5006 Multiracial Families—A Growing Experience

Presenter: Matt Kelley, founder of MAVIN Foundation

Reported by KokHeong McNaughton; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

This workshop, one of 23 sponsored by the General Assembly (GA) Planning Committee, was brought to GA through the hard work of the newly-formed MultiRac Caucus of the Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM).

MultiRac, which stands for Multi-racial, was formed about a year ago to meet the needs of a significant and growing population within our Unitarian Universalist (UU) movement—those who self-identify as multi-racial, multi-ethnic, or multi-cultural, and who cannot simply "check one box" for ethnic identity except for "other" in a survey form. According to American Mainline Religions , a collection of surveys published twenty years ago, 25% of those UUs who responded to the survey identified themselves as multi-racial. The number is growing as we are seeing in the general population.

Catie Chi Olson, co-chair of MultiRac (with Kelli Eng and Esther Rosado) introduced Matt Kelly as the founder of MAVIN Foundation. As a 19-year-old freshman at Wesleyan College, Kelly founded MAVIN Magazine for the Mixed Race Experience. This initial seed to establish connections with others of mixed heritage has since grown into a Foundation in the year 2000. MAVIN is the nation's leading organization that builds healthy communities that celebrate and empower mixed heritage people and families. This is achieved through continuing and expanding the publication of MAVIN Magazine, through additional community outreach and educational projects including the MatchMaker Bone Marrow Donor project, the Multiracial Child Resource Book project, and the recently-released documentary film "Chasing Daybreak," a documentary film about a mixed-race crew (calling themselves Generation MIX) as they traverse the continent to raise awareness about mixed heritage issues.

Kelly is a bi-racial child of a white father and a Korean mother. When he was contacted about coming to speak to us at our GA, he looked us up on the Internet to find out more. A rapport was established right away between Kelly and his audience after he told a few UU jokes. He has also solicited inputs from people of color through some of our email lists before coming here. Having arrived at GA a day early, Kelly was able to attend the DRUUMM meeting and has experienced first hand some of the moving testimonials shared by people of color with one another. As an outsider looking into our faith, he was able to bring subjectivity to his presentation.

His story of growing up unaware of his race until the first day of public school is one shared by many people of color. In his case, a girl across the aisle from him in the school bus told him, "You are black and you have purple eyes." She gave him a racial identity and his first taste of what "being different" felt like.

As a bi-racial child, he straddled the racial divide: not fully accepted in either one of the two racial identity groups of his parents. The most frequently asked question directed at him is, "What are you?", which he would receive on a daily basis. It is as if some people cannot continue with their day until they know his racial identity. Another common question directed at people of color is "Where are you from?" followed immediately by an incredulous "Where are you REALLY from?" when given a straightforward answer. And for the mothers of bi-racial children with lighter skin colors, another common and annoying question is, "Are you the Nanny?"

As an outsider looking in, Kelly asked some tough questions. Why is it that when we say we are inclusive, our denomination includes only 2% people of color, which is far less racially diverse than the general population? Why do we remain economically less diverse than many mainline denominations? What are the barriers that continue to maintain this disproportionate representation?

Having attended the DRUUMM meeting, talked to UU youth and young adults of colors and corresponded with many UUs online, Kelly was able to offer some of his observations which include marginalization; dismissal of expressed hurts and pains as complaints, over-reactions, and simple misunderstandings; tokenism; dignities being assaulted; racial and ethnic identities being questioned; personal experiences being minimized, and lack of affirmation and respect. He has also observed tears of humiliation and typical symptoms of trauma.

But what we are facing as a denomination struggling to become multiracial and multicultural is not unusual. Kelly recommended us as the gate-keepers with the role of counter balancing the prevalent hatefulness in the larger world. In this endeavor, he sees himself with a critical role to play amongst UUs and hopes to further our relationship.