Generation mixed: Breaking the race barrier

Featured — By Guest Author on April 2, 2010 at 10:36

By Adrienne Maree Brown, for YES! Magazine

We can only transform and love ourselves if we accept both the honorable and shameful aspects of our history and our humanity.

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.

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.


Adrienne Marie Brown is the co-author of “How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office” and an organizer for the League of Pissed Off Voters.

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