mixtape XI

Blackness as Vastness

Happy Friday bbs! I don’t know about you, but I am vibing with this new Aquarius moon energy. In honor of new beginnings, love, the days getting longer and a Sister Act 3 re-boot underway, I wanted to share a mixtape with you inspired by my favorite mantra: Blackness as Vastness.

I’m 99% sure it was my sister wife, Machel (HEY GIRL) who introduced me to the idea of Blackness as Vastness one day while spending the night at her white godparents’ house and laughing our faces off over the fact that we were in a Mary Kate and Ashley sleepover set/simulation. If you’re subscribed to this newsletter, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The staple gigantic brown couch that was in every 90s movie about friendship. The paisley and polka dot pillows that are considered “funky” and “alternative.” THE FUZZY BLANKETS that *shock* you every time you adjust slightly to fart in the midst of sharing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish food because DUH.

And while I cannot confirm nor deny whether there were any plant medicines consumed during the weekend, what I can say is I spent approximately 45 minutes staring at this *piece of art* convinced I had just discovered the next da Vinci:

At one point I turned to Machel and said, completely seriously, “Wow… the interior design of this house is so… chic” to which she BURST OUT laughing, removing the joint from my hands ever so slightly, signaling You’ve had enough, sis.

As one does at any proper sleepover, Machel and I began divulging our deepest, darkest secrets to each other. At one point, in the midst of nervous giggles, I asked her, “Why is it so hard for me to just be… Black?” This question was half rhetorical, half yearning for some insight. Machel responded, with a more important question: “What does being Black mean to you?”

In that moment, I realized that my idea of Blackness was tangled in narrow-minded stereotypes I am ashamed but ready to admit. Being truly Black meant growing up financially unstable (I came from an upper, middle class background). Being truly Black meant learning in the public school system (I attended private school from fourth grade onward). Being truly Black meant routinely getting harassed by the police (I had never experienced this). Being truly Black meant going to church (I was raised Jewish). Being truly Black meant being inherently mistrustful of “the white man” (some of the most important people in my life, including my Dad and husband, were white men). Being truly Black meant having everyone I encountered immediately see me as African American (depending on the spaces I occupied, I could be read as Brazilian, Dominican, Moroccan, or a few times, just as a white person with a “really nice tan” fuck you woman who worked at Jamba Juice). Being truly Black meant to mirror the surfaced experiences of the closest monoracial Black person in site-- to put them in the expert role, and just … follow suit.

It has taken time for me to begin, retrospectively, to understand what got in the way of inviting more conversation about race in my life until now. I believe much of what unfolded in my narrow understanding of my racial identities, reflects the larger way in which our culture enacts, through silence and withdrawal, the pain and shame that overtake our cultural attitude toward race and racism.

The literature suggests that psychodynamic clinicians in the relational school are among those engaging most directly with issues of race, attempting to think about how they become entangled in enactment and dissociative processes. Yet even among this thoughtful group, I would argue that discussion of race continues to be divided largely along a black/white binary.

While the contemporary theorists who are thinking about racial identity generally acknowledge that race is far more complex than coloring, we continue to be a culture where physical appearance, most often coded as skin color, shapes racial identification, self-identification, and belonging. When asked whether they identify as Biracial or Black, the common response most mixed people give is: “I identify as Black because that is how the world sees me.

I believe that this response, while not incorrect, is incomplete. The classification of biracial people as Black is tied to the legacy of racist laws that relied on the so-called “one-drop rule” dictating that even a tiny amount of Black ancestry meant a person was considered black. And what, exactly, does it mean to see someone as Black? I believe this is all a reductive identification process that reduces a racial identity to subjective perception.

While I still struggle with finding my voice and place in conversations around race and identity, I am committed to expanding and learning. I feel so fortunate to be able to share these thoughts, honestly, with each of you at this moment in time. Grateful of my experiences. And of the many people who continue to lead the charge, with love, to help me stop disrespecting myself and other Black people in this reductive way. While I am still a work in progress, below are some thoughts from my Major Area Paper that I just submitted regarding the expansiveness of Blackness and racial identities:

Blackness as Vastness

Despite some overly generalized references to a “biracial experience,” the current literature suggests it is a misguided assumption to believe that members of the mixed race population hold a clear and unified understanding of what “mixed identity” means and how that term translates into a racial self-understanding and/or group affiliation (Rockquemore & Brunsman, 2009).

In other words, what it means to be mixed is inherently and conceptually complex, whether referring to lived experience as an individual or a member of a profession. This was illustrated by the variation in the literature regarding racial identity attribution, identity development status, and beliefs about the role of race in therapy.

In the last decade, a major theme in the exchange of ideas among Black Americans has been to articulate a more inclusive definition of Blackness that can account for the diversity of the Black experience in the United States (Brown, 2017; Thomas, 2020). The gift of Blackness is an expansive notion of family -- family beyond blood and law, “play cousins,” and “fictive kin” (Birdsong, 2020, p. 19). It’s finding home in multiple houses, defying patriarchy and traditional unions (Brown, 2017). Many of the practices that are becoming more acceptable -- desirable even -- and mainstream when it comes to family are practices Black people in America have been doing for hundreds of years (Drew and Wortham, 2020). Despite attempts to keep Black people from one another, and false accusations of brokenness and dysfunction, we have insisted on making family with whomever we love and care for (Birdsong, 2020).

In 2019, I attended the Division 39: Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology Spring Conference hosted by the American Psychological Association (APA). Mid-way through the conference, I had the opportunity to attend a panel specifically for multiracial clinicians and clinicians-in-training. The panelists, all senior, multiracial clinicians, spoke candidly about their feelings of isolation and confusion in clinical spaces focused on monoracial identity narratives.

Towards the end of the discussion, a Biracial woman in the audience with African American and European ancestry, described her experience as a multiracial clinician-in-training as feeling like a living Rorschach for everyone’s racialized projections.

Tears began to flow freely down my cheeks, as I simultaneously felt a deep sense of recognition and sorrow in that conference room. Recognition, for finally, after 28 years of life, sitting in a space where I was surrounded by other multiracial people; where I did not have to explain or justify my existence and could just belong. And sorrow, that these discussions and spaces where multiracial people feel a sense of total acceptance are so far and few between.

Possessing a marginal identity is a pathway to acquiring a resistant consciousness to monoraciality (Root, 2002). This identity can be a catalyst for multiracial individuals, particularly women, to reveal embedded and socially constructed notions about race in the United States and across the world. Collins (1986) discusses Black women existing in a traditionally white and male space. Similarly, mixed race women exist in a world geared towards monoracial identification (Daniel et al. 2014; Jordan 2014). Negotiating between separate racial and ethnic identities, as multiracial women, often forces the individual to notice flawed societal ideas about race (Rockquemore & Brunsman, 2009). Being forced to confront entrenched ideas of race is an avenue for mixed race individuals to see how race is socially constructed rather than biologically determined, and put us on a path towards monoracial resistance (Daniel at al. 2014).

This work is messy. exhausting. painful. But also beautiful. exciting. limitless. and necessary.

This week’s mixtape is committed to Blackness as Vastness. To the expansiveness of identities. Let’s continue to have these discussions. To reach out for support. To share resources. To care.

Liberate & Celebrate!