Transcript: Documenting the mixed-race experience | Apr 09, 2021

ANNOUNCER:
You're listening
to a TVO podcast.
(Theme music playing)
COLIN:
Welcome to
On
Docs,
a podcast about documentaries
and the stories they tell.
I'm Colin Ellis--
NAM:
And I'm Nam Kiwanuka.
Hey, Colin.
So, how you holding up?
COLIN:
I'm doing well.
Uh, my cat is, uh, trying to
take over your co-hosting gig.
But, I've told him--
NAM:
Already?
(Chuckling)
COLIN:
I've told him many times, no,
he's not ready
for prime time just yet.
But, uh, yeah. That's me.
How 'bout you?
NAM:
Uh, I'm okay. I'm holding up.
Um, looking forward
to the warm weather
and my birthday month,
which is in May.
So, I'll send you
a list of things--
COLIN:
Ooh!
NAM:
--that I would love to get
for my birthday.
I'm kidding. You don't
have to get me anything.
COLIN:
I'll get right on that.
(Laughing)
NAM:
So, what documentary
are we talking about today?
COLIN:
Well, we're gonna be
looking at a short doc
called
What Are You?
which explores the experiences
of 11 mixed race Canadians.
WOMAN:
One of my grandparents
told one of my parents,
"Don't have kids,
"because your kids are gonna
look like aliens."
WOMAN:
I've never felt
that I could say
that I am Black.
However,
that is completely different
from what people perceive me as
or describe me as.
MAN:
In the span of one day
and like, a 20-minute drive,
I could go
from being seen as white
to being seen as Black.
COLIN:
Has anyone ever
asked you that question,
"What are you?"
NAM:
Uh, so many times.
And when I'm feeling cheeky
I say, "I'm human".
But other times, um, when
I'm trying to understand
where they're coming from,
I ask, "What you mean?"
Do you wanna hear a story
of how I once
made a small child cry?
(Laughing)
COLIN:
Nam, are you
scaring children again?
NAM:
I know! That's my other job.
(Colin chuckling)
NAM:
Uh, no.
A few years ago
I was in Uganda
and I was working
with an aid agency
and I was
filming for them.
So, we went into a village
outside of Kampala,
maybe four hours.
And when we approached
this family's home,
um, they were
in front of the house
and then the little girl
looked at me
and then she started yelling,
"Mzungu, mzungu!"
Mzungu means "white person"
in Swahili.
And uh, she cried
and then ended up
running back into the house.
I was the whitest person
she had ever seen.
And in that moment, you know,
I was kind of heartbroken
because I'm from Uganda.
And so, I was saying, you know,
"My name is Namugenyi,"
and you know,
but it was interesting
how on the other side,
you know, um, how, you know,
there are people
who are very much afraid
of people with fair skin.
COLIN:
Well, you know,
that question of
"What are you?", you know,
it comes up in this film
and obviously
it's the name of the doc
we're gonna be talking about.
And it's from
director Richard Pierre.
And we have him on with a woman
in the film named Gina Marie
who is also the founder
of Mixed in the Six,
which is a group that brings
together mixed-race people.
So, let's go hear
that conversation.
(Theme music playing)
Well, Richard and Gina,
thank you so much for joining me
today on
On Docs.
GINA:
Thanks for having us.
RICHARD:
Thanks for having us.
COLIN:
Well, I guess we should probably
all kind of identify ourselves.
We're all mixed-race people,
but maybe we could just talk
about our own backgrounds.
Maybe, Richard,
if you wanna start us off.
RICHARD:
Sure. Uh, I don't know.
What's my background?
Um, my mom is from Trinidad.
My dad is from Canada.
So, if you go into
the whole racial thing,
I'm part Black, part white,
and according to
a DNA test I took
as part of
this film process,
uh, part indigenous
South American.
So, still trying to find out
that part of the ancestry.
So, I have to do
some researching.
COLIN:
What about you, Gina?
GINA:
Yeah, so I am mixed
Filipino-Canadian.
My mom is from the Philippines,
from Northern Luzon.
My dad is--
he identifies as Canadian.
Um, he's white.
He is adopted
by my grandparents
who say that
they're Scottish,
although the Oades last name--
which is my last name--
is English.
So, I'm not sure
if they really know.
Um, and then I also,
similar to Richard,
did a DNA test,
ancestry/DNA,
and it turns out
my dad's background
is pretty much equals,
like, Welsh and French
with, like, some Icelandic,
and you know,
other little one percents
here and there
that I'm not really sure
how to track.
(Laughing)
But, that's been
an interesting um,
more of a recent discovery,
'cause I just did--
My dad did his DNA test
and I did my DNA test,
um, like sort of
in the last few years,
just after Mixed in the Six
was cofounded.
So, it's been an interesting,
interesting journey.
COLIN:
And um, well, for myself,
you know,
I identify as mixed-race
but I always like to say
that I'm Black bi-racial.
So, my dad is Black
and my mom is white.
And his parents were from
Jamaica and Barbados
respectively,
and my mom is, uh, her--
she's got English
on her mom's side
and I guess, um,
probably Swiss or Irish
on her dad's side.
I'm not really sure
about that side of the family.
But um, when that question
comes up, "What are you?",
and that's the title
of your film, Richard,
uh, do you hate that question,
do you love that question?
What do you, what do you--
what response
do you usually give
when people say that to you?
RICHARD:
Yeah, I mean, my personal--
(Chuckling)
--feelings about that question
are that I don't like it.
Uh, it just-- I don't know,
it fills me with dread
and anxiety
when people ask that question
because a lot of the time
when it's asked
it's like,
a complete stranger.
And often times it's like,
the first question they ask you
and they're
not really interested
in having a conversation
with you so much as like,
satisfying their curiosity.
So, yeah.
I don't-- I don't like
that question in general.
However, when a mixed person
asks that question of me,
I have a different reaction
and I think that's because--
I tend to think it's coming
from a different place.
It's-- it's coming from, uh,
I'm trying to understand
that you are like me
and I just wanna know
if I am right.
GINA:
Yeah, similarly, growing up, I
got that question all the time.
I grew up in a small town
north of Toronto
where pretty much everyone
was white
except for me and handful
of other people
including
my brother and sister.
(Chuckling)
Um, like visibly Caucasian.
And it always just felt
very othering.
Like, I felt, uh,
no different than anyone else
but hearing that
was just a constant reminder
that I appeared differently
to others,
and that was always a kind of
perplexing experience
because being mixed-race,
identity is something
that's quite confusing
from the early stages.
And so, when you're constantly
asked a question that, um,
sort of puts you in a distance
from everyone else,
like, "What are you?
Where are you from?"
Uh, it, you know, it was--
a little disheartening.
I got used to it
over the years.
Now when people
ask me that,
I do kind of feel
like it's an opportunity
to have a conversation
about, well,
I'm a human being.
(Chuckling)
And um, but I think
what you're asking
is what's my heritage
and ethnic background?
And then I'll kind of
get into it.
Um, and similar
to what I shared
in the film, um,
What are You?,
I think, depending on the
rapport that I have with someone
or the-- the vibe,
if it's sort of
genuine curiosity
or if it's an interrogative,
investigative question,
like "I need to know what
you are and where you're from
"because I--"
You know, I-- they almost--
Some people have a bit of a--
(Chuckling)
They take like
an investigative journalism
"must know"
kind of ans-- like, vibe.
Um, I might just
kind of stop it there.
So, it's-- it depends.
Um, and I think when
I'm in mixed-race spaces,
often times
where a lot of folks
and myself included,
are asking, like,
"What's your mix?"
Like, "What about you?"
(Laughing)
Like, it definitely has
a different--
a different, uh, energy.
So, yeah.
COLIN:
Yeah I have
a complicated relationship
with that question as well
because, I think--
You know, like you said,
when it's asked by someone
who's mixed-race
or you know, like especially
when it's like, a stranger,
it kinda can come off
as a little jarring.
But when it's someone who's,
I guess of a similar
background as you,
you can sort of understand
where they're coming from.
When I've been asked that
question it was usually, uh,
when I was probably
in high school
and during
my college years
because I had a much bigger afro
back then,
and I was a little more visibly,
I guess racially ambiguous.
And then when I turned 28, 29,
around that age,
my hair started to fall out--
(Chuckling)
Started losing my hair
a little bit.
So I was no longer, uh,
as racially ambiguous
because I decided
to shave my head
and I looked like just like
any other bald white guy.
And phenotypically,
you know,
I think I look more white
than I do Black.
So, often times I don't really
get asked that question
and I kinda miss it
in a weird way.
It's strange.
Like, it's like you don't know
what you're missing
until it's gone, right? Like--
(Chuckling)
On the one hand
you're like, oh, well,
I don't really like
when people ask me that
but at the same time,
when they stop asking me,
it feels like
a bit of a loss.
Well, I guess, uh, Richard, we
should ask you about your film
because
What Are You?,
I remember, I think
you and I talked about it
when we first met
a few years ago.
And uh, this is, I think,
your first doc?
RICHARD:
Yeah, it's my first doc.
Uh, and I always like to say
that I was really lazy
and I decided to do the easiest
documentary possible,
which was, uh,
one on being mixed-race
because I'm mixed-race so
therefore I'm already an expert.
Um, but yeah. I still had to do
a ton of research.
It wasn't as easy as a process
as I would've hoped.
But uh, yeah.
It's a 20-minute doc
where I interview
11 different people
and sort of
get their perspective
on what it's like
being racially mixed
in a society that does have
a complicated relationship
with race.
COLIN:
I guess, what made you
kind of think
about turning it
into a documentary?
And I know, 'cause I know you've
done a lot of short films,
so I wonder
you thought documentary
was the best format
for this?
RICHARD:
Yeah, I mean, I've always wanted
to make a documentary.
Like, for years I've come up
with a bunch of different ideas.
And I always just sort of
struggled with the idea
that if you start
a documentary,
how do you know
when you get to the end?
Uh, I feel like
it could be like,
something you spend
your lifetime working on.
Um, so again, I went to sort of
the mixed-race identity thing
and I thought I could tell a,
you know, cohesive short story,
um, that would appeal
to audiences.
Um, I think the real--
If there was a moment in time
that really inspired it,
I watched, uh,
a great documentary at TIFF,
I think 2017, maybe?
It was
I Am Not Your Negro,
that came out
and I was just like, floored.
That documentary
really hit me.
Um, and then I was talking
with some filmmakers at TIFF
and it all sort of
came out of that.
And I was like,
I need to make a documentary,
I need to do it now, and it's
going to be about being mixed.
Um, and yeah.
I just felt like-- I felt really
drawn to the subject matter.
I don't know why I hadn't
thought of it sooner.
COLIN:
Well, Gina, you're in the film
and I wonder--
I'm curious to know why you
decided to take part in it.
GINA:
I mean--
(Stammering)
You know when the universe
and the stars align
and something comes to you
and you're like,
"I have to do this"?
(Colin and Gina chuckling)
I mean, I-- I could--
That was really--
that was really it.
I, um, you know,
I have a bit of a story,
and please correct me
if I'm wrong,
but I do remember
introducing the two of you
at a Mixed in the Six event
like, a number
of years ago. Is this--
COLIN:
You did, yes.
GINA:
Yeah, so this is very cool.
This is all coming
full circle.
Well--
(Awkward chuckling)
So, Richard, Richard,
I remember meeting you there
and when you said "I'm gonna
make this documentary,
"I'm determined, no matter,
you know, what I do."
And I remember
saying to myself,
of course,
we have to get behind this.
And when I had the opportunity
to put in my story,
there was a part of me
that though, mm,
maybe I should--
maybe I don't have
a story to tell.
(Chuckling)
Maybe I've already--
maybe I've already done
all these things
in the mixed community
by running events and, um,
there's not much there.
And then I realized that that
was also a part of this pattern
of like, hiding myself,
you know?
And kind of, uh,
a pattern of coping
to just kind of blend in
and just be happy
and not actually
say anything
about what was really
under the surface
about my own identity
and my own, um, evolution
as a mixed-race person.
So, I felt that this was
something that was calling to me
and it was just
an incredible experience
to be a part of the film
and I'm really thankful
for Richard for giving me
that opportunity
because, um,
when I've heard feedback
from folks
who have seen the film,
even people in my own family,
they were like,
"I didn't know
that you felt that way."
(Laughing)
So--
COLIN:
So it came as a surprise.
GINA:
Yeah! Yeah. I had a--
I had, um, a cousin on
my dad's side reach out to me
'cause he saw the film
on TVO and uh,
he shared what he,
you know,
what he got from watching the
film and seeing my perspective
and really appreciating
how someone in his own family
might not have felt, um,
fully accepted or fully seen
and that was something
that really moved him.
So, you know, you never know
who you're gonna help
by sharing your story,
even if you don't think
your story is that important.
But it was important.
So, that was really true.
RICHARD:
Yeah, I think we all have
interesting stories to share
when it comes
to a mixed identity.
Like, there's just--
It's such a, I think,
undermined topic.
Like, people haven't
explored it enough yet, so.
COLIN:
Well, I wanna ask you
about this opening scene
where this young woman
who's mixed-race
says that her parents
were told that if--
I think they were told
by the grandparents.
WOMAN:
One of my grandparents
told one of my parents,
"Don't have kids,
"because your kids
are gonna look like aliens."
COLIN:
And that just seems like such a
cruel thing to say to somebody,
especially someone you love,
you know,
who's thinking
about having children.
And I wonder what
you two think of just--
the ways that
mixed-race children
evoke such strong emotions.
Maybe Richard,
you could start us off.
RICHARD:
Yeah, I mean, uh,
I think that's
an interesting subject
that a lot of families
sort of struggle with,
because, I mean, there's a lot
of racism in our culture.
And it's just--
I don't know.
Like, even just watching
that Meghan Markle interview
where, we're talking--
(Colin chuckling)
And we have to talk about that.
I mean--
GINA:
Yeah.
COLIN:
Yeah, I think you're right.
RICHARD:
We don't want your kid
to be brown, basically,
because that's not good
for our family.
Um, yeah. It's weird.
I mean, my own grandmother was--
on my father's side--
was definitely
a racist person.
COLIN:
I think, you know,
I wanted to ask Gina, though,
I mean-- 'cause you mentioned
you had a cousin
who didn't know you had this
kind of experience growing up,
um, and that came
as a surprise to them.
Uh, I'm wondering,
you know, just,
you know, growing up, though,
what was it kinda like for you,
half Filipino, half white?
Like, what was sort of like,
your experience like?
GINA:
Well, I definitely can share
that a common experience
for a lot of mixed people
which I think you've highlighted
Colin, too,
is that how we present
to people in our life
changes as we move forward
throughout the lifespan.
So, growing up,
I appeared very Asian to people,
so I was treated as such.
And then as I got older,
I sort of became looking more,
uh, people think I looked
more Spanish or Latina
and people would respond to me
differently in that way.
And then now I--
I hear from people
that they think I'm like white,
which is very interesting.
So, um, that's just something
I wanna highlight.
That growing up,
it was a lot more--
I was a lot more identifiable
as like,
different from other people
and that was very--
a struggle for me in school
because I was made fun of
for this.
Um, in my own family,
I didn't experience
much micro-aggressions
on either side.
Just that I kind of
felt different
because I appeared to look
different than everyone else,
especially on the white side
of my family,
but nobody ever
talked about it.
(Chuckling)
We didn't like-- it wasn't
something that was brought up,
which I'm always gonna wonder
if it's--
Was this
a good or bad thing?
Um, and I think being...
feeling like I was an other,
especially as a child
and in school,
and having experiences of, you
know, sort of micro-aggressions
and sort of the subtle racism
that kind of bleeds
through small towns,
um, we-- I didn't have
a conversation about my--
about, you know,
racism or race with my family
until this past year.
Thanks to the film,
actually.
My parents watched it when
it was streaming in Canada,
for the first time.
And I think
that's something to highlight.
I know we were kinda
talking about, like,
mixed-race children
and babies,
But I think, like, you know,
babies all grow up to be adults
and I'm, you know,
35 years old
and I just had a conversation
about my dad--
with my dad about,
you know,
"Why didn't we talk about race
in our family?"
'Cause it was something
that affected me.
Um, and my dad said,
he's like,
"You know, I'm sorry.
I had--
"When I look at you
I just saw myself.
"I just saw
you were my daughter."
He didn't see me as
anything else differently
or that I was
an other to him
or other to others.
It's so interesting
because I think now
we have Meghan Markle
who is a mixed-race woman
married to, you know,
arguably one of the more famous
people on the planet.
Uh, Prince Harry.
Having these like,
very, very
real conversations
about what happens in families
all over the world.
And especially here
in North America
where mixed-race families,
you know,
have been poppin' up
for a little while now.
(Chuckling)
And uh, making it
a topic of discussion.
Um, and I'll just
add one more thing.
Because of Mixed in the Six
I've seen some conversations
come up online and through folks
that are part of the community
that have been pretty affected
and even triggered
by the conversation between
Oprah, Prince Harry,
and Meghan Markle,
that they also recall
or remember hearing comments
being made of
their own family members
about the colour of their skin
when they were children.
You know, worries
that parents or grandparents
or you know,
aunts and uncles were worried
that they were gonna
come out darker
or how they were going
to come out, or otherwise.
So, it's really interesting
to see these conversations
coming forward,
thanks to Meghan Markle
and thanks
to Richard's film, so.
RICHARD:
It's funny, too.
Like, I've never--
I mean, I have an interesting
relationship with my father,
but we did not talk
about me being mixed
and like, sort of how
that affected me growing up
until the film was done.
Like, I'm-- so I have this
really weird relationship,
but...I-- we don't really have
like, deep conversations
right off the bat,
but the only reason
he actually brought up the film
was I think I had-- had like
a link in my email signature
about the film
and we started talking about it.
And it was like
the first time
we'd ever talked about
the fact that, you know...
this was weird
and we never talked about it.
And uh, so yeah. It was
an interesting conversation
as a result of like,
making the film
and actually having that
conversation with my dad
for the first time
about race
and what it meant
to have a bi-racial child,
like growing up
in the US and Canada.
COLIN:
Is there something
that you wish--
Gina, you can answer this
as well.
Is there something
you wish your parents
had said to you back then
that would've helped you?
GINA:
Anything.
(Chuckling)
RICHARD:
Yeah! Anything, yeah. Anything.
GINA:
Yeah, anything.
Go ahead, Richard.
RICHARD:
Yeah. I mean,
that really kind of sums it up.
I mean, I think-- I think
parents have a responsibility
to talk to their kids
about this.
I mean, it--
I know people wanna think that,
you know, we're gonna
have some mixed kids
and it's gonna end racism,
but that's not
how reality works.
I mean, there's so much racism
ingrained in our society.
That I think from like,
practically age--
I think it was age three
was sort of like
the earliest, I read,
that people or children
start to understand race.
So, yeah.
I think those conversations
need to happen
almost immediately
and the conversations
need to happen
with extended
family members,
like, you really need
to start talking
about race probably
even before the kid's born
because you don't want
to have these comments
about, you know, how brown
will the baby look
or whatever it might be.
Uh, but yeah. Having at least
one conversation--
(Gina chuckling)
--probably would've been nice.
GINA:
Yeah, and I wanna
just also highlight,
I think my parents--
I love you guys,
if you're listening--
You did a great job!
Um, they--
(Stammering)
They only were working
with what they knew.
And I don't think my parents
had the lexicon and the--
the information
to talk about race with me.
Um, so really anything
would've been great.
Like, instead of, you know,
"sticks and stones
"may break your bones
but names will never hurt you"
when someone was calling me, you
know, "chink" on the schoolyard.
I mean, like,
anything deeper than that
would've been a good--
a good start.
I think now,
and I've got this from--
I've learned this
from doing the, you know,
multi-racial
mixed community work
is there are so many more
resources and books out there
around parenting and how to have
conversations with children
about race which is
really beautiful and heartening,
'cause that's what we--
that's what we really need.
And race isn't, um, you know,
it's a social construct
but that doesn't mean
it doesn't affect our lives.
And it's still
affecting our lives.
Racism is still
alive and well
and it's an important thing
to not brush under the rug.
So, you know, my parents
did the best that they could.
Um, the apology from my dad
wasn't really something--
I cried I think like
two weeks later--
(Laughing)
--of joy.
Like, in the moment I was like,
"Uh-huh. Thanks, Dad.
(Laughing)
"Thank you."
And then like two weeks later
I processed it in real time
on an interview
on the podcast.
(Laughing)
Um, but you know,
they did the best they can
and now parents
of mixed-race children
um, have a lot more tools.
So I think for anyone
who is listening--
whoever, anyone
who is listening out there
to really seek those out
and, um,
watch the film and, you know,
listen to podcasts.
(Chuckling)
There's lots of information
out there to support people
in having those conversations
with their children.
COLIN:
Yeah, I can sort of relate
'cause I don't feel
like I recall there being
a lot of books and uh,
certainly no pop culture
that represented
the mixed-race experience.
The closest I could think of
was Lawrence Hill's book,
Black Berry, Sweet Juice,
which came out
I think when I was in college.
And that was the first time
I'd actually read a book
that was about being
specifically Black,
like half-Black, half-white,
'cause that's what
Larry Hill's background is.
And um, I don't know
if I would've--
how my experience
would've changed
if I'd had more explicit
conversations around race
with my parents.
I think we talked about it.
But I don't--
For some reason I'm blanking
on what those discussions
were about.
Um, and like I said,
you know,
my experience was probably
a little different from you two
in the sense
that I didn't really get
a lot of racial slurs
thrown my way.
Uh, I was pretty lucky
in that regard.
I got mulatto ones,
I got half-breed ones,
but it was kind of like,
said in ignorance,
not out of maliciousness.
And I don't know, I think--
I think one thing I always
sort of struggled with
was because I'm Black but
I don't look visibly Black,
I never experienced
the kind of racism
that I think a lot
of Black folks face.
And when I was in spaces
that were all white
and I was having an argument
with someone about race,
it was hard for me to like,
draw upon my own experience
in those conversations, right?
'Cause I would talk to someone
who'd just be like,
"Well, race, you know,
what does it matter?
"Like, we're all the same."
And I would have
a really hard time.
I'd struggle,
like articulating
why it is
this person was wrong.
And I couldn't really
use my own experience
'cause I'd never really
experienced racism.
I don't know if Richard,
you can relate, or Gina,
but that was something
that I definitely remember
having a hard time with.
RICHARD:
Yeah, I mean,
I feel like for me,
I have sort of had racially
charged incidents growing up,
so, uh--
(Chuckling)
--I am I guess I am well-armed
for those conversations.
Um, but yeah,
I mean it's weird
when you don't
necessarily present as--
'Cause I'm fairly light I can
pass I think a lot of times
for Spanish
as opposed to Black.
So, it depends on like,
you know,
if I have my afro
or if I have my longer hair,
then I think it's more clear
that I'm part Black,
but I'm always--
I always feel well-armed
from my experiences
to have the conversation,
even if that person might deny
my existence for what it is,
if that makes sense.
COLIN:
Yeah I think,
you know, like, I--
The other thing too is I also
felt in certain circumstances
like, again, because
I don't present as Black,
I would often feel like--
I guess maybe I didn't have
a full appreciation
of the Black experience,
to some extent.
And even things like,
you know,
when the N-word gets dropped
in a rap song.
I used to love hip-hop.
Should I say it,
or should I just not say it?
(All chuckling)
Like, I would always have
those mental gymnastics
going through my head
at the time.
Um, now it's kinda like,
you know, I just accepted it.
And when someone's like,
"Well, you don't look Black,"
I kinda grit my teeth and
be like, "All right, fine."
(Gina chuckling)
Uh, but normally
I'm just kind like,
like, you know, I don't it.
I always kind of tell people,
especially when
I'm first meeting them
and getting to know them.
You know, I always mention
that I'm bi-racial
and it's never something I've
ever felt like I've had to hide
and certainly wouldn't.
Um, so I don't know.
GINA:
If I may, growing up
I definitely,
like I had described
earlier in the interview,
I experienced a lot
of that sort of tense
micro-aggressions
walking into rooms
feeling like at any point
someone could say something
and most often that they did,
although, you know, growing up
I felt definitely reduced
and I mean, I can't speak
to the Black experience
or the mixed Black experience
whatsoever,
but you know, I wanna say
that it's been
a really beautiful journey
listening to the stories
of mixed Black folks
on the podcast,
really understanding
how, um,
or getting sort of a glimpse
of what that's like for people
because um,
you just don't know.
I think for me,
growing up,
I thought I was like,
"a victim of racism!"
and then I was like, "Oh no, it
hasn't happened to me at all."
Um, and then realizing that,
you know,
being Black in this world
is very much a unique experience
that not everybody
can understand and appreciate.
And something--
I hope this makes sense.
It's something
that I'm really appreciating
doing this work
in the community.
Just because I'm mixed-race
and I've experienced some hints
of racism
and micro-aggressions
doesn't mean that I know
what it's like to be mixed Black
or like, you know, a fully
racialized person in this world,
because my whiteness
does protect me.
And even my, you know,
being Filipino and Asian,
you know,
if we wanna lump myself
into the
minority-ish,
you know,
protects me as well.
(Colin chuckling)
And so, this is part of--
It's funny.
There's the mental gymnastics
of how to respond
to questions like
"What are you?"
but then there's also this
mental gymnastics internally
of being like, hmm.
What is my identity
and how does that--
how can understanding
my identity
and how I show up
in spaces
help myself
be a better human
and appreciate the struggles
of other people
who are racialized, um,
and from, you know,
BIPOC communities?
'Cause that's, I think,
where we're headed as a society
is-- we all are
affected by race
and we all
should be thinking
about how we can be
more sensitive
to each other's
experiences
and curious
about making changes
in the way
that we ask questions,
the way that we, um,
treat other people.
And I feel like
I'm kinda going
on a bit of like,
a philosophy tangent, but--
(Laughing)
COLIN:
That's okay. We're cool
with philosophy here.
GINA:
Yeah, like I think it's
just kind of highlighting
that this is--
that the multi-racial experience
is a unique one,
and I think it's--
You know,
being multi-racial
doesn't mean we are going
to solve racism,
but we are-- we can be a part
of making things better
if we want to.
Because we can kind of take our
experiences and be like, okay.
COLIN:
I think this is a good
opportunity to pivot
to what you do
with Mixed in the Six, Gina,
'cause you know,
this was an event
you cofounded a few years ago
and I went to, um,
probably the second party
you guys threw.
And honestly, it was the first
time I think I can remember
ever being in a room
with like, almost--
I think everyone in the room
was mixed-race.
Like, maybe there was
one person who wasn't?
And I was just
astounded by it.
And, yeah, maybe you could
just tell us a bit
about what went into
the thinking
behind creating
Mixed in the Six?
GINA:
Yeah, yeah, thanks for asking.
Um, so, all of the experiences
that I've had growing up
and that I've shared so far
really were the inspiration
for, um, creating, you know,
Mixed in the Six.
I've also been a part of the
mixed students association
at York, many moons ago.
And really it was around
creating a space where,
you know, myself
and other mixed people
could connect
and share stories
and create a sense of community
with each other.
Because so many of us grew up
not feeling fully seen,
um, in who we are.
And able to have
the conversations
that we say we wanted to have
with our families.
Um, and as multi--
like you said, Colin,
like the first time
you were in a room
with other mixed-race people
was, you know,
just a few years ago.
You know, how else
are we gonna find each other?
(Laughing)
You know?
There's like, um--
I've often referred to this.
Like, at York University
there was two
Chinese Students Associations,
two Black Student Association,
the Jewish Students Association
was like, massive.
They had like,
two washrooms--
(Laughing)
--in their office.
But there was no
Mixed-race Student Association.
Which, um, you know,
I was a part of leading
for a good while.
And you know, it's--
There isn't just like a,
you know, mixed hub--
(Laughing)
--of hang-outs to go to.
Like, there's a Spanish speaking
cultural centre
in your neighbourhood,
for instance.
Right? So, it was really
responding to a need,
um, to create those spaces
for ourselves.
And um, Mixed in the Six
was cofounded by myself
and Haan Palcu-Chang
after we met in 2016.
And yeah, we just wanted
to create and produce events
that would bring people
together.
Um, create friendships,
create a sense of understanding
and cohesion amongst
mixed-race people in Toronto.
And we had a lot of fun!
Um, and then, you know,
life happened
so the two of us
got super busy
and then right when I was
starting to make plans
to start
doing events again,
um, sort of with a new,
you know, new energy,
uh, Covid hit and then, uh--
(Chuckling)
--I was like,
"Let's do a podcast!"
So, the podcast
is continuing our mission
which is sharing stories
and building community
with mixed folks
in Toronto.
And having conversations
and learning from one another.
Because you know,
I think, uh,
like, sort of Richard
alluded to earlier, I'm--
Just because we're mixed,
we're not experts on being mixed
but we can become more
compassionate and aware
by hearing people's stories
and listening.
And um, really getting--
getting what other people
have been through,
and seeing the similarities
and differences.
And um, that's what
the podcast and the community
to me is all about,
is learning.
COLIN:
Well, we have to wrap up
our conversation,
but I'd like to ask
both of you--
and maybe Richard,
you can start us off--
just, I guess
what you've learned
about the mixed-race
experience
since you started
this project,
uh, however many moons ago.
RICHARD:
Yeah, I mean, I think if I was
to think of one thing,
it would be that uh,
being mixed is, uh,
is not just one thing.
Um, people change
how they racially identify
through the course
of their life,
through where they're
geographically located.
There's just so many factors in
I guess creating that identity.
For example, like,
if I was back in a small town,
I would be, probably
100% identify myself as Black,
versus, you know,
living in Toronto
I can safely identify as
a multi-racial Black person
because, I don't know,
it's just--
it's a different landscape.
It's not, uh,
hopefully as polarized but it
also depends on where you are,
even in Toronto,
and you might change
how you racially identify.
So, I think that is really
interesting that, you know,
not everyone thinks
of themselves as Black
or as mixed-race, or as--
There's a gamut
of experiences.
I mean, there's a lot of,
let's say light-skinned
Black people who will--
or light-skinned Black people
who are mixed-race
who will completely identify
purely as Black
and there's no conversation
beyond that.
Um, and then there's people
who might look really dark
and describe themselves
as mixed.
So, it really is a gamut
of experiences.
COLIN:
What about you, Gina?
(Gina giggling)
GINA:
Oh, so what have I learned?
Um, well,
everything Richard said.
(Laughing)
And um, that you know...
I think that it's okay
to not have all the answers
about, you know,
about having--
about my own identity.
I mean, that's something
that's ways developing,
as Richard said.
And then, also, for me,
letting--
sitting with the discomfort
of not knowing all the answers
about race and identity
and multi-racial history
um, and letting that
drive me forward to be, uh,
more curious of how we can
just make change, right?
And I think I sometimes
struggle a bit
with being sort of this face
of this, you know,
little organization.
It's not really
an organization.
We're really just
a community,
but um, that I need
to have all the answers
about how to, like,
solve racism.
(Laughing)
Which, I know, is like--
I'm like,
where am I getting this?
But I think what I'm trying
to say is that being--
being in this position
and being multi-racial,
we have this
really cool opportunity
to be a bridge between
our different heritages.
Between like, white and
racialized white, and Black.
And I think that if we want to,
this is an opportunity
to, to make an impact
to share our stories
and be a part of, um,
creating a,
like, documented history
of what mixed-race
identity is.
And I think, you know, Richard
beautifully did with his film
and there's other films
being created now
and even with like,
the many podcasts,
ours included,
we're able to step into
this confusion of being mixed
but make it into something
beautiful and educational
where other people will be able
to learn from--
from the things that, uh,
that we share.
COLIN:
Well, is there anything
you guys would like to plug?
Any projects that
you're working on?
Uh, where can people
find you?
RICHARD:
Uh, people can find me
at RichardBPierre.com
and yeah, I got a lot
of projects on the go
but I know
the clock is tickin'
so I'll just say go
to RichardBPierre.com
and check it out.
GINA:
Yeah, and uh,
it'd be probably best
just to follow us
on Instagram, or Facebook.
Mixed in the Six, and Six
is spelled with an S-I-X.
We also have a Patreon
for our bonus episodes
for the podcast.
Uh, Patreon.com/MixedintheSix
and then you can catch
the podcast by the same name
on Spotify, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you like.
COLIN:
Great.
Well thanks so much, guys.
I really appreciate
you joining me today.
GINA:
Thanks for having us.
RICHARD:
Thank you.
(Theme music playing)
COLIN:
That was Richard Pierre,
director of
What Are You?
and Gina Marie, the founder
of Mixed in the Six.
You know, something we talked
about was that Oprah interview
with Meghan Markle and
Prince Harry about a month ago.
And, you know,
Meghan talked about just how
someone in the royal family
was voicing concerns
over what their child's skin
tone was gonna look like.
How did you react to that part
of their interview?
NAM:
I wasn't surprised, but I mean,
it says something that you're
concerned about the colour
of the child instead of is
the child going to be healthy?
Is the mother
going to be healthy?
You'd think
those are the things
that should be
at the front of your mind,
but you know, as a child,
some of my family rejected me
because of how fair my skin was
and that I had blue eyes,
which have morphed
into something else.
Um, but yeah. I had an auntie
who would call me Devil.
So, if there are these,
you know--
I wish we could talk more
about how, uh--
I wish we could talk more
about that stuff.
You know, um,
it's not surprising.
I think there are stories
upon stories about that.
COLIN:
Yeah, I guess I was pretty lucky
'cause, you know,
when I was born, uh,
my mother said to the nurse,
you know,
"His skin is yellow,"
and she thought, well,
maybe it's his skin colour.
He's Black.
Maybe it's his skin colour.
It's like,
"No, he actually has jaundice."
(Nam chuckling)
NAM:
Sorry to laugh.
COLIN:
"No, no, no, he's mixed!
It's just his skin tone--"
"No, it's jaundice."
(Chuckling)
I was fine, of course.
NAM:
Right? And it's a learn--
I guess it's like
a learning curve, right?
COLIN:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
NAM:
Because again, you know,
I've had people ask me, "Where
did you get your eyes from?"
I'm like, I don't know!
Why are you--
I feel interrogated.
I didn't steal them.
I was born with these eyes!
(Laughing)
So, um, yeah, but I mean,
now you look fine.
COLIN:
Well, thank you, yes.
Well, I've tried--
I've aged okay, I guess.
But you know,
growing up for me,
it wasn't such a concern
the way I looked
in terms of people thinking,
"Oh, is he too light
or is he too dark?"
And I think that's just
because I was, you know,
very lucky to grow up
with two very loving parents,
uh, very loving family.
Grew up in a very diverse
neighbourhood, you know?
So, I was, yeah.
Like I said, just kind of
privileged in that respect.
But I wondered,
you know, from--
because you have
two children,
and you know,
I just wondered, you know,
in terms of having conversations
about race,
what's it like talking to them
about that?
NAM:
Uh, we've been having
these conversations
since they were very small,
and one day
my daughter said, um,
"I'm white.
And you're white
"and my brother is brown
and so is my dad."
And I sat down with her
and we had a conversation
and she didn't understand.
You know, she's like,
"My skin is, you know, fair."
She identified as
what her skin colour was.
Uh, so we've been talking
about those conversations
and you know,
even with my brother,
she'll look
at my brother and say,
"Well, he's not Black.
He's brown."
COLIN:
Mmm.
NAM:
And for kids,
this stuff is really--
I always tell my kids that
they're smarter than adults.
Like, when we become adults,
we just become so, um--
So many things bare us down
and we don't have the same
kind of curiosity as children.
And she complains as she--
There's no crayon
that matches her skin colour
or her brother's.
Um, so I talk about
where we're from,
about our culture,
about our ethnic background.
I tell her that we have family
from East Africa,
family from Wales,
Scotland, and Ghana,
and she should be proud of all
of those, uh, backgrounds
and all
of those ethnicities,
because they made her
who she is.
So, we don't-- I don't shy away
from talking about it.
I've talked to them
about Black Lives Matter,
I've talked to them
about, um, you know,
celebrating their cultures,
about names.
So, I feel like
information is power.
And I also don't know--
I wanna talk about.
We keep hearing that
"it's uncomfortable
to talk about race"
and it makes me crazy!
Why is it uncomfortable?
We should be talking--
Yes, race is
a social construct,
but we should be talking
about the diversity
of different cultures.
We should celebrate that.
And we should have those
difficult conversations.
If it's a difficult
conversation of, um,
understanding that
people with darker skin
get treated differently
than people with lighter skin,
have that conversation.
I've had that conversation
with my kids.
And said, you know,
you have, uh, privilege--
and I hate saying
"light-skinned privilege"
'cause it sounds so gross--
but that's essentially
what it's called, you know.
Because you have
lighter skin,
you're not going to be
treated the same way
as your cousins
who have darker skin.
I want them
to be aware of that
and I want them
to push back on that.
Um, and kids want
to know these things.
And if we push it away,
you know,
what are we telling them?
COLIN:
Why do you think it's gross?
NAM:
Because it's saying--
it's elevating, uh, a skin
colour as being above others.
I understand
the idea behind it
and that's why I tell my kids
that because you have--
your skin is lighter, you are
going to be treated differently.
People are going to be,
or not gonna be--
Even when you look in
the systems, systemically,
um, you're not going
to face the same--
Even, like,
I'll talk about hair.
Simple thing as hair.
My daughter has very fine hair
and it's very long,
and part of it is blond.
People are always talking about,
"Oh, her hair is amazing.
"She's got good hair."
"Good hair"?
What do you mean?
And then her cousin
who is the same age as her
has thick, afro hair, and they
don't say the same thing to her.
Kids notice those things
and they become self-conscious
of those things.
And so, you're elevating
one thing above another.
Why are you doing that,
you know?
So, that's why I don't-- when we
say "light-skinned privilege"
it just kinda
makes me cringe.
Um, I think there's a way
of explaining what's happening
without saying
"light-skinned privilege".
It sounds like you're--
you're better because
you have light skin.
And I know that's how
you're treated in society,
but I don't know if that's
what we should call it.
COLIN:
Actually, you just
reminded me of something.
When I was a kid, I said
I grew up pretty privileged
but I actually, uh, for a while,
maybe a year or so,
I called my dad, who's Black,
by his first name.
NAM:
Ooh.
COLIN:
And, uh--
NAM:
And you're still alive?
(Both laughing)
COLIN:
Yes, my parents
still kept me around,
even though I was
very disrespectful.
And I think, you know,
I think at the time
what I said to them was "because
he doesn't look like me"
or "he doesn't have
the same skin colour as me".
Now,
I eventually grew out of it,
but it was just something,
you know,
kids are very literal,
you know?
Like you've mentioned
with your daughter
and looking at the crayons.
You know, like,
when you say "black" to them,
they assume
the colour black, right?
And obviously
a lot of Black people--
you know, there are very
dark-skinned Black people
but there are a lot of
Black folks who are brown.
Like, my dad is brown,
and you're brown.
But you know, it's something
that kids are, um--
NAM:
They don't have the time for it.
They're very precise.
COLIN:
Yeah, they're very precise
and that's why
I think it's better--
I think it's good that
we live in a more, I think--
there's more information now
that there used to be.
Especially when we were kids,
you know,
I think we were kind of
like the first--
maybe part of the first
multi-racial generation
in a way, 'cause uh--
I don't know.
I don't know if there were
as many interracial families
as there is now. But certainly
back when I was growing up,
probably not as many.
Although I think I grew up in a
pretty diverse part of Toronto,
so I saw it more.
NAM:
Yeah, it's great
that we're living
during a time when
we have more information,
but I also worry 'cause
people keep saying that,
you know, the more people
from different backgrounds,
the more they have kids of,
you know, different backgrounds,
like mixed ethnicity,
then racism will be solved.
And it's not that simple,
I don't think,
because I think people will
find something to, you know--
Maybe if you have
brown hair and blue eyes,
then you're not as special
as somebody who has--
There's always something,
but I think we have to talk
about these things
and we have to stop saying
they're uncomfortable.
They're there and you and I,
we are both light-skinned.
And I'm sure--
I know when I travel to
certain places, I can blend in.
Um, and I don't feel
as stressed out
as being
in certain environments
than my relatives
with darker skin.
Because they can't just,
you know,
pull their hair back
and pretend not to be, you know,
pretend not to be Black
in order to feel safe.
So, that's unfair.
And that's why I have those
conversations with my kids,
because this is
how the world is shaped.
And hopefully it will change,
but by not talking about it,
it doesn't
make it go away,
and we all should be celebrating
who we are as people.
I know it sounds simplistic,
but I'm not--
I grew up a lot as a kid,
I was very ashamed
of who I was
because I didn't fit in
anywhere,
and so I don't want my kids
to have those same experiences.
(Theme music playing)
COLIN:
And that's the podcast.
You can watch
What Are You?
on TVO.org.
NAM:
While you're here, why not give
us a rating on Apple Podcasts
and tell a friend
about us?
It helps new listeners
to find the show.
COLIN:
You can follow me on Twitter
@ColinEllis81.
NAM:
And you can follow me @namshine,
all one word.
COLIN:
Thanks to producer and editor
Matthew O'Mara,
senior producer
Katie O'Connor,
production
support coordinators
Nikki Ashworth
and Jonathan Halliwell,
and executive producer
Laurie Few.
NAM:
Thanks so much for listening
and we'll catch you
at the next screening.
(Theme music playing)

Watch: Documenting the mixed-race experience