A project of Brooklyn Historical Society

PHOTOS: 3rd Annual What Are You?

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December 4, 2013



The 3rd Annual What Are You? event packed the house in Brooklyn Historical Society’s newly renovated Great Hall!

This year's discussion about mixed heritage had a thematic focus on art, media, and performance as avenues for engaging mixed-heritage identity and politics.

Artist Chris Johnson explained the genesis of Question Bridge: Black Males: what would it be like to listen in like a fly on the wall to conversations Black men are having with their peers? What conversations across age, class, and experience are not happening that we wish would happen? What questions do Black men have for other Black men?

Natasha Logan, a producer for Question Bridge: Black Males shared some incredible photographs from an exhibition she curated titled White Boys, highlighting the ways in which white male identity is neutralized or made invisible. 

Toasted Marshmallows is a forthcoming documentary created by Anoushka Ratnarajah and Marcelitte Failla, about mixed-race women in the U.S. They shared a clip and talked about various experiences related to mixed-ness, such as passing, experiencing racial coding, and for Anoushka as an actress: being pigeon-holed into stereotypical roles.

Alyson West and Michael David Murphy are an interracial couple who created the Tumblr site WeArethe15% to create space for representation and visibility of mixed-race families like their own. The title of their site comes from the statistic that 15% of new marriages in the U.S. are interracial (according to 2008 Census data).

Jay Smooth, host of hip-hop video blog Ill Doctrine and the WBAI show The Underground Railroad and video producer at RaceForward talked about his experiences as a mixed-race man and the significance of voice in perception of race. He parsed out the dual functions of the central question, “What Are You?” – one of which is an internal process of self-identification and growing comfortable with one’s own racial identity, and the other of which is the external assessment by an outsider asking that question to a person of mixed heritage.  Jay Smooth is a contributor to the (1)NE DROP project, which is exploring ways to challenge perceptions about what Blackness is or what it looks like.

A huge success of the evening was the dance performance by We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic, which featured Amirah Sackett and twin youth dancers, Iman and Khadijah Sifferlah, who are professionally trained hip-hop performers and b-girls. We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic performed a breathtaking dance in full niqab, drawing attention to the politics of visibility and feminism, and raising important questions about intersectional identities for mixed-heritage peoples who inhabit and perform multiple identities at once – as youth, women of color, Muslim, performers and dancers, activists and more.

Many thanks to all of you who came and participated in conversations and shared your stories and questions with Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations! And special thanks to Steven Riley, Founder of MixedRaceStudies.org, and Kenda Danowski from SWIRL and founder of NAMSO (National Association for Mixed Student Organizations) for MC'ing!



All photos by Willie Davis for Brooklyn Historical Society, 2013