Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity’s (RARE) Open Discussions made a stirring return May 1st as a panel of five participants who identify as biracial spoke candidly about being of mixed racial ancestry in America and abroad. The group of panelists showed a collective wisdom and a willingness to tell their stories as they navigate lives that have been at times both challenging and exhilarating. Full video here.
The panel included the evening’s moderator, LeiLani Nishime, Professor of Communications at the UW and author of Undercover Asian, Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture; Quincy Purcell, a Case-Western bound senior at Roosevelt High School (RHS), Jessamyn Young, a second-generation RHS grad with multiple degrees from Loyola of New Orleans; Teshika Hatch, an active RARE member who works at Equal Opportunity Schools, advocating for Black and Brown students; and TaRessa Stovall, a former Racial Voluntary Transfer student and 1973 RHS grad. TaRessa is also the author of Swirl Girl , a lively account of growing up biracial in Seattle.
Growing up has its challenges, and self-identity can be a struggle for many. How one views him or herself is often an issue. For many people of mixed race, having to deal with how others see them is an added challenge. For our panelists this was a daily thing that has taken them on journeys that have made for extraordinary lives. Unlike most White people who don’t have to consider their race on a daily basis, these panelist have had to. At times feeling they had to explain, even justify, themselves, all the while trying to find a sense of belonging. Despite being the fastest growing ethnicity in the country, being born of mixed race can be a lonely ordeal for many as they try to fit in.
Professor Nishime led the discussion with questions, beginning with what were the most common misconceptions about biracial people? Not surprisingly, stereotyping came into play. Quincy Purcell, in explaining how some saw him, used a sports analogy of some of his peers wondering if he acquired a flare for golf from his White ancestry and the same for basketball from his African American side. He noted more skeptical treatment directed his way at airports when dealing with TSA. Other misconceptions were that biracial kids are a solution to the “race problem”. TaRessa Stovall said, “We’re not.” Teshika Hatch added that identity brings in a lot more than race. “It’s history, it’s language, it’s culture.” Jessamyn Young’s concern was not how she saw herself, but at times the judgmental ways others saw her. “You’re not enough of this, or not enough of that. I’m more than enough!”All agreed that there is no particular right or wrong way to be biracial. “You’re the boss of your identity,” said TaRessa Stovall. “It’s your journey. Embrace it.”
For all the panelists, geography loomed large in their journeys. The first time Teshika Hatch felt viewed as different was when she moved to Japan and some of her classmates referred to her as “half and half”. Both TaRessa Stovall and Jessamyn Young commuted to Roosevelt High School from the Central District. Jessamyn noted the vast differences in environments just in the bus ride alone. And when she moved from predominately White Roosevelt to predominately Black New Orleans, her Black identity expanded.
In response to Professor Nishime’s question as to what advice the panelists would give to parents of biracial kids TaRessa Stovall said, “Share your race and culture with your children, so they feel connected.” She recommended writings and podcasts of Dr. Jenn Noble. Jessamyn Young said, “Let them (their kids) be messy. There’s not one answer.”
As for advice to young kids of mixed race, there was plenty. “You belong. There’s a reason you’re there,” said Quincy Purcell. “Fully embrace all of you,” said Teshika Hatch. She added that having to navigate two distinct ancestries has made her a stronger person and more able to connect with others. TaRessa Stovall added, “Your journey is your own. Your identity is your own.” Quincy Purcell suggested that biracial kids seek out mixed artists in the media, a suggestion that elicited a number of enthusiastic suggestions. TaRessa and Jessamyn Young loved “Ginny and Georgia”. Trevor Noah’s memoir Born A Crime was a unanimous must read. Another named must read was Speak Okinawa: A Memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina.
Our panelists, all of whom one time or another faced ill-mannered, even rude inquiries such as “Who are you?” or more astonishingly “What are you?” answered those questions admirably. They are whoever they want to be.
RARE is grateful to Professor LeiLani Nishime, Quincy Purcell, Jessamyn Young, Teshika Hatch, and TaRessa Stovall for making RARE’s first Open Discussion of the year a grand, enlightening occasion. RARE hopes to follow with more of the same in Open Discussions. Stay tuned!