The Complexities of Writing About Race and Identity
In this intimate Q&A, three authors discuss how they’re changing the narratives about people of color
This conversation has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
ZORA: T. Kira, your book, “Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls,” isn’t just about race. It’s about loss, addiction, sexuality and sexual violence, gender, power, and so many other issues. But I want to focus on race here for a minute.
Growing up in Boca Raton, Florida, your friends called you “Kinky Chinky.” Your mother, Lokilani, cursed in Chinese. Your grandmother visited from Hawaii. Your mixed-race heritage wasn’t a secret, but nor was it explicitly acknowledged or discussed in your family. People wondered if you were “a mutt from China, or Cuba, or Mexico, or Samoa. Nobody can be sure.” Did your parents ever talk to you frankly about race?
T. Kira Madden: My parents were just: “This is the way it is. We don’t see color.” They were kind of oblivious about that. I was raised in a predominantly White, privileged community. There were no other people who looked like me. My best friend was Black and she was the only Black girl in school. I was the only Asian girl. We would often sort of practice racial slurs with each other as preparation for when other people said those things to us.
We didn’t have any understanding of race. I think about race in a similar way that I think about sexuality and being gay. It’s something that was always there, but I didn’t understand the shadowing of those aspects of my identity. In school when people would say, “You don’t even look that Asian.” That was the biggest compliment. It was like, Okay. I fit in.
My best friend was the only Black girl in school. I was the only Asian…