An opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review caught my eye, though I admit a cringed a bit before I clicked on it. The title: What Biracial People Know.
Now what? I thought. It’s been a strange adventure growing up biracial: Rejected by some white family members out of the gate, then subject to a lifetime of existential questions – What are you, anyway? Choose a side. I was too light for some, too lippy for others. I’m routinely mistaken for whatever Latino demographic happens to populate the zip code. Hola, I’m Ellen, Mexican in California, Puerto Rican in New York.
Some of it’s been funny, like the persistent liberal myth that biracial people have somehow won some attractiveness lottery, by shocking the plain Jane genes of uniracial parents into producing a better-looking human. No. “Here’s how I do the math,” I like to say. “Funny looking White Person A and funny looking Black Person B aren’t getting Halle Berry no matter how hard they try. People are going to look like the people they came from and that’s that.”
But the strangest of all, perhaps, is feeling the weight of light skint privilege so keenly. I know the world is easier for me and I never let myself forget.
So, it was through a lifetime of stinkeye that I pressed ahead with Moises Velasquez-Manoff’s guest editorial. It’s excellent. He’s better known for his book “An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Disease,” but he’s also a person who comes from people:
As a multiethnic person myself — the son of a Jewish dad of Eastern European descent and a Puerto Rican mom — I can attest that being mixed makes it harder to fall back on the tribal identities that have guided so much of human history, and that are now resurgent. Your background pushes you to construct a worldview that transcends the tribal.
You’re also accustomed to the idea of having several selves, and of trying to forge them into something whole. That task of self-creation isn’t unique to biracial people; it’s a defining experience of modernity. Once the old stories about God and tribe — the framing that historically gave our lives context — become inadequate, on what do we base our identities? How do we give our lives meaning and purpose?
His essay is a smart reminder of all the things we know, that America’s ethnic identity is changing, and that diverse teams make better decisions. But he lets those truths sit next to a broader assertion that all the lofty talk about multiculturalism under a black president failed to make the case that diversity is good for white people. “[W]hat of the white nationalism that [Trump’s] campaign seems to have unleashed? Eight years of a black president didn’t assuage those minds, but instead inflamed them,” he writes.
The business case for national diversity has failed.
So, at what point is someone like Srinivas Kuchibhotla, by all accounts a lovely person and exemplary Garmin engineer, going to be allowed to claim American as part of his identity? He was shot and killed by a man who asked him a version of the What are you, anyway? question. “He asked us what visa are we currently on and whether we are staying here illegally,” Alok Reddy Madasani, who was shot in the same incident, told The New York Times. Kuchibhotla’s widow is asking questions of her own on her Facebook page. “Do we belong here? Is this the same country we dreamed of and is it still secure to raise our families and children here?”
And then there is Stuart Wright. He’s white, 31 years old, an accountant, and lives in the Chicago suburbs. His father is a retired investment banker. He has a tattoo that reads “Jesus is love.” We know this guy, right? But he was also just arrested for a hate crime in which he allegedly smashing the window of a downtown synagogue and putting swastika stickers on its doors in early February. His other tattoo is a swastika. His newly shaved head has made the curly haired boy that smiles out from his yearbook picture all but disappear. This guy, we don’t know so well.
So, how do we help all the Mr. Wrights out there who are feeling so terribly wronged? Who feel so entitled to the default American identity? Is there a way for them to define themselves that doesn’t involve existential loss? I wish I knew. As Velasquez-Manoff makes clear, diversity is hard but essential work. It takes practice. There’s going to be rough spots. But perhaps those of us who have struggled with understanding our own identities do have an important role to play in helping those who haven’t yet find their way.
|A class action suit claims that ICE detainees were forced into unpaid labor|
|The lawsuit was first filed in 2014 and the story is ugly: tens of thousands of immigrants who were detained by immigration officials and held in private prisons were forced to do labor for $1 a day or nothing, which is a violation of federal anti-slavery laws. The suit reached class-action status last week after a judge’s ruling; the class could involve as many as 60,000 detainees. The dispute involves a 1,500 bed center in Aurora, CO, owned by the GEO Group. The original lawsuit filed on behalf of nine immigrants asked for $5 million in damages. Attorneys expect the damages to grow considerably. “Certification of the class is perhaps the only mechanism by which these vulnerable individuals who were dispersed across the country and across the world would ever be able to vindicate their rights,” says the executive director of one advocacy group.|
|Professional sports management welcomes their first openly non-binary executive|
|It’s a cool bit of news for several reasons, not the least of which that a journalist successfully made the jump to another profession. But when the Sonoma Stompers, an independent baseball club in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Club league, announced that baseball writer and data scientist Jen Ramos was joining their organization as an assistant general manager, it became national news. Ramos is non-binary, and doesn’t identify either as a man or a woman, making them the first genderqueer executive in professional sports. “[V]ery little is known about being gender non-binary. So hopefully, being in this position as a sports executive I can be an inspiration,” says Ramos in this thoughtful interview.|
|Exploring the tech pipeline. Where are the leaks, really?|
|Latino USA, NPR’s only national Latino news and cultural weekly radio program, has an excellent hour-long episode devoted to the oft-lamented pipeline in tech, and digs deeply into where the “leaks” for underrepresented communities really occur. They start with programs designed for middle schoolers and go all the way to the tech companies who are trying to manage bias in hiring and at work. They kick off the segment with a noble quest, defining diversity itself. Eric Ruiz has worked in Silicon Valley for about five year; his parents came to the U.S. from Mexico to be migrant workers. He feels that diversity is talked about too simplistically. The “Latino community” is a myth, when you think about it. “As a child of immigrants, I have more in common with Aziz Ansari,” he says. How can you solve a problem that’s not properly defined?|
|How to get to Sesame Street|
|Dream job alert: The people who bring you Sesame Street have launched a new fellowship specifically designed to help nurture the talent of emerging writers and storytellers of color. “As a company that advocates diversity, we recognize the importance of representation both on and off-screen, so that children of all backgrounds can see themselves in the content they consume.” Those selected will receive “hands-on” writing experience guided by Sesame Street writers and other industry veterans, and will produce at least one script. Click through and share with the creatives in your life. Applications close on March 31.|
|Sesame Writers Room|
The Woke Leader
|Meet the woman behind “Formation”|
|Beyonce, Rihanna and Issa Rae share something else besides awesomeness: All three have worked with music video director Melina Matsoukas, who has helped to shape their visions in extraordinary ways. This profile begins with her approach to the monumental task of creating the video for “Formation,” a rush job timed to drop right before Beyonce’s Super Bowl appearance. It’s like a master class in creative development. “I treat each video like a thesis project,” she told The New Yorker, relying on inspiration from Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Octavia Butler, while referring to iconic moments in black life, from Mardi Gras to Rodney King. “I wanted to show—this is black people,” she said. “We triumph, we suffer, we’re drowning, we’re being beaten, we’re dancing, we’re eating, and we’re still here,” she says.|
|Yasiin Bey is a truly interesting man|
|The artist formerly known as Mos Def has always been a provocative figure, challenging the materialism that became associated with rap music, leapfrogging between musical genres and creative projects to build a career that seemed to have no discernable endgame except true expression. That’s what makes this profile from The Fader such a delight to read; artists still exist and they use their lives to express themselves in ways that often befuddle fans who just want the thing you did before. I didn’t know, for example, that Bey had put himself through a force-feeding protocol used in Guantanamo Bay. He’s an artist’s activist, one who struggles with the world as an act of love and faith. “Bey considers all of his work a conduit for change, and himself a moral arbiter who warns the masses, not of God, but of the world’s many injustices,” says writer Alex Suskind.|
|The racist roots of common words and phrases|
|These lists are always good reminders that language is a fluid tool, linked to time and place. In that way, outdated terms become fascinating mile markers of the society we used to be. It’s good to clean your vernacular house, from time to time. “Thug” and “gyp” are two terms I know to steer clear of. But “grandfather clause” came as a surprise. It came from a post-Reconstruction strategy to block black citizens from voting. “It provided that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, or their lineal descendants, would be exempt from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting.” Mind blown.|