Book Review: "Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide" by Sarah Ratliff and Bryony Sutherland

06/16/2016 08:39 am ET Updated Jun 20, 2016

Opens a critical discussion for the largest growing race in America - "mixed race"

 The strongest epithet ever hurled at me was in response to one of my heart inspired projects: "You're, you're ... one of them - a HUMANITARIAN!"

I confess I am and so when it comes to biracial issues, I don't give it much attention. I believe in people and who they are not what they are. I can't imagine living in a world where people hate with me for just being. This world is a crazy place. There are individuals who are bigoted, bereft of heart and soul. They are not just white; they come in every stripe. 

 

Cover photo permission of Sarah Ratliff and Bryony Sutherland

When I read the compelling essays in Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide by Sarah Ratliff and Bryony Sutherland, I began to wonder about the whole question in a deeper way. Being biracial isn't about the choice of interracial coupling as one of the authors put it, but of the child of that coupling and the world into which the child finds him or herself born. 

As adults we make conscious choices - more often than not - but do we consider the long-term consequences of those choices? The conception of a child, for instance: a life. This is not a right or wrong question but one of the parental responsibilities inherent in their choice, which is to prepare the child for the world they will inhabit. 

To Mark White, Barbadian and white, (artist of back cover)

"Until such time as race does not matter, those who are responsible for raising mixed children must balance their cultural education and protection so that they are afforded the same sense of identity and belonging AND the same opportunities as those of the dominant culture. No easy task." 

Back cover art by Mark White
Back Cover photo permission of Sarah Ratliff and Bryony Sutherland
Back cover art by Mark White

If one is mixed black and white, brown and white, red and white or yellow and white, one is never white. But then again, as many of the authors shared, neither are they African, Indian, Aboriginal or Asian. Amy Myers, white mother of two black and white sons had the awakening in a McDonald's playground when an older child refused to let her two year old pass into the ball crawl. She confronted the older child and incurred the wrath of his mother. In that pivotal moment she indelibly learned two things: One, racism is taught; and two, her child could never fully enter the world in which she had always lived. 

The theme for me woven throughout these essays written by mothers of biracial children, by biracial adults - and one erudite biracial thirteen year old - was how to live beyond the world of racism and transcend into the world of who we are as human beings. As one author posited, it is a world of the future. It does not exist now. But might this book bring that future closer?

Racism is rampant and harsh and insidious as shared in the astonishing essay by Sarah Ratliff, with a full-blown Nazi grandfather who disowned his son, her father, for marrying a black girl. Sarah chose her black roots, which were deeply influenced by the Black Panther movement growing up. Racism even in liberal California finally became tiresome for her and she her husband gave up their careers in corporate America to become self-sustaining organic farmers on Puerto Rico, where people are just people, more pleasant and trustworthy.

But sometimes, as in the case of Bryony Sutherland, things have a happier outcome. English born, she married her first love, a British Afro-Caribbean, with the full support of family and the relaxed acceptance of the international and homogenous city of London. Her husband prospered in business with few noticeable limitations and now thrives in corporate senior management safely beyond anyone's dared racial slur. They chose to have children in full comprehension and mutual understanding of potential issues and made a point of finding a home and community outside of the city that was blended and 'colour blind'.

For those who are not of the tribe of the mother or the father, but as Janek O'Toole, English and Sri Lankan describes, "There is an unspoken, unseen barrier that disconnects me from both sides of my family. To the English side I am always half Sri Lankan; to the Sri Lankan side, I am always half English. I will never be whole." 

It's summed up perfectly in this quote by Søren Kaneda, Asian and Scandinavian:

"It's not that your sense of disorientation isn't real, it's that you're one of the few people with your eyes held open. The circumstances of your birth have forced you to ask yourself a question that few others ever will; are you the colour of your skin?" (Italics added.)

But it can work and when it does, it works like this, as shared by Maja Dezulovic, black South African and Croatian: "The beauty of it is that the mixed race is not defined by any single culture, religion or creed. We represent the mixing of cultures and ideas, and the exposure of the individualities that we sometimes fail to recognise as a result of focusing on similarities. There are many similarities between people. It is our differences that make us unique." 

These are stories about children who by no choice of their own were born in the hinterland of biracial mix, a largely uncharted territory.  The book is a map of sorts showing the way from the outside in. Most of these essays by the mixed-race authors begin with the confrontation of being different - when the world first imposed its view. Children are colour blind and it is my hope that this book and the discussion that it encourages will return us to that childlike state of loving acceptance - more than skin deep.

Cover photo permission of Sarah Ratliff and Bryony Sutherland

Books like this are critical to open the discussion and offer navigational points. To converse in words and attitudes which recognise that in terms of race, 'mixed race' is the fastest growing race in America. And in terms of the world, we are all members of the human race.

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Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide is available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon, accompanied by the recently published Being Biracial: Educators' Guide for use in a classroom setting. For more information, please visit http://beingbiracial.com

 

Disclosure: Bryony Sutherland was the editor for my book "Exhilarated Life: Happiness Ever After". I volunteered this review because I believe in its message.

 

 

 

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