Challenging racism in social work through Multiracial Attunement

By Gina Miranda Samuels and Kelly Faye Jackson

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Gina Samuels (l), podcast logo with sound waves, and Kelly Faye Jackson (r)

The first episode of the UChicago Crown Family School Podcast, "Challenging racism in social work through Multiracial Attunement," was presented by Crown Family School Associate Professor Gina Miranda Samuels and Arizona State University Associate Professor Kelly Faye Jackson.

Samuels and Jackson are two social work academics who are also black multiracial. They discuss their book, Multiracial Cultural Attunement, and the enduring challenges of publishing scholarship about mixed race persons and families within social work, where "race" is often treated as an uncontested, fixed, and singular status or identity. They will also introduce and define monoracism and moncentricity and explore social constructions of race and mixed race rooted in white supremacy. Listeners will hear about their own life experiences, how mixed-race people and families are "erased" or pathologized both in society and academic research, and how data on mixed race people is gathered, displayed, and used – or not used. Finally, they pose a challenge to the social work profession: that preparing the next generation of social workers to dismantle systems of racism requires disrupting the monoracism within our field's engagement of race in research, theory and practice. Motown the dog makes a cameo appearance.

We'd like to thank Augusta Read Thomas, University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music and the College, who composed the music.

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Listen and subscribe on Libsyn, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher.


Announcer: Welcome to the UChicago Crown Family School Podcast, presented by the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Join our faculty and their colleagues as they take a deep dive into the fields of social work, policy, and practice. In this first episode, Crown Family School Associate Professor Gina Miranda Samuels will be joined by Kelly Faye Jackson, an Associate Professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work. They'll discuss their recent book, Multiracial Cultural Attunement.

Gina: So welcome, everyone, to this podcast. My name is Gina Miranda Samuels, and I’m an associate professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. I’m also an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. I have spent I guess probably decades now writing, teaching, and thinking and training about issues of mixed race that exist primarily in child welfare contexts.

I explore questions about loss, and building kinship and belonging after forced and facilitated displacements from home through adoption, foster care, and more recently homelessness. And I also come to these issues as a transracially adopted black mixed race woman and have drawn from these personal experiences to anchor my practice of social work teaching and research. And it is my great honor and privilege to be here with my good friend and colleague and coauthor, Kelly Faye Jackson. So Kelly, do you want to say something about yourself?

Kelly: Yes. Thank you, Gina, for that entry point. So my name is Kelly Faye Jackson. I’m an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. I, like Gina, also study multiracial identity development.

Specifically, I mainly use qualitative and constructivist methods of practice to research and understand these experiences. And I’ve been doing it for a while now, so we were able to find each other and join in our efforts to move our profession more towards understanding the experiences of multiracial people, so it’s good.

Gina: Well, thanks, Kelly, for doing this with me. So this is about our book—“Multiracial Cultural Attunement.” And I think to give folks a sense of the arc of our conversation I thought what might be good is just to give a little bit of context about why our partnership, how that happened, and why this book, and why now, even though we had been talking about doing a book for a long time.

And along with this conversation to talk a little bit about how we think about this particular moment in time, both broadly, globally, and also specifically in social work as we see increasing calls for antiracist social work praxis, anti-oppressive practice, how do we think about the positionality of mixed race-ness in that conversation, and how do we move outside of a discussion of mixed race that oftentimes centers whiteness, whereas in our work I think we try really hard to decenter whiteness, to critique white supremacy, and so to think about what’s a new way of thinking about these issues as anchored and deeply relevant to antiracist conversations that are happening now at an increasing pace.

So maybe we can talk, Kelly, a little bit about sharing like how did we…how we came together on this book.

Kelly: Yeah.

Gina: For me I guess a lot of the genesis of it came through our struggle of writing that paper on…I think then we were calling it multicultural attunement. I don’t even remember what we were calling it then, but at that time trying to really challenge the idea of cultural competency as a deeply problematic concept just generally, and then …how singularly focused our conversations in our field have been around pan ethnic groups of single race and totally ignoring mixed race.

Kelly: Yes. So I’m gonna go way back to 2007, when I got my assistant professor position here at Arizona State, and just sitting down for the first time at my desk and computer and just being like oh my gosh, here I am—where are the other scholars in social work doing this work? And, you know, I used Google to search—so I found your name.

Gina: Yes.

Kelly: Find out where you were, read your work. And then reached out to you via email. So at the time I reached out to you and you were very open to connecting with me. And then we got the radical idea to write an article.

Gina: [Laughs.]

Kelly: And send it to “Social Work,” which is our profession’s premier journal. And boy, was it a process, Gina.

Gina: Yeah, I so, I so remember that. And I think our first submission we got it back and thought it was rejected.

Kelly: Right.

Gina: But was also so—we were—I think we were both so stunned by that that we wrote back to them.

…so somehow through that they said no, we just want you to revise it a lot.

But, you know, just arguing about cultural competence, and trying to challenge that as a, you know, really dominant frame in our field, but not only in our field, in many of the helping fields competence remains a very powerful lexicon to understand how to bridge differences and similarities by race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, etc.

Gina: It was un…unreal. And I feel like it’s continued, Kelly.

Kelly: I mean, it has continued.

Gina: It just doesn’t…it doesn’t matter how many times both of us now are quite published, and yet…how do we gracefully engage reviewers and respect the critiques that they give and also deal with these kind of parallel processes of…of what I would call just stigma about wanting to engage issues of mixed race.

And also it’s sort of a disenfranchisement of being able to talk about it as an insider, you know. I also often wonder like in other groups would other people who are themselves representatives of a particular cultural or lived expertise be challenged in quite the same way.

Kelly: Right.

Gina: But I think sometimes those of us who live in the margins of spaces oftentimes get challenged that somehow our experience is not itself authentic or whole

Kelly: And it does take a lot out of you because it’s not only trying to justify the importance of the work and the research that you’re talking about, you know, with your participants, but it’s also kind of justifying your place within—

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: —a profession that tends to see race very singularly and continue to focus within these kind of siloed, boxed racial groups.

Gina: Right, right. Yeah, it’s just so behind. So maybe this would be a good place to sort of transition to this second domain of, you know, I’ve been wanting to use the terms monoracism and monocentricity and been trying to avoid them before we introduce them and define them. I—we both share a really strong politic of wanting to engage the topic of multiraciality from a place of the root and kind of digging up the white supremacist origins of race categories in the first place.

We made a very conscious decision to not capitalize race labels because they…they are white supremacist labels. It doesn’t mean that they’re not deeply meaningful to you and to I and to others, but that they are anchored in a…in a deeply colonialist and white supremacist system of meaning, and how do we…how do we use the lexicon that we have, but also not give it more weight than it…than it deserves.

And so one of the things that we, that I think we take up in the book quite a bit is this idea of kind of how is race constructed with an eye towards its relevance towards the idea of mixed race, and that one of the chapters that we write speaks about these ideas of race as being constructed as the idea of pure and purity, that race is understood socially to be a biological category, even though it’s not.

And that’s this idea of, of race everything is orchestrated to protect whiteness as pure, and everything else can be mixed, but whiteness has to stay pure. And that has all kinds of implications, not only for white people and for people who do not identify white, but it also has a lot of implications for the history of people who are white and something not white, particularly for black-white people, as we’ve talked about in terms of its relegation of blackness to slavery. So all of these, you know, machinations of law and social custom and norm, and violence, murder, etc. have all been at the hands of protecting whiteness as pure. And we see that even today.

Kelly: Oh, yes.

Gina: Right?

Kelly: We definitely see that today. And, you know, folks are always paying attention to the news and what’s happening with the royal family, so we have the example—

Gina: Oh, my yes.

Kelly: —of Meghan Markle and, you know, some of the racism that they encountered around their son’s skin color.

Gina: Yep.

Kelly: just tons of different examples when we think about Vice President Harris and her trip to the White House, and now critiques of her identity as a black woman and her family makeup. Yeah, it’s constant, it’s everywhere. But then you’re right, when we try to engage people in conversations to get at this complexity people really shy away from that, Gina.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: And something that I loved that you actually developed was this idea, this kind of construct of monocentricity. And think that was something that I really leaned into and learned from as a scholar 'cause it helped solidify everything that we see. So I mentioned earlier about, you know, siloed understanding of race … and also how these categories in themselves support white supremacy. And so putting all of that together you have this construct—and I was hoping, need you to talk about this construct and inform our listeners of this.

Gina: So I think the concept of monocentricity just gets at this idea that how we understand race in not only the U.S., but, I would argue, much of the West, if not the whole entire world, is that race is a singular thing, so mono meaning singular, and race.

So how that plays out is that we privilege these statuses that we’ve created—black, white, latinx, asian—all these pan ethnic categories, right, wherein within them are incredible diversity, so that’s important to say, that they themselves are mixed categories that comprise highly diverse communities, nations, cultures, etc., but that we assume these categories are single race categories, so they all sort of presume this…this singularity to them, so that we assume—so monocentricity captures that aspect of how we’ve orchestrated race, that they are, by definition, not mixed, that you don’t mix, you can’t—they’re binaries. You’re either black or white. You’re either Korean or Japanese, you’re not both. Or you’re now more recently it’s half-half, which gets into these fractional aspects, but…

So that’s part of monocentricity. But monocentricity also captures the way we think about family. And so we also assume that families are monoracial, that everybody in a family is one race, and so to know my race, if I tell you that I’m not mixed, and I tell you instead that I’m black, you assume not only that that’s my identity, how I think about myself inside, but you also assume that’s my biology, you assume that I have two parents, heterosexual parents that are black, both, that I identify black not just as a race, but that I also identify black as my culture, as my ethnicity, and all of that. So it’s like this very macro singular way of thinking about race that increasingly few people live, even for people who don’t themselves identify as mixed.

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: Most of us do not live in these deeply monocentric ways, and yet the way in which we’ve come to understand race is deeply anchored in monocentricity.

And so because of that our identities are anchored in monocentricity, the one drop rule being probably the most extreme example of ways in which social convention and law developed many, many years ago to protect slavery to be black and not slavery to be white or masters to retain white privilege. And yet many of us now have internalized that, and so that that allows blackness, for example, to be a very mixed race status, and you can look all kinds of ways and still are accepted and expected to identify as black. You cannot look all kinds of ways and be white.

Kelly: No.

Gina: It’s just not…that just don’t work out. That just does not work out.

Kelly: Not an option.

Gina: No, it’s not. And so I think, you know, when we want to talk about race in a way that’s complex I think it invites a really difficult politic because historically, because of this monocentricity, it has engaged a very binary way of understanding antiracism as having to be anti-white exclusively, which means then you can’t say mixed because mixed sort of invites a slippery slope of entrance and entrée of centering whiteness which has been true sometimes in the…in the—

Kelly: Absolutely.

Gina: —movement, you know, and I think that might be one way in which the beginning of the movements that in multiraciality and also in transracial adoption started with white parents, white mothers, in particular—

Kelly: Right.

Gina: —I think has had somewhat of a harmful legacy on those of us who are mixed race trying to re-center our identities and our politics and our concern around antiracism as not around whiteness, and protecting whiteness, and trying to be white. But I think in many communities of color that history and legacy of passing is so strong—

Kelly: So [strong].

Gina: —that we are always—[laughs]—we are always under threat of being seen as racing to that as opposed to something else.

Kelly: Yes. We’re presumed to be, as mixed black-white individuals, always in pursuit of that whiteness.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: And I think that monocentricity helped me also make sense of what I’ve always been seeing in our profession, in our curriculum and how we talk about race and identity and the term, the problematic term cultural competence, the word competence particularly, is that we continue to talk about them in these very siloed ways, like you said, and that when we’re preparing students, they’re not prepared to work with people and understand all of their complexities and their world views to be able to attune themselves to the experiences and perspectives of their clients and their families.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: So I think that’s why it was a benefit and a pleasure to have this language around what we’ve been seeing and noticing and what is to be true, particularly now in, you know, this day and age where antiracism is trending.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: You know, it’s trending, sadly on the lives of…of those black men and women who were lost. So now it’s trendy and our schools and universities have decided to commit to examining and attempting to dismantle systemic racism. So I think for…for us trying to get folks to recognize that to do so within these same monocentric understandings of race continue to perpetuate the problem.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: And again, I think I’ve talked to you about examples within my own university where it’s, you know, addressed specifically to black faculty, students and staff, these new initiatives to address particularly anti-blackness. But then as persons who are mixed race, mixed black and something else and who identify with two or more races we aren’t included in those initiatives. We aren’t…they aren’t able to reach out to us via email because how we check and indicate our different identities.

Gina: Mm-hmm.

Kelly: It’s very frustrating.

Gina: Yeah, yeah. Well, and I think, you know, when I was listening to you talk I also think the other sort of stereotype about particularly those of us who are mixed race and have white heritage as part of that mixture, there’s an assumption that our lives are just like we have the best of both worlds, and we have no racism—

Kelly: Oh, gosh.

Gina: and while I think it’s absolutely accurate that there is light skin privilege present for those of us who are lighter skinned, and it’s undeniable, and it—

Kelly: Hundred percent.

Kelly: —is out daily, and especially for those of us who operate, like you and I do, at universities that are predominantly white spaces, it of course comes with incredible advantage to not only have light skin, but also have a lot of cultural capital in whiteness in terms of—

Kelly: For sure.

Gina: —how to speak, how, you know, like our abilities to navigate things. So I say please do not misunderstand me, what I am saying.

Kelly: Hm-mmm.

Gina: Where I’m going with this. However, that does not purchase you out of racism.

Kelly: That’s it.

Gina: And so I think sometimes what ends up happening is there are these expectations that because we are light skinned, both by our white colleagues and our black colleagues, that we sort of ease around, and everything’s fine. And then all of a sudden people realize oh, but they’re not white—

Kelly: And then you get punished. They don’t like that.

Gina: No, like somehow we played a trick on them, you know, for being ourselves or something. And I think then what it also does is because our…our colleagues who are darker skin may or may not realize that actually we have too experienced racism, and, you know, I don’t necessarily go around and share all of the historical and contemporary crap that I’ve experienced daily, like wearing it on my shirt.

And so you also have to figure out like what are…what are you going to do in order to be affirmed that you actually are a person of color. And I think most people, we put this in our book, most people are really surprised to learn that the rates of racism that are reported by mixed race people are as high, and sometimes higher than people who do not identify as mixed race. And so—

Kelly: Absolutely.

Gina: —you know, all of this is very complex, and I think, you know, the degree to which our conversations in our field refuse to acknowledge a whole bunch of things, not just mixed race, but things like colorism that exist with all communities of color, which also catch—

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: —people of mixed race, but catch other people who…whose mixture is further back, but they may not—

Kelly: That’s right.

Gina: —themselves identify that way and may not connect to that kind of a…of an identity, to…to honor how they feel about their heritage and their racial ethnic positionality.

Kelly: Mm-hmm.

Gina: It is so relevant. And I feel like I certainly took a bazillion black history classes, and all these other things that anyone else might do, but it was really not until I started engaging multiracial history that I truly understood and learned at a very deep level how absolutely pathological our racial systems of meaning are.

Kelly: Absolutely.

Gina: How central people of mixed race are in those.

Gina: And how oftentimes we as people of mixed race are…are deployed and used for the best interests of other groups, but not necessarily seen as a group unto their own. And so I do continue to hope that as a field we can embrace a lot of complexity, you know, that we are able to embrace complexity around binaries that need to come down in gender, that need to come down in sexuality, that need to come down in ability, and that definitely need to come down in terms of race. And until we’re able to include that complexity as critically important, a critically important well to draw upon to help us understand the problems of even thinking about so-called pure single groups—

Kelly: Right.

Gina: —I feel like we’re just gonna keep going around in circles and swapping out one thing for another, and not really getting at the root of transforming how we understand this racial system of meaning, what we want to do with it.

Kelly: Yes.

Kelly: And how do we understand what white people, the work that white people need to do within it to dismantle how…how they’re located within that lexicon and system of meaning.

Kelly: Absolutely. I think one way to get…bring awareness to these issues and is something that we’ve done in our work, in our publications is talking about monocentricity and then also monoracism, so to know what that is, which is discrimination against multiracial individuals and families, again because they are two or more, or because they don’t fit in those boxes that we assume and presume everyone can neatly fall into. So how a lot of the discrimination that multiracial individuals and families are coming up against is in the form of this monoracism.

Gina: Yeah, yeah.

Kelly: So I had mentioned previously about these initiatives and just the fact that our university may or may not have a system that desegregates multiracial people who check two or more races so that we’re counted within our different racial affinity groups as well as a multiracial kind of group. And we don’t know if that even exists. But at the same time that’s an example of monoracism.

Gina: Mm-hmm.

Kelly: So this assumption that when you check two or more that you’re just kind of grouped into this monolithic group of mixed race people of all different racial and ethnic heritages, similar to what we do with monoracial people and grouping, but recognizing how then we lose access to our different communities, particularly our communities of color, and that we’re not included in being able to be involved in some of the more recent efforts to address systemic racism.

Gina: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, where I see monoracism also coming out is in our…in our teaching materials and publications, in research, in the ways in which we interpret what’s normal, what’s not, what’s healthy, what’s not. In identity research this just runs rampant when we talk about—

Kelly: Oh, yes.

Gina: —a strong asian identity or a strong whatever it is identity, and that, you know, the idea that it’s normal for mixed race people to be confused as monoracist, right. There’s nothing normal. We’re not born confused.

Kelly: No.

Gina: [laughs]—we live in a world that gets very confused because our existence creates a racial crisis of meaning because of the ways in which race is set up. Our appearances set up a racial crisis of meaning for other people who operate off of monocentric ways of understanding that you can eyeball somebody and know their racial heritage. So many of us don’t look like anything necessarily distinguishing or we might look like something that we’re actually not and so the “what are you” is a monoracist entrée into please identify yourself within one of the four dominant groupings for me—

Kelly: That’s it.

Gina: —so that I can feel better and then have a conversation with you, right?

Kelly: And in fact if you could identify with one of the groups that I am a member of, that’s—

Gina: That’s even better.

Kelly: —then I’ll be able to be more comfortable.

Gina: I’ll feel better that way, right? And so, you know, it’s monoracist to assume that…that children are gonna have problems because their parents don’t share the same religion, that that’s somehow normal and unavoidable, that everything has to be the same, this idea of homogamy in—

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: —families, that everybody has to share a race, a culture, a religion, an ethnicity, a sexuality, a whatever it is in order for there to be harmony, that these are categories that…that were chosen by people who were colonizing and oppressing, and they decided that these were categories that were meaningful to them—

Kelly: Right.

Gina: —not to your family.

Kelly: Nope.

Gina: Your family may have other things besides those things that are the commonalities around which you bond, and grow, and connect, and create affinity, and love, and affection.

So I think monocentricity is sort of like this way of looking at things and presuming that everything is singular. And then the racism part of it is saying that then when they’re not that that’s inferior, that it’s superior, that families where race is matching, where people who have one race, that that’s a superior, healthier, normal, natural, better way to live.

And that for anyone, either by not choice or by choice, who invites mixed race-ness or embodies mixed race-ness that that is an inferior, sad, confusing, you know, some kind of pejorative—

Kelly: Tragic.

Gina: Mm-hmm, tragic. And we have all kinds of, you know, tropes around the tragic mulatto or, you know, being a sapphire, and hyper sexualizing particularly mixed race women, but also mixed race men causes call kind of problems. So I feel like many of the things that we like to talk about in terms of undoing racism are so relevant to multiraciality and mixedness—

Kelly: Absolutely.

Gina: —but our hesitancy or whatever in not wanting to deeply engage multiraciality keeps us from actually going deeper into some of these questions that our antiracist mandate is requiring us to do.

And I just, it really frustrates me that more, you know, more of us in social work, in particular, are not comfortable, attuned, literate in being able to speak about race outside of single race categories and pan ethnic categories.

Kelly: Right. It’s very taboo to talk about it. It’s very taboo to…to publish around it.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: I just want to clarify, too, in talking about collecting data on multiracial people, there is research, guides, evidence to help universities, organizations, kind of navigate through how to properly collect data on multiracial mixed race people.

Gina: Right.

Kelly: So it’s…it’s imperative that you allow folks the option to identify with more than one racial group. In fact, it’s the law.

Gina: [Laughs.]

Kelly: But the problem that happens then is that different organizations in universities then, based on us selecting two or more races, lump us all in one—

Gina: Right, right.

Kelly: —versus recognizing the different boxes that we check.

Gina: Right.

Kelly: So in my case checking Black and then checking white, that information gets lost. And that’s the problem I think that I’m trying to hold up—

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: —in this space is that our different connections with those boxes means something to many of us.

Gina: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Kelly: And so again being very attuned to my own connection to blackness, and appreciating that connection, and also having that be a part of my identity, to have that erased and to just be grouped as this mixed race, who knows what—

Gina: What you are.

Kelly: —that means, who knows what I am is, you know, is particularly frustrating. And it also makes that feeling of being othered.

Gina: Mm-hmm.

Kelly: So you’re not—you don’t matter, you’re not counted. And then that’s particularly discouraging when there is so much that our universities should be doing in terms of antiracism.

Gina: Right.

Kelly: And then not making sure that they’re being inclusive of all their multiracial individuals—staff, students, faculty.

Gina: Right. Yeah, yeah. And I think what that doesn’t mean we’re arguing is this whole problem is solved by not paying attention to race, and not asking people about race. I think, you know, we’re in a place in our society where I’d like to hope that there’s a big chunk of us that have moved past the sort of color evasive, race evasive ways of dealing with racism.

And so a racial pandemic, a racist pandemic doesn’t get solved by let’s pretend it’s fixed and we don’t have to count. I think what you’re arguing for, Kelly, is instead to challenge those people whose own identities, and language, and systems of meaning are so anchored in monoracism that, and monocentricity that they can’t even go through the inconvenience of thinking through the tricky math and the not so tricky math of how do we now portray this data in a way that’s true to the data and then just resort back to the simplicity of single race, you know, categories. You know, it’s just like to me I see that as laziness. It’s like intellectual laziness and, worse yet, a kind of oppression. It’s a statistical—

Kelly: Absolutely.

Gina: —oppression and use of privilege because there are oftentimes not people that are gonna advocate for no, let’s actually report because being…being asian, Korean and Native American—multiracial—is different than being, I don’t know, whatever else, black and Mexican multiracial.

Kelly: Right.

Gina: Those are not the same. Those are not the same.

Kelly: Nope. Nope, and we—

Gina: And so—

Kelly: —know that. We know that to be true.

Gina: I have opinions about where that comes from, but it comes from someplace, and it does not honor individual agency and right to be self-determining racially. And is another measure of the ways in which, you know, you do…you do get a choice, but you don’t get a choice.

Kelly: That’s it.

Gina: —being mixed or being anything you kind of get a little bit of a choice, but it’s within these incredible constraints.

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: And even when you do get a choice there are layers beyond you that then undo sometimes those choices, which I think for me goes back to the point of what does it mean to actually have personal agency and rights and that mixed race people oftentimes are not seen as legitimate.

And so much of our identity paths are that. And I think we write a lot about that in the book…

Kelly: We do.

Gina: And…and how do we affirm so many—such diversity of our readership and all the paths that people are gonna be coming from when they get to our book. How do we affirm that that, all of that is legitimate, because it’s real, because they exist, you know, like if you exist you’re real, and you’re legitimate, and you’re not half a person, or a third, a third, a third or something like that.

Gina: You’re a fractional person. And so, how do we honor that people have a right, over the course of their lifetime, to try on labels, to choose, to decide not to care about a wing of their family system or their heritage.

And that while people are gonna have opinions about that and judgment about that, that hopefully those…those small d decisions and big D decisions over the course of a life affirm a person and their ability to access communities of support and healing—as you said earlier, counter spaces, places where people can sort of hold out the silence of the dominant world, the dominant voice to come together in community for mutual aid and for support and for thinking radically.

Kelly: Yes. I got that term from you, too, Gina, counter spaces.

Gina: [Laughs.] Well, I didn’t develop that. That’s a—

Kelly: I know.

Gina: Case and Hunter talk about that. And for anybody who’s interested, it’s I think a useful language I’ve found for nearly every population that I am interested in.

But anyway, a counter space is a place where you are able to go and be with people who share a really core identity that outside that space is oppressed, but in this space you share with them.

Kelly: That’s it.

Gina: So you can hear their stories. I remember the first time I went to…when I was collecting data for my dissertation I was interviewing people who were black-white mixed race and transracially adopted, and there was a social for professionals in Chicago. And I was like what, you mean me and those in my study aren’t the only ones? And I remember—

Kelly: Wow.

Gina: —walking in and it was the first time in my life—and I was in my mid-30s—it was the first time in my life where I was in a room of everybody in that room was black-white mixed race and transracially adopted.

Kelly: Oh, my gosh.

Gina: And I remember just kind of it caught my breath. I’m like this is…I’m not sure what I think of this. I realized in that moment how use I…used to I was to…to not being in a space where pretty much anybody had…had any clue of any part of that, my race experience or my family experience. And those are such—

Kelly: Wow.

Gina: —core, fundamental aspects. And so, you know, I had met other people who were like me, but not in a whole room. And so it was a little odd. And everybody got to taking…telling their stories. And then you start realizing you’re not so special. [Laughs.]

Kelly: [Laughs.]

Gina: So there was a little grieving involved in that…in that process. But that was truly my first meeting in a counter space of where, you know, you didn’t even have to finish your sentence and people were like oh, girl, please. You know, yes, yes.

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: That happened to me and here’s my version of that. And you just think wow, this is like...this is really a thing. Like living in this in between space is a thing. As is much I love my being in community with my black colleagues and friends and family—

Kelly: That’s it.

Gina: —and all of that, that too is a community for me. But this is also a community for me.

Kelly: That’s right.

Gina: And…and the idea that I have to choose one or that my being in this…in this new weird space at my…in my 30s somehow undid my relationship or I thought it was better than, no. It was just, it was another space that I could, just like moms get together, dads get together, people get together who have kids and—

Kelly: That’s right.

Gina: —and affirm that, and that doesn’t undo other spaces that they’re in. So I just think all of us need to find a way to talk in a much more complex context-driven way. And for me the study of multiraciality and our book “Multiracial Cultural Attunement” has really been a counter space for me, for you, for us, and I think for others.

So maybe we can transition to talking about what are we hoping this is gonna do.

Gina: What are you hoping that our book, either what do you already know, you know, that our book is doing and what are you hoping for it?

Kelly: So I think it’s hard to talk about our book kind of coming out because it hit at a really sad time in terms of the…the country with the coronavirus, and then in the summer with the murder of George Floyd—

Gina: Right.

Kelly: —and Breonna Taylor. So I think the potential of it is even more so now, but when it first—

Gina: Right.

Kelly: —kind of came out it felt difficult to kind of promote, to, you know, think through. I think we were all just overwhelmed and I think, you know, in many ways still am—

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: —with everything that we’re dealing with. But initially my hope was to help prepare social workers, to really, truly prepare social workers to work more responsibly with multiracial individuals and families.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: To, instead of just hash-tagging a trendy topic or saying that they’re antiracist or any of those other memes that…that folks like to put out there regarding social work and social justice, to actually do it. And I think for me that’s what our book represents, is this is what it takes to actually do all those things that you claim to want to and be able to do. And when I say “you” I’m talking about our profession in general and…and, you know, thinking through about how we really do address systemic racism within our profession itself. And it starts by how we educate our future social work, social workers and how we think through race more complexly.

So I think ultimately what I was hoping for—and I’ve said this to you before—is that multiracial individuals and families have a tool that they could give to their social workers and to other helping professionals that they’re working with and say, “read this.” If you truly want to engage with me and understand more about my perspective, read this, understand this, meet me here. You and I have personally talked about working with and seeing therapists ourselves and how difficult it is to…to find therapists who actually understand the importance of racial identity and how it impacts and, I don’t know, just enhances our experiences that may lead us or bring us to a therapist.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: So it’s not that a racial identity is the reason that we’re seeking therapy, but how it also shapes and frames the problems or issues that we’re experiencing is important, so wanting them to do that.

Gina: Yeah.

Kelly: So for me it was that book that I wish, you know, my therapist would have read to be able to better understand—

Gina: [Laughs.]

Kelly: —[my] situation, right? Like come on.

Gina: We became our own therapists.

Kelly: That’s it, that’s it.

Gina: Writing this book. Yeah, I totally agree. And I feel like, ah, I feel like also our engagement of this in our book was not to engage a topic. Like this isn’t a book about a topic.

Kelly: No.

Gina: This is not going to be a New York Times bestseller, probably.

Kelly: [Laughs.]

Gina: I am completely okay with that.

Kelly: Oh!

Gina: You know, and I…yay for people who have those. So this is not a statement to pathologize that. But it is a statement to demarcate that you and I engage this not as a topic, which most of the things that are written about mixed race oftentimes are about topics, are topical. And instead that this was meant to be a gift to a larger community that both of us feel a part of. This was meant to be sort of a testimony of survival as social workers, as people who have been raised by social workers, so—

Kelly: That’s it.

Gina: —multigenerational social workers, and a gift to our profession. But also a plea to our profession to really, what does it mean to really take these issues seriously. What does it mean to bring a historical, an ecological perspective to our…our engagement of our social work values and ethics.

And so, you know, the whole book isn’t a history on multiraciality, but we have a chapter in it. The whole book is not about research, but research is throughout it as we are engaging. And I think, we really prioritize trying to be practical around what does it really mean—

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: —to not be monoracist, and what…how do you…how does that oftentimes show up in the context, even when people of color are engaging mixed race people and mixed race families, be they by adoption or by birth, how do these things oftentimes happen on the ground—

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: Even though we have a chapter on theory, because that’s important as social workers.

Kelly: [Laughs.]

Gina: But, you know, like how do you talk through with people, as a social worker and have a critical multiracial attunement? What does that really mean to have a critical multiracial attunement when you are engaging life course theory, or intersectionality, how would you do that with an attunement towards mixed race and hold both the everything we got done telling you about the history and the things that we know can be very common across any mixed race family or person’s experience and attune to the individual, and that all individuals are gonna have a version of that.

And so, you know, our push towards attunement is just to me so important because it gets us outside of this idea that just because of your so-called heritage or biology that you can know then that something about a person’s identity, and you just can’t. And that’s not true just for mixed race people, it’s true for everyone.

And so I guess my hope is also that people see in our…in our book the…the bridges and the threads of relevance for working with anyone, that this is, you know, we really centered and prioritize some of the common and often unarticulated or hidden dynamics that happen in our communities and our families, but that many of the same things happen in everyone’s communities, and everyone’s families. So, you know, to really be clear about that these are…these are simultaneously shared experiences among so-called mixed race, multiracial people who identify this way and they are human experiences and problems that happen because we live in a society that racializes.

And anybody who’s a part of that, which is everyone, can probably see themselves, their families, their personal networks, their friends, their neighbors in what we’re talking about. And so I also hope that in our field we don’t sort of bracket off oh, this is just for mixed race people. It’s like no, no. Mixed race people are part of non-mixed race families intergenerationally.

And so just the direction we’re going in our…in our world, it’s not gonna be something out there that some person down the end of the block is doing. It’s…it’s in your family. It’s probably already in your family. And I…and I do hope that…that our field takes this up not just because it’s our book and I love it, but because it’s a topic that’s really important, and it’s a population that is here that we are doing harm to.

Kelly: Yes.

Gina: That we need to include in our thinking about antiracism and what that really looks like in a way that is socially just for everyone.

Announcer: We'd like to thank, Augusta Read Thomas, UChicagoUniversity Professor in the Department of Music, who composing the music. If you would like to learn more about the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, please visit us at