Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog


August 21, 2016

August 21, 2016




Black August,

a story of African

freedom fighters

black august 01

by Kiilu Nyasha 


Black August is a month of great significance for Africans throughout the diaspora, but particularly here in the U.S., where it originated. “August,” as Mumia Abu-Jamal noted, “is a month of meaning … of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice, of repression and righteous rebellion, of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.”

On this 37th anniversary of Black August, first organized to honor our fallen freedom fighters, George and Jonathan Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, William Christmas and the sole survivor of the Aug. 7, 1970, Courthouse Slave Rebellion, Ruchell Cinque Magee, it is still a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical fitness and/or training in martial arts, resistance and spiritual renewal.

The concept, Black August, grew out of the need to expose to the light of day the glorious and heroic deeds of those African women and men who recognized and struggled against the injustices heaped upon people of color on a daily basis in America.

One cannot tell the story of Black August without first providing the reader with a brief glimpse of the “Black Movement” behind California prison walls in the ‘60s, led by George Jackson and W.L. Nolen, among others.

As Jackson wrote: “(W)hen I was accused of robbing a gas station of $70, I accepted a deal … but when time came for sentencing, they tossed me into the penitentiary with one to life. It was 1960. I was 18 years old. … I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me. For the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas. I met Black guerrillas George ‘Big Jake’ Lewis and James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas, Tony Gibson and many, many others. We attempted to transform the Black criminal mentality into a Black revolutionary mentality. As a result, each of us has been subject to years of the most vicious reactionary violence by the state. Our mortality rate is almost what you would expect to find in a history of Dachau. Three of us [Nolen, Sweet Jugs Miller, and Cleve Edwards] were murdered several months ago [Jan. 13, 1969] by a pig shooting from thirty feet above their heads with a military rifle” (“Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson”).

When the brothers first demanded the killer guard be tried for murder, they were rebuffed. Upon their insistence, the administration held a kangaroo court and three days later returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide.”

Shortly afterward, a white guard was found beaten to death and thrown from a tier. Six days later, three prisoners were accused of murder, and became known as The Soledad Brothers.

“I am being tried in court right now with two other brothers. John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo, for the alleged slaying of a prison guard. This charge carries an automatic death penalty for me. I can’t get life. I already have it.”

The concept, Black August, grew out
of the need to expose to the light of
day the glorious and heroic deeds of
those African women and men who
recognized and struggled against the
injustices heaped upon people of
color on a daily basis in America.

On Aug. 7, 1970, just a few days after George was transferred to San Quentin, his younger brother, Jonathan Jackson, 17, invaded Marin County Courthouse single-handed, with a satchel full of handguns, an assault rifle and a shotgun hidden under his raincoat.

“Freeze,” he commanded as he tossed guns to William Christmas, James McClain, and Ruchell Magee.

Magee was on the witness stand testifying for McClain, on trial for assaulting a prison guard in the wake of an officer’s murder of another Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley, beaten and tear-gassed to death in his cell.

Ruchell Magee, George and Jonathan Jackson – Art: Kiilu Nyasha

Ruchell Magee, George and Jonathan Jackson – Art: Kiilu Nyasha

A jailhouse lawyer, Magee had deluged the courts with petitions for seven years contesting his illegal conviction in ‘63. The courts had refused to listen, so Magee seized the hour and joined the guerrillas as they took the judge, prosecutor and three jurors hostage to a waiting van. To reporters gathering quickly outside the courthouse, Jonathan shouted, “You can take our pictures. We are the revolutionaries!”

Operating with courage and calm even their enemies had to respect, the four Black freedom fighters commandeered their hostages out of the courthouse without a hitch. The plan was to use the hostages to take over a radio station to broadcast the racist, murderous prison conditions and demand the immediate release of the Soledad Brothers.

Before Jonathan could drive the van out of the parking lot, the San Quentin guards arrived and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, Jonathan, Christmas, McClain and the judge lay dead. Magee was wounded and lay unconscious, the prosecutor was seriously wounded, and one juror suffered a minor arm wound.

Magee survived his wounds and was tried originally with co-defendant Angela Davis. Their trials were later severed and Davis was eventually acquitted of all charges.

Magee was convicted of simple kidnap (acquitted of the more serious kidnap for ransom charge) and remains in prison to date – 2016 – 53 years with no physical assaults on his record.

An incredible jailhouse lawyer, Magee has been responsible for countless prisoners being released – the main reason he was kept for nearly 20 years in one lockup after another. His expert lawyering got himself out of the Pelican Bay SHU in 1994. He is currently at Lancaster and remains strong and determined to win his freedom and that of all oppressed peoples.

An incredible jailhouse lawyer,
Magee has been responsible for
countless prisoners being
released – the main reason he
was kept for nearly 20 years in
one lockup after another.

In Jackson’s second book, “Blood in My Eye,” published posthumously, George noted: “Reformism is an old story in Amerika. There have been depressions and socio-economic political crises throughout the period that marked the formation of the present upper-class ruling circle, and their controlling elites. But the parties of the left were too committed to reformism to exploit their revolutionary potential. … Fascism has temporarily succeeded under the guise of reform.”

Those words ring even truer today as we witness a form of fascism that has replaced gas ovens with executions and torture chambers – plantations with prison industrial complexes deployed in rural white communities to perpetuate white supremacy and Black-Brown slavery.

The concentration of wealth at the top is worse than ever; individuals are so rich their wealth exceeds the total budgets of numerous nations – as they plunder the globe in their quest for more.

“The fascist must expand to live. Consequently, he has pushed his frontiers to the farthest lands and peoples. … I’m going to bust my heart trying to stop these smug, degenerate, primitive, omnivorous, uncivil – and anyone who would aid me, I embrace you.”

“International capitalism cannot be destroyed without the extremes of struggle … We are the only ones … who can get at the monster’s heart without subjecting the world to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical role to act out if we will. The whole world for all time in the future will love us and remember us as the righteous people who made it possible for the world to live on. … I don’t want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand different brands of untruth, and licentious, usurious economics” (“Soledad Brother”).

On Aug. 21, 1971, after numerous failed attempts on his life, the state finally succeeded in assassinating George Jackson, then field marshall of the Black Panther Party, in what was described by prison officials as an escape attempt, in which Jackson allegedly smuggled a gun into San Quentin in a wig. That feat was proven impossible, and evidence subsequently suggested a setup designed by prison officials to eliminate Jackson once and for all.

On Aug. 21, 1971, after numerous
failed attempts on his life, the
state finally succeeded in
assassinating George Jackson.

However, they didn’t count on losing any of their own in the process. On that fateful day, three notoriously racist prison guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed. Jackson was shot and killed by guards as he drew fire away from the other prisoners in the Adjustment Center (lockup) of San Quentin.

Hugo L.A. Pinell as a young man – Art: Kiilu Nyasha

Hugo L.A. Pinell as a young man – Art: Kiilu Nyasha

Subsequently, six AC prisoners were singled out and put on trial – wearing 30 pounds of chains in Marin County Courthouse – for various charges of murder and assault: Fleeta Drumgo, David Johnson, Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi), Luis Talamantez, Johnny Spain and Willie Sundiata Tate.

Only one was convicted of murder, Johnny Spain. The others were either acquitted or convicted of assault. Pinell was the only one kept in prison – for a total of 51 years, over 45 suffering prolonged torture in solitary confinement lockups, the last 24 in Pelican Bay’s SHU, a torture chamber if ever there was one.

A true warrior, Pinell would put his life on the line to defend his fellow captives when he was in general population, would die rather than betray a comrade and was an incredible role model for fellow prisoners. He gave so much love to others, myself included.

As decades passed, our Black scholars, like Mumia Abu-Jamal, shared their knowledge of other liberation moves that happened in Black August.

For example, the first and only armed revolution whereby Africans freed themselves from chattel slavery commenced on Aug. 21, 1791, in Haiti. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion began on Aug. 21, 1831, and Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad started in August.

As Mumia stated, “Their sacrifice, their despair, their determination and their blood has painted the month Black for all time.”

As decades passed, our Black scholars,
like Mumia Abu-Jamal, shared their
knowledge of other liberation moves
that happened in Black August.

Let us honor our martyred freedom fighters this Black August. As George Jackson counseled: “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.”


Kiilu Nyasha, Black Panther veteran and revolutionary journalist, hosts the TV talk show Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, broadcast live on San Francisco Channels 29 and 76, and blogs at The Official Website of Kiilu Nyasha, where episodes of Freedom are archived. She can be reached at




August 21, 2016

August 21, 2016



“Blood in My Eye”

45 years later

wit’ David Johnson

of the San Quentin 6


The People’s Minister of Information JR interviews David Johnson of the San Quentin 6 about the 45th anniversary since the publishing of the political masterpiece “Blood in My Eye” in relation to the 45th anniversary of the assassination of the late great prison human rights leader and Field Marshall of the Black Panther Party George L. Jackson.


We talked about the George Jackson and Che Guevara’s concept of the New Man, as well as the chapter in the book that deals with after the revolution has failed. We talked about some of the teachings of the great Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, his thoughts in regards to what’s going on in the streets today, and more. Tune into









‪#‎BlackAugust‬ – Stokely Carmichael, the Trinidadian-American activist, was one of the most prominent figures in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an ‘Honorary Prime Minister’ of the Black Panther Party, and a leader of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.

Carmichael was elected the national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in May, 1966. But by this time, he had lost faith in the non-violent ideals of Martin Luther King Jr. and radicalized as he began propagating the doctrines of Malcolm X and the importance of “Black Power.” The term that quickly became popular among the young black radicals at the time. Internationally too, “Black Power” became a slogan of resistance against the European imperialism in Africa.

“When you talk of black power, you talk of building a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created.”

Via teleSUR English








AUG. 26, 2016

AUG. 26, 2016



The Next Keystone?

Protesters Try to Stop

Another Huge

Oil Pipeline.

The standoff is getting bigger.


Peg Hunter/Flickr

Peg Hunter/Flickr

Tensions continue to rise over the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (known also as the Bakken Pipeline), a proposed 1,172-mile project currently under construction. Demonstrations over the pipeline, which will travel from North Dakota’s northwest Bakken region to southern Illinois, have grown steadily over the last few weeks. As many as 4,000 people have reportedly joined the Standing Rock Sioux in protesting the pipeline, which is slated to travel beneath sacred Native lands and cross under the Missouri River, the region’s main source of drinking water. The protesters have gathered along the border of the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, blocking the construction site. (Read Mother Jones‘ report on the pipeline here.)

On Monday, according to the Bismarck Tribune, Greg Wilz, Division Director of Homeland Security, ordered the removal of the state-owned water tanks and trailers that had been providing the protesters with drinking water. Wilz attributed the decision to alleged criminal activity—specifically two complaints of laser pointers being shined in the eyes of pilots of surveillance aircraft monitoring the protest. “Based on the scenario down there, we don’t believe that equipment is secure,” he said. The supplies were provided last week by the North Dakota Department of Health at the request of the tribe.

Authorities in North Dakota have now arrested 29 protesters in the last two weeks, including the tribal chairman. A federal judge will rule by September 9 on the injunction filed by the Standing Rock Sioux to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Pipeline protesters—including actors Shailene Woodley and Susan Sarandon—have also gathered in New York and Washington, DC. Woodley has been protesting the pipeline for weeks, documenting the peaceful nature of the Standing Rock demonstration in North Dakota on her Twitter page before returning to DC for the rally, which took place Wednesday outside a federal court building where challenges to the permits were being heard.

dakota 02
Environmentalist Bill McKibben also weighed in on the pipeline with an article published Monday. Indigenous populations like the Standing Rock Sioux “have been the vanguard of the movement to slow down climate change,” wrote McKibben.

Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a press release of his own on Thursday, condemning the pipeline and upholding the grassroots efforts to stop it. “Regardless of the court’s decision, the Dakota Access pipeline must be stopped,” he wrote. “As a nation, our job is to break our addiction to fossil fuels, not increase our dependence on oil. I join with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many tribal nations fighting this dangerous pipeline.”





August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016




All Mixed Up:

What Do We Call

People Of Multiple




In a country where the share of multiracial children has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years, it's a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me. Jeannie Phan for NPR

In a country where the share of multiracial children has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years, it’s a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me.
Jeannie Phan for NPR

It’s the summer of 1998 and I’m at the mall with my mom and my sister Anna, who has just turned 5. I’m 7. Anna and I are cranky from being too hot, then too cold, then too bored. We keep touching things we are not supposed to touch, and by the time Mom drags us to the register, the cashier seems a little on edge.

“They’re mixed, aren’t they?” she says. “I can tell by the hair.”

Mom doesn’t smile, and Mom always smiles. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.

Later, in the kitchen, there is a conversation.

Children aren't ice cream cones, Mom says. Could an ice cream cone wear sunglasses? Courtesy of the Donnella Family

Children aren’t ice cream cones, Mom says. Could an ice cream cone wear sunglasses?
Courtesy of the Donnella Family

“Children aren’t ice cream,” Mom tells us. She’s smashing chickpeas on the counter. Anna and I shove Doritos into our mouths, sensing trouble. Falafel is a classic Donnella-family tension dinner. “You’re not some chocolate-vanilla swirl cone,” Mom says. “You’re human children.”

Mixed, I now understand, is an insult. Things are mixed, not people.

Dad was the bearded black guy who coached our basketball teams growing up. Courtesy of the Donnella family

Dad was the bearded black guy who coached our basketball teams growing up.
Courtesy of the Donnella family

For the next decade or so, I proceed to not think of myself as mixed. Fortunately, my hometown is small enough that I almost never have to explain my background — everyone knows my parents. Dad is the bearded black guy who speaks softly and coaches Little League, and Mom is the bespectacled white lady who explains things passionately and organizes the Hebrew school carpool.

When I get to college, I tack up a photo of Mom and Dad in my dorm room, show up to Office of Black Student Affairs and Hillel events in equal measure, and let my friends do the math. “Mixed” is not in my vocabulary. I hear it in passing, but shrug it off like any casual slur.

When “What are you?” does come up — via strangers at the gym, on the bus, in Taco Bell — I take a deep breath and dive in. “Well, my mother’s paternal grandmother emigrated to the U.S. from what would now be called Ukraine,” I begin, to the dismay of everyone involved.

I’m thrilled to pieces when my little boo from Degrassi makes it big and I can finally say, “You know Drake? I’m like him.”

I get through grade school and college assuming polite society agrees with my mom, that calling someone “mixed” is dehumanizing and intrusive. But at work one day, I see a copy of a book called Mixed Me! floating around. It’s by dreamboat actor Taye Diggs, who is black and had a kid with Idina Menzel (aka Queen Elsa from Frozen), who is white. I’m shocked to see that word in big crayon letters scrawled across the cover of a kids’ book.

Fashion designer Sonia Smith-Kang sits with actor Taye Diggs as he reads his book, Mixed Me, to children in Los Angeles in 2015. Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Mixed Up Clothing Inc.

Fashion designer Sonia Smith-Kang sits with actor Taye Diggs as he reads his book, Mixed Me, to children in Los Angeles in 2015.
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Mixed Up Clothing Inc.

I point it out to my teammates on Code Switch — folks who traverse the very frontiers of race, culture and ethnicity for a living — expecting an outpouring of finely worded indignation. To my surprise, no one cares.

Stuff like this keeps happening. A co-worker talks about the adorableness of “mixed” babies. A multiracial friend posts an article about dating as a “mixed” girl on Tinder. I come across a line of hair-care products at Target called Mixed Chicks, and even I have to admit it’s a catchier name than “shampoo for women with ancestry from multiple parts of the world whose hair isn’t traditionally catered to in mainstream beauty products.”

I don’t want to start throwing around pejoratives willy-nilly, but it would be nice to have a single-syllable answer the next time someone asks, “What are you?”

But first, I need answers. Is “mixed” a slur, or what? Where does it come from? Who is it for?

More broadly, who gets to decide which words work and which are verboten? There are very few spaces left in America where calling someone a “mulatto” wouldn’t elicit some serious side-eye, but for a long time, the word mulatto, like Negro or Oriental, was largely a nonissue.

So what makes one term fall out of favor, and another take off? In a country where the share of multiracial children has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years, it may be a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me.

A diversity of terms

I start digging into the history of that vocabulary, over time and around the world. It turns out we’ve had a dizzying multitude of monikers, many of which are offensive. Skip ahead if you want to avoid some of the worst — otherwise, here we go: muwalladeen, mulattos, mestizos, mestiҫos, blended, biracial, interracial, multiracial, multiethnic, gray, high yellow, half-breed, mixed-breed, cross-breed, mutt, mongrel, mixed blood, mixed race, mixed heritage, quadroon, octoroon, hapa, pardo, sambo, half-cracker but a nigger, too.

In early Rome, we were di colore, “of color.” In Japan, we are mostly called hāfu (half) but sometimes we get to be daburu (double). We were half-castes in the U.K. until 2001 (2001!), when the census officially deemed us “mixed.”

In South Africa, we are coloured, officially, and unofficial “bushies,” a slang term that comes from the idea that multiracial children are conceived in the bush.

In Brazil, where multiraciality is assumed, the options are colorful: cor de canelacor de rosacor de cremacor de burro quando foge (the color of a donkey as it runs away).

In the United States, when it comes to describing — or even acknowledging — people who identify with more than one race or ethnicity, the official track record is spotty.

In 1790, the first-ever decennial U.S. Census survey asked each head of household to enumerate the free white males, free white females, “other free persons,” and slaves living on his property. The “other” category was murky. Some people who weren’t considered monoracial may have been marked under “other free persons,” but there’s no way of knowing how many, or what their makeup was.

In 1850, things got a little more explicit. The U.S. Census Bureau rolled out two new racial categories: “B” for black and “M” for mulatto, a term for someone with one black and one white parent that became sort of a catch-all for anyone perceived as racially ambiguous, including many Native Americans.

As for white folks, they didn’t have to answer the race question at all; they were considered the default.

An 1860s pamphlet published, supposedly, by abolitionists encouraging black and white people to get together and procreate. U.S. Archives

An 1860s pamphlet published, supposedly, by abolitionists encouraging black and white people to get together and procreate.
U.S. Archives

At the start of the American Civil War in 1861, “amalgamation” was the word of choice for describing cross-racial canoodling. Then, in 1863, the word “miscegenation” came along. It was first used in a pamphlet published, supposedly, by abolitionists encouraging black and white people to get together and get procreating.

The pamphlet praised diversity as one of America’s greatest strengths, and it suggested that the country’s triumphs were achieved not only by its “Anglo-Saxon progenitors, but from all the different nationalities.”

If that sounds unbelievably progressive, it was. The pamphlet was a hoax, put out by anti-war Democrats hoping to trick the public into believing that President Lincoln, who was running for re-election, had a secret plan to “solve America’s ‘race problem’ with a campaign of interracial sexual relations that would create a new ‘American race,'” as race studies scholar Philip Kadish puts it.

In some ways, the “miscegenation” hoax didn’t work; Lincoln was re-elected, and slavery officially ended in 1865. But the term lived on as states passed anti-miscegenation laws barring interracial marriage, and “became the foundational justification for the Jim Crow segregation that followed,” writes Kadish. “With its hoax origin forgotten, ‘miscegenation’s’ scientific connotation — and the fact that it has the same prefix as ‘mistake’ or ‘misbegotten’ — planted the notion that races represented different species that should be separated.”

As this perverse origin story makes clear, when it comes to the words we use to describe race, it’s important to know the history. While miscegenation is by no means considered a neutral word today, very few people know just how laden it is. Unpacking the history of these terms can help us better understand how Americans felt about racial mixing in the past — and to identify any lingering skittishness we may have inherited.

As demographics change,
language falls behind

Today, I have the option of selecting more than one race on my Census form, if I want. But that choice is still very new: until the 2000 survey, Americans had to pick just one.

In the past, Census surveys introduced — and later dropped — terms like “quadroon” (someone with one black and three white grandparents) and “octoroon” (someone with one black great-grandparent), but that did nothing for someone with, say, a Chinese mother and Latino father.

These surveys offer a window into how government officials thought about race in the U.S. over the years, but the language that normal people use in their daily lives, and the identities they embody, have always been far more complex.

So the next time you find yourself rolling your eyes at people who insist on shouting from the mountaintops that they’re a quarter this, half that, a dash of the other, keep in mind that for decades, they had very limited options.

That started to change in the mid-20th century, in the wake of Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that officially legalized interracial marriage. The Loving decision overturned a trial judge’s opinion, written in 1958, that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard P. Loving, are shown on Jan. 26, 1965. In 1967, the ruling in the Lovings' Supreme Court case officially legalized interracial marriage. AP

Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard P. Loving, are shown on Jan. 26, 1965. In 1967, the ruling in the Lovings’ Supreme Court case officially legalized interracial marriage.

A surge of scholarship, personal writing, activism and community organizing around these issues was bubbling up alongside Loving. These writers, activists and scholars had to choose how to describe themselves and their communities. For some, existing words felt unsatisfying, so they invented new ones. For example, a 1979 graduate dissertation by Christine Iijima Hall, then a researcher at University of California, Los Angeles, appears to be the first influential usage of the word “multiracial” for describing people with blended ancestries.

“This dissertation explored the lives of a particular multiracial/multicultural group,” she wrote in the abstract, defining “multiracial” as “being of two or more races.”

By most accounts, little scholarly research had been done about these identities before Hall’s paper, in which she profiled 30 people with black American fathers and Japanese mothers. (Hall’s own parents are black and Japanese.) There was even less scholarship about people whose backgrounds didn’t involve whiteness.

What little did exist, Hall says, tended to cast people like her in a negative light. She points to Everett Stonequist, a sociologist who in 1935 referred to mixed-race people as “marginal men … poised in psychological uncertainty between two or more social worlds,” their souls reflecting “the discords and harmonies, repulsions and attractions of these worlds.”

(That sort of characterization wasn’t exactly shocking — the “tragic mulatto” trope was almost a hundred years old by the time Stonequist wrote about it.)

Hall’s subjects didn’t seem to suffer such internal discord. They didn’t necessarily agree about what to call themselves — they variously identified as “Afro-American,” “Japanese,” “Black-Japanese” and “other” — but overall, Hall found, “all felt happy and lucky” to be who they were.

Hall’s use of “multiracial” as an umbrella term for describing individuals started leaking into popular culture. G. Reginald Daniel, a leading scholar on issues of multicultural identity and a sociology professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, says Hall’s dissertation was one of the first instances in which the word “multiracial” was used to describe an individual, rather than a larger group or a society as a whole. He first heard it used that way in public by a panelist on The Phil Donahue Show in the early ’80s, and thought: “Wow, that’s interesting. I like the sound of it.” Later, Daniel and his colleagues began to incorporate “multiracial” into their own work.

‘Multiracial’ or ‘mixed’?

In light of Hall’s paper, “multiracial” was adopted by several advocacy groups springing up around the country, some of which felt the term neutralized the uncomfortable connotations of a competing term in use at that point: “mixed.”

In English, people have been using the word “mixed” to describe racial identity for at least 200 years, like this 1864 British study claiming that “no mixed races can subsist in humanity,” or this 1812 “Monthly Retrospect of Politics” that tallies the number of slaves — “either Africans or of a mixed race” — in a particular neighborhood.

Steven Riley, the curator of a multiracial research websitecites the year 1661 as the first “mixed-race milestone” in North America, when the Maryland colony forbade “racial admixture” between English women and Negro slaves.

But while “mixed” had an established pedigree by the mid-20th century, it wasn’t uncontroversial. To many, “mixed” invited associations like “mixed up,” “mixed company” and “mixed signals,” all of which reinforced existing stereotypes of “mixed” people as confused, untrustworthy or defective. It also had ties to animal breeding — “mixed” dogs and horses were the foil to pure-breeds and thoroughbreds.

Mixed “evokes identity crisis” to some, says Teresa Willams-León, author of The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans and a professor of Asian American Studies at California State University. “It becomes the antithesis to pure.”

By the 1980s, some of those made uneasy by “mixed” had a welcome alternative in Hall’s “multiracial.” But others felt “multiracial” was still better for describing groups, not individuals. “Sometimes, when people hear multiracial, they think of a multiracial society,” says Williams-León, one in which “there are blacks, there are Latinos, there are Asian-Americans, and we all live together.” Mixed, in this line of thinking, avoided that confusion.

Biracial is, of course, another widely used term. It began showing up regularly in scientific papers in the 1970s, often referring to communities with both black and white members. But because of the specificity of “bi,” meaning two, some argued that “biracial” was too limited a term.

President Obama speaks at the Presidential Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders on Aug. 3 in Washington, D.C. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama speaks at the Presidential Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders on Aug. 3 in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Consensus remained elusive, and competing terms existed side-by-side. In Chicago, the Biracial Family Network(BFN) was founded in 1980. In 1986, a similar group founded halfway across the country called itself Multiracial Americans of Southern California. Influential books on the subject include Paul Spickard’s Mixed Blood, published in 1989, and Maria Root’s The Multiracial Experience and Naomi Zack’s American Mixed Race, both of which came out in 1995. (As did Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, ushering in what one researcher called a “multiracial memoir boom.”)

Then there’s the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies, which debuted in 2011, and is the first major academic publication to focus on mixed-race identity. Lest you think naming the publication was easy, editor G. Reginald Daniel, the U.C. Santa Barbara professor, included a lengthy note in the first volume explaining the many factors that went into calling it the Journal of Mixed Race Studies, rather than Journal of Multiracial Studies, or Journal of Mixed-Race Studies or Journal of ‘Mixed’ Race Studies.

Ultimately, the publishers went with “Mixed Race” in the title, but it’s not the only term you’ll see in any given volume. “We accommodate the terms mixed race and multiracial interchangeably in the journal,” Daniel wrote, “since both are widely used in the field of mixed race/multiracial studies and consciousness, as well as in the public imagination.”

Embracing fluidity

Today, “mixed race” seems to have won out in academic writing. A Google Scholar search for that term results in 2.5 million results. Results for “biracial” and “multiracial” combined offer up about half that. But the debate continues, inside and outside the ivory tower.

Some resist any terminology for multiracial people, period. “All this talk is disturbing,” says Rainier Spencer, director of the Afro-American Studies Program at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and self-professed racial skeptic. “What drives my antagonism is that people are coming in and saying, ‘We’re new, we’re different, we are the answer to race problems in America,'” says Spencer. “Population mixture has been going on for hundreds of years. Calling people ‘mixed’ erases the history of race in the U.S.”

The history of race and the weight of science, some might say. According to the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, “Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past.” So discussions of “mixedness” are even trickier, because they inherently rely on cultural, not scientific, understandings of race.

Sharon H. Chang is an activist and author of the new book Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World. She also runs social media for the Critical Mixed Race Studies team, which was founded through DePaul University. In her writing, Chang tends to use “mixed race” and “multiracial” interchangeably, but in regular conversation, when someone asks her about her background, she says “I’m mixed.” She used both in the title of her book to convey that there are ongoing conversations about terminology and what it means at any given time.

That sort of linguistic fluidity is common, says Andrew Jolivette, an activist and chair of the American Indian Studies Department at San Francisco State University. Jolivette says there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to describing someone’s racial identity. He recommends simply asking someone what they prefer, “because we all have different experiences,” he says. “I don’t think we should create universal truths for everybody. Everybody’s experience is different, even if we’re the same mix.”

Drake performs as part of the Summer Sixteen Tour at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 5 in New York City. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Drake performs as part of the Summer Sixteen Tour at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 5 in New York City.
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

But let’s be real: When it comes to how people describe themselves, most of us are more likely to take cues from celebrities and public figures than from painstakingly titled scholarly journals. RihannaDrakeKey and Peele and Shemar Moore have all used the term “biracial” to self-identify. Barack Obama, ever tongue-in-cheek, likes to throw around mongrel and muttSlash, Nicole Richie and Trevor Noah have used “mixed.” Author Mat Johnson, whose 2015 novel Loving Day centers heavily on mixed race identity, has reclaimed “mulatto” as his identifier of choice.

Some don’t use any of those words, choosing instead to describe their specific ethnic makeup, like Olivia Munn, who has spoken about being connected to multiple parts of East Asia, or Yawna Allen, a tennis player who’s Quapaw, Cherokee, Euchee, white and black.

Actress Olivia Munn arrives on the red carpet for the Oscars on Feb. 28. Munn has spoken about being connected to multiple parts of East Asia. Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Actress Olivia Munn arrives on the red carpet for the Oscars on Feb. 28. Munn has spoken about being connected to multiple parts of East Asia.
Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Others just choose one identity and stick with it, like Melissa Harris-Perry, who acknowledges her white mother but identifies as straight-up African-American. In fact, according to Pew Social Trends, 61 percent of adults with a mixed racial background don’t consider themselves multiracial.

Lots of people adjust how they describe themselves according to the situation. Even Christine Iijima Hall, the pioneer scholar who popularized the term “multiracial,” doesn’t have a uniform answer for the question “What are you?” Hall says she often introduces herself in terms of her specific lineage, but it all depends on context.

“In an African-American group, I would say, ‘I am mixed’ or ‘My mother was Japanese,'” Hall says. “I don’t need to say the African-American part because most African-Americans know I am part black.” But that changes in different groups, and has changed over time.

The language we use is also distinctly regional. In places like California and Hawaii, with relatively high rates of multiracial folk (nearly 4 percent and 23 percent, respectively,) “mixed” gets tossed around pretty casually. In much of the rest of the country, where the rate hovers around 2 percent, the vocabulary seems to still be in flux. It’s also dependent on the particular racial makeup of a place — as we’ve seen, there’s a long, well-documented history of how black and white multiracial folks have been identified, but the same can’t be said for other combinations.

“People make their individual solutions,” says Naomi Zack, a pioneer in the study of multiracialism. “They talk about it. They change their identities. They go with the path of least resistance for what identity they pick up. Or they live in places where not as much emphasis is put on racial identity.” Maria Root, one of the founding mothers of mixed-race studies, created a multiracial “Bill of Rights,” which includes the right to create and change one’s identity across time and place.

This episode from a multimedia project called “Evoking the Mulatto” is a good example of young people grappling with how they identify as well as how they are identified:

The last word

So back to my original dilemma: After all this hand-wringing, time travel and jet-setting, where do we stand on these words? Do I start calling myself “mixed”? Have I found something better? In thinking about this too much, am I becoming the tragic mixed-up mixed blood that everyone warned me about?

As with all of my small crises, I wind up calling Mom again. She is, after all, the one who started me down this rabbit hole. I tell her about my research, and in our respective kitchens, we have a conversation.

We talk about segregation, and beauty standards, and colorism. We talk about adoption. We talk about antiquated medical instruments. I remind her of that day 20 years ago in the mall, with Anna.

She tells me more stories from my childhood — like how once, when she was nursing me, someone came up and asked her, “Is that baby yours?”

I tell her my own story about the time, when I was working at McDonald’s, that a customer came up to me and said: “You look pure. Where are you from?”

We start talking about the Loving case, and she mentions something I hadn’t yet stumbled across. Yes, interracial marriage was legalized in the 1960s, she says. “When your dad and I were teenagers,” she reminds me — not ancient history. But in the same decade that law was passed, and even after, several states also passed laws to limit and in some cases ban interracial blood transfusions.

The multiracial crew: Me, Mom, and my siblings, Sarah, David, and Anna. Dad was taking the photo. Courtesy of the Donnella family

The multiracial crew: Me, Mom, and my siblings, Sarah, David, and Anna. Dad was taking the photo.
Courtesy of the Donnella family

As Mom puts it, it was considered “better for a white person to bleed to death than to be ruined by getting the blood of a black person.”

“Context matters in a really big way,” she tells me. “Why does anyone ask you, ‘What are you?’ Whose business is it? Whose right is it to do that? Strangers don’t often, or ever, come up to me and ask me ‘what’ I am or speculate about it. Someone can’t immediately put you in a box or a frame of reference, that’s their problem. It should never be yours.”

My mom asks if I’m going to include all of that. “Maybe I just want you to add these things to vindicate me,” she says, “so I don’t sound so stupid at the beginning, trying to encapsulate for my 5- and 7-year-olds all my feelings about race terminology in a line about ice cream cones.”

We’re both laughing when we say goodbye. Later, I turn back to my notes and realize, quietly, that I still have no answers.

But talking to my mom, doing all this research, hearing from historians who’ve devoted their entire careers to investigating these questions and still fumble when they’re asked “What are you?” — it’s had the welcome effect of allowing me to care a little less.














Commentaries, an online biannual journal founded by our colleagues at the University of St. Martin, is ready for submissions for its second edition, which will be published in December of 2016. Commentaries publishes essays, poems, visual arts (including photography and film), music, book reviews, and interviews. The deadline for submissions is October 1, 2016.

Description: Artists, writers, activists, academics, students, commentators, intellectuals, street performers, painters, photographers, videographers, musicians, and creatives are invited to submit a piece related to the theme “Multiculturalism and Belonging in the Caribbean/St. Maarten.”

Guidelines: Limit of two submissions per person. Submit a photo, a bio, and a description about your submission(s). If your work is selected, you will be notified. Please email your submission(s) to: or deliver to the executive secretary’s office at USM (with the label Commentaries on your submission envelope). You may also mail to USM, 1 Soualiga Road, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, Dutch Caribbean.

This edition will include the following:

  • 5 essays, 1500-3000 words. • 10 poems, max 500 words/per poem. • 5 photos on topic. • 5 photos of art works: paintings, drawings, installation pieces, etc. • 5 songs/music, max 5 min or 500 words. • 5 videos/short films/short documentaries on topic. • 3 book reviews of local and regional works. • 1 interview of regional author.

Requirements: Works may be submitted in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, or Papiamento; papers must be in MLA format (see word limit restrictions above); limit use of end notes; no foot notes; works must be previously unpublished; rights stay with artist; no paid submissions.

For further questions, please email the editor at or send a Whatsapp message to +1 (721) 520-0495.

For more information, see








Call for Applications:

Artists in Residency,

Africa Centre

deadline: 30 September 2016

artists in residence

Since its inception in 2011, the Africa Centre’s Artist in Residency Programme (AIR) has successfully awarded 39 African artists the chance to take up residencies across the globe.  Through continued partnerships with residency programmes in Australia, Brazil, India, Spain, China and the United States, we are proud to offer eight new residency opportunities through the 2016 edition of this programme.

Last year, we added another layer to our residency programme by launching a separate competition for seasoned, mid-late career artists, allowing them to apply for artist-in-residence positions at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy. We are delighted to announce the second installation of this competition that will award an additional five residencies for Africa’s more experienced artists.

AIR is seeking applications from high calibre African artists, in different stages of their career development (from emerging to late career), who are provocative, innovative, and are stretching the boundaries of their artistic practice.

The residencies are available to composers, fiction and non-fiction writers, playwrights, poets, video/filmmakers, curators, visual and performance artists as well as artists of other forms whose work is inspired by or relates to global or social issues and promotes the well-being of humankind.

Apply today!

The AIR partners select an artist from a short list provided by the Africa Centre, for one of their 2017 or 2018 residencies. Each residency offers a distinct structure, set of requirements and duration. The costs of the residency and round-trip airfare are included in each residency award made.

Artists interested in a Rockefeller Bellagio Center residency may read the application guidelines here for further information about this residency and the various application methods available.

Artists interested in our other residencies opportunities may read the application guidelines here for further information about the residencies and the various application methods available.

For further queries email:

Applications close on September 30th 2016.






 February 13, 2013

February 13, 2013





Nina Simone

– the Legend

For those of us coming of age in the tumultuous sixties, Nina Simone was an iconic figure of struggle and revolution. Often referred to as the High Priestess of Soul, in hindsight she now seems more like a goddess. That voice, that stage presence, that piano virtuosity, that ability to switch effortlessly between musical genres in the same set (folk, jazz, blues, pop, classical, gospel) distinguished her from her contemporaries and elevated her to a musical pantheon all her own. When Eunice Katherine Waymond (her birth name) showed up to play she wasn’t playing.

Simone provided the soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. From Mississippi Goddam, which she penned and released in 1964 in response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the murder of four little black girls in Birmingham, to To Be Young Gifted and Black (lyrics by Weldon Irvine) inspired by Lorraine Hansbury’s play and released in 1970, Simone showed a generation what it meant to be a fierce woman warrior and uncompromising artist. Her example inspired writers, poets, musicians and dancers, especially dancers. Her Four Women (1966) instantly became a rite of passage for any aspiring “black” female dancer. If you were in the US in those days, you probably sat though countless interpretations of it as I did.

Simone’s personal life also was marked by struggle. Not surprisingly, she made bad deals with record companies, got into trouble with the IRS (she faced arrest for unpaid taxes), and had her share of difficult relationships with the men in her life. The consequences for her personally and for those of us who loved her were a vastly diminished output of recordings. She also left the US and migrated to Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands before settling in the South of France. After battling breast cancer for several years, she died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône on April 21, 2003. She was 70 years young.

The documentary film provided below is based on her autobiography I Put A Spell On You.It was made in the 1990s when Simone was living in the Netherlands.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:










photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear



don’t ever grow old


don’t ever grow old, he said.


i had stood aside for the lady i assumed was his wife. with a painfully visible effort she haltingly scooted out of the narrow seat. i had told her, “take your time.” and then, with a tenuous grip on the seat back, he excruciatingly  rose and looked up at me, hesitating. i told him to go ahead. he chuckled, his eye twinkled and he advised me, don’t ever grow old. from behind me a middle-aged lady wryly intoned, what other option is there?


he slowly shuffled down the aisle, i was behind him, taking half steps so that i would not run up on his heels. once off the plane i darted around the old couple, someday i will be old like that but i hope… what do i hope? concerning growing old what hope is there?


i stopped at the kiosk where southwest airlines had complimentary orange juice and donuts. while holding down the tap to fill my cup, this guy approaches, picks up a napkin, and tries to decide what kind of donut he wants.


“you ever wonder what your life would be like if you and carol had got together?”


what? i look up but this guy is not looking at me and doesn’t even seem to be talking to me, even though i clearly heard him. how did he know about carol, about the crush i had on her in 7th grade?


“you know there is a parallel universe, another place where the path you didn’t take continues on. if you want, i can put you on that road.”


i almost spit up the juice. this time i’m sure the guy’s lips weren’t moving, yet i’m also sure i’m hearing strange things.


“but if you go, you can’t come back. you only get one chance to live again. i know you think this is a joke, but it’s not. it’s real.”


at that moment, i thought the strangest thought–what if i could be with any of the women i have ever loved, would i take it?


“i can hook you up with carol.”


i turned away and said in a low voice, no you can’t. carol died of breast cancer about a year ago.


“you’re wrong buddy, what i mean is you could rewind and have a life with carol. it wouldn’t stop her from dying but you would be there until she died and, hey, afterwards, you could marry another love, and…”


i walked away. i am on my second go-round already, i don’t have to travel back to get here. bustling forward, i mull over marrying a previous love and am forced to acknowledge donut man has a point: choosing one love over another is disconcerting.


like the summer i declined to choose jean kelly. at the time, i didn’t even know i was making a choice or, as it were, ignoring a choice i could have made. i simply basked in the moment, giving no thought to what could be. in fact, as many males do, i thought i was fortunate to be able to enjoy without being forced to choose. but then again, if i was not ready to choose, how ready would i have been to deal with the results had i made that choice? i thought about jean because even now, decades later, the residue of her unerasable tenderness continues to reside in the marrow of my being at an address deeper than bone. why couldn’t i then recognize her permanence…?


i guess that guy was trying to offer me a chance to both keep and savor two love cakes from the ingredients of one life time, or…, or maybe i’m being sentimental. i always want every love to be true and lasting; don’t we all? or am i just being male and desiring every woman i’ve every wanted? shit, life is too short and too complex to go back.


i hang a right at the newsstand where literally hundreds of glossy magazines are strung out in come-hither displays featuring all the flavors of the month, particularly the female-fleshy variety.


a security guard gives me a cursory glance. no matter how individual i believe myself to be, i’m still but one of thousands of travelers she scans every day. and then in a flash i know: the most important life choice is not who we hook up with but rather which route we trod. on the road is where we meet our mates, to go one way is to reject another. boy, i can be a philosophizing fool while walking my ass through an airport!


on the down escalator i vainly try to gather up my thoughts. few of the travelers around me look happy. are they scowling in disappointment about dead-ended routes?


the terminal doors open automatically. i step into the dallas morning sunshine, gently sit down the black briefcase that contains my laptop, unsling  my carry-on from my shoulder, and lean back against a concrete column, reprising my monthly waiting-for-my-ride routine.


mr. donut passes without even a glance in my grey-bearded direction. i’m not surprised. when you’re fixated on the past, you don’t recognize the future. on the other hand, to truly know yourself, you must recognize everything and everyone you’ve rejected or avoided.


i probably looked somewhat silly, standing there beaming my crooked-tooth smile at life’s little paradox: all the things we are is also a composite of all the things we chose not to be? is this how it feels to grow old?


—kalamu ya salaam