Identity is a tricky thing.
While no one can tell us how to define our own realities, we all inevitably ask ourselves the question, “Who am I?” In an effort to define ourselves to other people. But, for those like me who come from two or more racial backgrounds – this isn’t such an easy question to answer.
So much of our identity is shaped by who we are, or where we come from. Not being able to answer this question can lead to definite internal struggles as we seek to learn who are, where we belong and who our people are. A struggle of this magnitude is made more complex by the fact that no one multiracial or biracial experience will be the same as anyone else’s – even among our own siblings.
Ultimately, we may not have to adhere to the expectations of any one particular group or interest, but that also leaves us without a community whose culture and identity we fully share and feel we have a right to share.
As a member of a multi-racial family, these are struggles I have both encountered and questioned. Growing up, I looked for books with biracial or multiracial characters, thinking that there was going to be some line that would reveal something about me to myself.
W.E.B. Dunois said the problem of the 20th century is that of the “color line.” Now, in 2018, it seems little has changed, as racial identity and racism are remains pervasive topics – even though the world is changing every day. Still, it can be hard to find someone who speaks in this manner when it comes to racial identity. Not having those resources can often lead to feelings of uncertainty especially when it comes to exactly where you fit in and belong.
Alex Wagner, acclaimed journalist, editor, and former co-host of CBS This Morning Saturday knows this feeling first hand. Her mother immigrated from Rangoon, Myanmar, and her father hails from Iowa, of German and Irish descent. Wagner knows this feeling so well, in fact, she literally wrote the book on what it means to be multiracial in an America that prides itself as being post-racial.
Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging (Penguin Random House) isn’t your typical story like Imitation of Life with one woman trying to figure out where she comes from. It exists apart from the tragic identity criss and begins with a “throwaway” comment from one of her cousins. This experience threw a mystery into Wagner’s already complicated family history – and intrigued her enough to want to find the answer to that question of where, exactly, do I belong in all this?
Traveling from Burma to Luxembourg, searching through records and visiting genetic labs, Wagner traces her family history. But her perspective is unique: she’s reported from the border, spoken on immigration, listened to debates on national identity – all of which has changed and informed her outlook. Ultimately, looking out our present day problems, the damage wreaked from colonialism and more, Wagner has to ask herself the question of whether or not this obsession with grasping to our ancestral roots is even worth it.
In a time where we’re all trying to find out where we belong while having debates on immigration, and national and racial identity, Futureface provides something of a breath of fresh air and shows us how to take a step back. Wagner’s writing is beautiful as she documents her search throughout her own past. Deeply personal, eloquent and even poignant, this is a must-read not only for this generation, but for this time.
Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging is now available.
ABOUT ALEX WAGNER
Alex Wagner is co-host of Showtime’s The Circus and a contributor to CBS News and The Atlantic. She was formerly the host of MSNBC’s Emmy-nominated Now with Alex Wagner. She lives in New York City.