privilege that is denied to our parents or our siblings or our cousins. I do not call for the abolition of race and ethnicity, the erasing of cultures, identity, and history that people claim is evidenced by my skin, my face, my existence, my parents’ love– I call for the abolition of their use as a tool of oppression. I am not particularly interested in the silencing of all of these thoughts and feelings through the appropriation of my body as a symbol for a cause I don’t believe in.

A word or two or three to the people who tell me I’m America:

Mixed people aren’t new; what’s new is that we’re legal. We have existed for as long as people have had feet to walk with and tongues to talk with and hearts to love with but also sometimes hands to grab and hold and take. Biology didn’t make us, society did. We are an American creation insofar as we are the creation of the imperial-capitalist complex that brought our mothers and fathers here sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, but we do not owe our existence to your” tolerance” and “open-mindedness”, although we appreciate real tolerance and open-mindedness where we find it.

Don’t feel good about yourself on my account.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

 

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Filed under Race

I’m back, y’all.

I’m back. Sorry about that. I was busy graduating college and becoming semi-gainfully employed. It was mildly dramatic.

As a welcome back present to myself, I present the latest entry in the series of things that I find offensive.

I give you…Light Reservation!

Context: This art installation is part of an exhibit on the grounds of Cheekwood, the estate that Maxwell House Coffee built in the tony Nashville suburb of Belle Meade, TN. The artist description of this installation is as follows:

Light Reservation is an assembly of tipi-like structures made from spent fluorescent tubes.
“The installation is about my enthusiasm for the imagination; but I also hope that Light Reservation presents people with an opportunity to ponder both the good and bad aspects of our recent history.” 

-Bruce Munro

This may be the laziest justification for using politically charged imagery I have ever heard. You (you being Mr. Munro here) built tipis out of florescent lights because they look cool and then decided to use the word “Reservation” to describe them (because they are behind a fence, maybe?). You realize that this is potentially offensive and try to head off criticism by encouraging viewers to ponder “the good and bad aspects of our recent history”?

The Good and Bad Aspects of Recent* History: A Pondering

Good: America is post-racial because Obama and mixed babies. Amazon Prime.

Mixed: Social media. Sexting. No more green ketchup.

Bad: Kim Jong Il looking at things replaced by less entertaining Kim Jong Un looking at things. Paula Deen.

*Please note that  Mr. Munro does not specify what period of recent history he is referring to, and therefore I have chosen to interpret the recommended timeframe as the last six and a half years.

Yeah, I’m done.

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Filed under Announcements, Sexuality

“Don’t Make this Personal” or, Things People Say to Preemptively Shut You Up

Dear world,

My concerns about race, gender, and class inequality are personal insofar as they affect me, but are not “about me.” They are not an ego trip. They are not an excuse to whine and complain and make myself out to be a victim. They are not “about me.”

Note: I’m using the example of rape jokes because I think it’s the easiest to sympathize with and requires less of me revealing personal info/situations, but I’ve been told not to make things personal/be so sensitive about pretty much every issue under the sun. 

Me calling you out on your rape joke is personal insofar as whenever I walk alone in the dark or in an unfamiliar place I have a constant internal monologue going in which I identify potential rapists, feel bad about identifying them as potential rapists, wonder why I’m identifying them as potential rapists, and then see a white van and freak the fuck out. So yeah, rape affects my daily life (in a way that is thankfully insignificant in comparison with the experiences of others, but still sucks), so yeah, I guess rape is personal.

But I’m not calling you out on your rape joke because you hurt my feelings, I’m calling you out on your rape joke because I don’t want you repeating it to a rape survivor. I don’t want it scrolling on the newsfeed of the mother or father or brother or sister of a rape survivor. I don’t want you telling that joke to someone you don’t know is a rapist, because I don’t want you laughing with a rapist about a crime that destroys lives, because I don’t want you reinforcing the idea that rape is hilarious, that it’s not a big deal, that it’s not something that happens to “people like us.” Your test didn’t rape you. That c*nt in your knee-slapper of a story didn’t ask for it. Rape isn’t an oopsies. Raping mentally handicapped individuals isn’t funny. Raping old women isn’t funny. Raping men isn’t funny.

Me calling me out on your rape joke is not about me. It’s not about you, even. It’s about living in a world in which at least half the population lives in fear of a crime that, once perpetrated, they will be blamed for, shamed for, or simply ignored. And don’t even bother with that free speech shit. You use your free speech to tell your rape joke. I use mine to tell you that you’re being an ass. And if you want an example of a joke about rape that isn’t terrible in all ways, shapes, and forms, check out my second paragraph. 

That’s problem number one.

Problem number two:

So what if it is personal? What is it about my feelings that invalidates my opinion on the appropriateness of your rape joke? Let’s be real, here, the subtext is that I’m being too emotional, illogical, and/or “crazy,” and therefore am wrong. My feelings are wrong because they are not your feelings and the existence of my feelings makes you feel squicky inside because you like to think of yourself as a good person and you don’t like to think that you could say things that would offend others and my feelings are evidence that that particular conception of yourself is just not true. So you say “Don’t make this personal,” because that way the fact that you just upset me is my fault. And if I keep talking, if I get angry, I’m just proving your point. Once you’ve cast aspersions on my motivations, there’s no way for me to respond that disproves your claim, other than shutting up. And if I shut up, you win.

If we were to do a little role reversal, this is roughly the equivalent of me calling you a shitfaced douchebag, you telling me that I hurt your feelings, and me accusing you of infringing upon my God-given right to call you a shitfaced douchebag by having your feelings hurt. Your feelings are wrong. You shouldn’t be offended by me insulting you. You should suck it up and deal with it. Stop talking. Oh, you’re still talking? U MAD? U MAD?

“But “shitfaced douchebag” is an insult! I was just joking!” you say. Ok cool, so let’s say that your dad has testicular cancer and I’m making jokes about how he’s going to lose his dick, and there’s actually a possibility that he might and, more than that, testicular cancer runs in your family and someday you might get it too and you actively worry about this possibility every day. Maybe my intention isn’t to offend you or make you feel bad, but if you ask me to stop making dick jokes, it’s a dick move on my part to keep going. It’s an even bigger dick move to tell you to shut up and stop taking things personally. It’s the biggest of all dick moves to accuse you of being petty and/or hysterical for continuing to speak.

“Stop talking,” you say. “Don’t make this personal.”

Subtext: The things you are saying are making me feel uncomfortable.

Funny, isn’t that what I just said to you?

Best,

That Girl

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Filed under Gender, Life