When Fox Smith arrived to Rise Coffee House a few weeks ago, she was eager to meet people who, like her, understood what it means to have a broad view of race and identity.
Smith, of St. Louis, was born to a Korean mother and a white father. Like the other multiracial young adults at the coffee house, she wanted to talk about shared experiences.
“I'm biracial, and being somebody who is biracial, when I find somebody else who is multiethnic, and it comes out, we start talking about it with each other, it's like an instantaneous bonding experience,” Smith said.
The group came to the coffee shop for Mixed Feelings, a gathering of multiracial people who say it's time to reassess the nation's traditional black-and-white cultural dichotomy to make room for those with roots in more than one racial or ethnic group.
“For each gathering that I had, none of those folks had ever been in a group of mixed people before,” said Alyson Thompson, the founder of Mixed Feelings. “They may have had mixed friends but didn’t have mixed community. So I really saw this as just a really huge opportunity to create, facilitate community.”
Thompson, who grew up in Alabama, has a white mother and an African American father. While she identifies as a black woman who is mixed, she said expectations that people should conform to racial and ethnic stereotypes can make it difficult for some multiracial people to fit in. Thompson said that can lead to Racial Imposter Syndrome, an experience common to many mixed people.
“A lot of people experienced that within the communities they’re in or their own families, sort of making them feel like ‘Oh, you don't look enough like this, or you don't speak the language fluently,’” Thompson said. “That's something that people really have to work through, the drive to want to prove that they're enough of this ethnic background. A lot of people experience that within the communities they’re in and their own families.”
For centuries in the U.S., people with a black parent and a white parent were considered black — in part because of the nation’s racist history. Often, they only found acceptance in the black community. Many chose to be a part of black America, among them President Barack Obama, actress Tracee Ellis Ross and singer/songwriter Alicia Keys. Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who has a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, identifies as black.
The preference for a multiracial identity has grown in recent decades because of changes that began more than a half-century ago. In 1967, the Supreme Court's ruling in Loving v. Virginia declared unconstitutional the anti-miscegenation laws of many states.
As more people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds had children, the number of multiracial adults grew. Along with immigrants, they've helped usher in the era of a multiracial society that is beyond black and white.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, about 38% of interracial marriages were between whites and Latinos and 14% of marriages were between whites and Asians. Marriages between white Americans and African Americans only made up 8% of interracial marriages in the U.S.
The multitude of multiracial experiences caught the attention of C.A. Davis and Lex Ward, who came to St. Louis to sit in with the Mixed Feelings group. The Chicago residents are planning to launch their own podcast, "a LATTO thought," in the coming months. The two connected with Thompson after discussing multiracial identity.
Davis said the podcast’s title is a play on “mulatto,” a historically derogatory term used to describe multiracial African Americans. He said the podcast will examine race and discuss the similarities and differences between multiracial people of various backgrounds and how government policies affect them.
“It's not monolithic of an experience,” Davis said. “My being mixed, specifically black, Italian, Filipino, is going to be different from someone who's Japanese, Anglo-Saxon, or you know, any combination of anything. It's going to be different.”
While there have long been multiracial people, Ward said what’s changing is people are now expressing their diverse identities and childhood experiences. Ward, who is of black, Italian and Portuguese heritage, said people in interracial relationships especially need to discuss the nation’s complex racial history when raising children.
“Being a parent is the most important job any human being can have,” Ward said. “If you're not teaching a human that you were raising to be a part of this world, what the world was before them, I think that's a hindrance on how we can transform the world into a better place.”
In the Mixed Feelings group, Thompson wants participants to share their experiences of being multiracial however they please. She said the group will hold various meetups where people can participate in storytelling events, art shows and through casual gatherings that also focuses on their multiethnic pride.
“Just being really intentional about working through our identities, working through healing, but also, what are the beautiful ways that we exist in the world and not just focusing on like, ‘Oh, my life was really hard,’” Thompson said. “I think that that's super important, but I want to give space for envisioning a world in which we're more liberated to be ourselves and to see the world in ways that our existence like really adds beauty to our world, to our society.”
The space to share that beauty and intimate stories is what attracted Fox Smith. She said it’s time for these stories and experiences to be shared with the world.
“As long as all these stories are being told, that I think is really what's going to bridge the gulf in this really weird divide that's going on culturally right now,” Smith said. “I like having more people that I can talk to and be like, ‘Hey, we've had the same experiences.’”
The Mixed Feelings group will meet every month in St. Louis.
Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis
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