One of the reasons I hate the term “multicultural literature” (which generally means “children’s or YA lit with a protagonist of color, usually with a plot that deals centrally with issues of race or ethnicity) is because it leaves me without an appropriate label for a sub-genre (really a sub-sub-genre, because African American literature should be a sub-genre of fiction, not some other kind of lesser fiction) that I guess I’ll have to call biracial narrative literature. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of “African American literature,” especially books that deal more specifically with the biracial experience. That experience is utterly and totally different from the African American experience or the white experience, and it differs even more if you want to divide those narratives up by whether they deal with passing, with growing up in an African American community, or growing up in a white one. And that’s only three possibilities, just because I’m only talking about biracial people who are half black, half white.
I just finished Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. It was awesome. One of the things I liked about it was that it was about the biracial experience, but it also wasn’t. It could have been anyone’s literary novel, about a girl struggling with the memories of a tragedy, but instead of being anyone’s story (because everyman is always white), it was a biracial girl’s story. Then there’s Nella Larsen’s Passing, which is first and foremost a story about going between racial worlds. I’m interested in these stories personally, for obvious reasons, but also creatively, because my novel is, among its other abouts, about a biracial girl and her journey.
What drives me crazy about a lot of racial narratives (especially those YA ones dubbed “multicultural lit”) is the social requisite for making it a racial narrative, rather than a narrative that includes or incorporates race. Or not even that, but simply a narrative of some kind that happens to be about someone who is not white. But somehow it’s different when it comes to biracial narratives, even though I still ultimately prefer the ones that are more along the lines of Durrow’s than Larsen’s. Larsen’s was necessary when she wrote it, but now I think it is so much more serviceable, even if it is not at first glance marketable or publishable, to be more like Durrow. I’m trying to figure out what it is about biracial narratives that makes it okay for them to be narratives with one of their main plot threads a racial one, while I hate it when African American narratives do that. That’s probably a research question for a semester of work, but for now, I think part of it has to do with familiarity. Not that everyone understands the African American experience, but its tropes and themes and history are at least fairly recognizable or known by the general public. With the biracial experience, not only is it not recognizable or known, but it’s not even legitimized as an experience. Biracial people are constantly asked, “What are you?” and it’s unacceptable to say that you are two races. I hate that race theory is still very binary when its social implications are complicated in this century by the existence of a third marginalized group (although, since that group is Latin@s, technically it’s not a race issue but an ethnic issue), but I also understand it, because racial experience is understood to be binary. You are white, or you are not. Simple. So it’s not that I don’t think that all literatures don’t have a lot of work to do, because they do, and there is a lot of reading of those minority literatures, whether they’re Durrow-style, YA-style, or Larsen-style, but I’m starting to think that maybe the new frontier is biracial literature.
I’m going to keep this thread going, I think.