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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Guest Post-Jamaias DaCosta-Unpacking Mixed Identity and Privilege

Jamaias DaCosta is a musical artist, writer and activist journalist, and is mixed identified of Jamaican (Colombian(Indigenous, African), Portuguese, African, South Asian, Sephardic Jew) and Irish, Kanien’keha:ka, Cree and French descent. Through broadcast and print journalism, music, creative writing, and education her work consistently involves an exploration of resistance, identity and examination of colonial oppression, decolonial thought and processes and
cultural expressions.

Jamaias is a member of the multi-disciplinary artist/activist org R3 Collective; is Host and Producer of The Vibe Collective on CIUT 89.5FM and is the Producer of Indigenous Waves Radio, also on CIUT 89.5FM. Jamaias is also a workshop facilitator and has held workshops at both grade schools and universities in Toronto around stereotypes; Indigenous education and decolonial thought. Jamaias has also worked with Caribbean Tales and has written for the CBC, First Nations House Magazine, U of T’s Independent Weekly and several news and community blogs.

 Unpacking Mixed Identity and Privilege
 By: Jamaias DaCosta 

For those of us who are mixed, not just with NDN blood but any thing that is considered “different” or “unique” or “exotic”,  this is a statement that is heard repeatedly “Really? You don’t look it”.  From the moment I was first asked “What are you?”, the response is most often “…you don’t look it” or  “Really? I thought you were (blank)” or some other presumption of that nature. And the reality for many mixed people, is that the above statement is mild compared to some of the other expressions of opinions on our identities people have and feel completely free to express.  Often we mixed folks are viewed as an aberration, since we do not fit neatly into a box or category.

For many who are mixed there is conflict and tension when we attempt to dialogue about dealing with prejudice, especially when we consider shadism and privilege.  The lighter the mixed person’s skin, the more privilege the individual has access to. And unless that access and privilege is carefully deconstructed and understood, it further removes the individual from the point where the river of prejudice and cataloging ethnicities meets the ocean of oppression felt for the majority of People of Colour and Indigenous peoples.

Owning and deconstructing what that means for our realities can be problematic because, despite the white privilege, which can divide us from our darker skinned brothers and sisters who’s identities have suffered in countless ways at the hands of colonial white supremacy, mixed identities are in fact quite vulnerable as well, due to several factors.

Most often I am identified by the outside world as white. People see me and they see a tanned white woman. My features are angular and pointed, and my skin, though tanned as
soon as kissed by the sun, is “light”. For me, this has meant I am often rejected or scrutinized for authenticity, not just by white people but also by PoCs and Indigenous folks. At the same time, there is this ridiculous tokenization by white people who feel I am the safe common denominator. That can include an assumption that I should go along when they speak with that exclusive "I'm not racist but you know those people who..." rhetoric. My former boss (who thankfully has been fired for all kinds of unethical behaviour) used to rib me with racist commentary that I would call him out on, and then mock me to my colleagues about how "sensitive" I am, and to watch what you say to her because she thinks she's (black/indian/native...etc.). Just another day in the life of anyone who is racialized, really.
There is a very distinct feeling for those of us whose ethnicities are ambiguous in any way of being stretched in multiple directions, across vast landscapes of sociopolitical minefields. And despite many fantastic blogs and anthologies on this subject, there is not a lot of dialogue in mainstream about this kind of "mixed" or multi-racial reality, and the tension that comes with it. So in the meantime, mixed identified individuals are fair play for prejudice from all directions, especially when we give voice to all of who we are.

Despite all of this, or more likely because of it, I have grown to see my white privilege as a responsibility, to put that white privilege to work through various methods. This includes holding up the mirror for white people who are blissfully ignorant to the myriad ways in which the education system, the media, the histories that we celebrate, the heroes we canonize, the holidays we observe, are all encased within a Eurocentric, white supremacist framework.  And how these ideologies purposefully ignore the bloody and heinous history of colonization and replaces the word "colonizer" with "settler" or "pilgrim".  Further, the insidious attack on Indigenous and PoC family structures, land resources, cultures, worldviews, histories and of course because of all of this, identities.

For me, white privilege chafes against my soul and my heart, and requires me to actively deconstruct that reality every day and in every interaction. I often feel I am wearing a disguise, and am constantly searching for ways to interject who I REALLY am. I am a mixed identified person of Jamaican (Colombian(Indigenous, African), Portuguese, African, South Asian, Sephardic Jew) and Irish, Kanien’keha:ka, Cree and (just learned recently) French descent. (Try fitting that casually into a conversation.) And because it requires so much time to say, my identity takes up some space. It is usually either further scrutinized or dismissed for being too complicated, which means that, unfortunately many people walk away with their own assumptions about who I am, unless they have encountered me in a space where they are able to see me and get beyond the light skin to who it is that I am, and what it is that I do, and the communities with whom I am engaged. My experience is often that with white people, it means either fascination with the “diversity” or put out for having been fooled. For PoCs and Indigenous folks, it frequently means dismissing me as a wannabe or just another white girl. Clearly these experiences pale by comparison (pun intended) in the oppression Olympics, yet are none the less alienating and tension making. The point is, that despite the work that I do, on the surface, I just don't look it. So identity becomes this heavy baggage, ever present, and forever unpacked.

1 comment:

Just MY $0.02! said...

EXCELLENT summary of the life of many "mixed" people. I am currently writing a book about the same issues and would love to feature some of your reflections.

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Alysia Cosby