Mixed Race In Non-Post-Racial America | Caty Borum Chattoo & Leena Jayaswal | Tedxamericanuniversity

Mixed Race In Non-Post-Racial America | Caty Borum Chattoo & Leena Jayaswal | Tedxamericanuniversity

where did you get him is he yours is she adopted she’s. exotic are you the nanny are you the babysitter what are you what are you questions like these four biracial people and their families are constant they can be curious and charming they can be hostile and dismissive they can be aggressive and hateful but they never really go away no matter how you ask the questions the message is clear two biracial people where do you belong and do you really belong anywhere. America has always been a little strange about race-mixing to put it mildly but this year is actually a milestone anniversary for civil rights in America for those of you that don’t know this year is the anniversary of loving versus Virginia actually just this month which allowed for the first time people of different races to marry but the important thing about these laws was that these were not just about romance or procreation they were actually the foundation of our segregationist legacy of Jim Crow laws and in fact in the final or oral arguments for the case they were referred to as the most odious of the segregation and slavery laws but it still took another 33 years for mixed-race people to be counted on the census in the year 2000 the mixed-race population is growing at three times the rate as the general population but as we know if we remember our racist history of slavery race-mixing has always been happening ok. here we have these pictures of these biracial people we really fetishize them a lot in our culture. biracial people are fetishized for being beautiful and exotic it almost ignores their humanity and the rest of their personhood. on the one hand we asked them continually what they are which is a dehumanizing form of buttering on the other hand we simply erase half of their identities when we ask them constantly what they are and try to place them into one box or another but it occurred to Lena and me that what all of us don’t try to do perhaps is to understand their unique experiences this very unique lens and piece of racial justice in America and. this is where our journey begins Lena and I together and for both of us it’s really personal actually. Katie and I we discovered a few years ago that we both have this in common that we’re in interracial families and this is how we discovered it I had just finished a piece a video installation called I’m not the nanny cuz I’m not the nanny I’m the mom and she heard about it and she we worked together she stopped me in the hall and she grabbed me and she pulled me into her office and said here and showed me a picture of her kids and I immediately recognized that they were biracial. pretty shortly after that we started to talk and we realized that we kind of bonded very quickly over the questions we had as being parents of biracial people we realized that our own racial identities were not significant enough to understand the experiences that our kids might have. we had a couple questions that we thought about we wanted to know do families that are mono racial that are the same race do they have the same experiences that we do and what are those kinds of differences we also wanted to know how the world sees our children and sees sees them in in culture and as people and ultimately we wanted to learn what we could do as parents to help better our children’s identity formation. we always start at this part of our journey by explaining our own racial backstories because obviously Lena and I are not the same. I feel that I should tell you that I’m white I am white my family is from the deep south but actually that’s significant to say that I’m white because what I realized from that is that I’ve never been the victim of racial discrimination I’ve never been asked what I’m doing in a particular neighborhood I’ve never been asked what are you where do you belong where are you from I’ve never felt any of those things but when I had my children my biracial brown children it is the most transformative experience of my life because of how deeply I see and understand race through a different lens and here I think it’s important that I say to you that I don’t think this is an achievement I don’t think this is something I should get a pat on the back for this is not a hero label but I’m honest with you when I say that I see race very differently and I move through the world differently and I understand that having brown skin means a thousand different moments in a day where you feel race. there are moments now that I understand with my son when he plays with other boys of color and there are clear cases of subconscious bias happening they’re treated differently there are cases with my daughter who has been asked. many times what she is and been told that she’s exotic that she’s actually developed a bit of a comedy routine to respond to it. just a couple months ago the latest person said oh you’re. exotic and she said am i endangered like a white tiger at the zoo just kind of shut the whole thing down it’s pretty hilarious. the lens is very different and it’s something that is earned and needs to be learned. I grew up in a very small town in Ohio. small that we were the one of the first immigrant families there and the newspaper did an article about us welcomed immigrants right and but this came with the backlash. one of my earliest is actually walking home from school and a kid yelling out the bus window where’s your green card and I answered at home with my mom where’s yours I didn’t know that that was meant to be an insult but this is where our stories differ a little right. that story illustrates why I as a brown woman in in America have been thinking about race from an early age and it encompasses everything that I do one thing that surprised me when I had my son my son is half white was now I discovered that I had to really start to think and learn about whiteness and especially his white privilege because that’s something that I never had. here’s what Lena and I decided to do. we decided after we met a couple of times and we had. many of the same questions like what should we be learning about our children’s development what kinds of things should we teach them how do we prepare them for particular things do they actually have a uniquely different experience than other people and. we decided because Lena and I are also documentary filmmakers we decided to take our questions on the road to film a documentary and really this is our journey through the United States at this moment to ask and listen and learn about what the biracial experience is like 50 years after landmark law but at a moment it turns out that is not at all post-racial. here are just a few highlights of our journey can I ask you a question describe mommy what color is mommy light brown light brown okay what color is daddy skin color if somebody said to you are you black are you white what would you say beige I like that answer you constantly have people not understanding where to put you not understanding like when you don’t fit into any of the buckets but they already know to exist for a certain ethnic group. it’s like either boxing at work I feel like nobody can just like be put in a box but I put down is hilar my kids call themselves swirls you have no idea whether that offends people they like it . Lena and I are both and mixed marriages Lena’s husband is why my husband is Caribbean Trinidadian my kids definitely look biracial they don’t look like oh is that my breakfast for me this defining moment when my son was three we live in an area where the president’s helicopter and plane fly over a lot are you a dancing chan he just said out of the blue he said Oh mommy I love President Barack Obama because he has a great helicopter is that why you love him I just remember he looked right at me said no mommy it’s because he has brown skin like me I realize I’m. clueless and what I should be learning I do like my children this was his self-portrait and then in first grade this became his self-portrait when we talk about race in America it’s the strong binaries of black and white it leaves people like me really lost when you have a brown kid it started writing down questions like here’s all the things I want to know how does racial identity happen how does it happen when you’re mixed-race it’s a picture I have the Irish mom in the black dad Lina and I might be very conscious of race we obviously don’t know what it’s like to be a mixed race person it’s like what kind of products do you this is when I have braids this is a show me shine why do you put all that stuff in your hair well it’s because my my hair is really curly we’ve got some awesome dolls that say mix chicks rock and they come in a variety of shades and tones what are kids experiencing what does that like for them I think it means like that we’re different and when I was growing up I thought the races race was a bad word what have we learned on this journey we’ve learned an awful lot but we’ve learned really about America’s real cultural ambivalence about its mixed race reality actually. we just have four takeaways to share with you all today and they start when. disgust disgust is a big word it’s a word we usually reserved for things like rotten garbage or life but unfortunately we found out that some people reserved this word for families like ours in 2013 General Mills featured a interracial family in an ad for Cheerios the ad went viral but mainly because the comments had to be turned off because they were. vile few years later Houstonian magazine feet had the same thing happened when they featured actually a real-life family in one of their ads. Katy and I wanted to follow this notion of disgust and we met and interviewed dr. Alison Skinner who’s a psychologist and what she found was that when specifically looking at a black and white couple some white people the same trigger of disgust happens to them but here’s our take away and this is a good thing is that she also told us that this was learned behavior and we can actually do something to change it. when Lina and I learned that we’re like oh that’s such a bummer we need people like sure our families were. cute yes. when you’re in the majority group it’s hard to imagine and appreciate how much a positive portrayal of yourself or really any portrayal at all really matters to your development as a person in your self esteem. it’s been almost 40 years since the first interracial family appeared on American tell vision that was the Jeffersons for those of you paying attention but since then there are actually very few normalized portrayals of biracial people and interracial families just doing their everyday thing and importantly we’re not talking about sexy interracial romances we’re talking about families and children and here’s why that matters actually we met a lot of kids when we were making our movie as you can see you saw some of them and they don’t see themselves portrayed on American television and in pop culture and in media and this is really important because we know from many years of media research that media reflections of people really matters not only in normalizing the experiences of the people who are portrayed but the experiences for all of us to normalize their existence and with connection comes the ability to empathize and understand and that is the anti disgust. mixed mulatto swirls one thing that was unexpected that we learned was that language becomes very important to the mixed race identity the first term that was used in this country to describe a mixed-race person was the term mulatto some people really shy away from that term given the legacy of slavery and its history others we found other biracial people are reclaiming that word and taking it on with the sense of the oppression but also the triumphs that come with that one thing that we learned that Katie and I learned as parents and as a culture that we do not if we force our kids to pick one identity over another we’re actually creating harm to them we’re giving them stress and we’re giving them low self-esteem. we cannot pick and choose the words that our kids or any by racial person uses to identify themselves. here’s the really great news. even if we mess this up and parents mess up a lot of things right. even if we as parents and as the culture really don’t get this right biracial people actually have superpowers that inspire us. we learned from psychology scholar dr.

Sarah gaither who was also biracial we learned through her research that biracial people actually show less racial bias than the rest of us they have racial identities that are fluid and flexible they’re able to maintain different perspectives they are strong and they’re resilient. another thing Katie and I while we’ve been going through this journey a white woman a brown woman we learned some good things and we learned some not-so-good things what we did discover is when we were contacting people to ask them to be in our film I was contacting the people of color and Katie was contacting the white people this unconscious bias and subconscious bias went. deep that when we were sitting next to people as they were being interviewed I would sit next to the people of color she would sit next to the white people. much. when I had Katie’s family over to my house for dinner she sat next to my white husband and I sat next to her black husband but here we are were two people who are deeply invested in race we think about as a practice and we live it in our private lives and if this subconscious and unconscious bias is. deep within us what about all the people who aren’t thinking about race in this way. at the heart of it what Lena and I really hope to do with this project actually is not to show that we’re experts because we’re not but really to embrace and show our real vulnerability that’s one of the reasons why we’re actually characters in our own film because our questions are authentic they are vulnerable and they allow us to to understand how much we don’t know. vulnerability when we think about a social change project can often be the most powerful force that we can embrace because we know that vulnerability is the language of emotion and the spirit and humans that is where social change happens fifty years after a landmark law vulnerability demands that we care more about learning what we don’t know then showing and patting ourselves on the back about what we do know and that is the of our project. I’ll close with just one story that connects this idea of ulnar ability and the idea of learning and change. we were filming with a group of college students down in North Carolina and they call themselves the swirls and this was a group that they formed to actually find some real conversation and solidarity talking about their biracial experience and I turned to a young man next to me a 21 year old biracial man and I said you know I feel really embarrassed being when I talk about race I feel really self-conscious about it my family is brown and I am dealing with real racism in my life but I feel. confused about it and embarrassed do I belong in this and he said of course you belong in it you’re already in it stop waiting for permission but the other thing that he said that was. inspiring actually and. authentic he said but you have to understand that your job in any part of a racial justice movement even this little tiny piece of it your job is to listen your job is to be in the back of the line not in the front of the line at the back of the table not at the front of the table behind people of color just like I know that my light-skinned gives me a different kind of privilege and I need to be there too. that kind of vulnerability allows us to be in conversations that we would never have if we claimed that we had all of the answers or that we’re doing a good job about understanding race and racism because we all have. much more to learn and we’ll end with this we know that our journey and our conversation is not magically going to solve all the issues around race in America but we hope that if we can really see people as who they are they’re genuine selves that we can change the what are you – who are you thank you. much [Applause]