A Mixed Race Feminist Blog Interview with AJ Jones

About AJ Jones

My name is AJ Jones and I’m 29 years old. I was born and raised on unceded Muwekma Ohlone Territory (also known as San Jose, California in the United States). I identify as queer and transgender (my pronouns are they/them/theirs), and I tend to view these both as sexual, gender, and political identities. Obviously, I also identify as mixed-race. My mother’s family has been in (what’s referred to as) the south west of the United States (New Mexico and Arizona) since before Spanish colonial rule. Her lineage is Mexican and Black-Indigenous (Diné). Her primary racial identity is Mexican (although I understand that there are many folks who argue that Mexican is a nationality, not a racial identity). My father’s family is white. I am not sure where they are from, not because of lack of interest, but because he doesn’t know his father or his father’s background.

I am currently a transfer/non-traditional undergraduate student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I am double majoring in Feminist studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and I will be applying to PhD programs in the fall. I am also a core member in an activist collective where I live. I’m very invested in the creation (and sustainment) of social change, particularly the eradication of the many facets of white supremacy. I see this both as an immediate (challenging the ways in which white supremacy seeps into my life, as well as how I am a tool and channel through which white supremacy thrives) and long term (community building, consciousness raising, direct action, etc.) commitment.

 

  • Do you remember when you first came to understand that you are mixed race?

In terms of self-identifying, I didn’t begin to use “mixed race” as a way to describe myself up until a few years ago. It just didn’t seem like a legible identity for me since there is no “mixed race community” so to speak. There aren’t really many (or any) community centers, organizations, or media outlets that cater to or acknowledge folks who identify with two or more races.  Most of the time when I stumbled upon anything having to do with being mixed-race, it was used as a prop to uphold colorism and anti-blackness, so it never occurred to me that there were folks in the world who identified as mixed-race.

My understanding of myself, racially, has mostly been dependent on my relationship to others and my relationship to places. I grew up in a lower-income neighborhood that was composed mostly of families of color, and in high school I definitely feel as though I was both viewed as white, and actively participated in performing whiteness (straightening my hair is an example that comes to mind).  I felt whiter than my peers, mostly because I was. When I graduated and moved to San Francisco, CA (where the queer scene tends to be very white) I was not read as white nearly as often. I felt more like a person of color in contrast.

In hindsight, I guess it’s always something that I understood myself to be, because I knew my parents were different races.  I just didn’t fully understand what that meant for me.

  • Did you parents talk to you about your mixed race identity growing up?

My parents didn’t talk to me at all about being mixed-race, although certain folks on my white side made (not so great) comments about it.

  • What positive memories do you have from your childhood about being mixed race?

I often come across mixed folks’ narratives that describe a sort of positive dual cultural immersion, so to speak. I read a lot about folks who grow up enjoying and participating in two distinct cultures, but that’s not necessarily my experience. I’m not sure if I could pinpoint any particularly positive memories from childhood about being mixed-race, however that’s not to say that all my memories are negative.

  • What are race relations like where you grew up? Did you experience any racism and/ or feelings of isolation?

I feel as though California, and particularly the Bay Area, is positioned as this sort of diverse and liberal, post-racial utopia. It’s definitely not. It’s definitely still racist as hell here, and in terms of the area in which I grew up, that means a heavy police presence, street violence, a large population of folks experiencing chronic homelessness, staggering wealth inequality, way underfunded schools, and gentrification to name a few things. There is also a lot of Islamophobia here, particularly post 9/11.

As I mentioned before, I do benefit from passing as white most of the time, and as a result, I’m protected by privilege from experiencing a lot of interpersonal racism. Unlike folks who have darker skin, I can walk around without fear of being on the receiving end of racialized violence.  This is an immense privilege I experience on a day to day basis, a privilege that not all mixed-folks reap the unearned benefits of. Most of the racism I’ve experienced has been at the hands of my family, and some at the hands of ex-partners.

In terms of isolation, I think that I experienced a great deal of it growing up.  Not necessarily in a way that was a direct result of my personal experience, but more so as a result of how racialized trauma is carried down from generation to generation. Both of my parents are addicts (one is sober, however it’s my understanding that the identifier of “addict” doesn’t change even once one stops using). On my father’s side, this is somewhat of a coincidence. On my Mother’s side, like a family heirloom of sorts, addiction (along with intergenerational trauma and incarceration), has been passed down.  Growing up, I definitely felt as though I was experiencing a different home culture than my peers, and I think that “isolated” is a good way to articulate how I felt about it.

  • Are there any other aspects of your identity which you feel affected your experiences as a mixed race person that you would like to talk about (such as social class, sexual orientation, gender etc).

I think this is a sort of unpopular opinion, however, I see a lot of connection between being mixed-race, being queer, and being transgender. I think there is a running theme between the three that harnesses this sort of challenge with fitting into pre-determined categories. Now, I don’t want to romanticize these identities and paint this glossy pastel picture where everything is amazing and fluid and I just float in and out of categories comfortably. Not fitting into categories can be, and usually is, a fairly violent existence, especially for those who experience multiple forms of oppression. Transgender women of color here, particularly black transgender women, have a life expectancy of 35 because they are viewed as not fitting into pre-determined categories.

I also feel as though, within the context of being mixed-race and being transgender, there is this constant experience of disconnect between who I am, my presentation, and how folks interpret and work with my presentation. I often think about what it means to “be” anything.  Is “being” a look or a way of navigating the world? Is it linguistic, cultural, or some sort of an effort toward physical embodiment? Is it a combination of these factors, or none of them?  Someone may refer to me as “she” in a random conversation just like someone will refer to me as “white”, but when that happens, do I become those things? In that moment, do I cease to be how I define myself and suddenly become 100% of what someone else interprets me as? I don’t have the answers to these inquiries, however, I find that the questions that arise as a result of being mixed-race, and the questions arise as a result of being transgender are sometimes the same.

  • Do you feel more connected to a particular part of your racial identity? Has this changed over time?

I think I’ve always felt more connected to being Mexican (or ‘brown’ would probably be a better word choice) than white. I grew up in a fairly non-white area, and the white folks I did engage with were usually part of my family. I also grew up with parents who were addicts and a lower-income class status. This makes me feel distanced from my idea of what a “white experience” might be.  At the same time, I also realize that passing as white comes with an immense amount of privilege. I suppose that I just feel more cognitive dissonance as I get older.

  • How do you feel being mixed race has affected your personality and life choices?

I think it makes me more comfortable with holding contradiction, and it forces me to look at things in terms of “and” rather than “or”, if that makes sense. It pushes me to dismantle my own binary thinking.

I also feel as though it makes me long for a physical community, and I spend a lot of time trying to fill that void.

  • Has race affected your dating preferences?

I think race has affected my dating preferences in two ways: firstly, in how I interact with potential partners: I remember being on Ok Cupid (a popular dating site) a few years ago and seeing a lot of folks making the effort to prioritize dating other QTPoC (Queer/Trans People of Color), and I would think to myself, “Is that me?” And that’s complicated, because it’s a privilege to even be able to ask that question! It’s just made me interrogate my own positionality and really think about how I interact with others, and how I can be both oppressed and an oppressor with different folks, in different ways, at different times.

Second, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring and deconstructing the ways in which my preferences (so to speak) have been colonized.  I think a lot of folks assume that their “preferences” are natural and have been magically formed in a vacuum, and that’s obviously not true. Preferences tend to be fatphobic, femmephobic, ableist, anti-black, etc. Instead of saying “I have no preferences! I’m an equal opportunity dater!” I strive to look at my history and search for uniformities, and then ask myself why those uniformities exist. How do I make that more concise so that makes sense? I suppose what I’m trying to say is that a racial-consciousness has been one of the catalysts that started my process of examining myself and the way white supremacy functions within me.

  • Are you a part of any mixed race networks that you can tell us about?

Not really. I belong to a few Facebook groups, but that’s about it.

  • What are the benefits and difficulties that come with having a multiracial identity today?

That’s a hard one. I think that since ‘mixedness’ is going to be different for different folks, the benefits and difficulties will obviously differ from person to person. I think that not having access to a community is a difficulty. I would categorize facing racism within our own families, ‘mixedness’ being somewhat synonymous with ‘half white’, and the plethora of food comparisons (as an example ‘blended just right’), and the anti-Black rhetoric that’s really popular in some mixed-race spaces a difficulties as well.

I can’t say that I feel like there are any solid benefits. I experience the unearned benefit of white passing privilege, however I wouldn’t categorize that as a mixed-race specific benefit, since not everyone who is mixed-race has access to passing/is part white.

 

For more mixed race interviews and feminism from a mixed race perspective join:

http://www.facebook.com/amixedracefeministspeaks

 

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