Stacey E. Bryan, I’m in a phase where I don’t talk about age! I explain a little more at the end of this interview.
WHAT MIX ARE YOU?
White: Austrian; Mediterranean: Greek. Creole black; some Native American (not sure which tribe) and white (not sure from where).
WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN NOW DIVERSE?
Much more diverse than it used to be. Burbank is where Johnny Carson had his show and Bette Davis used to live. That old-school Hollywood population has dwindled, making way for many other types.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born in San Francisco and grew up in Oakland until I was around 5. Oakland was definitely more diverse than the San Fernando Valley where we moved to when I was 6. The new neighborhood was not diverse in the least. I think it was 95% white. My family was the only black family living there. I say black because although I’m mixed, I was adopted into a black family. That’s why the information I have about my Creole black half is spotty. Most of the kids in the L.A. neighborhood were nice, but my brother and I did not really fit in.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS MEET?
I will have double answers in some of these, due to my adoption. My adoptive parents, who are black, met in San Francisco when they were teenagers, through mutual friends. My biological parents met at Berkeley while they were going to school.
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
The initial obstacle lay with my biological parents. Apart from their youth, I think the other primary reason I was given up for adoption was because I was mixed race and my biological mother didn’t receive the support from her family that she otherwise would have received.
HAS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING MULTIRACIAL?
I fit into my adoptive extended family seamlessly, because although they’re black, they’re also very mixed. It wouldn’t have mattered if they weren’t mixed or didn’t look mixed, like my parents; I was fully accepted and loved as if I were their blood.
DID YOU CELEBRATE TRADITIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY?
Since my adoptive family was black, what I remember most was we ate lots of soul food: greens and grits and black-eyed peas, and jambalaya, etc. I don’t remember any particular traditions or cultural events taking place.
When I met my biological mother, she introduced me to Greek food, which I had never had before. Her father was Greek and her mother was Austrian.
WERE THERE MULTIPLE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
No foreign languages were spoken.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
Since food is the most vivid memory, I have to say I enjoyed that the most. I remember a lot of smooth jazz and the blues playing during parties, so that’s a very fond memory. There were no overt religious beliefs that I can recall, although my adoptive father is a strict Catholic. Nobody in the extended family seemed to be very religious. But then again, they were all on my mother’s side from San Francisco, and my father was from Boston. It seems like the San Fran folks were all sort of Avant-garde while Dad’s Boston side were more God-fearing!
WHAT ACTIONS DID YOUR PARENTS TAKE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT YOUR DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS?
My brother and I had a set of books as children concerning various historical figures like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King. My mother took us to see plays like A Chorus Line and Raisin In the Sun equally. I don’t remember her doing anything special to *teach* me about white people. Maybe she thought we were already surrounded by white people (in our neighborhood) had white friends, went to school with white people, and learned about mostly white people in history and other school topics already. So *being white* and what it meant to be white wasn’t a mystery.
DID YOU TALK ABOUT RACE A LOT IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
Race did come up fairly often because my brother and I were often in settings where we were the only ones of our kind; he was a black kid at a Catholic school, and I was a mixed kid at the same school. Kids used to call him Oreo. Later when my hair grew longer, kids said I had “witch hair.” My parents’ overall message was that people were just people but that some people looked at skin color more than others. We were supposed to “ignore the ignorant.” But, of course, it wasn’t always easy to do. My mother thought that, in the future, when everyone “looked like me” racism would be greatly diminished.
DO YOU IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
This is a funny question for me, because I started out from childhood through my 20s saying I was black. That’s who had raised me, and that’s who I identified with. I distinctly remember being in first grade, in the Catholic school where they called my brother an Oreo, and somehow another girl and I started talking about my grandmother, and I recall proudly saying, “My grandmother is from Africa.” My grandmother wasn’t from Africa, not directly, at least, but I said it almost as if daring the girl to refute it somehow. By the time I was through my 20s, I had gotten so many confused looks and was so sick of explaining myself, I started saying I was “half black.” I realized years later that I was saying “half black,” and not “half white,” too, because of buried resentment against my white biological mother who gave me away. Nowadays I just say I’m mixed race.
DOES RACE WEIGH INTO WHO YOU CHOOSE TO DATE?
When I was dating, the last thing I looked at was race. I’ve gone out with every color under the sun. My husband (who is very *private* and didn’t want any pictures of him included, unfortunately) is Latino. His parents are from the Dominican Republic. His skin tone is much darker than mine. In fact, when I first met him, I thought he was black. But I knew he was mixed with something. I just had no idea what.
WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOU?
Being mixed to me simply means that two people whose DNA manifested in them in different ways got together and had a child. It makes it harder for people to put a label on me, but it also causes confusion. But in the end it makes me feel very connected to the world, having DNA that comes from so many different places. I think most people who have been in America for a long time are mixed, even if it isn’t readily apparent, or they don’t know it. It’s too bad that they don’t know it, or accept it, because our country would be a very different place.
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE MIXED?
I’ve had a few mixed friends, two of whom were a half-Filipina woman and a half-Japanese man. The interesting difference between them was the half-Filipina woman was happy with who she was and how the world saw her. The half-Japanese man identified with being viewed as a minority and acknowledged the oppression and alienation that so readily can come from that. Maybe it had to do with the woman being female and pretty and not having the same concerns as an ethnic male. Ethnic women aren’t under the same pressures as ethnic men in our society. But I do think it’s a form of denial if an ethnic person believes they are completely free from those pressures.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
I feel like people who haven’t lived on a day-to-day basis under the kind of stress that comes with being constantly judged and often treated a certain way by appearance alone usually respond with denial, rationalizations, and out-right misdirected anger. That constant, repeated response annoys me to no end, but I know it comes largely out of a lack of real, goal-oriented, educated discussion. There are old hurts and long-held angers on both sides. I also am wounded by black women who make contemptuous faces at either me or my husband when we’re out together, obviously concluding that either I’m white or my husband only likes like-skinned women. The irony in this position is that my husband was not accepted at all by the black community he grew up in in East New York. In fact, girls that were attracted to him, upon discovering that he was Latino, would then reject him. Often kids would chant, “Rice and beans, rice and beans,” in order to get under his skin. So the black women who appear to be annoyed at what they see as a cliché of a black man with a white woman are annoyed with an illusion, because he’s not even what they traditionally go for. But all of it’s an illusion, anyway. Holding on to the same old thoughts, feelings, and ideas have gotten us nowhere and will continue to get us nowhere.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
Like I said above, my mother thought that if everyone got mixed enough and it was harder to stick labels on folks that racism would diminish greatly. But I’ve had discussions with people who believe the “paper bag rule” will just come into effect. So as the population gets more and more mixed, the new level of undesired status will become “anyone who’s darker than a paper bag” and on like that. So I’m not sure what the answer is, as long as a certain trend of thought continues. The trend has to be destroyed so that healing can begin. I guess my dream is for people to start thinking out of the box where race is concerned. Staying in the box is keeping us all prisoner.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?
I’m very passionate about this topic, as you can see. I’m a writer, and I’ve addressed this issue sporadically, but probably not enough, and not in a really big way. I actually just had a book come out in June. It’s a paranormal comedy called Day for Night, and although I’m proud of it for what it is, part of me wishes I’d written the next “Invisible Man,” or something equally as weighty. However, even though it’s a comedy involving aliens and vampires, my main character, Rae, is a mixed woman (who’s also facing ageism and never says her age out loud, something I’ve adopted in real life for the time being) and I do talk about race here and there throughout the novel.
Well, the story takes place in Los Angeles, so it would be impossible not to mention race relations! I’m hopeful for the future, though. I do believe people would rather get along than war against one another. I do believe mutual understanding and compassion will come. But it’ll take time and, I think, some creativity.