Mixed Kids Are Changing The World
Stand up and comedic writer, Neal Brennan jokes about racism in his “3 Mics” special:
“I think I’ve figured out a way to end racism, by the way. Here’s how we do it: we just gotta end race. From here on out, we’re gonna have nothing but mixed babies. Listen to me. (...) Mixed people will end racism because you can’t hate... what you don’t know what they are. We’re too separate. Black, White, Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern. We gotta spend more time together, and we gotta f**k our way out of racism. Who’s with me? Yes. Yes. It starts tonight, and I’m calling dibs on Asians.” —Neal Brennan
It’s one of many jokes from Neal’s 2017 stand up special that I think hold up well today (Brennan has an insightful, empathetic brand of comedy), and I’ve kept it close to my heart since I first heard it.
In a world of categories and stereotypes, mixed kids don't quite fit in any well established box, and often overcompensate by trying to fit in all of them. We tend to see common humanity, more than division, I think because we’re not given an easy, definable identity. It’s confusing, often frustrating, and sometimes lonely. So, we connect with the identities of the people close to us—anyone who opens up in our direction with kindness. I honestly didn’t notice I was ‘different’ until practically junior high. I didn’t notice my town was predominantly white and conservative. My brother and I didn’t grow up with a template of fear/hate toward any specific group of people—although I would occasionally overhear someone matter-of-factly bashing people of Aboriginal descent, or Asians, or gay people, and be utterly confused. I also noticed that people would look at me the way you might look at a puzzle... like they were trying to figure me out.
And then, 7th Grade. New school, full of older kids in a bigger town. Kids were calling me racial slurs, left and right, but they just bounced off me. I had no idea what any of that shit was... it just sounded stupid. I had learned, years prior, that bullies will say anything, just flinging abusive spaghetti, hoping for damage points. Since all I wanted to do was read, and make other kids laugh, and maybe get a boy to like me... I paid little attention to petty name calling.
Unconsciously, through the years, to help people quickly get past my face-that-didn’t-fit-in-a-category, I would adapt my personality to make whoever I was with more comfortable. I still do it, to this day. We all do it, to some degree. Adapting to changing scenarios/people of different backgrounds requires open, constant listening and non judgmental observation (exactly what subverting racism requires... omg!). So when you‘re more polite and reserved around your friend’s parents, no-nonsense at work, and goofy-as-f**k with your bestie, you’ve been honing your social listening skills.
As I grew into (sort of) an adult, I started traveling constantly and meeting so many people with vastly different backgrounds. A theme began to develop, subconsciously, in my mixed-kid brain... People have so much more in common than they realize. We’re all dealing with insecurities. We’re all trying to be better. We all have family sh*t. We all have money sh*t. We’re all obsessed with Beyonce, and Ryan Gosling. We all have a favorite song and a favorite place to while time away. We all have strengths and challenges that require support from the outside. We all appreciate a free, organic smile from a stranger. We all grapple with spirituality in the modern world, and we are all trying to unpack or move past just wtf happened in our highly imperfect childhoods. Perhaps most importantly, we are all searching for a sense of belonging, a tribe or family or individual we feel safe to be ourselves with. It’s just unfortunate that, in the quest for belonging, some of us find a false sense of community in hating or belittling some feature we don’t have. Racism (and classism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, anti-semitism, any brand of structured hate) is often seen as an unstoppable tide, naturally let loose from otherwise typical human beings. But it’s not natural. It’s not anywhere near the easiest option (literally just ask any child under five, who chose their friends based off of toys, treats, and interest in the Lion King). Racism is taught. And re-taught. And supported past the point of logic because it’s painful to realize you were taught something completely wrong and never questioned it. Most human beings will try to avoid shame at all costs. That’s partly why racism is still holding on... people aren’t equipped to deal with the shame of choosing such an outdated, abominable ideology. Imagine for a moment: you identified with hating some group your entire life, received all your validation and sense of belonging from uniting with others in that hatred, and now, decades later, you’re being told that sense of belonging is FALSE. Everything you identify with is FALSE, and basically, YOU’RE the ‘lesser’ citizen in this situation. No wonder most people’s first response is a battle cry. They now have to defend their own humanity. No one should have to defend their humanity in the first place.
Which brings me back to mixed kids. It’s harder for us to buy in to racism templates because we don’t look like the targeted groups or the ones doing the targeting. We don’t really get to pick sides, so we end up perpetually in the middle, listening to and observing everyone. That’s why my brother and I both have a well-developed, self deprecating charm. It’s why we can genuinely converse with anyone of any age or gender or cultural group. We both have a vault of ever-expanding quips and jokes because we had to become skilled in dispelling tension. We can’t just get our sense of belonging from any one rigid group so we cultivate it everywhere, with anyone. Perhaps most crucially, we aren’t afraid to apologize, or admit mistakes in judgment. We’ve grown accustomed to evolving as we continually observe the world and the people in it. That‘s what happens when you can relate to no one, and everyone.
The greatest example I know of a mixed kid bringing the world together is Trevor Noah. In his book, Born A Crime, Noah explains that the year he was born in South Africa, it was illegal for white and black people to have relations, so his mixed heritage was evidence of a criminal act. The way he got out of some truly dangerous situations was by picking up linguistic and social cues that made potentially murderous people more comfortable around him. He learned six languages and spoke in the accent of whomever he conversed with. Now, he uses his incredible talents as an observer of human customs and language in expert stand up comedy and respected political debate. He is, quite literally, changing the world. Watch him talk about it here.