Heidi Durrow on Being an Afro-Viking Writer [Countdown to 2042]


 
Heidi Durrow is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. A mystery wrapped up in a coming-of-age story, Durrow’s novel tells the story of an 11-year old girl who, much like herself, is the daughter of a white Danish woman and a black GI. Like much of Durrow’s other writing, which includes contributions to the New York Times, NPR, and the Huffington Post, the novel deals with themes related to the mixed race experience. In addition to her writing, Durrow is the founder of the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival, as well as a co-host of the award-winning Mixed Chicks Chat podcast. We had the chance to chat with Heidi about why self-identifying as half white is important to her, how we’re all connected to the mixed experience, and what it means to be an Afro-Viking in our latest Countdown to 2042.
 
If you liked this Countdown to 2042, check out other insightful interviews with writer and comedian Baratunde Thurston and rapper/comedian/YouTube personality Timothy DeLaGhetto, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

The iGeneration Reaction to the Mixed-Race Cheerios Ad Will Lift Your Spirits

There’s been a lot of disheartening news lately – enough that some folks are already calling this season, barely halfway over, “America’s summer of hate.” The moniker may very well be earned – maybe it will even stick. If it does, though, we hope it will be because today’s children will one day make such hatred a thing of the past. We’ve written before about the iGeneration’s unprecedented openness to and appreciation for diversity. Today, we’d like to share some video evidence of that trend, in the hopes that it might help you get through a summer filled with bad news.
 

 
Photo from Youtube.

MMXLII Perspective: Thank You, Twitter Racists

Today we’re pleased to announce the start of a new video series, MMXLII Perspectives. In our first video staff writer Joel, dismayed by the recent rash of Internet racism, has a message for the Twitter racists.

New Findings Signal the Beginning of America’s Multi-Ethnic Future

The United States Census Bureau has released new findings that paint a picture of America’s rapidly changing racial composition. From The Huffington Post we have this article on the Census Bureau’s latest findings on the demographics of children under the age of five.

In a first, America’s racial and ethnic minorities now make up about half of the under-5 age group, reflecting sweeping changes by race and class among young people. Due to an aging population, non-Hispanic whites last year recorded more deaths than births.

It’s not hard to see how important these two statistics are when considered together. Here at MMXLII we talk a lot about the inevitable paradigm shift, currently predicted for 2042, when America ceases to have a racial or ethnic majority. We’ve even taken our name from it. Now it’s clear that that shift is already starting, with the current racial majority beginning to shrink for the first time, at the same moment that the first generation with no racial majority at all has appeared.

Based on current rates of growth, whites in the under-5 group are expected to fall below 50 percent this year or next, said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau’s acting director.

This may be the first generation of Americans without a racial majority, but it’s obvious that it won’t be the last. Here at MMXLII we truly believe that this moment is a historic one, the start of a trend that will soon be defining. On a no doubt related note, we have this story from The Los Angeles Times, reporting on the Census Bureau’s latest findings on the increasing mixed race population.

Mixed or multiracial people are still just a small slice of the American public, but their numbers jumped 6.6% between 2010 and 2012 — four times as fast as the national population, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Experts say their ranks will only continue to swell.

While it’s obvious that the number of mixed race Americans will rise as our country becomes more diverse and the number of interracial marriages increases, what’s especially interesting about this report is the shift it reveals in our attitudes toward race.

[E]xperts say people who were long prodded to think of themselves as only “black” or “white” or “Asian” are becoming more comfortable choosing more than one race.

That conclusion suggests that these demographic changes are being accompanied by a no less significant change in people’s attitudes towards race. As America itself becomes more mixed Americans are becoming more comfortable with that change, more readily recognizing their own diverse backgrounds. At MMXLII we’re excited by both these findings –they’re an exciting reminder of a future that’s going to arrive faster than we might expect. Tell us how you feel about the Census Bureau reports, and the dramatic changes they portend. What about this future excites you? What about it scares you?

 

Photo from Mixed Race Babies.

Nielsen Survey Forces Dual Race Children to “Choose One Ethnicity”

This open letter to Nielsen came to us via Twitter from Leslie V. Ryan, author of I am Flippish!, a picture book inspired by her own children’s experience growing up both Filipino and Irish.  In the letter she writes about her children’s interaction with a surveyor from Nielsen who, due to company policy, was unable to legitimize all aspects of their background.

The surveyor asked what Flippish meant and I told her they are half Filipino and half Irish. Another long pause. I repeated that they are fifty percent Filipino and fifty percent Caucasian. I thought that a well regarded survey company such as Nielsen would have thought of the growing number of multiracial families all over America and changed their survey. I never expected the answer we got.

“Ma’am, you can only choose one ethnicity,” replied the surveyor.

It’s an issue we’ve written about before, and as soon as we saw Leslie’s letter we knew we had to bring it to your attention.  Her experience is a reminder that these issues aren’t just abstractions, and that mixed race children are more than just an ever-increasing number on the census.  They’re real people, and policies like Nielsen’s affect actual children.  That’s why it’s unfortunate that even in 2013, when nine million Americans identify as being of two or more races, many organizations refuse to recognize that fact, forcing respondents to choose one aspect of their heritage over another, or to mark themselves as “Other.” Some groups, including the United States Census, have updated their policies to reflect America’s changing face, acknowledging the existence of people like Leslie’s children and this author by allowing us to mark more than one race when filling out forms or responding to surveys. Still, the experience Leslie’s Flippish children had with Nielsen shows that there’s a long way to go before everyone is ready to make that jump. She puts it best:

So Nielsen, why did you make my children choose one ethnic background when you were told they have two? Is this what you do when you call up multicultural families and make them choose one category? Your website states “Nielsen Knows People” — do you really? Don’t you know that there are millions of multicultural families in the US? A company like Nielsen should be aware of this and change with the times.

We want to thank Leslie for sharing her and her children’s experience.  It’s a story that’s going to be more and more familiar, and more and more important as the number of mixed race children in the United States grows. At MMXLII we believe that those children deserve to have their heritage acknowledged in its entirety, and their existence recognized by everyone – from Nielsen to the Standardized Tests given in public schools. Read Leslie’s letter and let us, and Nielsen, know what you think.

‘Mixed Kids Are the Cutest’ Isn’t Cute? via The Root

We’ve seen shirts that say things like “Stop Racism, Make Mixed Babies” or heard comments like “oh, mixed children are THE cutest “. It sounds great from a superficial point of view, but look deeper and the meaning behind it may not be as flattering. Like the story we posted about a woman not being flattered by men attempting to court her with lines like “you must be mixed”, this is a very similar issue. It sounds great at first but when you think about it it’s like saying a child is better looking because you’re not truly one ethnicity over the other. A mother of a biracial child inquires how should she take remarks like this and how to respond. Jenée Desmond-Harris responds for her first installment of “Race Manners”. Hit the break to read. Read More

Why Saying I Look “Mixed” Isn’t A Compliment

With being of mixed-race, ethnicity, a more common theme in today’s society it doesn’t seem uncommon for people to ask other people “what are you?” and play that game of figuring out someone’s ethnic background. As evidenced by the essay we posted recently, that question can be annoying, negative and more. Along with that question is the other side, when someone assumes you are mixed and tells you such, as in: “what are you? you look mixed. To some maybe that’s a compliment as in you have an exotic look to you, but to some it’s not the most flattering comment. Hit the jump to see how. Read More

Imperfect Gentlemen, Tehran Von Ghasri, Says Being Persian Is Hip via NPR

For those who did not know: Spring is upon us, and so is the Persian New Year, Nowruz. Iranian-Americans and people across In the Middle East and parts of Asia are celebrating. What better way to understand the traditon than by listening to Michel Martin talk with Afro-Iranian-American comedian Tehran Von Ghasri about it and his favorite traditions. Ghasri talks his mixed upbringing, the story behind his name [it’s not Iranian but his mom thought it sounded black enough], the cultural demographic shift in America [2042] and more. Hit the jump to listen in. Read More

Dr. Spock Advises a Teenage Girl Having Trouble Fitting In

With fictional characters many young people can draw inspiration from them in their everyday life, but it’s not everyday that a fictional character can give advice about fitting in. Hit the jump for a heartwarming letter to a young girl coping with being of mixed ethnicity and being labeled a “half-breed”. Read More

MMXLII Viewpoint: What Are You?

Our guest correspondent Joel Wacks is back with another intriguing article as he takes time to reflect on his personal life. As a person of mixed race there is a common question he seems to always be asked, and for one reason or another…it doesn’t sit too well. Hit the jump and take a look at his opinion and see what many other people of mixed race have to deal with constantly. Take a walk in their shoes so you can think about how that question may come across for some people. And if you are of mixed race, this is probably a story you can relate to. Read More