Review: Mixed Blessing

Mixed Blessing, Chandra Crane, Foreward by Jemar Tisby. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: The author describes her own challenges and blessings of being a person of mixed ethnic and cultural identity, and how the Christian can affirm and include the growing number of mixed identity persons.

“So what are you?” can be one of the most difficult questions for a person born of parents of different ethnicities or raised in a home with those of different ethnicities. The author has experienced this dilemma as a child of a Thai father and European-American mother raised in a home with an adoptive Black father.

Answering the question can be hard for oneself and much depends on how one has grown up. It may also depend on one’s physical appearance and the degree to which a person might pass for a particular ethnicity or represent a blend of ethnicities.

Equally difficult is how one identifies oneself to others. Some contexts do not even have a category for mixed persons. She describes a time when the ministry she works for (the same one in which I work) offered breakouts by ethnicity. She did not know where to go because there was no group for her. Eventually, an organizer who was also a mixed ethnicity person recognized her dilemma and invite her to the Asian American staff group she was a part of. And she reports how ten years later in a similar setting, there was a group for her and others like her.

One of the strengths of this work is that Crane doesn’t make her experience normative for all, nor suggest that one must stick to a particular way of framing one’s identity. She recognizes the opportunities to identify with monoethnic groups that are part of one’s ethno-cultural heritage while avoiding cultural appropriation. She suggests four different postures, any of which may be appropriate:

  1. Solidarity identity. Particularly if we may look like a person of that identity, although this carries with it responsibilities to deal with privilege if one is identifying with the dominant culture.
  2. Shifting identity. This especially makes sense if one has been raised bi-lingually or bi-culturally (or multiple cultures or languages). The big question is whether each identity is genuinely who one is. Such people may be real bridgebuilders.
  3. Substitute identity. Sometimes the healthy choice may be in finding identity in something other than ethnicity, for example as a musician.
  4. Singular identity. Some live with a both/and identity in which these blend fully. This might only be fully realized in eternity.

Crane proposes a discipleship process incorporating these postures in a three step process of prayer about ethnic formation, of exploring our ethnic identity, and of applying truths learned to one’s the Christian life.

The work centers on Christ, and observes that our incarnate Lord was of mixed descent. His family line includes Rahab the Canaanite, Bathsheba the Hittite, and Ruth the Moabite. To be in Christ as one of mixed heritage is to recognize that this indeed a blessing, that one is uniquely made and gifted by God. She deals with the critique that we should just find our identity in Christ by contending that Jesus does not submerge mixed identities but brings out their full beauty.

The book strikes a good balance of description, instruction, advocacy, and pastoral care. It reflects to me a wise person who has been on this journey for some time offering counsel and grace, especially for all who like her, are “mixed blessings” or are the parents of “mixed blessing” children. It’s an important book for me as a European American on a journey to understand and affirm and celebrate the multi-ethnic tapestry that is God’s intent for the church. Crane helps me better understand what it is like when multiple threads of that tapestry run though the life of one person. And she offers me a better question than “so what are you?” From now on I can ask “tell me about your family and how you grew up.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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