Shades of Gray: Writing the New American Multiracialism

Posted in Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2018-12-26 19:54Z by Steven

Shades of Gray: Writing the New American Multiracialism

University of Nebraska Press
December 2018
348 pages, index
Hardcover: 978-0-8032-9681-7

Molly Littlewood McKibbin, Assistant Professor of Instruction
English and Creative Writing Department
Columbia College Chicago

Shades of Gray

In Shades of Gray Molly Littlewood McKibbin offers a social and literary history of multiracialism in the twentieth-century United States. She examines the African American and white racial binary in contemporary multiracial literature to reveal the tensions and struggles of multiracialism in American life through individual consciousness, social perceptions, societal expectations, and subjective struggles with multiracial identity.

McKibbin weaves a rich sociohistorical tapestry around the critically acclaimed works of Danzy Senna, Caucasia (1998); Rebecca Walker, Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2001); Emily Raboteau, The Professor’s Daughter (2005); Rachel M. Harper, Brass Ankle Blues (2006); and Heidi Durrow, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010). Taking into account the social history of racial classification and the literary history of depicting mixed race, she argues that these writers are producing new representations of multiracial identity.

Shades of Gray examines the current opportunity to define racial identity after the civil rights, black power, and multiracial movements of the late twentieth century changed the sociopolitical climate of the United States and helped revolutionize the racial consciousness of the nation. McKibbin makes the case that twenty-first-century literature is able to represent multiracial identities for the first time in ways that do not adhere to the dichotomous conceptions of race that have, until now, determined how racial identities could be expressed in the United States.

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The Beiging of America, Personal Narratives about Being Mixed Race in the Twenty-First Century

Posted in Anthologies, Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, United States on 2017-07-05 13:23Z by Steven

The Beiging of America, Personal Narratives about Being Mixed Race in the Twenty-First Century

2Leaf Press
June 2017
eBook ISBN: 978-1-940939-55-1

Edited by:

Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Professor of English and Asian and Asian American Studies
University of Connecticut

Sean Frederick Forbes, Poet and Professor

Tara Betts, Author and Professor

The Beiging of America, Personal Narratives about Being Mixed Race in the Twenty-First Century, takes on “race matters” and considers them through the firsthand accounts of mixed race people in the United States. Edited by mixed race scholars Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Sean Frederick Forbes and Tara Betts, this collection consists of 39 poets, writers, teachers, professors, artists and activists, whose personal narratives articulate the complexities of interracial life. Discrimination, instilling pride in family settings, sorting out the terms and names that people call themselves and their relatives, tackling colorism within communities of color, and childhood recollections fill these pages with compelling stories that speak to lived experiences, mapping a new ethnic terrain that transcends racial and cultural division.The Beiging of America was prompted by cultural critic/scholar Hua Hsu, who contemplated the changing face and race of U.S. demographics in his 2009 The Atlantic article provocatively titled “The End of White America.” In it, Hsu acknowledged “steadily ascending rates of interracial marriage” that undergirded assertions about the “beiging of America.”

As one flips through the pages of The Beiging of America, one discovers contributors’ shared exasperation with the inevitable and preposterous question – “What are you?” – simply because they do not fit neatly into any one racial category. This in itself is a reflection of how the black-white paradigm in America continues to obfuscate and distort rigid constructs and systemic racism, reminding readers that race – even in a post-racial imaginary – still matters. The Beiging of America is an absorbing and thought-provoking collection of stories that explore racial identity, alienation, with people often forced to choose between races and cultures in their search for self-identity. While underscoring the complexity of the mixed race experience, these unadorned voices offer a genuine, poignant, enlightening and empowering message to all readers.

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‘We Are Not Alone’: Festival Celebrates Multiracial America

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2015-06-17 17:10Z by Steven

‘We Are Not Alone’: Festival Celebrates Multiracial America

NBC News

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Nearly 700 people from across the country—including artists, writers, comedians, musicians, multiracial and multicultural families—are expected to gather at the Mixed Remixed Festival on June 13 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, to celebrate the stories and lives of multiracial people and families…

Read the entire article here.

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How Fluid Is Racial Identity?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2015-06-17 15:33Z by Steven

How Fluid Is Racial Identity?

Room for Debate
The New York Times

Heidi W. Durrow, Novelist

Amanda Kay Erekson, President

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Charles M. and Marion J. Kierscht Professor of Law
University of Iowa

Nancy Leong, Associate Professor of Law
University of Denver

Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Hispanic Research
Pew Research Center

Kevin Noble Maillard, Professor of Law
Syracuse University

It’s been a busy month for exploring boundaries of identity. Should Emma Stone play an Asian character in the movie “Hawaii?” Is Caitlyn Jenner a “real” woman? Did Rachel Dolezal commit racial fraud? The chatter accompanying these examples underscores a fundamental suspicion of personal ambiguity.

Meanwhile, multiracial couplings and births are at an all time high. People may view themselves as multiracial, monoracial or they change their identity over time. How fluid is racial identity, and where will we be in 50 years?

Read the discussion here.

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Complicating Race or Reproducing Whiteness? Heidi Durrow and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, United States on 2014-04-17 01:53Z by Steven

Complicating Race or Reproducing Whiteness? Heidi Durrow and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Gino Michael Pellegrini: Education, Race, Multiraciality, Class & Solidarity

Gino Michael Pellegrini, Adjunct Assistant Professor of English
Pierce College, Woodland Hills, California

[This is an excerpt from a paper (currently being revised) that I presented last month at the 2014 MELUS Conference in Oklahoma City.]

[…] Heidi Durrow is also the latest member of the mixed-experience generation to achieve widespread recognition following the publication of her deeply autobiographical first novel. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky was published in 2010 after winning the 2008 PEN/Bellwether Prize for a first novel that addresses social justice issues. It became a national bestseller in 2011, and is now available in French, Dutch, Danish, and Portuguese. This is a remarkable accomplishment for a book that was repeatedly rejected by the traditional publishing industry.

For those who are unfamiliar, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky recounts the racialization, alienation, coming of age, and coming to multiracial consciousness of Durrow’s fictional intermediary, Rachel Morse. Rachel is the sole survivor of a heartbreaking tragedy: her Danish mother Nella jumps from a rooftop in Chicago with all her biracial children. After recovering, Rachel is sent to live with her paternal grandmother who lives in a predominantly black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Her alcoholic father, an airman stationed overseas, has disappeared from her life. The year is 1982. Rachel is seen as a light-skinned black girl by her new family and by the surrounding community. From the 5th grade onward, she identifies herself as black, but is still ridiculed for talking white; she is both resented and desired for her good hair and blue eyes. In short, Durrow’s novel recounts from multiple perspectives how Rachel comes to understand the tragedy that claimed her mother and siblings, and in the process reclaim her Danish cultural memory, becoming Afro-Viking like Durrow…

Read the entire article here.

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“A Future Unwritten”: Blackness between the Religious Invocations of Heidi Durrow and Zadie Smith

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion on 2013-10-24 21:36Z by Steven

“A Future Unwritten”: Blackness between the Religious Invocations of Heidi Durrow and Zadie Smith

South Atlantic Quarterly
Volume 112, Number 4 (2013)
pages 657-674
DOI: 10.1215/00382876-2345225

Brian Bantum, Assistant Professor of Theology
Seattle Pacific University

Race and religion were two aspects of the Western colonial project. Novelists Heidi Durrow and Zadie Smith reflect two related but distinct articulations of how to understand this relationship from within the black diaspora and in particular the legacies of “mixed-race” children of the diaspora. This essay argues that each literary exploration of race and place demonstrates the inherent complications of two strategies of negotiating racial and religious identity in contemporary society. While Durrow seeks to extricate her character from both race and religion, seeing religion as simply a cultural marker, Smith wraps her main character inextricably to the historicity of race and religion. Through these interlocutors, this essay examines how black religion might imagine its future in relationship to the particularities of its diaspora(s) and confessions of faith.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Novelist Heidi Durrow Looks Up [Book Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2013-08-27 04:10Z by Steven

Novelist Heidi Durrow Looks Up [Book Review]

Hot Metal Bridge: a literary magazine
Published by the University of Pittsburgh

Liberty Hultberg

The Girl who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow
(Algonquin, January 2010)

Durrow’s debut novel explores modern multiracial identity within one mixed girl’s experience of love, family, class, and beauty in an American society still defining these ideas decades after the Civil Rights Movement. The main character’s perspective, if sometimes a bit sentimental, provides a precise lens through which to view a delicately complicated and shifting world.

Rachel, daughter of a mother newly emigrated from Denmark and a Black American G.I., opens the novel as the only survivor of a mysterious, tragic accident that leaves her in the care of her grandmother and the black community in Portland, Oregon. Her curly hair, light eyes, and fair skin are the source of much attention and scrutiny, forcing Rachel to examine what it means to be Black…

Read the entire review here.

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Canon Fodder: ‘The Girl Who Fell From the Sky’ and the Problem of Mixed-Race Identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-08-27 04:08Z by Steven

Canon Fodder: ‘The Girl Who Fell From the Sky’ and the Problem of Mixed-Race Identity

Specter Magazine: A Brooklyn-based Art Journal
Ghost+Blog (August 2011)

Summer McDonald

Baseball. Apple pie. Buying items in bulk. Buffets. All help create Americana, that itchy, dry-clean only fabric that bonds even the most disparate of us. As fixated as Americans are with the aforementioned, perhaps no pastime has been more consistent than toeing, monitoring, and often crossing the color line. Heidi W. Durrow’s first novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010), a national bestseller and winner of the Bellwether Prize, explores the American obsession with racial categorization and identity through the (blue) eyes of Rachel Morse, a biracial girl forced to go live with her black grandmother in Portland, Oregon, after surviving a terrible tragedy.

With a black-identified biracial president in the White House, the timeliness of Durrow’s debut cannot be overstated. And perhaps Durrow owes a word of thanks to the POTUS for helping breathe new life into a conversation older than this hardly perfect Union we call home, for her work centers on bringing the mixed-race experience to the fore. With the tragic fall of Tiger Woods and Mariah Carey marrying Nick Cannon (still having a hard time grasping that), no other public figure but the POTUS–with help from–could help us keep our eye on the multiracial ball. Durrow does her best to keep us focused on the “beiging” of America through a Youtube channel, a film and literature festival, as well as a website. TGWFFTS is merely the fictional rendering of Durrow’s real life politics.

Or so it seems. Having no knowledge of Durrow’s other exploits might make gauging the larger theme of the novel slightly more difficult. Despite an interesting mystery at the core of the work, the narrative feels disjointed, incomplete, and contrived to the point of an awkward and unbelievable “happy” ending. In a very basic sense, Durrow tells way more often than she shows, rushing the stories of some of the more interesting, ancillary characters (Brick or Rachel’s father, Roger, for example), preventing the organic development of fuller, richer characters–and therefore a more compelling story– for readers to empathetically engage. What’s left, then, is Rachel’s underwhelming coming-of-age story slash devolution (the impression the novel leaves, not my opinion) into blackness…

…“I’m not black. I’m not white. I’m both.” Seems harmless and simple enough. And it’s a message Durrow, given her other work, might want her readers to have received by the end of TGWFFTS. But the idea of both, the idea of being a mixed- or multi-raced person, although a seemingly refreshing and timely one, especially since our country “came together” and elected a biracial president and everything, is inherently problematic, and for me, troubling. Mixed- or multi-racial identity in a United States context is hardly about racial harmony or progress, but instead reinforces racial hierarchies by relying upon the equality efforts spearheaded by blacks while reinforcing anxiety about (being affiliated with) blackness

…Throughout the 1970s and 80s, interracial couples and (their) mixed-race children slowly became more visible on the landscape of an apparently racially stratified society. By the 1990s, mixed-race citizens, parents of multiracial children, and heads of interracial families were lobbying the federal government for a multiracial category on the United States Census, a move they thought would legitimize the interracial family and mixed-race children. Although the effort failed, arguing for a multiracial category on the US census form garnered the movement national attention.

Though the discourse on multiracialism addresses all the possible combinations and hues of God’s racial rainbow, blackness is uniquely affected by the idea of mixed-race identity. First, the significance of the Lovings to the formation of mixed-race identity placed particular significance to black-white pairings. Second, identifying as mixed-race relies on essentialist, de-politicized, nuclear-family-oriented notions of race: (mono)racial parent + (mono)racial parent = biracial child, thereby implicitly arguing for a kind of respectability predicated upon sexual practices and behaviors acceptable to larger (read: white) society–a space blacks have been perpetually excluded from. Such manuevers inevitably silence the fetishistic aspects of discourses concerning interracial relationships in exchange for language that could be summarized by the colloquial, Lov[ing] conquers all.

Third, mixed-race advocates will often argue that they are working against the one-drop rule, or hypodescent, a statute established precisely to monitor blacks and keep them for commingling with whites. Although the one-drop rule excluded blacks, it also worked as an umbrella identity, a force which was employed as a galvanizing mechanism to gain equal rights during the Jim Crow and civil rights periods. Blackness, then, became both an inherently multiracial and sociopolitical identity that people rallied around to fight oppression. Multiracial advocates make a similar claim about the breadth of mixed race identity, and further suggest that being bi- or multiracial is a new, post-1967 phenomenon that thusly allows one to appreciate more than one culture or racial heritage. Belief in this description of multiracial identity as a novelty requires a limited, monolithic understanding of blackness that denies the racial mixture inherent to it. This not only constricts the meaning of blackness and black identity, but also takes those varying tenets of blackness and recasts them as constitutive of multiracial identity. This process leads to misreading and ahistorical cherry-picking of black culture in order to create a multiracial history that otherwise would not exist…

Read the entire article here.

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The Girl Who Fell from the Sky Explains What it Is to Be Mixed and Happy

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-08-27 04:07Z by Steven

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky Explains What it Is to Be Mixed and Happy

The Huffington Post

Marcia Dawkins, Clinical Assistant Professor of Communications
University of Southern California, Annenberg

Professors Ravinder Barn and Vicki Harman from the Centre for Criminology and Sociology at Royal Holloway, University of London are carrying out a groundbreaking research project about white mothers and mixed race children. Theirs is part of a wider study of mixed race children, youth and families that has spanned over twenty years. According to Dr. Harman, “white mothers of mixed-parentage children can find themselves dealing with racism directed at their children as well as facing social disapproval themselves.” Such is the case with Nella, the white mother of mixed race protagonist Rachel, in Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Read the entire article here.

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Heidi Durrow discusses her novel “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky”

Posted in Audio, Barack Obama, Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-08-27 04:04Z by Steven

Heidi Durrow discusses her novel “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky”

The Leonard Lopate Show
WNYC Radio (93.9 FM or 820 AM)
Friday, 2010-05-14, 12:00-14:00 EDT (16:00-18:00Z)

Leonard Lopate, Host

Heidi W. Durrow, Author

Destruction, Restoration

We’ll look into how Europe’s economic problems are creating political problems—we’ll check in on the state of the euro and on Greece’s ongoing debt woes. Then, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat talks about her debut feature film “Women Without Men.” Plus Heidi Durow discusses her novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. And Please Explain is all about art restoration!

Listen to the interview here. The audio stream is here. Download the audio clip (00:13:26, 5.4MB) to your computer here.

00:05:36 Leonard Lopate: The Bellwether Prize is for works that issues of social justice. You’ve attended law schools as well. Did you write this novel as social commentary?

00:05:47 Heidi Durrow: I wanted to explore this story ’cause I don’t think we talk about it often enough… about multiracial families and biracial identity. We had this great moment during President Obama’s candidacy when we got to talk about ‘biracial’ and the fact that his grandmother was white and his mother was white. And then on Inauguration Day he became our first black African American president. And we lost that opportunity to talk about biracial identity I think.

00:06:13 LL: Well, often when someone is biracial, the decision of the rest of the world is that they’re ‘black’.

00:06:21 HD: Yes. That was my experience.

00:06:21 LL: So Tiger Woods, who saw himself as very much being Asian—we don’t want to talk about his other problems.  But anyway, he was automatically ‘black’ and Barack Obama… he’s automatically ‘black’.

00:06:34 HD: And I think that’s fine. I do believe in self-identification. So that when people who are mixed-race decide to be one or the other, I’m absolutely for that. I just feel like, we lose stories when we don’t tell our whole selves.

00:06:48: LL: So what happens when someone like Rachel goes to school and is in classes where pretty much all of her classmates are black?

00:06:57 HD: They don’t understand her in the book.  And it’s the same thing for me, they just didn’t understand where I fit… at all. I remember being at home speaking Danish with my mother, having Danish food and then as soon as we opened the door and went outside, I was a black girl and it erased that whole story, that whole existence that was me…

00:10:54 LL: In addition to writing, you also write a blog with Fanshen Cox called ‘Mixed Girls Chat’.

00:11:00 HD: ‘Mixed Chicks Chat’.

00:11:01 LL: ‘Mixed Chicks’… Okay.

00:11:03 HD: Yeah, and it’s weekly podcast we do every Wednesday. And we talk about being racially and culturally mixed. So we interview people who are in blended families, parents. We had a Harvard scholar on, which is exciting.

00:11:15 LL: I would assume—from what I know—that something like at least 90 percent of all African Americans—maybe 100 percent—are of mixed race.

00:11:26 HD: I think probably we’re all mixed in some way. And that’s what I’m so excited about with this book. ‘Cause I’ve been doing some readings around.  And I find that people are sharing the fact that their families are blended… suddenly.

00:11:39 LL: So this is something that would not have been discussed in the past? People would have been forced to just make a choice… say I’m ‘white’ or ‘black’?

00:11:44 HD: I think that’s right… Yeah, I mean, remember the controversy with Michelle Obama’s—I think—great-great grandfather and they discovered that he was biracial. And there was a little bit of controversy about that… I think, because people wanted to say ‘this our first African American First Lady’ and wanted to really hold on to that as opposed to actually sharing the real true story of this man in her past who was biracial as well…

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