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Monday, September 30, 2019

Positive Self-Talk

Keep Your Self-Talk Positive by Focusing on the Here and Now

New research shows how to overcome negative ways of talking to yourself.

As you go about your day, do you find yourself constantly keeping up your own internal monologue? Are you even aware that you’re doing this? Perhaps you’ve been “interrupted” in a lengthy conversation with yourself while walking down what you thought was an empty hallway. There you were, leaving your office or apartment, while your inner voice accidentally became your outer voice. After a few odd glances from a coworker or neighbor, you went on your way, feeling just a tad embarrassed, or worse, if your little chat with yourself was sprinkled with some R-rated vocabulary.
Putting your thoughts into actual speech that others can hear is only one consequence of being a constant internal “monologuer.” What if that inner voice contains a constant drumbeat of self-criticism? You stew for what seems like hours, if not days, over a real or possibly imagined failing or mistake. Round and round go your thoughts about how you could have acted differently in a situation such as not being “nice enough” (in your opinion) to someone you care about, or how you got the wrong answer to a question in a public situation that caused you to look uninformed. As you continue to punish yourself over this unwanted outcome, your self-esteem and mood can only take a drubbing.
There can, however, be adaptive features to self-talk, particularly the kind that is intended to help you through a tough situation. As University of Wroclaw (Poland)’s Malgorzata Sobol-Kwapinska and colleagues (2019) note, “internal conversations… may help provide coherence and meaning to life experiences” (p. 444). As you have this little self-chat, you work through your own story of a past experience from which you can benefit or learn. You might also talk to yourself in order to tell yourself what you need to do. This time of self-talk, as the Polish authors note, becomes a “meta-monitoring” in which you see how far you’re coming toward achieving an important goal. In other cases, those conversations might involve an imaginary other person such as a significant other or person you’re not sure how to speak to in a particular situation. You actively rehearse what you’re going to say when you actually see this person, and in the process, hone in on the proper words you want to use.
A key difference between an adaptive and maladaptive form of self-talk, then, seems to be its tone, and whether it’s positive or negative. Furthermore, as the Polish authors point out, your inner monologue can operate along a temporal dimension from past to future. Thus, you can revisit past positive experiences as you construct a pleasant self-narrative, or you can torment yourself over past experiences that went wrong. You could also think with dread about the future or with pleasant anticipation. Sobol-Kwapinska et al. note that negative self-talk focused on the past is particularly likely to characterize people who experience depressed mood. Negative self-talk about the future, similarly, can contribute to a sense of fatalism as you imagine that all is lost, no matter what you do. In between the past and future, of course, there’s the present. In this regard, the University of Wroclaw researcher and her coauthors suggest that taking a “Carpe Diem,” or “seize the moment” perspective could provide a remedy to people who expend their mental energy on what went wrong in the past and could go wrong in the future. As they note, “Attention on the present, combined with perceiving the current moment as valuable, reduces the frequency of mentally returning to the negative past or thinking ahead into the uncertain future” (p. 447). This present-focus can reduce “the need to hide in an internal world of imaginary persons or to escape to imaginary relationships that can supplant real-life ones” (p. 448).
Now ask yourself once again whether you’re the type of person to expend your mental energy on inner chatter, and if so, whether it's about self-blame, feelings of missed opportunities, and the conviction that all will continue to wrong in the future. If so, how could a Carpe Diem framework help you refocus your self-talk in a more positive direction?
Sobol-Kwapinska and her fellow researchers investigated whether people high in the personality trait of neuroticism would be more likely to engage in internal "dialogues" (the term they used for self-talk) of the self-critical nature, particularly regarding the past. Countering this detrimental effect on mood, the authors believed that being able to take the Carpe Diem approach could inoculate the highly neurotic from letting this negative self-talk harm their equilibrium. The sample of 113 community-residing adults ages 20 to 40 (about 50% women, average age of 26 years old) completed measures tapping neuroticism, time perspective (both positive and negative toward past and future), type of internal conversations, and that Carpe Diem mentality.
To see how you would rate on the inner self-talk measures, consider your responses to items such as “I often talk to myself” (pure dialogical activity), “I discuss with myself who I really am” (identity dialogue), and “I often beat myself up in my thoughts” (ruminative dialogues). There were also scales assessing positive self-talk such as “I like to predict what other people will say and respond to their thoughts” (taking a point of view). Time perspective questions took the form of past-positive (“I like family rituals and traditions that are regularly repeated”), past-negative (“Things rarely work out as I expected”), present hedonistic (“I often follow my heart more than my head”), and present fatalistic (“Often luck pays off better than hard work”). Finally, the future orientation scale asked questions about plans such as “It upsets me to be late for appointments.” The Carpe Diem scale asked participants to indicate their agreement with statements such as “The present is very important for me.”
The findings showed that, in general, people high in neuroticism were, as predicted, less likely to engage in the kind of inner dialogues that made them feel better. However, if they were high in the Carpe Diem mentality, their high neuroticism could be buffered so as not to produce negative self-talk. As the authors concluded, “The Carpe Diem perspective probably helps in redirecting attention away from negative internal experiences troubling the mind, and toward the external world” (pp. 455-456). Regardless of neuroticism levels, though, the Carpe Diem perspective was associated with a greater tendency to engage in supportive inner dialogues in which you talk to yourself with words of encouragement. Again, focusing on the here and now, rather than the past or future, allows you to turn your attention to “current and valuable issues” (p. 456).
To sum up, there’s no need to be concerned if your occasional mental gabbing turns into its audible version should someone catch you in the act. More concerning should be the type of self-talk that causes you to spend time focusing on what was (and can’t be changed) or what could happen in the future (and could turn out badly for you). That here-and-now approach of the Carpe Diem mentality can allow you to be as focused as you can in the moment, allowing your self-talk to help rather than hinder you in achieving your goals.
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Friday, September 6, 2019

Holding On To Life's Lessons

Appreciate Righteousness that Endures

Turning passing experiences into lasting resources.

What doesn’t endure?
The Practice:
Appreciate righteousness that endures.
So many things change. Leaves fall, friends move away, children leave home. My dad died a year ago, and my mom about ten years before that. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting older (darn, there is no fooling the mirror).
The world changes, too. Evolving technologies alter jobs and lives. Elections happen and different people take charge. New restaurants open while others close.
Experience itself is always changing, right at the front edge of now. So are the neural substrates of this moment’s experience, fleeting coalitions of millions of synapses coming into being even as they disperse, while the molecular structures of individual synapses themselves are dynamically constructing and deconstructing in the blink of an eye.
It’s kind of unsettling! Especially if things you care about are changing for the worse at any scale, from a big scratch on a table because someone dropped a plate on it (that was me a few days ago) to a factory closing to the chilling title of an article in Science magazine: “Ecological selectivity of the emerging mass extinction in the oceans.”
And yet.
All around, and under our noses, so many good things last. Recognizing them lifts the heart, and enjoying them for at least a few seconds in a row helps turn passing experiences into lasting psychological resources woven into your own brain. Which among other benefits makes you more able to deal with things that are changing for the worse.
Look around and see things you like that were here yesterday – and maybe here many years ago as well. For me writing, that includes a desk, a collage on the wall that I made a long time ago that continues to guide me, and trees and hills seen through a window. As you look around, recognize the relative stability of so many things. Sure, most if not all will pass away eventually – the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, so “in the long run” is really l-o-n-g – but for all practical purposes, there is so much lasting good literally within reach of your hands and feet right now.
As you see what lasts, take a few moments to get a sense of it’s still-being-here-for-you-ness, its reliability and trustworthiness. Allow a natural sense of reassurance, perhaps relief, to emerge. Perhaps a calming, a relaxing, a sense of the security of those things that are stable. Notice anxious doubts if they come up, and let them change and pass away, knowing that the future will be whatever it is but meanwhile whatever good that is true is really actually true right now.
Consider people in your life, and the good that’s lasting there. Friendship, goodwill toward you, your own love for others. It’s ongoing, persistent, factual. Especially if you tend toward feeling insecure in relationships, keep returning to the sense of real caring stably flowing toward you while your own compassion and kindness and decency keep extending out to others. Take in the good of this security of wholesome relatedness, receiving it into yourself like a warm soothing balm sinking into you.
Consider the good in your past. It will always have been good, even if it is here no longer. Your own accomplishments, personal disasters avoided, crazy good fun times with friends, the ripples of your own sincere efforts large and small – nothing at all can ever erase what actually happened.
How about the durable good inside you? Fair play, talents and skills, moral values, neat quirks, so much knowledge: it’s all real. Enjoy the felt recognition of it, like savoring the sight of beautiful art and gold and jewels in your own personal treasure chest.
See the durability of life itself. It’s been going on locally in our planet for at least 3.5 billion years. Things have changed and will change, and I am not trying to minimize bad changes, especially those involving human hands. Still, life will keep going in one form or another as long as the Earth keeps going (which should be at least a few more billion years, until our sun gradually expands to be a red giant, swallowing up Mercury, Venus, and us – but that’s a while from now). Each of us is a local wave in the vast sea of life rippling here and now; waves come and go but the ocean as ocean endures.
And if it’s meaningful for you as it is for me, you could recognize and enjoy whatever is not subject to arising and passing away, that which is eternal, unconditioned, transcendental, by whatever name we give it or no name at all.
Enjoy it all. The more we recognize impermanence, the more we can take refuge in the good that lasts.

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Friday, May 31, 2019

The Biracial Life

The Biracial Advantage

People of mixed race occupy a unique position in the U.S. Their experiences of both advantage and challenge may reshape how all Americans perceive race.

Photo by Celeste Sloman

One of the most vexing parts of the multiracial experience, according to many who identify as such, is being asked, "What are you?" There's never an easy answer. Even when the question is posed out of demographic interest rather than leering curiosity, you're typically forced to pick a single race from a list or to check a box marked "other."

Long before she grew up to be the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle wrestled with the question on a 7th-grade school form. "You had to check one of the boxes to indicate your ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic, or Asian," Markle wrote in a 2015 essay. "There I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other—and one half of myself over the other. My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. 'Because that's how you look, Meghan.' "

Graphic designer Alexis Manson, half black and half Ngabe (an indigenous group in Panama), first realized she was unusual at age 9 when a boy drew a picture of her, showing a box with freckles as her head. She ran home and told her mom, who replied: "Well, you do look different." She's stopped explaining who she is, glad to leave that behind her.

The mother of all demographic surveys, the U.S. census, began allowing Americans to report more than one race only in 2000. Since then, however, the number of people ticking multiple boxes has risen dramatically.

Today, mixed-race marriages are at a high, and the number of multiracial Americans is growing three times as fast as the population as a whole, according to the Pew Research Center. Although multiracial people account for only an estimated 7 percent of Americans today, their numbers are expected to soar to 20 percent by 2050.

This population growth corresponds to an uptick in research about multiracials, much of it focused on the benefits of being more than one race. Studies show that multiracial people tend to be perceived as more attractive than their monoracial peers, among other advantages. And even some of the challenges of being multiracial—like having to navigate racial identities situationally—might make multiracial people more adaptable, creative, and open-minded than those who tick a single box, psychologists and sociologists say.

Of course, there are also challenges that don't come with a silver lining. Discrimination, for one, is still pervasive. For another, many mixed-race people describe struggling to develop a clear sense of identity—and some trace it to the trouble other people have in discerning their identity. In a recent Pew survey, one in five multiracial adults reported feeling pressure to claim just a single race, while nearly one in four said other people are sometimes confused about "what they are." By not fitting neatly into one category, however, researchers say the growing number of multiracial Americans may help the rest of the population develop the flexibility to see people as more than just a demographic—and to move away from race as a central marker of identity.

Hidden Figures
In 2005, Heidi Durrow was struggling to find a publisher for her novel about a girl who, like her, had a Danish mom and an African-American dad. At the time, no one seemed to think there was much of an audience for the biracial coming-of-age tale. Three years later, when Barack Obama was campaigning for president and the word biracial seemed to be everywhere, the literary landscape shifted. Durrow's book, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, came out in 2010 and quickly became a bestseller.

Tony Baker, Jr., a Brooklyn College phys ed major, can throw, kick, and dribble a ball while doing whirligigs around your head. He's confident on the field and court, and he's also grounded in who he is. He identifies as black, but knows his Korean eyes signal his ancestry. Yet he doesn't question this difference, he just embraces it.

How did an immense multiracial readership manage to fly under the publishing world's radar? The same way it's remained largely invisible since America was founded: Multiracial people simply weren't talking about being multiracial. "There's a long, forgotten history of mixed-race people having achieved great things, but they had to choose one race over the other. They weren't identified as multiracial," Durrow says. "Obama made a difference because he talked about it openly and in the mainstream."

When Durrow's father was growing up in the '40s and '50s, race relations were such that he felt the best bet for an African-American man was to get out of the country altogether. He joined the Air Force and requested a post in Germany. There he met Durrow's mother, a white Dane who was working on the base as a nanny. When they married, in 1965, they did so in Denmark. Interracial marriage was still illegal in much of the U.S.

Durrow grew up with a nebulous understanding of her own identity. During her childhood, her father never told her he was black; she knew his skin was brown and his facial features were different from her mother's, but that didn't carry a specific meaning for her. Neither he nor her mother talked about race. It wasn't until Durrow was 11, and her family moved to the U.S., that the significance of race in America became clear to her. "When people asked 'What are you?' I wanted to say, 'I'm American,' because that's what we said overseas," she recalls. "But what they wanted to know was: 'Are you black or are you white?'"

Unlike at the diverse Air Force base in Europe, race seemed to be the most salient part of identity in the U.S. "In Portland, I suddenly realized that the color of your skin has something to do with who you are," she says. "The color of my eyes and the color of my skin were a bigger deal than the fact that I read a lot of books and I was good at spelling."

As a child, Layla Sharifi spent a month in Japan every year. But being half Japanese and half Iranian meant that she was both idolized ("You're so beautiful") and bullied. She says, "I speak Japanese fluently, but I felt like an outsider." Now, she works as a model and lives in New York City; she's quite at home in a place where everyone is cosmopolitan. 

And since the rules seemed to dictate that you could be only one race, Durrow chose the one other people were most likely to pick for her: black. "It was unsettling because I felt as if I was erasing a big part of my identity, being Danish, but people thought I should say I was black, so I did. But I was trying to figure out what that meant."

She knew that a few other kids in her class were mixed, and while she felt connected to them, she respected their silence on the subject. There were, she came to realize, compelling reasons to identify as black and only black. The legacy of America's "one-drop rule"—the idea that anyone with any black ancestry was considered black—lingered. So, too, did the trope of the "tragic mulatto," damaged and doomed to fit into neither world.

Being black, however, also meant being surrounded by a strong, supportive community. The discrimination and disenfranchisement that had driven Durrow's father out of the U.S. had brought other African Americans closer together in the struggle for justice and equality. "There's always been solidarity among blacks to advance our rights for ourselves," Durrow says. "You have to think of this in terms of a racial identity that means something to a collective, to a community."

Today, Durrow still considers herself entirely African American. But she also thinks of herself as entirely Danish. Calling herself a 50-50 mix, she says, would imply that her identity is split down the middle. "I'm not interested in mixed-race identity in terms of percentages," she explains. "I don't feel like a lesser Dane or a lesser African American. I don't want to feel like I'm a person made of pieces."

She's always longed for a sense of community with other multiracial people who share her feeling of being multiple wholes. When she sees other mixed-race families in public, she often gives them a knowing nod, but mostly gets blank stares in return. "I definitely feel a kinship with other mixed-race people, but I understand when people don't," she says. "I wonder if that's rooted in the fact that they didn't know they were allowed to be more than one." It's true that the majority of Americans with a mixed racial background—61 percent, according to a 2015 Pew survey—don't identify as multiracial at all. Half of those report identifying as the race they most closely resemble.

It's also true that racial identity can change. The majority of multiracial people polled by Pew said their identity had evolved over the years: About a third had gone from thinking of themselves as multiple races to just one, while a similar number had moved in the opposite direction, from a single race to more than one.

As a kid, Max Sugiura wanted to identify with his Japanese roots, but he was firmly entrenched in white culture—he’s half Russian Jewish. As a teen, he put in a special effort to make friends with everyone. ”I was a chameleon.” Now, as an assistant high school principal, his chameleon traits help him navigate a dynamic student population.

The New Face of Flexibility
Because she craved an opportunity to connect with other multiracial Americans, Durrow created one: the Mixed Remixed Festival. In 2014, the comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, both of whom have a black father and a white mother, were named the festival's storytellers of the year. Like Durrow's book, their Emmy-winning show, Key & Peele, had found an immense audience. They credit the show's network, Comedy Central, for recognizing them as biracial—not just black—and giving them a platform to tell that story. "The only thing they ever got annoying about was, 'More biracial stuff!' It was never, 'Make it blacker,' " Key said when the pair accepted their award.

"Comedy is something one relates to, and in discussing the mixed experience, we found a comedy that doesn't speak just to mixed people but to everybody," Peele said. "It's about being in an in-between place and being more complex than you are given credit for." As multiracial people become more visible and more vocal in mainstream America, researchers are paying more attention. And they're finding that being mixed-race carries many advantages along with its challenges.

This complexity is itself both an advantage and a disadvantage, says Sarah Gaither, a social psychologist at Duke University. Being a mix of races can lead to discrimination of a different kind than single-race minorities face, since multiracial people often endure stereotyping and rejection from multiple racial groups. "My research, and the work of others, argues that there are benefits and costs at the same time," Gaither says. "Multiracials face the highest rate of exclusion of any group. They're never black enough, white enough, Asian enough, Latino enough."

It's surprising, then, that more people in this group say being multiracial has been an advantage rather than a disadvantage—19 percent vs. 4 percent, according to a Pew survey. And Gaither's research found that those who identify as multiracial, instead of just one race, report higher self-esteem, greater well-being, and increased social engagement.

One advantage of embracing mixedness, she says, is the mental flexibility that multiracial people develop when, from a young age, they learn to switch seamlessly between their racial identities. In a 2015 study, she found that multiracial people demonstrated greater creative problem-solving skills than monoracials—but only after they'd been primed to think about their multiple identities beforehand.

People can’t fit video editor Daniel Sircar into a box: “Why are you not all white?” But when he spent time in India, he felt like an outsider, an imposter. “I almost got a Bengali tattoo.” But as someone who didn’t grow up eating curry, nothing felt right to him. Now, his “woke” friends have changed all that and he’s feeling pretty good.

These benefits aren't limited to mixed-race people, though. People of one race also have multiple social identities, and when reminded of this fact in Gaither's study, they, too, performed better on creativity tests. "We said, 'You're a student, an athlete, a friend.' When you remind them that they belong to multiple groups, they do better on these tasks," she says. "It's just that our default approach in society is to think of a person as one single identity." What gives multiracial people a creative edge may simply be that they have more practice navigating between multiple identities.

Being around multiracial people can boost creativity and agile thinking for monoracials, too, according to research by University of Hawaii psychologist Kristin Pauker. Humans are compartmentalizers by nature, and labeling others by social category is part of how we make sense of our interactions, she says.

Race is one such category. Humans have historically relied on it to decide whether to categorize someone as "in-group" or "out-group." Racially ambiguous faces, however, foil this essentialist approach. And that's a good thing, Pauker's research shows.

She found that just being exposed to a more diverse population—as often happens, say, when students move from the continental U.S. to Hawaii for college—leads to a reduction in race essentialism. It also softens the sharp edges of the in-group and out-group divide, leading to more egalitarian attitudes and an openness to people who might otherwise have been considered part of the out-group.

The students whose views evolved the most, however, were those who'd gone beyond just being exposed to diversity and had built diverse acquaintance networks as well. "We're not necessarily talking about their close friends—but people they've started to get to know," she says. What does that show us? "To change racial attitudes, it's not only being in a diverse environment and soaking things up that makes the difference: You have to formulate relationships with out-group members."

The Averageness Advantage
The cognitive benefits of being biracial may stem from navigating multiple identities, but some researchers argue that multiracial people enjoy innate benefits as well—most notably, and perhaps controversially, the tendency to be perceived as better looking on average than their monoracial peers.

On forms and documents, Tamilia Saint-Lot has many boxes to check— Ukrainian, German, Haitian. “People called me an Oreo.” They asked: “Why you talking white?” Saint-Lot didn’t relate to being black or white, and was picked on from every side. Today, some friends are of mixed race and questions of racial identity are less.

In a 2005 study, Japanese and white Australians found the faces of half-Japanese, half-white people the most attractive, compared with those of either their own race or other single races. White college students in the U.K., meanwhile, were shown more than 1,200 Facebook photos of black, white, and mixed-race faces in a 2009 study and rated the mixed-race faces the most attractive. Only 40 percent of the images used in the study were of mixed-race faces, but they represented nearly three-quarters of those that made it into the top 5 percent by attractiveness rating.

More recently, a 2018 study by psychologists Elena Stepanova at the University of Southern Mississippi and Michael Strube at Washington University in St. Louis found that a group of white, black, Asian, and Latino college students rated mixed-race faces the most attractive, followed by single-race black faces.

Stepanova wanted to know which of two prevailing theories could better explain this finding: the "averageness" hypothesis, which holds that humans prefer a composite of all faces to any specific face, or the "hybrid vigor" theory, that parents from different genetic backgrounds produce healthier—and possibly more attractive—children.

In the study, Stepanova adjusted the features and skin tones of computer-generated faces to create a range of blends, and found that the highest attractiveness ratings went to those that were closest to a 50-50 blend of white and black. These faces had "almost perfectly equal Afrocentric and Eurocentric physiognomy," she says, along with a medium skin tone. Both darker- and lighter-than-average complexions were seen as less attractive.

These results seem to support the theory that we prefer average faces because they correspond most closely to the prototype we carry in our minds: the aggregated memory of what a face should look like. That would help explain why we favor a 50-50 mix of features and skin tones—especially since that doesn't always correspond to a 50-50 mix of genes, Stepanova says. "The genes that are actually expressed can vary," she says.

A 2005 study led by psychologist Craig Roberts at Scotland's University of Stirling, however, supports the hybrid vigor hypothesis—that genetic diversity makes people more attractive by virtue of their "apparent healthiness." The study didn't focus on multiracial people per se, but on people who'd inherited a different gene variant from each parent in a section of DNA that plays a key role in regulating the immune system—as opposed to two copies of the same variant. Men who were heterozygous, with two different versions of these genes, proved to be more attractive to women than those who were homozygous. And while being heterozygous doesn't necessarily mean you're multiracial, having parents of different races makes you much more likely to fall into this category, Roberts says.

Zak Middelmann (Hui-Chinese/Caucasian) went to a high school that was 95 percent white, and while he met other ethnic groups later in college, many of them spoke different languages. Now, he feels at home working in a diverse tech industry. And when he walked into the photo shoot for this story, he thought, Oh, I belong here.

Whether these good-looking heterozygotes are actually healthier or just appear so is debatable. Studies have shown that heterozygotes are indeed more resistant to infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and HIV, and have a lower risk of developing the skin disease psoriasis—significant because healthy skin plays a clear role in attractiveness. But other researchers have been unable to find a correlation between attractiveness and actual health, which may be a testament to the power of modern medicine—especially vaccinations and antibiotics—in helping the less heterozygous among us overcome any genetic susceptibility to illness, Roberts says.

Research vs. Real World
Some researchers have extrapolated even further, suggesting that, along with possible good looks and good health, multiracial people might be genetically gifted in other ways.

Cardiff University psychologist Michael B. Lewis, who led the 2009 U.K. study on attractiveness, argues that the genetic diversity that comes with being mixed race may in fact lead to improved performance in a number of areas. As evidence, he points to the seemingly high representation of multiracial people in the top tiers of professions that require skill, such as Tiger Woods in golf, Halle Berry in acting, Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1 racing, and Barack Obama in politics.

Other researchers argue that this conclusion is an overreach. They counter that genetics doesn't make multiracial people better at golf—or even necessarily better looking. Some studies have found no difference in perceived attractiveness between mixed-race and single-race faces; others have confirmed that a preference for mixed-race faces exists, but have concluded it has more to do with prevailing cultural standards than any genetic predisposition to beauty.

A 2012 study by Jennifer Patrice Sims, a sociologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, found that in general, mixed-race people were perceived as more attractive than people of one race—but not all racial mixes, as would be the case if the cause was genetic diversity alone. (In her research, mixed black-Native Americans and black-Asians were rated the most attractive of all.) The hybrid vigor theory, Sims argues, is based on the false presumption of biologically distinct races. She points instead to evidence that attractiveness is a social construct, heavily dependent on time and place. In the U.S. right now, she says, the biracial beauty stereotype is a dominant narrative.

"Whereas in the past, particularly for women, the stereotypical northern European phenotype of blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin was considered the most attractive (think Marilyn Monroe) contemporary beauty standards now value 'tan' skin and wavy-curly hair also (think Beyonce)," she says.

College student Asa DelRosario Connell (Filipino/Caucasian) might have felt a little different growing up, but he “was never ridiculed or singled out.” Early on, though, he knew he had to learn about two very different cultures, keeping multiple perspectives in play. He’s proud of that, and it helps him understand where he’s coming from.

But saying biracial people are inherently beautiful isn't a harmless compliment—it can contribute to exotification and objectification. For many biracial people, these reports of heightened attractiveness are an unwelcome distraction, obscuring and delegitimizing the true challenges they face. "Even though studies say we're seen as more beautiful, my lived experience negates that," says Ben O'Keefe, a political consultant who has a black father and a white mother. "We're trying to frame it as if we've become a more accepting society, but we haven't. There are still many people who wouldn't be comfortable dating outside their race."

O'Keefe's father wasn't present when he was growing up. Apart from his brother and sister, he was surrounded by white people. His mother raised him to embrace the principle of "color blindness." Since race doesn't matter, she argued, why acknowledge it at all? O'Keefe thought of himself, essentially, as white. When people asked what he was, he said Italian, which is true. He's Italian, Irish, and African American.

But other people's perceptions didn't match his self-image. A store clerk once followed him from aisle to aisle and accused him of shoplifting. While walking one night in his upper-class, predominantly white Florida community, O'Keefe was stopped by police who pulled their guns on him because residents had reported a "suspicious" black teen. When Trayvon Martin was killed nearby under similar circumstances, it triggered an awakening in O'Keefe: "I had always felt more white, but the world didn't see me that way."

The Path Forward
As much as O'Keefe wishes that milestones such as Obama's presidency signaled the dawn of a post-racial America, he encounters daily reminders that racism endures. One boy he dated in high school didn't want to bring O'Keefe home to meet his parents. "Oh, they don't know you're gay?" O'Keefe asked. "No, they do," the boy responded. "They'd just freak out if they knew I was dating a black guy."

O'Keefe has encountered discrimination in the black community as well, where others have told him, "You're not really black."

"They see me with light skin and a white family, and that has given me advantages—I recognize that. Their experience, being seen as nothing but black, influences that perception." While he understands the reasoning, it still hurts. "It's saying, 'You're not black enough to be a real black man, but you're black enough to be held up at gunpoint by police,' " he says.

These days, he doesn't get asked, "What are you?" as much as he once did, which could be a sign of progress—or simply a byproduct of moving in more "woke" circles as an adult, he says. But when he does get asked, he identifies as black. "I'm a black man who is multiracial, but it doesn't diminish my identity as a black man."

His mother, too, has abandoned her color-blind approach after coming to see it as unrealistic—and ultimately unhelpful. "We've had some really hard conversations about race," O'Keefe says. "She's embraced that it matters and we need to talk about it, and we can't fix problems if we pretend they don't exist."

As an actress, Nina Kassa (Russian Ethiopian) hasn’t always fit into roles neatly; she isn’t black or white, just in between. “I wanted a more polished look and tried straightening my hair.” But that only made her feel like an imposter. It took her a while, but now, she just doesn’t care and embraces her black curls.

The path toward a more egalitarian America will be paved with hard conversations about race, says Gaither, who is multiracial herself. Her research shows that just being around biracial people makes white people less likely to endorse a color-blind ideology—and that color blindness, although well-intentioned, is ultimately harmful to race relations.

In a series of studies published in 2018, Gaither found that the more contact white people had with biracial people, the less they considered themselves color-blind, and the more comfortable they were discussing issues around race that they would otherwise have avoided. This suggests that a growing multiracial population will help shift racial attitudes. But it doesn't mean the transition will be easy.

"If you're in a primarily white environment and multiracial populations are growing, you may find that threatening and look for ways to reaffirm your place in the hierarchy," says the University of Hawaii's Pauker. "As minority populations grow, that's going to be a hard adjustment on both sides."

While there's no population threshold that, once reached, will signal the end of racism in America, being around more multiracial people can at least nudge monoracials to start thinking and talking more about what race really means.

"We are not the solution to race relations, but we cause people to rethink what race may or may not mean to them, which I hope will lead to more open and honest discussions," says Gaither. "The good news is that our attitudes and identities are malleable. Exposing people to those who are different is the best way to promote inclusion—and the side effect is that we can benefit cognitively as well. If we start acknowledging that we all have multiple identities, we can all be more flexible and creative."
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Friday, December 21, 2018

An Interview with Marcy Stone

Available on Amazon and where books are sold
Q. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
I find writing energizing and healing

Q. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I would think a big ego would hurt you regardless of whether you are a writer or not. The balance needed is not there and you would become righteous in your words vs. compassionate.

Q. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
No, because what I write is personal and is to help people find their way in time of personal crisis. That means to me that they need truth and to know who is behind the words and have I walked my talk so to speak.

Q. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
No, that would feel unauthentic. I write from the heart.

Q. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? 
To me, writing is a form of communication a message with passion just like music lyrics and art. 

Q. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
While the “The Voice of an Angel” can definitely stand alone, I do feel another book coming that can align with it nicely as it shares the before and how we lived. But in the backwards “Star Wars” kind of way (meaning the order will be backwards, getting the end first and then how we did it after)  The cookbook, “The Best of Both Worlds Cookbook, Heavenly Recipes with a Healthy Twist”, will be a series of sorts. We plan on creating a few more bite-size books in 2019 with healthy options in honor of those that we lost.

Q. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? 
Be kind to yourself and have patience. Know, going into writing, that you are going to uncover some pretty cool things about yourself that you may not have realized before. Have faith that you can accomplish anything, ESPECIALLY on the tough days.

Q. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? 

I am no longer worried about making a mistake. The process of writing and publishing can be intimidating the first time around but once you find comfort in the process, you can find ways to simplify. 

You can pick up a copy of her latest book "The Voice of an Angel" on Amazon


About Marcy Stone
Following the tragic death of her youngest daughter, Marcy's world shattered, but she knew her Angel was watching over her helping her take that first step, and then the next. This book shares how she found her way through her loss and how she continues to move forward.

Marcy is an accomplished Intuitive Life Guide for over 15 years and holds advanced certificates in several healing modalities in addition to having over 17 years of business leadership experience.

She is a lifetime student of the healing arts and brings her passion for growth and self-empowerment into her work and life. Marcy is married has two beautiful daughters, one that walks with her and one that watches over her.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

An Interview with Ray Rao

         Ray Rao spent his formative years in India before coming to America over three decades ago to become an award-winning academic endocrinologist. His abiding love for India's history, traditions, and people underpins a deep understanding of its spectrum of religious and ethnic contrasts, ranging from the sublime to the grotesque.
         Bloodbath is the first in a planned series of suspense thrillers set at the intersection of his intimate knowledge of Indian society, his life experiences as a world traveler and physician, and his study of the martial arts. He is widely published, and the author of over forty medical publications, including a book on the unique influence of culture and tradition on medical education in Japan.

Q. Does writing energize or exhaust you? 
        It energizes me!  I love getting deep into creating something that reflects my unrequited dreams of adventure. There is a lot of hard work involved, of course, like the research required to create a factually accurate backdrop of history and location or to craft realistic combat sequences.  But once in a very great while, you find yourself in a zen state in which the story flows almost effortlessly for a few pages—when you don’t have to think what you are writing about and the only thing holding you back is how fast your fingers can type. That occurs less than 1% of the time, but those all-too-rare magical moments are what make the grunt work required for the remaining 99% totally worthwhile!

Q. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? 
        Yes, I did consider it initially.  I assumed—wrongly as it turns out!—that using the same name for both my fictional and professional writing might somehow diminish the latter’s gravitas. I abandoned the idea, realizing that each stands on its own, creating an alliterative version, Ray Rao, by dropping my middle name and using a short form of the first.

Q. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? 
        Definitely not.  If you can’t feel your characters’ emotions—their fears, hurt, joy, anger, sorrow—yourself, they can never come through to your reader in the words you write.

Q.   Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
        Definitely the latter! I feel far too invested in my characters to stop at one book—it would be like killing them off if I didn’t continue their saga! 

Q.   How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? 
         The second book in the series, titled “Swordplay”, is in the final stages of editing by me, before I send it to my professional editor to shrink even further.  The third, tentatively titled “Payback”, is in the early stages of conception.

Q.   Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
        Yes, it is, in the sense that it relates to the inner spirit, with no religious connotation. To my way of thinking, writing can be compared to a form of yoga.  It is, in many ways, a form of meditation—an intellectual pursuit that calls for dedication, commitment, persistence and, above all, the conquest of frustration, and acceptance of failure (rejection). 

Q.   What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
        “The biggest challenge any man can face: (is) trying to realistically portray a woman’s thoughts and feelings.”  That is what I wrote in acknowledging in Bloodbath the debt I owe to my wife and two daughters.  Their withering critiques of “my cluelessness” taught me how to realistically portray the reactions of my female protagonist. Therefore, any authenticity I may have achieved is directly attributable to the three wonderful women to whom Bloodbath is dedicated.

Q.  What was your hardest scene to write?
        The scene I found most difficult to write was the first meeting between Alexis and her father, Jonathan.  I actually wrote it only after the rest of the book was written.  It was my first experience with writer’s block, finding now way to reconcile her hatred of him for his perceived betrayal, with his lifelong obsession with rejecting any claim of filial relationship as out-and-out fraud.  The ‘aha’ moment came when I conceived the idea of Jonathan’s ‘ghosts’, leading to a shattering realization that, but for that obsession, he might have found the daughter he never knew he had.  Then, the scene came together

Q.   What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
        Staying grounded in the need to keep the reader’s needs at the forefront as you write the story—I find that I can sometimes be so seduced by the characters and plot that I end up adding details and descriptions that might be interesting to me, but are actually unnecessary, maybe even boring, for the reader.  Guarding against that can be difficult when you get wrapped up in your writing!

Q.   Does your family support your career as a writer?
        I would never have been able to write without the unqualified support of my wife. It is a measure of her strength and love that I was able to do it while also pursuing a full-time career as an academic physician.  Her commitment to me and my writing never flagged, despite my spending many late nights and weekend evenings in seclusion.

Q   Do you believe in writer’s block?
        Yes, I do—I have experienced what I believe was writer’s block.  I was halfway through writing my second book, Swordplay when I suddenly hit a dead end.  I knew how the book was going to end but I had no idea how to get there from where I got stuck.  So, I just wrote the ending, thinking the connection would fall in place if I did.  It didn’t, even though I made many unsuccessful attempts to write that part.  Each successive attempt turned out to be worse than the other, so I finally gave up trying and left it unfinished for several months.  Then, one day it just hit me and I started writing again and everything fell in place almost effortlessly.  That, I believe, qualifies as writer’s block.

Q.   Were you good at English?
        I had the good fortune to attend a school run by Irish priests in India, and complete my high school education with a diploma from Cambridge University, with honors in English Language, and English Literature, including such greats as Shakespeare, Dickens, Keats, Tennyson, Wordsworth.  Growing up at a time and in a country without TV, and with parents who were highly educated and fluent English speakers, I read classical literature in my spare time, enjoying the works of Stevenson, Defoe, Sewell, Verne, Hardy, Austen, Dumas, and so many others.

Q.   What are you working on at the minute?
        The final edit of Swordplay, my second book involving the series.

Q.   How much research do you do?
        Extensive background research is essential to maintain the authenticity of plot details involving weapons and ordnance, as well as martial arts maneuvers. For instance, it took me almost two years to track down one obscure book on weaponry in India in the late nineteenth century to verify that an extremely small number of highly-skilled Gurkha warriors did learn to throw the kukri, an unwieldy machete-like weapon.

Q.   Why do you write?

        To satisfy a long-held desire to express myself creatively in the written word (as opposed to professionally).

You can also find Ray on Amazon:
Official website for the book:

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