Thursday, April 24, 2008

Personal disclosures and other perils of blogging

There has been a disclaimer that I've thought about making for a while, ever since I realized that the readership of this blog has grown beyond my parents and two best friends. But I've hesitated to make it because the academic in me believes that personal disclaimers can sound overly apologetic and/or needing external validation, when the reality of academic writing is that as long as you do the research and the writing is good/analysis is solid, then you don't need the hundred personal caveats and disclaimers.

However, this is a blog and not a piece of academic writing. And there have been a series of observations I've wanted to make--things related to the academic writing that I am doing--and I think that rather than unload all at once in one large unreadable blog post, I will try to unfold them bit by bit, my musings on race and racial representation, that is.

So the first thing to disclose is that while this blog is called "Mixed Race America" and while I do write about and research on many topics related to mixed-race issues, I am, myself, not mixed-race. That is to say, in the racial pentagram of race, I would stick with the single category of "Asian American" and not need to check any other boxes.

[Further disclaimer: Even as I write this, I am uncomfortable with validating the "racial pentagram"--you know, the 5-pronged scheme that has us believing in the coherency of racial categories like "white," "black," "Latino," "Asian American," and "American Indian," because quite frankly ALL races are mixed--there are no "pure" races--and especially a category like "Latino" becomes very problematic to establish as a separate "race" and yet I don't want to ignore the fact that race exists as an organizing principle in so much of our lives that we have come to naturalize it (sigh)--I am doing that thing I hate in some academic writing which is the continual caveat-making and disclaimers, so I'll stop now]

Why do I disclose this now? Because I do write about mixed-race people--specifically mixed-race Asian American subjects (both in terms of the actual people who identify as mixed-race Asian Americans and the academic subject matter of Asian American studies, which is often a mixed-race study, if that makes sense).

And so here's a question for everyone: if I identify as Asian American but not mixed-race Asian American, am I qualified to write about mixed-race Asian American people either on this blog post or in other writing venues? In what ways do we expect a person's personal identity to match up with his/her writing topics? And to push this further, do my mixed-Asian heritage experiences give me "license" (if there is such a thing) to write about mixed-race issues (ie: the fact that I did grow up with a bi- and multi-cultural perspective since my maternal family claims Jamaican heritage/roots)? Do my academic credentials (PhD in English, dissertation written on Asian American literature, professional affiliations in Asian American organizations) qualify me to write about racial topics, Asian American and not, mixed-race and not?

I start here, with my own subject position and identity as well as the subject matter of this blog and my research, because as much as I want to claim that I am thinking in complicated ways about race, I think I continue to have knee-jerk reactions about race and who gets to speak for whom and about which subjects.

Thoughts, anyone?

13 comments:

butrflino5 said...

As a mixed race Asian American and an Asian American Studies major, I think that it is great that anyone is out there researching or talking about mixed-race Asians. I tend to write all of my papers for my classes on hapas but I always stumble upon a problem in my research--the LACK of research. For a topic that has so many facets of available subjects to research on, I feel that your perspective is a valuable one. I don't have to agree with anything you say, but the act of saying anything is the foundation for mixed-race people to start talking. As I have learned in several of my classes, outsiders look through a lens that will always place their own outsider perspectives on the subject they are writing or filming about. It's inevitable.
Anyways, I always look forward to your new posts. It's refreshing to read something that isn't about the latest celebrity gossip.

atlasien said...

IMPOSTOR!!!

Just kidding :-)

In light of the negative view that a few monoracial Asians have of multiracial Asians, I think the perspective of your blog is refreshing.

(I don't think it's hugely prevalent but whenever I've encountered that negative attitude, it's been extremely disturbing)

I think anybody is qualified to write about anybody else's experiences, as long as they do so in an enlightened way, without attempting to force their own perspective onto them.

Experiences are like vast, complicated sets of overlapping circles. There's always something held in common, even if it's just the simple fact of being a human being. Likewise, there's always something uniquely separate. Even among two people from the exact same background, even identical twins, one's experiences won't necessarily speak identically as the other one's.

CVT said...

This is a sticky one for me, as I live in a mostly-white "liberal" place where I constantly see white folks standing in for people of color while talking about "diversity" - and that generally pisses me off. Cultural appropriation is my big sticking point in a lot of issues (no matter who's doing it), and this treads on that ground.

HOWEVER - I think it's fine that you are doing this research and putting out "mixed" perspectives. I do. I just recommend using the "grain of salt" appropriate - allow folks out there to take your view on a "mixed-race perspective" with a grain of salt. Ask for those from that world to correct or validate your statements. Acknowledge that it's not your first-person viewpoint.

And these are all things you do. It's the same as me speaking from an Asian-American perspective - I do it at times, but always with the full realization that I don't stand fully in that world, and I am open to correction.

It's just about acknowledgement and respect. That's what kills me about cultural appropriation on a larger level - the lack of acknowledgement that the folks "borrowing" from another culture are not fully entitled to do that. That they cannot possibly have FULL understanding. And a lack of humility and respect for what they have taken (and what they have left on the table). THAT is when cultural appropriation becomes an issue.

So - keep doing what you're doing, Jennifer; you've got this hapa's support.

Dance said...

Incidentally, I didn't think you were mixed-race. Notice however that the question must have crossed my mind, or else I could not now be unsurprised by your answer to it. :)

Anyhow, I'm fundamentally opposed to the "you can only study your own [ethnic] group" ghettoization. Period. In any context. You might get different work (and different questions), from whites studying blacks and blacks studying blacks, but not intrinsically better or worse work. You also might get different results from mixed-race people studying Roman or Norman Britain, but no one argues that work isn't valid without them doing it.

I'd actually disagree with CVT that you need mixed-race people to validate your academic research--but note that academic research is not about replicating the "mixed-race perspective." I am sure that you ask different questions about the mixed-race experience because of your own bi-cultural experience, but only the quality of the work you do can validate your viewpoint.

Brian Hunt said...

I've never thought that you were mixed race yourself. It has never been a prerequisite in my mind for researching and writing about the topic. It would only be relevant if you were writing from the vantage point of a mixed race individual. There are many different avenues that bring us to the topic, and I think that the blog and its title work as a platform for studying race and equality because mixing of races is the ultimate barometer of equality and acceptance.

Jennifer said...

Thanks everyone for leaving a comment--I won't speak to everyone individually because I tend to get long winded, as you well know! But I did want to say to those of you who identify as multiracial, Asian American or not, that I understand your concerns about appropriation of voices and representation. These are really complicated issues--and I want to make clear that I've never tried, on this blog or in my academic writing, to speak from any voice other than my own.

Of course in academic writing it's all sort've veiled semi-objective authoratatively voiced. But in this blog space, as some have already noted, I haven't come across as speaking for anyone other than myself--although really, feel free to call me on anything you want. We may end up agreeing to disagree, but I do want the dialogue, and I really appreciate the comments!

Jennifer said...

Actually, I did want to speak directly to one comment--Atlasien--becuase it's disturbing to hear that some mono-racial Asian Americans may have been disparaging of multiracial Asian American perspectives/experiences.

I know I shouldn't be surprised--Asian Americans, like all people, are subject to biases and prejudices. But I guess I would assume that if this was someone trying to approach the subject matter of multiracial issues, Asian American or not, that they would be respectful of that view point.

So I guess I'm curious--have you experienced this attitude in the blogosphere or in real life or in academic circles or all of the above? I know you said it was rare, but I do find myself amazed at the amount of bigotry that exists in circles that you REALLY hoped would know better.

atlasien said...

I've only run across it on the internet. It stems from a warped complex involving ethnic nationalism.

The most extreme example was someone at the Reappropriate blog who was disparaging interracial relationships and multiracial Asians.

So I asked him what he thought about Bruce Lee being a hapa (one-quarter white). I mean, if there's one thing all Asian-Americans can agree on it, it's that Bruce Lee is awesome... right?

He responded that Bruce Lee was an inferior "mongrel" and better off out of the Asian gene pool.

Completely deranged. Again, that's the most extreme end.

CVT said...

Dance -
Quick clarification. I was stating that Jennifer should be open to validate any representations she made about the mixed-race PERSPECTIVE - NOT her research. Two very different things. There's a difference in saying, "Mixed people identify with Barack Obama" (or something like that) versus, "I have found that 59% of mixed people struggle to connect with their white parents . . ." Does that makes sense? Research is research. The whole point of science is to take the opinion out of it (although we all know that doesn't really happen a lot of the time). I would only like acknowledgement and an opportunity to respond when Jennifer is presenting a PERSPECTIVE as opposed to RESEARCH.

To Jennifer/Atlasien -
I'm a little surprised that you (Jennifer) weren't aware of the negative views some mono-racial Asians have about us mixed folks. I used to think it was just the older generations (my grandma, for instance, referred to my brother and I as "the shame of the family" for a minute), but younger kids do it, too. In high school, I remember getting called out by some of the full-Chinese kids as a "sell-out" and "third-rate Asian" and things like that. If anything, I would claim that full-Asian folks have a lot more problem (on a general level) with my racial combination than the other races . . .

Last thing - I think I know (a tiny bit) where this comes from. We're all aware of the fetishization of Asian women - how the vast majority of interracial Asian/white relationships have a white man with Asian woman. That even bothers ME, at times (in spite of my parents being an example of that). So I can see where full-Asian folks (especially men) would be upset about it - and take it out on the progeny on behalf of the parents.

That's my theory, at least.

Jennifer said...

Atlasien,
Thanks for the follow-up from my question. I think it's a brave thing for Jenn to allow unmoderated comments--I admit I don't have the emotional capacity for such things--because people like that commenter would drive me INSANE. I should probably save the whole "is the blogosphere really a place for open debate and disalogue" for a post, but you know, I get why people flame each other in cyberspace--I wanted to send the rudest, nastiest message to the Republican party after following a series of links from the NY Times over an ad that even John McCain thinks is too negative/extreme that the NC Republican party is trying to air (if anyone who lives in NC is reading this--has it aired?). But I didn't--because it's not healthy/helpful, but I did have that impusle--which isn't a very civil impulse to have, but I suppose a pretty human one.

CVT,
Yeah, I have been known to be naive about a lot of things. But I also think that this may also be a case of not being able to see something because it doesn't impact me on a daily basis in the way that it impacts you or other multiracial Asian Americans. So in other words, the kinds of things I mostly hear from non-academic people about multracial Asians is that they are so beautiful and mixed-race babies are cuter than other babies. I know where this comment is coming from, but you can understand, also, why I'm not endorsing this kind of sentiment either. It's like the model minority myth. Sure, it's nice for people to say all Asian people are smart, but it's insulting in other ways--especially what is it trying to say about non-Asian minorities? And thus, what is this person saying by claiming that mixed- Asian-white babies are cute (because it's always mixed-Asian-white babies, right? At least my assumption when this comment is made, and usually made by a white or Asian Am. person, is that this is someone who either knows someone in an inter-racial relationship that is white-Asian or are, themselves, in such a relationship and therefore you are sort've complementing either your friend/family member or yourself, which is a bit egotistical, no? And it's also implying that there are other "mixtures" that don't look so good, and so that's NOT a nice thing to imply.

Anyway, I really didn't know that AsAm kids were making fun of multiracial Asian kids--but again, I don't come into contact with that demographic--and honesetly, I can't remember a lot of this happening where I grew up in California. Not trying to make the Bay Area of the 1970s and 1980s into a racial paradise--it wasn't--and agian, maybe this just wasn't on my radar screen because I was mono-racial myself. But I do recall some mixed-race kids (of various ethinc and racial groups) adn don't remember a lot of teasing based on that issue--and don't recall adults saying anything either. So it does raise the question of region, because the SF Bay Area, according to census data, has one of the largest populations of both mixed-race people and inter-racial couples.

There I go again making it sound like the promised land of race relations. Need to stop this...

Jennifer said...

Atlasien,
Thanks for the follow-up from my question. I think it's a brave thing for Jenn to allow unmoderated comments--I admit I don't have the emotional capacity for such things--because people like that commenter would drive me INSANE. I should probably save the whole "is the blogosphere really a place for open debate and disalogue" for a post, but you know, I get why people flame each other in cyberspace--I wanted to send the rudest, nastiest message to the Republican party after following a series of links from the NY Times over an ad that even John McCain thinks is too negative/extreme that the NC Republican party is trying to air (if anyone who lives in NC is reading this--has it aired?). But I didn't--because it's not healthy/helpful, but I did have that impusle--which isn't a very civil impulse to have, but I suppose a pretty human one.

CVT,
Yeah, I have been known to be naive about a lot of things. But I also think that this may also be a case of not being able to see something because it doesn't impact me on a daily basis in the way that it impacts you or other multiracial Asian Americans. So in other words, the kinds of things I mostly hear from non-academic people about multracial Asians is that they are so beautiful and mixed-race babies are cuter than other babies. I know where this comment is coming from, but you can understand, also, why I'm not endorsing this kind of sentiment either. It's like the model minority myth. Sure, it's nice for people to say all Asian people are smart, but it's insulting in other ways--especially what is it trying to say about non-Asian minorities? And thus, what is this person saying by claiming that mixed- Asian-white babies are cute (because it's always mixed-Asian-white babies, right? At least my assumption when this comment is made, and usually made by a white or Asian Am. person, is that this is someone who either knows someone in an inter-racial relationship that is white-Asian or are, themselves, in such a relationship and therefore you are sort've complementing either your friend/family member or yourself, which is a bit egotistical, no? And it's also implying that there are other "mixtures" that don't look so good, and so that's NOT a nice thing to imply.

Anyway, I really didn't know that AsAm kids were making fun of multiracial Asian kids--but again, I don't come into contact with that demographic--and honesetly, I can't remember a lot of this happening where I grew up in California. Not trying to make the Bay Area of the 1970s and 1980s into a racial paradise--it wasn't--and agian, maybe this just wasn't on my radar screen because I was mono-racial myself. But I do recall some mixed-race kids (of various ethinc and racial groups) adn don't remember a lot of teasing based on that issue--and don't recall adults saying anything either. So it does raise the question of region, because the SF Bay Area, according to census data, has one of the largest populations of both mixed-race people and inter-racial couples.

There I go again making it sound like the promised land of race relations. Need to stop this...

CVT said...

Just a quick note: I grew up in the SF Bay Area. It's a great place, and I want to go back for the diversity-love - but my reference was to growing up there . . .

Jennifer said...

CVT,
I totally hear you--that's why I began with saying that my own experiences probably don't allow me to see the ways in which multiracial Asian Americans received disparagement from monoracial Asian Americans. It may have been the case that we went to the same elementary school (wouldn't that be WILD?! You didn't go to Eureka did you?) and that while I thought your life was hunky-dory, you were experiencing the tauntings and teasings of Japanese American and Korean American kids I thoguht were your friends.

Anyway, I've really appreciate all the comments you leave CVT, and I especially like the push-back that you give me--I need to hear from others' perspectives, particularly people who identify as "mixed-race" on a blog called "Mixed Race America," because I really can't speak for anyone else's perspectives except my own.