Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Final Project: Bi-racial individuals


After months of preparation and constant critique of books portraying children of bi-racial ethnicities, primarily individuals comprised of African American and European heritage, I have stumbled upon one overwhelming, consistent and disheartening truth: very few of these books exist, and of those that do, seldom can be considered quality literature. These types of text, however, in public circulation and capable of being found at local libraries, nearly all portray the offspring of a European father and African American mother. These parental roles and/or races are rarely interchanged and the characters remain static across texts. Historically, because men have been stereotypical portrayed as the breadwinner of the family and essentially “wear the pants” in romantic relationships, I would argue that this is the underlying, and possible unconscious foundation in this chosen characterization. In essence, it seems that interracial relationships are “okay” as long as the dominant European male is the one who has chosen a consensual cross-race relationship. Additionally, I noticed that a common theme existing across this form of multicultural literature was the presentation of a bi-racial female as the primary protagonist in the story. Again, this almost serves to say that as long as a consensual European male is the head of interracial familial relationships, then this form of lifestyle can be deemed acceptable. Obviously, this is quite problematic for several reasons. Not only does it degrade women, adhering to stereotypical male chauvinist traditions, but it also demeans and scrutinizes the validity of all interracial marriages, children, and familial units. Having read through nearly fifteen texts focused on issues of biracialism, this was the recurring trend. I did, however, come across two picture books and one novel that I felt positively reflected and highlighted the most important and culturally relevant aspects of being biracial. These chosen texts prove to be not only relatable to bi-racial readers and/or parents, but are also appealing to a plethora of children regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. Expressing themes such as pride in one’s personal identity and privilege in association with multiple cultures, these books encourage young readers to embrace their own heritage as well as the heritage of those around them. Avoiding overstated, obvious, and laborious messages that seem to “hit the reader over the head”, the books I have chosen manage to convey these themes in a systematic yet subtle fashion, proving to be both an inviting and effective approach. Overall, I believe the following texts to be of utmost quality within the field of bi-racial multicultural literature and would whole heartedly incorporate any of the preceding books within my own future classroom.

Meyer, Carolyn. Jubilee Journey. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1997.

In this provocative and compelling sequel to White Lilacs, Carolyn Meyers, a noted, widely respected author infamous for her ability to attack issues of multiculturalism, tackles issues of racial segregation, degradation, and suppression that the Jefferson family had faced in previous decades. Growing up in a community of tolerance and acceptance, Emily Rose, the bi-racial daughter of an African American mother and European father, has been sheltered from such discrimination in a small town in Connecticut. However, when Emily Rose is invited to explore the Juneteenth Diamond Jubilee in Dillon, Texas by a great grandmother whom she has yet to meet, Emily Rose’s mother is anxious to escort her to this celebration embracing her African American culture and history. Following the journey of a lively, independent, refreshing female protagonist readers truly embark on an educational, eye-opening trail of multiculturalism in the south. As Emily Rose discovers what it truly means to be of bi-racial decent she begins to recognize that her mother’s lifelong claims have been truth: “Just tell them you’re not half anything, you’re double. Tell them you’ve got twice as much history, twice as much culture, twice as much of everything that counts. Tell them your family swims in a terrific gene pool. Tell them your family tree produces the sweetest, most delicious fruit” (20). Through the historical accounts and newly found relationship Emily Rose forms with her African American identity, pride over prejudice becomes the driving influence.

Davol, Marguerite W., and Irene Trivas. Black, White, Just Right! Morton Grove: Albert Whitman & Company, 1993.

Written for, and inspired by, her just-right grandchildren, Marguerite W. Davol captures the “best of both worlds” in her endearing and energetic portrayal of a young, bi-racial girl of African and European decent. Focusing on the cultural, social, and personal differences existing between the child’s African American mother and European father, they serve to be complimentary, “just right” qualities when combined into the characteristics possessed by their daughter. Not only does the focus of diversity lie on physical features such as skin color, height, and hair texture, but is also inclusive of dynamic characteristics such as hobbies, appreciation of the arts, personal tastes in food, and choice of music. These dichotomous representations and variance of key points of difference offer a refreshing, yet subdued perspective on the positive qualities of bi-racial children. Rather than viewing the possession of two cultures as a deficit, Davol manages to present this critical social stigma in a positive, privileged, and honorable light. The vivid brush strokes present in Irene Trivas illustrations make use of a broad color scheme and combine a plethora of shades and images reinforcing themes of the beauty that exists in a blended identity and cultural heritage. Whether you’re of mixed ethnicity and cultural heritage, black, or white, this book is just right!

Edmonds, Lyra, and Anne Wilson. An African Princess. Great Britain: Doubleday, 2004.

This inspiring fictional tale by Lyra Edmonds tells the story of Lyra, a young girl who experiences the insecurity that comes with occupying a bi-racial, African American and European, identity whilst combating constant questioning and ridicule raised by her peers. Though Lyra’s mother continuously praises her mixed heritage by referring to her as an “African Princess”, Lyra begins to see her identity as a plight rather than a privilege. On a conquest to assist in Lyra’s understanding and cultural acceptance, Lyra’s family embarks on a journey from Europe to Africa in search of Taunte May, a wise knowledgeable local enlisted to teach Lyra about her heritage. Through the ornate, elaborate illustrations artistically crafted by Anne Wilson, Lyra’s search for her identity is expertly paralleled by the colorful and culturally dynamic representations. Confronting several socio-cultural issues, Edmonds clearly conveys underlying themes of not only racial and cultural acceptance but pride in such unique disparities. As delicately phrased by the carefully constructed character of Taunte May, “Remember to be proud of who you are” (22). “Now when they say, ‘You’re an African Princess? Don’t be silly!’ I walk tall and say, ‘I’m Lyra. I’m an African princess. That’s me” (23). An African Princess delivers an astounding and captivating tale marinated in socio-cultural issues, demonstrating the importance of taking pride and pleasure in one’s identity.

Dutro, Elizabeth, Elham Kazemi, Ruth Balf, Ruth Galvan, and Richard Meyer. "The Aftermath of "You're Only Half": Multiracial Identities in the Literacy Classroom." (2005).

This article, centered around a 4th/5th grade class project focusing on the exploration of their cultural history and presentation of the accumulated information to other classrooms within the school, raises several crucial issues about what it means to identify with a culture and how one validates his or her own heritage. More specifically, upon presenting their multicultural projects, three bi-racial children’s identity was unjustly called into question by their peers causing frustration, humiliation, and above all else, confusion. One student in particular shared a fellow schoolmates’ response to his project, citing “He’s only half. He’s not really from South Africa” (2). Having all received similar responses and inquiries, the three bi-racial children raised their concerns to their classmates promoting a rich discussion focused on identity, race, and multicultural backgrounds. In addition, this class strived to dissect the complexities of categorical components often associated with race and surface strict binaries existing within standard societal discourse. As the author states, “These biracial children pointed to their own and others’ racial categories, including whiteness, and thus, began to question the dichotomy between ‘white’ and ‘of color’ (8). In reflecting upon the discussion, project, and hurt feelings that subsequently resulted, the teacher offered suggestions and solutions for incorporating bi-racial children within the classroom and allowing them to feel culturally and socially accepted. She states, “Whether discussion of race are raised through children’s projects or through the literature we bring into classrooms, teachers can encourage critical discussions by posing questions that encourage children to view issues from multiple perspectives, to interrogate their own and others; assumptions, and to construct us even as we question those ideas”(9). She goes on to suggest guiding questions that can be used to support a critical literacy classroom and are effective starting points for crucial discussions of race. These questions include asking who benefits from the text, in whose interest is the text written, what was the purpose of the text, how would someone else have experienced the text differently, and what beliefs or values about race lie behind the statements. Overall, the author expresses that the only way to overcome issues of multiculturalism and diversity is through continuous discussion, exploration, and education. Making use of quality pieces of literature is an excellent resource to utilize to begin these essential debates.