Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why am I doing this?

If you've been following the posts so far you've really been getting to know me from my mixed race perspective.

But, why am I doing this?  Do I have a chip on my shoulder?  Do I have to solve some life threatening dilemma?  Am I venting or trying to vent for other people?  Yes and No.

All I'm really trying to do is get the discussion for mixed race people started and keep it going!

Okay.  So you're not of mixed race.  Why should this whole thing be an issue anyway?  Aren't we all human beings?  Don't mixed race people by their very nature prove this fact: that we are all equal, all brothers and sisters, one human family?

Doesn't nature also show us that if we pollute the environment it dies and becomes extinct?
But, we do it anyway.

Doesn't nature show us that animals have a right to live alongside us, sharing life in harmony?
But, we often run over them and their chosen living spaces, quite literally.

Don't we all feel that mankind should accept mankind?  After all, we are the same 'kind'.  Not animal, vegetable or mineral.
But, we neither behave nor think that way, do we?

I'm speaking by and large, let's be honest here: we don't treat each other with the kind of respect that we even show ourselves.

I'm also speaking personally, let's be honest: you and I have our own prejudices.  They are there, everyone has them.  Even mixed race people do.  We are not the 'anti-race', or 'the answer to race'.  If 'race' doesn't really exist, and is a social construct, does that mixed race people sort of cancel 'race' out?  I guess in someone's 'ideal fantasy world' we could.  But I'm often faced with my own racist ideas and attitudes.  Yes, I said that being a mixed race person, I have struggles with my own racism.

I would go so far as to argue that oftentimes we mixed people classify ourselves as yet another race altogether. (This behavior does not answer the problem of racism it only adds to the confusion of it.)  What would I call myself, 'Africandineminolee' (African, Scandinavian, Seminole, Cherokee)?  And would that be respectful of all my heritage - would I be placing them in the correct order?  Why not 'Cherekeminofricandinavian'?  (But that still puts the Scandinavian last...) 'Scandafricherokeminole'?

All of this is quite pointless.  But, are we - mixed race people - still human people?  
Yes, very much so.  People who happen to have different features than other people.  People who have had exposure to many different facets of differing cultures.  People who are expert in distinguishing differences in communication, inferred meaning, social cues and intention.

These are a few of the aspects that do make the 'mixed race' person different than the 'monoracial' person.

But anyone and everyone has these traits and tendencies.  Both mixed and not.

So, again, why am I writing all of this??

Because, in an 'ideal fantasy world' we would all be treated with equal respect and dignity.

We do, however, live in a world where people are screwed up in their thinking.
We do judge each other by what we think is right and expect everyone to live up to our way of thinking.

Is the mixed person some sort of 'Racial Diplomat', able to 'bridge the gap' between the races?

A great question, I will be addressing this in a future blog.

Why am I doing this, why am I writing this?

Answer: again, I have been so confused all my life about who and what I am.  I have taken active steps to discovering who and what I am as a person in this world.  I want to share these with everyone.

Feel free to add comments, argue or disagree with any of my viewpoints.  I am starting the conversation, and keeping it going!

Coping Introspective

Me and my siblings at the Mall

So lets recap the past initial entries:  
1st, we've discussed where my ancestors have come from and how I've come to be born in this present generation.  

2nd, we've illustrated how I've grown up with controversial questions about my origin as well as person hood. 

 And 3rd, we've revisited many of the ideas and assumptions that were either vocalized or reinforced upon me as a young person growing up multi-racial.

At this point I want to connect with you who relate to these kind of experiences.

Have you paused long enough to take a good long look at yourself?  By that I mean forcing yourself to take a long look in the mirror, both outside and inside.

I started doing that years ago, especially during high school at age 16 when I was still trying to decide what I was going to be to everyone.

Standing there I'd ask the questions to myself.  "What am I looking at?" (note I did not ask 'who'  yet, that question would not come until a long time later.)  "I am a person.",  I would reinforce to myself.  I had to.  I had to.  You see, everyone else in my life that was more or less considered one 'race'  didn't seem to have to answer this question for themselves.  But I had to.

Everything that I had seen in my life up until then was illustrated from white people from a white perspective in a white understanding,  or was illustrated from black people from a black perspective in a black understanding...or was illustrated by native peoples from a native perspective with a native understanding...or was - okay, you get it.  

I did not have any of my own perspectives formed yet.  At least not any that were being socially validated by any of the other races.  My superiors - the adults - as well as my peers felt that they could just take the liberty to define myself for me.  To their credit, though, many did ask "What are you?" (I did take that as 'what do you define yourself as?') But imagine (if you were or are not a mixed person) having someone ask you this question:

"What are you?"

I guess one might answer 'American', 'Black', 'Hispanic', 'Asian', 'White', 'Irish', 'Italian' - fill in the blank.  But the question when asked to me at the time - 16 years of age, and being of mixed race heritage, was one too difficult to answer.  

No one had an answer for it.  When I would answer 'mixed', or 'multi-racial', or 'Black, White, and Native American' I would more often than not receive looks and responses of doubt.

Does it seem strange? Why?  Why should someone doubt my own definition of what all of my life I've understood myself to be?  

Maybe I misunderstood them.  Maybe encountering a person like myself was too hard for them to believe possible.  My parents, after all, had gotten married just shy of a decade after it would have been illegal for them to be.

Still, my own mother's family was mixed, African as well as Native American.  Though, it was reinforced to them (by other family as well as their local  African American community) that they were 'Black'.  Not 'part Native American', nor even 'mixed'.  They are Black,  Black,  Black.

Maybe I just didn't have the social sophistication of an adult yet.  I got that feeling from all of my adult relatives that this was the case.  "He's just confused", they would say after I would attempt to explain myself.

Still I would go back and look into that mirror.  Over, and over, and over again, questioning it, challenging it - even confronting it.

But where were the mixed people?  With their mixed perspective?  Understanding the world from their own point of view - which actually does vary from any one of the afore mentioned monoracial point of views.  

In fact, the mixed perspective varies quite dramatically, I would say...

More of that later, how did I cope with this invalidation of who and what I was?

Woah...that's pretty strong language, isn't it?  To accuse any one of  'invalidating' another's very person hood is pretty condemning. 

But let's draw a mixed person illustration here:  Imagine that you are walking down the street to the bus stop.  Once there you find yourself waiting for several minutes for the next bus.   You feel that someone is staring at you and, turning to face her, presume that she has been staring for quite some time.  

"Can I ask you a question?", she speaks up - now realizing that you notice her intrusive behavior, "What are you?"  

'Isn't it obvious?', you think to yourself.  'Can't this person see that I am _______(fill in your ethnicity).'

So, you decide to humor her by giving her an answer:
"Well, I am _______(fill in your ethnicity)."

"Huh. You don't look like it."

Suddenly the bus arrives and the woman gets her things, crowding on with everyone else at the stop.

What just happened?  A random person on the street just invaded your privacy, questioned your very person hood, and invalidated all of your ancestry and racial self in one fell comment.

So what.  What does she know?  How could she possibly know all of your relatives who are of that racial background?  If you could invite that woman to a family reunion, you'd show her - beyond a shadow of a doubt!  Why, just look at your ethnic people in history; hasn't she ever heard of _______(fill in cultural/racial hero), or ________(fill in cultural/racial hero) - or even _________ (fill in yet another cultural/racial hero)!!!

But it doesn't really matter now, she's on the bus, and you're standing there with all of your ancestry insulted.

Alright, now play through the same scenario as a mixed race person.  The crucial difference? There are more often than not no mixed relatives in their racial background.  If she was invited to their family reunion there would be no other mixed race people.  And how many mixed race heros have you ever heard of?!

But it doesn't really matter now, she's on the bus, and the mixed race person is left standing there...invalidated.  

Yet, once again, as a mixed race person, you do not feel like a person.

I've gone through the above illustration many more times than I would like to count.  And, each time, I had to go back to the mirror and re-affirm that I was, indeed, a legitimate person.  Even if no one else had the power, intellect or will to do so for me.

So, to answer the question of coping, is one of the most important disciplines in all of life: Introspection.  It is a starting point - not the end all, mind you, but if you are going to take your mixed race makeup seriously you have to be willing to go into the reality of who and what you are!

Don't be afraid of it.  This is who you are.  You are a person.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Assumptions & Misconceptions

Before getting into what I believe are some 'truths' about being a mixed-race person, I'd like to bring into perspective some popular thought.

The following are things that I've been raised to believe, read or assumed were true, overheard, or was told directly by people who did mean well when pointing out the state of my being of mixed race:

"Being a mixed person means never having to choose between two racial are both at the same time"  - my mom (African American/Seminole/Cherokee)

"Because you are both black and white you can talk to probably anybody and they'll understand you.  You could probably understand them the same way too." - my dad (Swedish/Norwegian)

"You are black." - my mother's father (African American/German/Native American)

"So you're like an oreo cookie: black outside, but white in the middle!" - childhood classmate

"...the 'Tragic Mulatto'..." - one of many strange phrases I heard in passing

"You don't look anything like your dad." - college roommate

"That's not your dad!  You're making that up!' - coworker, upon seeing a photo of my father

"I think of myself as more black than mixed." my sister

"I think of myself as more part Native Cherokee, or Seminole - whatever we are...?" - same sister, a few years later.

(All mixed people should be, and are, always more beautiful than averagely racial people)

- magazine ads, billboards, Hollywood

"I would never want to be white...just being white is so boring!" - my mother

"'re you doing?" - my dad to me , shortly after I entered high school

"Do you ever get confused for being black?" - high school friend (Korean)

"Do you want to be black or white or indian?" - another high school friend

"If you really are an indian, why don't you go around dressing like one all the time" - 11 year old boy at the local YMCA when I was in high school

"I could not imagine my white mom with my dad - if he was not white too!" - childhood friend (French Canadian)

"Do your parents even like each other. I mean, they're so different." - the childhood friend's sister (French Canadian)

(Mixed people are racially androgynous.  They represent the melting pot of America and quite possibly the world) - what mixed race models in non-profit campaigns, pregnancy help billboards, family and health care initiative signage have shown me

"Actually, you're not black or white, Jason.  You're just a human being." - my dad

"Hey, I'm part black." - white high school friend whose mother had an African American boyfriend at the time

"What's the big deal about racism anyway?  Can't we all just put it behind us?"

-  a white college kid on Oprah when I was 13 years old

(Mixed girls and guys are SEXY.  Everyone wants to have SEX with them because MIXED GIRLS and GUYS are SO HOT!) - most mixed race groups, blogs and chatrooms online

"Mixed people are just more advanced and intelligent than people of one racial background...we are what God intended people to be." - my mother

I don't care about any of that racial stuff...I married your mom just because I love her." - my dad

"White people are crazy!  So are black people too!" - my mother's mother (Seminole/Cherokee)

"White people will git you!" - my mom's younger brother

"Your sisters have what we call 'good hair'.  They're lucky." - my mom's younger sister

"Jason Klanderoo? I thought that was how you said your name...I thought you were French." - biracial friend after college (white/japanese)

"Halfrican." - 15 year old African American high school youth group student, statement made to me

                                                            .    .    .


These thoughts are ever present with me.  Reading them, now, gives me a good idea of how misunderstanding most people are about a mixed person.  More revealing, though, are how these thoughts have seemed to not only follow me - but truly form what I think of myself as a person. 

My feelings?

They range from aggravated to insecure, isolated to annoyed.  Often angry and feeling lost.

I also feel like I'm one of a kind.  I feel important to be so well exposed to many different and varied relational experiences that, I truly believe, most people will never if rarely encounter in this life.  I am challenged in a good way; to understand life and the people in it.  This includes understanding myself.

Being a mixed person in 2008?  What is that like exactly?  We hear about 'illegals' in the news today, Mexican immigrants looking for a better life in America without a green card.  I was born just shy of a decade of being illegal myself.

Me and my siblings gone fishin'

My wife, being the historian, shared with me that the United States still enforced anti-miscegenation laws until the late 1960's.  That simply meant that you could go to jail or prison for marrying someone of another race.  Both of our parents were alive during that time and if not aware of the literal laws, quickly understood the unwritten ones.

That will be discussion for another day, but I'd like to end this post again with a few questions for those of you who either are of mixed race, or are a friend or relative of someone who is:

When asking a person who is neither clearly one race or another a personal question about race, why is their an assumption that this person would associate so strongly with one particular race above another?

If someone is of at least two different racial backgrounds, are any of their 'racially identifiable' characteristics important to point out and to point out often?

(ex. having a 'black nose', 'white hair', knappy hair', 'slanty eyes', 'good skin', etc.) 

Is this how a person is to be identified? "Hey it's the good hair girl!" "Yo, lightskinned!"

Are mixed race people, people?  Who are they, anyways?  What do they have to say?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Questions as a Mixed Race Person

Asking yourself who you are can be challenging, especially if you find it hard to identify the person you are speaking to.

I, fortunately, live in a city that has a diverse population.  Pittsburgh Pennsylvania is a mix of Irish, Italian, African American, Slovak, Croatian, Polish, and Ukrainian.  It is a place patched together by small 'boroughs' and 'townships' historically, ethnically based.

Traditionally, anyone from these neighboring areas never 'crossed over' into anyone else's area because of the idea of 'keeping with one's own kind'.  Now, on the city bus, I see more and more young mothers and fathers who've crossed all over those lines with their mixed race children.

Growing up in the late 70's as one of these children, I was aware of my mixed race identity from about the age of 4.  It was something that my mother was very intent on reinforcing - my dad, he just assumed that we had 'the best of both worlds', and that we (the kids) were 'the future of the human race'.

This was admirable to think, but I had more questions than, I found, both of my parents had answers for.  

I wondered how I looked more like my mom's family than my dad's.  Why didn't we see my dad's side of the family as much as my mom's?  What did she mean by 'your dad's family doesn't know why he married me...'?  How come my grandfather (mom's father) usually ended up in a strong disagreement with my dad where my dad would tell me privately afterward 'he just doesn't like me because I'm white'?

I did and did not feel comfortable bringing my questions up to my parents.  After all, they were distinctly 'black' and 'white'; not like me: 'black' mixed with 'white'...or, maybe, 'white' mixed with 'black', or maybe something else.

Me winning my first art contest at 5 years old

Being the oldest sibling, the oldest of my cousins that were of mixed heritage as well, some of them looked to me for direction.  Ironically, though, they too had a very hard time speaking out and verbalizing their questions.  Most of the time it seemed like they pretended not to have the same dilemmas.  I, also, was too afraid to find out.

This went on until I was 14 years old.  I remember a marked shift in the way people treated me just after entering high school.  Everyone polarized into more or less racial and class based friend groups.  I tended to relate to people from many races and classes.

Still, my previous family questions persisted, as well as many, many more confusing new ones:
'Will I always look like this?'
'Is it genetic that I find myself more comfortable with one racial group over another?'
'Should I be attracted to 'black' girls, 'white' girls  - 'mixed' girls?'
'What kind of place would I want to live where I would be understood?'
'Am I the only one of this mix?'
'Am I the only one who seriously thinks about these things?'

My dad and siblings

My questions for you are these:
Do you have similar questions from your youth?
Are you still very young, asking similar questions?
If you are older, how many of these questions have you been able to get explanations for?
Have your family or friends been helpful in discussing this?  What do they say about these things?




My name is Jason Klanderud. 

At first glance, what's up with that last name?  It means 'Eagle's Claw', or so I am told.  My great, great grandparents lived in the town of Klanderud near the Sweden/Norway border.  A river passing through the town is said to split into a tributary resembling, you guessed it, an eagle's claw.

As the story goes, my great, great grandparents were forced to leave their homeland area, ironically, because they were interracially married: one was Swedish, the other Norwegian.

Coming to America, they settled near one of the thousand lakes of Minnesota.

That was my father's side, more on that later, as for my mother her story is no less interesting.

After the Civil War, the Union pushed Native American peoples west.  One such aggressive move was known as the 'Trail of Tears'.  My great, great Seminole/Cherokee grandmother was 12 years old at the time, rounded up by the Union soldiers and set to march off toward Oklahoma and any point west.

She was able to wander from the main group, though, and was lost somewhere in Mississippi.

Eventually, she married a young Methodist traveling evangelist and they made the circuit from Mississippi round up through Missouri, all the way to Ohio and back again.  The minister was also of Native American and African American descent.  They had 5 children, one of them my great grandfather, Homer Hunter.

Homer became a mason living in and constructing much of the town of Piqua, Ohio.  He later had an African American partner who was an architect.  

Homer married very young a wife of Cherokee and African American descent.  We all called her 'Sugar Pie'.  They had 2 children, a son who was lost in a drowning accident at age 12, and a daughter, Virginia.

Grandma Hunter/Brown

Virginia married a would be doctor,  African American/German/Native American Howard Brown.  Howard played football in his youth, served in WWII as an Army medic and returned to a still very segregated United States - wanting to pursue medical school, but was only able to reach the position of the local mailman in Sidney, Ohio.

Howard and Virginia had 5 children and attended the local 'black' Baptist Church.  

They both had accomplished something remarkable for their time:  my mother's parents were one of the very first to defy housing segregation during the civil rights movement.

Howard and Virginia moved to an all white suburb on the edge of town - the 'black' community saw this daring moved as 'uppity' and 'trying to be white'.  The 'white' community saw it as a possible threat to their suburban solidarity.

Grandpa Brown

Howard was welcomed to the neighborhood by someone putting a burning paper bag full of dog feces on his front porch.  Upon stomping it out, he got the message from his new neighbors.  My mother says that this was the only time she ever remembers seeing him break down and cry.

Needless to say, Howard and Virginia's children grew up with a varied perspective of race and culture.  My mother, Judy, their oldest daughter, from what I gather was supposed to go on to 'better the black race'.  Instead, she dated and married the possibly most whitest, white man, my father, Vernon.

My Dad and Mom Married 1975

My Dad and Mom Engaged 1975

They married and bore me the next year, I was a bicentennial baby of 1976.  I am the oldest of 4 with 3 younger sisters.  

As far as my cousins go, I have on my mother's side of the family a mixture of (obviously) Native American and African American, also married in, German and Haitian.  On my father's side, again, Scandinavian, and also married in Japanese.

Me, my cousin and siblings

I hope this brief sketch of my multi-racial, multi-heritage background lays out some of the rationale for my part in this discussion.  Questions such as 'Who am I?' and at times, 'What am I?' have come up quite frequently throughout my life.

As being the primary contributor to this blog, my desire is to go beyond just asking the questions 'What racial mix are you?', or 'What problems do you face from others by being of mixed-race?'  There is so much more to the discussion.

I will endeavor to explore the more positive aspects of being a multi-racial person in a world that is increasingly changing it's borders, and socially getting smaller, more crowded.  I will go into the darker issues as well - anyone of mixed-race heritage knows that these issues are extreme for many of us.

I will also lay out what I see as the oncoming as well as persistent challenges that we all face now and in the nearer future.  

Questions like: 
'Are multi-racial people to be considered a racial group all their own?', 
'Are multi-racial people able to find unity through our unique characteristics and experiences?', and 'What is the future of Mixed-Race people, if not only for America, but obviously, our relatives connected throughout the world?'

Look forward to weekly posts for discussion.

Jason Klanderud