New People – Book Review

Book Review

New People by Danzy Senna

New People

New People is about a multiracial woman named Maria. These are some of the terms she uses for multiracial people:

Miscellaneous People

Mulatto (her favorite word, which means little mule) and Mulatta

Multiracial

Biracial

The “N” Word

Odd, twisted girls

Racially nebulous

Quadroon

Negro

Born again black people

Butterscotch

Mestizo Abandoner

Mixed

“Everything” and

my least favorite, “Mutt.”

She also says things like, “Being black and looking white was enough of a freak show” and “He was embracing his black identity.” Apparently, biracial people can absolutely not embrace their white identity. So passing for black is fine; passing for white is not.

 

It’s as if the author, Danzy Senna, had plugged biracial into every thesaurus she could find and then used the words over and over ad nauseam. Maria measures everything and everyone by race and wouldn’t you know she is engaged to a biracial man, but falls for a black poet. I suppose that’s the premise of the book. By the way, the term New People was not invented by Senna. It was also a magazine that was started in the 1980s by Yvette Walker-Hollis.

 

I realize that a lot of readers think this book is quite funny. A review in Essence magazine thinks it’s hysterical. There is that. I also watched a new “comedy” on Netflix last week with a biracial character. Many “jokes” were made at his expense because he was biracial. His mother repeats several times that she hopes for “butterscotch babies.” Why is it suddenly OK to make jokes about the multiracial community?

 

When I read fiction, I ask myself about a quarter into the book if I care about the characters. In New People, I knew by page 14 that I didn’t care what happened to these people. I re-check half way through and with this book, things only got worse. Other reviewers of Danzy Senna’s works do not share my opinion. She and her book are being heavily promoted and praised. She is clearly the biracial darling of the moment. I read most books about multiracial people because of my work with Project RACE and the multiracial community. I can honestly say no person I have ever met—multiracial or otherwise—is preoccupied 100 percent of the time with race, like Maria. They are usually the people who scream, “There is no such thing as race because it’s a social construct,” but they are the same people who give you an entire host of words about the multiracial community. You may want to think about that for a moment.

 

To be fair, if you are looking for a book that presents an entire population as screwed up, also with no scientific basis, New People should fit into your life perfectly.

 

Susan Graham

 

Presidents’ Day – Sally Hemings

Presidents’ Day – Sally HemingsSally HemmingsThomas Jefferson

Presidents’ Day is held in February to primarily commemorate the birthday of George Washington, among other presidents with February birthdates. We are celebrating Sally Hemings for Presidents’ Day. The following information regarding Sally Hemings and President Thomas Jefferson is from Wikipedia.

Sarah “Sally” Hemings (c. 1773 – 1835) was an enslaved woman of mixed race owned by President Thomas Jefferson. Most historians believe she was the mother of six children fathered by him,[1 of whom four survived to adulthood; and were given freedom by Jefferson. Hemings was the youngest of six siblings by the widowed planter John Wayles and his mixed-race slave Betty Hemings; Sally and her siblings were three-quarters European and half-siblings of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Skelton.

In 1787, Hemings, aged 14, accompanied Jefferson’s youngest daughter Mary (“Polly”) to London and then to Paris, where the widowed Jefferson, aged 44 at the time, was serving as the United States Minister to France. Hemings spent two years there. It is believed by most historians that Jefferson began a sexual relationship with Hemings in France or soon after their return to Monticello. Hemings was a slave in Jefferson’s house until his death.

The historical question of whether Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ children is known as the Jefferson–Hemings controversy. Following renewed historic analysis in the late 20th century and a 1998 DNA study that found a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Hemings’ last son, Eston Hemings, there is a near-consensus among historians that the widower Jefferson fathered her son Eston Hemings and probably all her children. A small number of historians disagree.

Hemings’ children lived in Jefferson’s house as slaves and were trained as artisans. Jefferson freed all of Hemings’ surviving children: Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston, as they came of age (they were the only slave family freed by Jefferson). They were seven-eighths European in ancestry, and three of the four entered white society as adults. Descendants of those three identified as white. Hemings was “given her time,” lived her last nine years freely with her two younger sons in Charlottesville, Virginia, and saw a grandchild born in the house her sons owned.

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE ALL MIXED UP

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE ALL MIXED UP

NPR has a radio show called “Code Switch” about race and identity. They like cute sounding titles. The title of last week’s show and article was this: All Mixed Up. What do we call people of multiple backgrounds? Mixed…mixing…mixed up…you get it. Project RACE got it 25 years ago when we opted to go with the term “multiracial” instead of mixed, halfsies, bi, mulatto, and a whole lot more. We felt that the community deserved a respectable term with inclusive meaning.

Mixed was nixed for a variety of reasons.

  • It lends itself to mixed up, mixed nuts, etc. as perfectly shown by the NPR title. Why would we want that?
  • Mixed doesn’t quite mean the same thing as whole and multiracial people are whole entities.
  • Mixed morphed into “mixie” at some point, which is just too cutesy.
  • Academia has coined the phrase “Critical Mixed-Race Studies” when they put us under the microscope to study us. :::shiver:::
  • My personal best reason to nix the mix is that mixed is the opposite of pure and let’s just not go categorizing ourselves into pure and impure. Think about it. It’s happened before historically and I, for one, did not like the implications or results.

 

Let’s look one step further. President Obama recently addressed the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. He said this: “My grandparents knew these values weren’t reserved for one race; they could be passed down to a half-Kenyan grandson, or a half-Asian granddaughter….” Half. Would it have been so difficult for him to use the term “multiracial”? Is he, the son of a white mother and a black father, exactly half and half? That makes gray and we don’t have to even go to the historic connotations of the word “gray.” It’s interesting that when the media refer to President Obama’s multiple racial heritage, they almost always call him “multiracial.” Yet, he can’t seem to bring himself to use the term. So God bless you, Mr. President and God bless the United States of America.

 

 

 

 

Hispanic Identity

‘Mestizo’ and ‘mulatto’: Mixed-race identities among U.S. Hispanics

A Third of Hispanics Identify as Mixed RaceFor many Americans, the term “mixed race” brings to mind a biracial experience of having one parent black and another white, or perhaps one white and the other Asian.

But for many U.S. Latinos, mixed-race identity takes on a different meaning – one that is tied to Latin America’s colonial history and commonly includes having a white and indigenous, or “mestizo,” background somewhere in their ancestry.

When asked if they identify as “mestizo,” “mulatto” or some other mixed-race combination, one-third of U.S. Hispanics say they do, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic adults.

The term mestizo means mixed in Spanish, and is generally used throughout Latin America to describe people of mixed ancestry with a white European and an indigenous background. Similarly, the term “mulatto” – mulato in Spanish – commonly refers to a mixed-race ancestry that includes white European and black African roots.

Across Latin America, these are the two terms most commonly used to describe people of mixed-race background. For example, mestizos represent a racial majority in Mexico, most of Central America and the Andean countries of South America.

Mulattos make up smaller shares of the populations in those countries – at most 4%, according to national censuses or other surveys. In Caribbean countries and Brazil, where populations with African ancestry are larger, mulattos make up a larger share of the population – 11% in the Dominican Republic and 47% in Brazil. (A 68% majority in the Dominican Republic identifies as “mestizo/indio.”)

Concepts of multiracial identity have been present in Latin America since colonial times. The Spanish caste system outlined all the different ways the native peoples in New Spain had mixed with Africans and Europeans – and the names and rights associated with each combination. In the early to mid-20th century, a number of countries in Latin America adopted the concept of “mestizaje,” or mixing and blending, and declared their populations mestizo in an effort to eliminate racial conflict and promote national identity.

According to the Pew Research survey of U.S. Hispanics, those who identify as mixed race, mestizo or mulatto are more likely to be U.S. born than those who do not (44% vs. 37%). They are also more likely than Latino adults who do not identify as mixed race to be non-Mexican (45% vs. 36%) and to have a higher educational attainment (45% have some college or more, versus 27%).

How Mixed-Race, 'Mestizo,' 'Mulatto' Hispanics Report Their RaceThe use of these labels to describe mixed-race ancestry is an example of how racial identity among Hispanics often defies conventional classifications used in the U.S. For example, among Hispanic adults we surveyed who say they consider themselves mixed race, mestizo or mulatto, only 13% explicitly select two or more races or volunteer that they are “mixed race” when asked about their racial background in a standard race question (like those asked on U.S. census forms). Instead, about four-in-ten of Hispanic respondents identifying as mestizo/mulatto say their race is white, while one-in-five volunteered their race as Hispanic.

These findings reflect the challenges the U.S. Census Bureau faces when measuring Hispanic racial identity. When asked about their race in census forms, a significant number of Hispanics do not choose a standard census race category such as white, black or Asian. Instead, about four-in-ten select the “some other race” category. This is coupled with the fact that two-thirds of U.S. Hispanic adults consider being Hispanic as part of their racial background, not just an ethnicity.

John Doe Review

Book Review

I received a copy of John Doe v. the Publisher Xemon, which did not interest me in the least until I saw the subtitle: The Supreme Court Case Establishing a Legal Multiracial Identity. Wow! I had no idea there had been such a case. There wasn’t. It was a factious case that would have made the author, Liam Martin, and any lawyer giddy to take on. It’s a legal fight that many legal advocates for a multiracial classification have been waiting for, for a very, very long time. But you can’t just make up a defamed plaintiff and waltz into the Supreme Court. If only it were that easy.

It reminds me of a public argument that took place on a Facebook page recently. Someone suggested that someone just start an organization to get a multiracial classification, go talk to the friendly folks in the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and voila! Done! Hmmm…not so fast. It takes money, commitment, strategy, and brains to build an organization. As for the money part, you have to wrangle with the IRS for quite a while so that you can get a non-profit status so that people will be motivated to give you money so they can tax deduct it. If you are lucky, that takes less than a year. The part about getting OMB and our equally buddy-buddy folks at the Census Bureau to give you the time of day is just laughable. Anyway, what do these people think Project RACE, AMEA, MASC, MAVIN, the hapa organizations, and countless others have tried to do. By the way, we’re still doing it at Project RACE while the others have dissolved or headed for the hills.

Yes, we’re still waiting for the perfect case to come to us. I’m not an attorney, but I think I have a pretty good idea what to look for. A really good possibility came to us in the 1990s in Florida when a young girl was told by the elementary school principal at her new school that she could not put “multiracial” on her enrollment form. We have the principal saying that on video tape and adding that the child “looks white,” so that’s what she had to be on the paperwork. A Project RACE member happened to be a practicing attorney in Florida and he took the case on pro bono. This was not a class action suit; it was brought by an individual. The court threw it out because they said there was not enough harm to the child to let it continue to be heard by the legal system. The psychological damage it did to the child who had been raised from birth as a multiracial person, was just not enough. There are legal terms for all of it.

Still, I get what Martin means and found his legal arguments well thought-out and compelling, but I’m not an attorney. I disagree with him on a point or two, but I think we are in the same ballpark, lobbying that multiracial ball across the net, or hoop, base, whatever.

I like Liam Martin’s writing. However, his book gets sidetracked often, which made me want to grab him and bring him back around. The “Rebuttal to Eleanor Holmes-Norton” chapter is brilliant. I was in the room when she made her ridiculous arguments against a multiracial community; it made me mad then and it does now. It needed to be brought up and I thank Liam Martin for doing that and laying out his rebuttal.

Where we part ways in this 25 year old story is when he brings the multiracial organizations into the mix (no pun intended). He says that the multiracial movement of the 1990s “failed to defend ‘mixed-race’ and ‘multiracial’….” Really? NOT Project RACE, which is still fighting for appropriate language. We “got it” then and we get it now. Martin does a disservice by lumping all the different organizations together. AMEA, for example, wanted to get the love, sanction, and admiration of the NAACP. Project RACE’s stand was that the NAACP had no business demanding the one-drop rule for all multiracials. The hapas wanted everyone to be called hapa, and that was not going to happen. Throwing Project RACE into the pit with all the other groups is akin to throwing us under the bus, and yeah, it’s a huge mistake.

Martin spends a lot of time and space on “A Buddhist Repudiation of the one-drop rule.” It really only serves to add religion into the already complex trio of race, ethnicity, and culture.

Whether you’re interested in legal or racial issues, I recommend John Doe v. the Publisher Xemon, especially for the crowd that is so dearly holding on to the one-drop rule.

Susan Graham

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