By: Yelin Gemma Lee, Peak Associate
On the evening of March 10, Vancouver creative Jeff Cooper gave a virtual presentation called Mixd: The past, the present and the future of Black folks of mixed race. Cooper’s seminar-style presentation connected the historical context of Black-mixed folks to their present day narratives. He’s exploring this through The Mixd Project, a podcast series where he photographs and interviews Black folks of mixed race. Being mixed himself, with a Black West Indian father and an Irish Catholic mother, Cooper’s project promises a kindred-spirit space for sharing stories. Cooper said that with all the folks he’s interviewed, there is a recurring theme of isolation and lack of belonging.
Cooper began the talk by posing the question “Why are the stories of Black–mixed folks important?” He dove head-first into the colonial history of different geographical regions, revealing the differences experienced depending on place. Cooper used art history to reiterate how racism affected the lives of Black-mixed folks. He also shared their current experiences by playing short clips from his Mixd Project interviews.
There were three critical examples of colonialism that Cooper covered to teach us about Black-mixed history. The first were the Casta Paintings of the Spanish colonies, which were commissioned to assure the motherland that the emergence of mixed race folks was being contained. Cooper pulled up a clip from episode 10 with Karen Ortiz to show the anti-Blackness still present in Latinx communities.
Then Cooper talked about Brazil, a Portuguese colony, and the belief in “whitening” the Black population. We looked at the 1895 painting A Redenção de Cam to see how whiteness was posed as something to aspire to, and how Black-mixed children were regarded as being a step towards this.
Lastly, Cooper discussed the one drop rule in the U.S. The one drop rule means if you have any Black blood in your ancestry, you are legally considered Black. Even to this day, the one drop rule is socially applicable in the USA.
Jeff Cooper said that colourism, the idea that brighter skin tone and European features meant more economic and social acceptance, is very destabilizing in the Black community. He stressed the importance of having more conversations about colourism and the push-and-pull that Black-white mixed folks experience. Cooper admitted that although he can talk about the past of Black-mixed folks and is currently exploring what this experience looks like today with The Mixd Project, the future of Black-mixed folks is unknown. We can only strive towards paving new ground, rather than repeating what colonizers have done in the past.
Although the presentation focused on the narratives of specifically Black-white mixed folks, The Mixd Project has not been limited to this and explores other Black-mixed experiences as well. Cooper hopes to return to working on the project more actively post-pandemic, traveling, and setting up interviews in different places.
Cooper’s podcast is available to listen to on most streaming services, as well as directly through The Mixd Project website, where the photography series of his interview subjects are.