Editor’s Note – Living on the “borderlands” of racial identity

May 2006

by Naomi Ishisaka

Copyright ColorsNW Magazine

“Living on borders and in margins, keeping intact one’s shifting and multiple identity and integrity, is like trying to swim in a new element, an ‘alien’ element.”
– Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004)

Living on the “borderlands” of racial identity can provide a unique vantage point from which to view the rigid orthodoxies and mores of our racialized society.

For me – a mixed-race woman of Japanese American and white parentage raised in Seattle – not “fitting in” to any racial category afforded the opportunity to connect with people from a range of backgrounds and challenge conventional perceptions of “whiteness” and “blackness.” In our binary society, multiethnic people can work to be accepted as “normal” by their dominant ethnic group or push out the borders so that society’s very definition of race is challenged and interrogated.

For me, being mixed race is a blessing, not a curse. Unbound by external determinants of who I am or what I should do (how could anyone say “date your own kind” when the likelihood of meeting someone of my specific ethnicity is slim to none?) the true absurdity of what one writer called “racial patriotism” comes into sharp focus.

Yet this is not to oversimplify the complexity of racial identity, ethnic pride and the need for dogged preservation of culture and history. For many reasons brought from within and without, many ethnic minority groups feel a fierce sense of protection for maintaining racial homogeneity. Today, many African Americans, long under genetic assault from unconscionable acts of exploitation and rape, frown on certain interracial relationships for perpetuating Eurocentric notions of power, beauty, desirability and the continued devaluation of blackness. In the Asian-American community, a completely lopsided gendered phenomenon of Asian American women marrying white men has come under sharp scrutiny for its fulfillment of stereotypical exotic, submissive, Asian female archetypes.

Yet does the backlash to these patterns and adherence by communities of color to the rigidity of the “one-drop rule” really move us forward? The competing motivations, power dynamics and issues of privilege further complicate these unspoken issues.

To look at this more deeply, writer Christina Twu attempts to navigate this minefield of history, culture and race in her piece on interracial relationships in this month’s cover story. Because Seattle is one of most interracially friendly cities in the country, we hope to spark a lively discussion about multiethnic identity and race.


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