Welcome back to Watermelon Sushi World, all you Hip Hapa Homeez! Recently, someone informed me about his disdain for our Facebook Group name, also called Hip Hapa Homeez, but Your Hip Hapa begs to differ. Being the playful person that I am, I opted for a name that described us multiethnic folks as cool and together beings. Dude, we’re hip, we’re hapa, we’re homeez!
As you’re probably aware, the word “hapa” is currently misused in our community. What started out as the way Native Hawai’ian people (Kanaka Maoli) pronounced the English word "half" (due to the lack of certain phonetics in their language), the word “hapa” incorrectly became the way to describe mixies who are half Asian. Nothing could be farther from the truth since the original blendies in Hawai’i were of Kanaka Maoli and European ancestry.
Since the purpose of this blog is to present information in an entertaining fashion, the aforementioned group; our Watermelon Sushi film, website, and Facebook fan page; and, our line of Hapa*Teez t-shirts all have names reflecting that attitude. While we blendies and mixes have an important message to present, we should also attempt to do so with a sense of humor. By taking a pop culture approach, we will attract those from the mainstream who want to be supportive yet could possibly be turned off by a strictly academic mode. For now, the name(s) stay(s), but if you have any ideas, please drop us a line at email@example.com
Now, for this week's featured Hip Hapa Homee, meet Charles Byrd. You can read about him at his website here:
And, here’s the blog for his book, The Bhagavad-gita in Black and White: From Mulatto Pride to Krishna Consciousness:
Below are photos of Charles and, at the very bottom, a link to his book that you can purchase on Amazon.
Q: What's a nice multiracial guy like you doing authoring, blogging and writing about transcending race?
A: My political activism and writing regarding multiracial identity and transcending race-consciousness stem from my racial mixture and upbringing. I was born in the 1950’s in Abingdon Virginia, and am of white, black and Cherokee heritage.
Like many mixed-race individuals, I suffered through identity crises--specifically the one wherein it dawns on you that the image in the mirror in no way resembles the label that society hangs on you at birth. Writing about being mixed or mulatto in the segregated South and the need to create an identity for myself, other than simply black or passing for white, has been therapeutic as well as instrumental in networking with others in the same situation around the globe.
Q: Who are you parents and how did you grow up?
A: My black mother and white father could not legally marry in Virginia in 1952 and, for various reasons, I actually never knew my dad. My mom left me with my maternal grandparents who raised me in their house. Though white in appearance, I attended the all-black Kings Mountain Elementary in Abingdon from 1958 to 1964. The following year, integration came to the public schools and I attended Abingdon High School in 1965. That, interestingly enough, was my first exposure to white kids in an academic environment.
Kings Mountain was one of the three predominately black neighborhoods in Abingdon, and I was one of three white-looking students in elementary school. Most of the black kids treated us relatively well, though I did receive my fair share of “white nigger” and “high yellow” epithets over the years.
My mother’s family was mixed for generations, so I am not a first-generation mixie like President Obama. My maternal grandmother, for example, was as light as me with high cheekbones and long straight hair characteristic of Native American tribes. Her father was half black and half Cherokee.
In 1966, I moved to New York City. What a huge change that was!
Q: When did you first learn about Vedic philosophy, and are you a Hare Krishna?
A: I was introduced to the Bhagavad-gita (the “Hindu Bible” to some) about ten years ago or so. The word Veda is Sanskrit for "knowledge" and the Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. These texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism--if not the entire world as they are thought to be well over four thousand-years old. The Gita, an important source book on yoga, is the essence of India's Vedic wisdom and is one of the great spiritual and philosophical classics of the world.
I haven’t donned the saffron or shaved my head (fashion-wise, I’ve always preferred that long-haired Jesus Christ look), but back in June 2002 I did take harinam initiation (receiving the Mahamantra or the “great chant for deliverance” from a guru) from His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja who gave me the spiritual name Charukrishna Das. (“Charukrishna” means “Beautiful Krishna” and “Das” indicates that I am a devotee of Krishna.)
Q: How long did it take you to write your book, and what was the process?
A: Not that long as it is a compilation of essays relating to racial identity politics that I wrote between 1995 and 2003. All of those essays or editorials are still archived on the Interracial Voice website.
Essentially, I named and fashioned each section of the book after the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad-gita. Along with synopses of each Gita chapter, I included commentary culled from those Interracial Voice editorials as well as from other contributors. In addition to each chapter’s race commentary, I included a specific Gita verse or two for the purpose of expanding on that commentary from the Vedic perspective.
I believe the mix of tough political commentary with spiritual meditations works, and I did it because so many people are not aware of what has transpired over the past decade and more in this country vis-à-vis the politics of racial identity. Specifically, I’m referring to the battles to freely and publicly name self (whether on Census forms or otherwise) and for freedom of association; e.g., the fight over the legalization of interracial marriage.
Once the insanity of it all becomes crystal clear, perhaps those reading this interview (regardless of how they currently self-identify racially) will opt to spend the rest of their lives cultivating spiritual enlightenment--the ability not merely to name self but to know self. If they do so decide, my suggestion for a starting point is Vedanta. I encourage all of your readers to buy a copy.
Q: Your book seems to impart the message that we are all spirits having a human experience; that flesh, especially its color, doesn't matter, and that race doesn't exist. Have you been able to convince a lot of people of that?
A: Yeah, that’s the age-old question: Are we human beings having occasional spiritual experiences, or are we spiritual beings having occasional human experiences? I think it’s the latter, and when you realize that you are not your body--rather you are the soul or spirit that survives the death of the body--it gives you a totally different perspective on the whole notion of racial identity. We’re so immersed in bodily-consciousness--identifying with flesh instead of spirit, form instead of essence--that we have a tough time relinquishing our hold on racial, ethnic or cultural identity, however. Most people are exceedingly comfortable with the racial identity imposed upon them by society, and they are often hostile to someone who comes along and suggests an alternate approach.
Organized religion is a hindrance in this regard as well. Most religious sects still march in unconscious lockstep to the American racialist party line that proclaims the existence of separate and distinct racial groupings on planet Earth. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people turn their gaze eastward toward India’s ancient wisdom?
Q: Your Interracial Voice website contains some very controversial articles, especially about community leaders like Kwesi Mfume and Jesse Jackson.
A: I have never been a fan of either Jackson or Mfume, and I have never been shy saying that. For my money, Jackson is a politician cloaked in the guise of religiosity. He is the farthest thing from being a spiritual leader. Mfume’s NAACP was the organization most virulently and stridently opposed to any sort of change to the 2000 Census, any change that would allow mixed folk to self-identify as something other than a single race. So much for the “progressive” nature of liberal politics.
These sentiments of mine have, inexplicably, caused some to accuse me of an anti-black bias. Nothing is further from the truth. While I have criticized the self-appointed black political leadership (when exactly was Jesse Jackson elected President of Black America? ), I have taken care not to condemn the black populace in general. Unfortunately, some equate any negative critique of the former with criticism of the latter.
From my vantage point, the black priesthood--which still dominates black political discourse of the type that brooks no competition of political or philosophical views--advances a largely political agenda based on maintaining racial divisiveness, rather than a vision of the spirit soul attaining eternal association with God.
As the illegitimate, white-looking son born of a dark-skinned woman in a small Virginia town, I squandered innumerable years wandering in the darkest mental ignorance before ultimately discovering that my atma-dharma (the natural devotional inclination of the soul or atma) or purpose on this planet was not to be a loyal servant to the politics of racial identity. Our eternal atma-dharma has nothing to do with the dharma of body, dynasty, caste or race, although those who falsely identify the body as the real self cannot understand this.
If that adds up to being anti-black, I plead guilty as charged.
Q: Any future plans?
A: I would like to write another book and, this time around, have a mainstream publisher buy it. There’s a love story loosely centered around my employment at a federal agency that I’m kicking around in my head. Maybe I’ll go in that direction.
Namaste, Charles, for the enlightenment.
Okay, you Hip Hapa Homeez, show your love by joining our HHH Group page and our Watermelon Sushi Fan page on Facebook. You can also follow us on Twitter. And, by purchasing a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, you will not only support our film but will also receive a rear-crawl credit. Until we meet again, ohm shanti from
Your Hip Hapa,