From the Editor

From Mixedness to Humanity and Beyond...

By Charles Michael Byrd
C. Byrd
(Photo by Lynn Goldsmith)

J. Toomer "I would liberate myself and ourselves from the entire machinery of verbal hypnotism....I am simply of the human race."

"This new race of mixed people, now forming all over the world but especially in America, may be the turning point for the return of mankind, now divided into hostile races, to one unified race, namely, to the human race."
-- Jean Toomer

On day two of the 3rd Pan Collegiate Conference on the Mixed Race Experience at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, two young ladies from Amherst College in Massachusetts -- members of that school's Students of Mixed Heritage And Culture organization -- stopped me in one of the hallways of Shanklin Laboratory. Earlier that morning I had delivered a workshop entitled, "The mixed-race community being at the forefront of freeing Americans from outdated ways of "racial" thinking -- toward an embrace of humanity." Actually, I added that last bit about humanity too late for conference coordinators to include it in the printed programs. In the weeks leading up to the workshop, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with presenting a vision simply of moving beyond this country's obsession with "race." Where do we go from there?

It occurred to me that some folk were already easing themselves out of "racial" identifiers and sliding into ethnic and cultural alternatives. Of course, there's nothing wrong per se with a person proclaiming his ethnic or cultural pride, though both can be traps when used in precisely the same manner as "race" -- to divide and segregate.

(Let me quickly add that I think there's nothing wrong with a person strongly asserting ethnic and cultural pride. Daily media accounts of the wanton slaughter of members of one ethnic group or tribe by members of another -- see: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kurdistan, East Timor, Chiapas, Rwanda, Congo, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Chechnya, et al. -- leave me leaning, however, toward the notion that maybe it's not such a hot idea after all.)

Nowadays, culture merchants speak incessantly of the need to preserve both "white" and "black" culture, yet none can provide a precise definition of either. Is "culture" becoming the last refuge of committed racialists of all hues, including dyed-in-the-wool racists? On this issue, I bow to the late James Baldwin who wrote in Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son:

"Nothing is more undeniable than the fact that cultures vanish, undergo crises; are, in any case, in a perpetual state of change and fermentation, being perpetually driven, God knows where, by forces within and without."
Anyway, back to the hallway and the two Amherst College females, one of whom fairly exclaimed: "Mr. Byrd, your presentation was so provocative! At first I said to myself, Wha-a-a-a-t!? Could you come to our school and give the same talk?" Think about it for a minute. What I said was so frank and provocative that it initially took them aback, yet they want to hear more. That tells me that these kids are already fed up with the lies they constantly hear about who they really are, which "racial," ethnic or cultural group they are supposed to pledge allegiance, which political party and philosophy they are supposed to join and to adhere, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam. They are receptive to the idea that what really matters at day's end is what they think about themselves as individuals, not what official "racial" or ethnic representatives tell them they should think.

Ideas alone have the power to transform, and this scares the living hell out of American monoracists -- of all colors -- who cling so tenaciously to the furtherance of an immoral, segregated classification system, one which defines "racial" mixture as illegitimate and one in which we all know our place and stay in it -- for the good of the "race." Even the multiracial community's self-appointed leadership seeks to persuade us to meekly accept our role as the invisible glue holding the current paradigm in place, not allowing it to fall and shatter as it should, as it surely will.

Contrariwise, I've long believed that mixed-race folk have not only a golden opportunity but an obligation to guide America beyond antiquated "racial" thinking. Within our individual spheres of influence -- no matter how large or small -- we must consistently and relentlessly challenge the notion that coerced membership in an artificial grouping is the optimal way to define a human. We must also demonstrate that rejecting the racist ideologies of "blackness" and "whiteness" -- each predicated on its own queer notion of "purity" -- is not the same as repudiating, much less demonizing and hating, those individuals who still feel compelled to identify with them.

The students who assembled that February 6-7 weekend at Wesleyan know well that we can readily change the various names, labels, tags and identifiers -- first and last names, racial designation, religious affiliation, state residency and myriad more -- which we use to present our physical forms, our bodies to the world. We can change them all yet remain unchanged ourselves. Are we, then, our bodies? That's one of the questions that made some of the students go Wha-a-a-a-t!?

The answer is no. We are the life-force, the spirit animating the physical form, and that rings true with everyone at a certain level of consciousness. Though even a cursory consideration of spirituality was the furthest thing from their minds when they entered the room, most of the students in attendance that day left with a higher level of personal awareness of the various labels we use to identify ourselves. They also left with the thought to take note of the individuals they encounter daily who are not so aware, souls who long ago went into agreement with the notion that they are their bodies and, ergo, the names society assigns to their physical forms.

The workshop attendees will also, perhaps, view the "race"/ethnicity/culture trinity as an alluring seducement to be avoided -- something to leave in the dust as we move toward humanity and beyond.


Also please read:

  • Raina Carpio Bell's 13 New Millennium Affirmations
  • Nathan Douglas' "Declaration of Racial Independence"
  • Maria Root's "Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People"
  • Vandon E. Jenerette's essay, "Just who owns us anyway?"


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