Shannon Luders-Manuel is a critical mixed race scholar and writer living in Los Angeles. She received her Masters in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she researched the “tragic mulatta” narrative over a 250-year span. In 2014, she was a featured writer for the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles, which prompted her to move from her native Bay Area to Los Angeles and rekindle her love of creative writing. Shannon works as a freelancer and has been published in For Harriet, xoJane and Skirt Collective. In May, her co-authored teacher’s guide is due to hit the shelves, which is to accompany the anthology Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide. Shannon is at work on a memoir about taking care of her father at the end of life, which focuses in part on her mixed race identity. Shannon is 39 and is black with a Mexican great-great grandfather on her dad’s side, and white (German, English, Irish Scottish) on her mom’s side.
- How has you relationship with your parents influenced your racial identity?
If I grew up with my black dad, I might identify more monoracially than I do, but I can’t say that with any certainty. Growing up with the white side of my family, I never saw, or wanted to see, myself as white, but it did make me feel just as connected to my white culture as my black culture. As I’ve gotten older and looked back on my dad’s life from an adult perspective, I’m able to see more clearly the struggles he went through and for the black side of me (which I never wanted to erase) to feel less foreign.
- Who were your idols growing up and why?
Growing up, my idols were smart girls who grew up in non-traditional families. My biggest idol was Punky Brewster. Others were Anne of Green Gables, Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden and Veda Sultenfuss from My Girl. All of my idols were white, but it wasn’t anything planned. Those were just the books I read and what I saw on TV. I felt connected to these girls because they didn’t grow up with both a mother and father. They had to navigate their way through life and assert their identity against the odds.
- Have you ever wished that you were monoracial?
No, never. I love being mixed race and wouldn’t trade it for anything. It has its complications, but if I were monoracial I would lose one side of my heritage, and I can’t even imagine what that would be like. Being biracial, I feel lucky to have access to two very different cultures, and it helps me see the world in a unique way.
- How do you feel about the common assertion that we are all mixed race?
Almost no mixed race person would say that, and I find that most people use it as a way to silence differences. I feel like such an assertion does more harm than good. Yes, race is socially constructed and most of us are different mixes of various ethnicities over centuries, but the experiences that mixed race people have is quite different from, say, an American who has Dutch, German and English ancestry many generations back. And, of course, our experiences are different not because of any inherent difference, but because of the way society views race, and us within it.
- What would you like the future to look like for people of mixed race heritage?
This is a good question, and one I haven’t really considered quite in those terms. Mixed race people are often told how they should identify, and I’d like to see that change. We often have to assert our identities very strongly, only because monoracial people of any race disagree amongst themselves how we should identify, so whatever we choose is bound to make someone upset. Rather than projecting identity onto mixed race people, I’d like to see people lower their own “boxing gloves” and not feel threatened by a fluid, complicated identity. Once society can get past trying to label us, we can be free to tackle bigger and more important issues in the world without people always reverting back to how we identify.
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