Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out (review) [McKibbin]

Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out (review) [McKibbin]

University of Toronto Quarterly
Volume 81, Number 3, Summer 2012
pages 704-705
DOI: 10.1353/utq.2012.0140

Molly Littlewood McKibbin

Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out by Adebe De Rango-Adem and Andrea Thompson, eds.(Inanna Publications, 2010)

DeRango-Adem and Thompson’s new collection of the artistic, autobiographical, and scholarly work of almost seventy women performs the important task of bridging the gap between late twentieth-century mixed-race writing and more contemporary work. Their text demonstrates the changes multiracial discourse has undergone and is undergoing. Other Tongues addresses the important concerns that dominated multiracial discourse in North America in the final decades of the twentieth century, which, as the contributions illustrate, are still quite relevant to the experiences of both older and younger multiracial women. Prominent recurring themes include belonging; racial inclusion and exclusion; identity formation; racism; physical appearance; the continuing prevalence of the ‘what are you/where are you from?’ question; the relationships between race, culture, and ethnicity; and the relationship of ‘colour’ to whiteness. Although some writers do not further these issues beyond what earlier collections have already done, others take them up in ways that renew older ideas with fresh perspectives. Many contributions touch on issues that are central to ongoing multiracial discourses, including gender, sexuality, class, migration, transracial adoption, single parenting, families consisting of multiracial parents, the rhetoric of ‘post-racialism,’ and the impact of Barack Obama as a public figure.

As Amber Jamilla Musser argues, race is ‘all about context,’ and this collection makes a concerted effort to include work arising out of many different contexts. Through contributors from a large variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds working in a range of genres – including autobiographical essays, narrative sketches, poetry, drama, scholarly essays, and visual art (unfortunately not printed in colour) – Other Tongues offers diverse voices that explore multiracial experience in North America (a necessarily limited geographical region, as the editors acknowledge). The exclusive engagement with women’s voices is, the editors explain, the result of a commitment to the goals of women’s studies. But while Carol Camper’s preface (itself rather troubling in its uncritical adoption of conventional notions of authenticity) signals DeRango-Adem and Thompson’s debt to her 1994 collection of women’s writing, Miscegenation Blues: Voices of Mixed Race Women, and while the desire to offer a forum in which women’s voices can be heard is clear, the absence of men’s experiences is at times a notable lack. Since multiracial discourse is in many ways a product of critical race theory and, consequently, is dependent on the ‘storytelling’ of racialized individuals as a way of approaching matters of race, the absence of male contributors seems limiting. While the editors’ choice is made explicit, the collection is presented in a way that suggests it is quite straightforwardly a text grappling with multiracialism that happens to include only women. Since contemporary North American multiracial theory, scholarship, and cultural production have never been dominated by men, there is no immediately apparent reason to focus on women to the exclusion of men.

However, the most significant feature of the volume is that it exhibits clearly the complicated set of variables that affect the experiences and identities of racialized figures, and several of the contributions are especially insightful. The blend of contributors of different ages and from different class, educational, regional, and cultural backgrounds aids the project of multiracial discourse, which is perhaps best defined by its heterogeneity. This collection is helpful since the importance of hearing a variety of voices is essential for resisting the homogenizing process of racialization in North American society. As Jackie Wang explains, ‘I write because I believe that it means something, because I have a story, although it is not the story,’ and, indeed, the multitude of ‘stories’ in Other Tongues demonstrates the differences within ‘mixed race’ even as it identifies similarities.

Although the content of the book does not really break new ground, the editors foster an unusual dialogue between their contributors that emphasizes the important links among ‘real life,’ art, politics, and the academy. A strength of the collection is that because it…

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