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Race: it isn’t black or white

January 22nd, 2005 · No Comments

What does it mean to be multiracial? I’ll never know. But my kids will. Monday’s Seattle Times featured an article Race isn’t as clear as black and white highlighting Matt Kelley’s leadership. Sometime I’d enjoy meeting this entrepreneur who grew up on Bainbridge Island.

Kelley’s mother is Korean, and his father’s roots are Irish. That, in the eyes of most people, ought to make his answer “half-Asian,” which is what hapa, a Hawaiian word, means.

But, first, the word isn’t widely known. And Kelley isn’t half anything, he argues. There are two central arguments he wants to make about race: Racial identity is something to be claimed and not defined by someone else. And no matter how much the public might want it to be so, race doesn’t fit neatly into any sort of box.

“We mixed-race folks force our society to re-examine oversimplistic definitions of race,” says Kelley, president and founder of the MAVIN Foundation, a Seattle-based advocacy group for mixed-race people and families.

Accompanying the article in the print version of the newspaper was a map of Seattle neighborhoods, color coded by percentage of the population identifying themselves by checking more than one race on the U.S. Census. I was intrigued to realize that despite Seattle’s culture, the numbers of people with multiple racial identities are relatively rare, less than 5 percent in most of the city, especially the north. I don’t think of our family as 1 out of 20 and we have other friends who fit a similiar profile. But that is my perspective, warped by my own reality, seen through these lenses of the Leungs we are.

Choosing Many: Cultural Hybridity and Multiracial Experiences in Canada is an intriguing set of essays written by Tina Hancock (link sent via email from Richard). She interviewed individuals and compiled their experiences. From Discussion and Conclusion:

In many ways, however, multiracial people do transcend racial typologies and stereotyping. They embody a new way of conceptualizing identity; as cultural hybrids, they are able to embrace multiple identities and can choose to be many things at once, not just separate parts of an incomplete whole. As the numbers of multiracial people expand and tolerance and understanding of such diversity increases, the adjustment issues faced by people of mixed race are likely to diminish. Their presence will become an ever more visible reminder of the false attributes of racial differentiation and separation created and maintained within our society.

I’m coming a bit late to the MLK day celebration, but like Hamburger Land, I think Jon’s tribute put it best. if it wasn’t for MLK, my son would most likely not be possible. What more powerful words of gratitude can a parent say?

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