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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Professor Minelle Mahtani on 'Raising Mixed Race' in Canada

Following are closing remarks given by Minelle Mahtani after the premiere of my new book Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children In a Post-Racial World at Hapa-Palooza Festival 2015, Vancouver B.C. Minelle Mahtani is Associate Professor of Human Geography and Journalism at University of Toronto-Scarborough. Currently she is on sabbatical to host new show 'Sense of Place' on Roundhouse Radio. She is also author of the recent book 'Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality.'  

My book 'Raising Mixed Race' will be released December 11, 2015

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Minelle Mahtani [image from Twitter @mminelle]

"Hi everybody. I’m going to keep this really short and sweet because I just think that we’ve heard so many really important things. But I just want to say thank you, Jeff, for that really warm introduction. And I just want to thank Sharon and Professor Wei Ming Dariotis for the extraordinary contribution they made here tonight.

For me being in this room really means a lot. I think it’s really rare that so many mixed people come together to have these conversations...I think it’s really valuable to remember that you’re not alone in this and that there’s other people around who want to share in these conversations. I grew up as a person of mixed race identity. I’m [of] Indian, Iranian, Muslim, Hindu background. And that was a really complicated identity to have in the suburbs of Toronto, mostly white area, that I grew up in.

I remember being called the N-word in grade three, coming home and telling my mother...and my mother bursting into tears.

I’ve been called every single racial slur you can imagine. I remember being called the N-word in grade three, coming home and telling my mother (I didn’t even know what it meant), and my mother bursting into tears. So what does that story tell us right? In terms of the kind of information that we receive and the kinds of information we get from our parents in terms of how they can cope with these stories. Instead of my mother explaining to me the tortured history behind that word - she immediately felt guilty. I think that’s really important. I think that’s what we need to think about.

But...I want to talk about Sharon for a minute.

Now I’ve had the luxury and the real gift of reading this book [Raising Mixed Race] in advance...I just want to say how important this book is. I’m sure all of you could tell from the tenor and the excitement and the breadth and the depth that Sharon brings [to this] presentation. So, thank you Sharon. I just want to say thank you again for how amazing it was for everybody [applause from audience]. I mean so many things that you did tonight really help at this stage for so many of us to continue thinking much more in a critical way about mixed race identity.

...I remember when I first came across your work. And this was back, I think, many years ago. You wrote this piece that went viral on Racism Review. And the first line of her review was: “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but if there is a child of color in your life and you ever read to them - then they have already experienced racism.” (pause) BOOyah! Right? Like, right there. And then she did this gorgeous critique of children’s literature; looking at children’s books and how it is that people of color are represented. So that’s when I knew we were emerging a superstar on the face of critical mixed race studies.

We all have a responsibility to read this book. 
~ Minelle Mahtani

Now like I say I’ve had the joy of reading her new book. The book is groundbreaking. I can’t say enough good things about it. But I think the thing that I really want to encourage all of you who are interested - you know even if you don’t have a mixed race kid yourself - we all have associations with mixed children in our lives in many different ways. Either as nieces, nephews, or mentors or students. We all have a responsibility to read this book. Because there are strategies and tidbits, I mean Sharon’s only given us the tip of the iceberg [tonight], and there’s so much more here. And I just really want to thank you for writing a really, really thoughtful book.

Sharon says in her book...she quotes Frederick Douglas… “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And I really want you all to think about that. Particularly because it’s so important to think about the skills that we need to build strong children. So let’s take it into the Canadian context for a second. It’s been very interesting to me that we’ve had two Americans come in to talk about multiraciality. I think that’s really indicative of a much larger problem that we have in Canada.

Black Berry, Sweet Juice by Lawrence Hill

One of the things that I think we need to think about - and this comes from the interviews that I did with women of mixed race - is an old saying… “Fighting racism in the states is like punching a brick wall. But fighting it in Canada is like punching a marshmallow; always melts back to the same shape.” And I think it’s a very telling comment about the ideology of multiculturalism and how it allows us to veil larger racial inequalities...What kind of work are we doing about mixed race in Canada? I mean Jeff’s films have been so important in terms of opening up the space for us to think about our own multiracial identities. But in terms of the academic work we are still really far behind.

...A lot of you probably saw the extraordinary Larry Hill speak a couple days ago right for this particular event. You know Larry wrote this important book, Black Berry, Sweet Juice...but apart from that and then my book just finished a couple months ago...we have very little work that begins to talk about the experiences of mixed race people. So I think it really behooves us to think about our responsibility. To make sure we’re sharing those stories. To think about the contribution that you might want to make. If you want to contribute to the Mixed Race Studies Conferences that are happening I’m totally happy to talk to you about that and think about how we can really extend our networks and develop something really exciting and important.

Mixed Race Amnesia by Minelle Mahtani

And then lastly one thing I want to add in terms of my own work. I’ve just written this book called Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality and...something we haven’t really talked about a lot tonight [is] the way that obviously mixed race people are seen as torn and confused about their identity and not place to call home. But then [also] there’s this other pernicious current that mixed race people are seen as a post-racial world and that we have the solution to all the world’s racist problems simply because we’re mixed. We know that’s not the case right? That it’s so much more complicated than that. So I think we have to think about: Why do we have this category of mixed race identity in the U.S.? How did white mothers play a really important role in the emergence of this category of multiraciality because they didn’t necessarily want their kids to identify as Black?

And I think we have to think about it in Canada. How this category of mixed race is not only seen as anti-Black, but also anti-indigenous. What is our responsibility as mixed race people to this category around indigeneity? And my book kind of looks at that in detail. It looks at this category of “new Métis” - even saying it I shudder - but a number of Canadian journalists have talked about this idea of mixed race people being the “new Métis.” That for me is really derogatory. We need to think about ways that we are settlers of color and how we have a relationship to our land that’s very different than indigenous people. So I just want to flag that.

But - I think this is a time for real excitement. And I just way to say thank you again, Sharon, for a really invigorating and important conversation. And we’re really lucky that you came up here to talk to us about it. So thank you.

And buy the book!"

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