The Washington Post is venturing out with a new podcast titled “Other: Mixed Race in America,” created by Alex Laughlin, a half-Korean, half-White journalist, and podcaster who says she identifies “as Mixed race and Hapa.”
“Other: Mixed Race in America” begins Monday, May 1, and continues through the week. The podcasts will also be available after the week has ended.
As Alex states in the introduction to her series:
There’s this literary theory called the “mulatto canary in the coal mine.”
It holds that the treatment and depictions of mixed-race people in art and culture is a reflection of the broader state of race relations in America at that moment … These multiracial characters, their very bodies providing evidence of racial lines crossed, are marked by confusion and betrayal, jealousy and cowardice, and most frequently, a tragic ending.
Well, it’s 2017 – 50 years since the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision … [and] it’s been legal to cross these racial lines for five decades now, almost two full generations. What does it mean to be mixed race in America today?
I’m a half-Korean, half-white woman who grew up all over the country. I’ve lived in places where I was the whitest kid in my class, and other places where my dry cleaner asked if I spoke English. I only speak the most elementary Korean, and I haven’t been back to Korea since I was a toddler. I grew up the darkest cousin, going to family reunions full of blond people in Kansas. By the time I was 3, I knew to explain to strangers why I looked the way I did: “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m half Korean.”
When I meet other multiracial people, I get excited … it’s something familiar you see in each other. That brief moment of recognition is what I wanted to investigate with this podcast.
I’ve spent the last year talking to people about what it means to them to be mixed race. The answers have been as diverse as the people I spoke with.
“Other: Mixed Race in America” is not meant to pain the definitive portrait of mixedness in America … but I do hope that the stories we tell will inform and enrich the conversation about what it means to live in America today.
Alex graciously Took Time From Her Busy Schedule to Share Some Insights with the Multiracial Media Community About Her Podcast Other: Mixed Race in America
Q: What is the most important thing about being Mixed in your life?
A: I would say that for me, being mixed offers are fascinating perspective through which to read intersectional issues of race, class, gender and sexuality. Because I don’t fit cleanly into a box, it helps me empathize with those who similarly don’t fit into other categorizations, which I appreciate.
Q: Why was it important for you to explore Mixed identity “beyond Black and White?”
A: In the simplest terms, it was important for me to explore race beyond black and white because I am neither black nor white. I found myself repeatedly participating in conversations about race that framed it in a binary, and I think those frameworks are destructive and reductive. Opening up the conversation to encompass a spectrum of identities creates more space for people to exist in their natural states, rather than trying to fit into one camp or another.
Q: Can you describe the process of getting the Washington Post to agree to do the series Other: Mixed Race in America?
A: I took a few months to research (find my resources here) and then wrote up a proposal for my editors at the Post. Once it was approved by them, I worked with an editor on the National desk to create a demo episode to present to the top editors and get their final sign-off. After that it was just a matter of reporting out the stories and crafting the tape into a final product.
Q: Why did you choose a podcast for your format?
A: I’ve always been a huge fan of audio and of podcasts. I’ve produced my own independent podcast, The Ladycast, for a couple of years now, but I was hungry for the new challenge that a narrative podcast would present.
Q: How did you select your participants?
A: My interviewees are a mix of public figures, subject matter experts, and people who just have interesting stories. For the latter group, it was really a matter of trying to talk to as many people as I could, and sorting through them to find the best, most interesting stories.
Q: Which topics do you explore in the podcast?
A: I explore a wide range of topics from fetishization to seeing yourself represented in pop culture. The stories are funny and heartbreaking and intimate, and they range from present tense to things that happened in the late 19th century.
Q: What did you learn that surprised you most in the process?
A: The biggest surprise I learned was that Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for Japanese-American internment during World War II, didn’t actually include the words “Japan” or “Japanese.” I thought that was so fascinating, and so telling about how our country has used obtuse language to push forward regressive policies.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the Mixed community today?
A: There are so many challenges that are specific to smaller groups and individuals, so I would never try to speak for the community as a whole. I will say though that I think it’s important for all of us to recognize the wider communities we belong to, and try to remember to contribute to them as aggressively as we do our more niche, mixed communities.
Q: What do you want your listeners to take away from the podcasts?
A: I hope that listeners come away from the podcast with an empathy for the nuanced experiences there are out there. It’s impossible for me to represent every type of experience, but I do hope that the stories I tell inspire listeners to look within themselves and find ways they can identify with the subjects in some way.
Q: Logistics–when and where are the podcasts available and will people be able to access them after the first week of May?
A: The podcast is five episodes long, and a new episode will publish every day for a week starting May 1. You can subscribe on RadioPublic, Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you get your podcasts. The podcasts will be available on the feeds after that, as well, for maximum bingeability.
Illustration by Chris Kindred for The Washington Post’s new podcast, Other: Mixed Race in America