Mixed Origins and Liminal Space
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
• By Erikka Goslin Cahill •
MIXED is a safe space for individuals who identify as mixed race, multiracial, or biracial to explore complex identity and the unique experiences of being mixed race. The group is intended to serve as a community where mixed race identity is seen and affirmed.
“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood” Audre Lorde, 1984
I realized something about my anxiety in writing this blog post. I was worried that it wouldn’t be scholarly enough, not professional enough, not important, long, deep, or authentic enough. It struck me that part of my experience as a mixed race person is exactly that: not being enough of any one thing. The fear of inadequacy is relatable no matter one’s racial identity. However, the experience of being somewhere in the middle, neither here nor there, ambiguous, reinforces the question of “being enough” and does feel like a part of my mixed identity, perpetually on the periphery.
Growing up in a predominantly white area I knew from a young age that I was seen as other. The questions I got in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s like “What are you?” morphed into the more seemingly well-intentioned “Where are you from?” in the following decades. One time someone joined me on an elevator and instead of greeting me or just staying quiet, decided to guess various ethnicities at me until stopping and saying “Okay, I give up, where are you from?”
The idea for this group arose from a need to practice putting language to the experience of being mixed. It originated out of connecting with a colleague, my then-individual supervisor, in a way that allowed me to feel known and fully heard. As I shared more of myself clinically and personally with her in our weekly supervision meetings, we each became aware of the overlapping and diverging experiences we both brought into the room—some informed by both of us being mixed, some not. A large part of the clinical dyad and collegial relationship that formed included storytelling, sharing ideas and experiences, and learning how to take up space, vocalize thoughts and form narratives around what it means to be mixed and how to understand it. We came to realize with more clarity that we each had our own wish for a shared space for mixed people to occupy together.
We identified the need for a place where we could reflect our differences, our shared experiences speak truth and hold nuance. We talked about fears of whiteness becoming centered or the group reflecting a class homogeneity. As we developed ideas for creating a mixed group we faced dilemmas about what to call it. What meanings are attached to using the word “mixed” to describe someone’s racial identity? What does the (re)claiming of this term signify? Where does legitimacy derive from? We reflected on the experience of spanning boundaries, existing simultaneously on both sides of a border, the idea of constantly occupying and living in a liminal space. Grieving and celebrating.
Mixed race identity is layered by a multiplicity of other intersections of identities. I am interested in the intersectionality piece of mixed race identities and how they interact with our queerness, class, gender, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation and geographic location. “Social location” is the idea of situating oneself concretely and historically in social structures that inform what groups one belongs to. I believe that social location is a vital practice of any group that aims to honestly connect and draw meaning. There is power in being able to articulate what facets of your identity mean to you and which parts you deny in service of others.
Let us explore the experiences of loneliness, ambivalence, isolation and also celebration, connection and resilience. Part of the work is also looking at ancestral connection and disconnection, memory of, curiosity about, psychological and emotional distance from or closeness to homeland(s). Let us deconstruct and understand power dynamics in our complicated histories of colonization and look at how that informs enactments or repetitions in current and past relationships.
Opening up about various racialized experiences and history with my colleague, I experienced more and more of myself reflected back and we both knew that continuing this work in a group format felt exciting, challenging and necessary.
“That is how I learned that if I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive” Audre Lorde, 1982
Erikka Goslin Cahill, MSS, LSW and Sarah Yang Mumma, LCSW facilitate a weekly psychotherapy group called MIXED at Walnut Psychotherapy Center in Philadelphia. To inquire about joining the group, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-563-7863.