Multi-Racial vs. Multi-Culti

Lately it seems to me that people continue to confuse the term “multi-racial” and use it interchangeably with the terms “multi-cultural” or “multi-ethnic”.  I just want to open a discussion of these terms and place them alongside a discussion of transracial/ international adoption. Because this is a blog entry, I’m going to try to be brief, but I’d love it if ya’ll chimed in with other theoretical texts and novels that display elements of these discussions that I may miss. Finally, this entry is the beginning of a longer piece I am doing on blackness and trans-racial adoption.

When I say “race” or “multi-racial”, usually I’m making a reference to blood, genetics, etc. Example:she is multi-racial, African and Japanese, but it does not follow that because she is half black and half Japanese that she identifies with her blackness AND her asian-ness. Which culture was most prevalent in her life? How do people see her when she walks down the street?

Being “racialized” – is something different than a discussion of ‘race’ as blood lines. The process of being ‘raced’ or ‘racialized’ is a very specific and historical process. For example, the rationalizations of the capture and enslavement of African bodies were made possible by the process of ‘racing’ these African bodies in a particular way that distanced them from the European body. In the eighteenth century, scientists dissected and named the black body in a particular way that first, made direct links between biology and mental capacity, cultural production and of course social/civic mobility. (3/5 of a man)

What that means is that because a black body is ‘different’ or an ‘other’ from a white body supposedly there are specific characteristics that ‘belong’ to black bodies. The difficulty is that these characteristics get confused and ‘essentialized’ or naturalized and then become part of an internal and external dynamic that began in slavery, but continues today.  Specifically, these characteristics have become equated directly to any black body. (eg. “all black people are poor, so all black people have to steal or be on welfare to feed their children.” or “black men are scary and large black men are violent” or “black women are promiscuous and have lots of children, so they live on welfare” or “all black folks live in the ghetto, so if I want to find black mentors for my child, or make my community multi-cultural, I have to live in the hood)

see: The Life and Times of Sara Baartman

online reference: Baartman

see: Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films

Culture – reference to cultural influences. When I talk about culture I talk about it in both a broad sense of culture and a racialized sense of culture ( i.e. cultural production, traditional culture, etc.) In other words culture doesn’t have to just be “African culture” or “African-american culture” or “american culture”. Cultures of technology, visual culture, theatre culture – etc.

When we say multi-cultural what do we mean? I mean that I have been impacted deeply by multiple cultures. I have been impacted by “white” culture – my Afamily’s culture. I grew up in a white community, went to private, all white schools, was surrounded by all white people. I have a particular understanding of both a white, European descent cultural practices (foods, dances, communication patterns, judeo-christian attitudes and values) and a racialized sense of whiteness that functions in concert with how white bodies are positioned in relationship to black and brown bodies. (Ji-in also comments on this)

I have been impacted by Mexican/Chicano culture,having lived in Southern Cali for so long, having spent time in Mexico and coming to understand the deep cultural traditions of Mexican and Chicano familias that are directly intertwined with a history of colonization and slavery of black bodies. I’m impacted heavily by the multi-cultural, hybridity of Caribbean culture and of course, Im heavily influenced by African-American culture. I cook foods that are traditionally African American foods, I listen to music that is specifically African American or stolen from black cultures. All of these cultural influences create for me what I consider to be a particularly ‘diasporic’ cultural black identity.

Why do I attempt to distinguish between “African-American-ness” and “blackness”? Primarily because I think that thinking about the distinctions assists us in thinking about how our multiple identities function. African American culture is a particular cultural identity (that yes, is racialized) and a smaller part of a racialized political identity that I have come to identify as ‘diasporic blackness’. Blackness (in the global sense) is a racialized and political identity that understands the way race functions on a worldwide scale (a global Anti-black sentiment/ Anti-African sentiment) and has particular material effects on the local scale, on ME and how I am percieved, treated or identified by other people as I walk down the street in the U.S. as “black woman”(vs. why an Indian woman in Britian is considered ‘black’). Those material effects are the key to how we need to think about how race and racialized ideologies function differently than culture. These material effects are also are the things that shapes my poltical identity as a black body living in the U.S.

In other words – why are there so many black kids “languishing in orphanages”? Mother’s categorized as ‘unfit’? Mixed-race children hidden because they are part of a race that is undesirable? All those black women drug addicts? Can it really be that simple?

These kinds of distinctions are one way I think to provide a gaze on to the relationship between international and domestic adoptions. How racialized images of ‘foreigners’ or of ‘impoverished African Americans’ both contribute to the ways in which, say for example, The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, utilize white privilege and class to push for the opening up of the doors of adoption to let those who have the privilege and the money to basically get whatever the hell they want. (but that’s another entry . . . right?)

One final note, this isnt the end all, be all conversation around race vs culture. I definitely at times say something like ‘thats a part of black culture’ when I am talking about whatever diasporic cultural thing – like ‘call and response’ or playing the dozens, (these are diasporic cultural practices, descended from Africa and reshaped in the new world) but again I really think that the idea of an “African American” culture really means just that – a way to describe the particular way that blackness functions in the U.S. – not how blackness functions for example in Britain or Canada. But the common theme here is that blackness (racial/political) runs through all of these conceptions.


Ahhh The New Year

Well Dear Readers,

Its been an amazing run so far at A Birth Project and I just want to take a moment to thank all of you who have become regular readers, commenters and colleagues! Its been fun, crazy, emotional and exciting since I created a space to ‘obsess’ about my life as a TRA, my search and reunion process, my childhood as an adoptee, my adult life as a black woman.

I spent a bit of yesterday re-reading my blog from the early entries in July 2005, to later entries in this past year. I hope that I can continue to contribute something valuable to this conversation about the social and economic politics of race and adoption. Its become quite a big part of my life in a way that I never expected. I’ll be doing speaking engagements and performances all this year, so I look forward to meeting those adoptees who are struggling with what ‘this all means’. I think the best thing that I have learned in the past year is that this process of understanding how much adoption has really impacted my life is a forever process.

I forgot to tell you all that I was on the radio yesterday for a show in Seattle, WA. The show was on transracial adoption and black identity. It was pretty cool, on 1150AM from 1-2 pm on a show called Afrigenesis. I wish they had archives online so you could hear the show, but as soon as I get the CD copy of the recording I’ll put it up!

I’ve got some fun things planned this year for ABP – whew – its gonna be a busy one!  Look for more of the video blogs on hair, more about my search and reunion process, and of course, look for Ungrateful Daughter at a performance space near you!


I’m sure by now you all heard about Oprah opening a new school for girls in South Africa. Its a great thing to open educational institutions and I dont have issues with her not opening up a school in the U.S. However, I DO have issues with her response to the question of why she didnt open up a school in the U.S. Oprah said:

“I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there,” she says. “If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.”

Ummmm.. I just want to say to Oprah – can you come to West Oakland and ask the students in our schools what they need? I’m betting it aint Ipods, tennishoes or those uniforms she claims were so important to ‘her girls’. How about freakin books ms. thang?  How about money for art and music teachers? How about clean bathrooms and some beauty in our hallways? How about assisting in the payment of teachers salaries or utilizing your power to advocate for teachers to get paid more? or how about just reconsidering your position and ability to talk about ‘inner city’ kids all together, when it is clear that your economic distance from them clouds your ability to see the truth of their needs.

 I mean- really.