Why the phrase “half-blood” needs serious interrogation

written by Love Isn’t Enough contributor Jennifer; originally published at Mixed Race America

This morning I woke up and did my daily routine: I went for a walk (1-2 miles — good for keeping me healthy esp. withn119741 the chemo treatments, and just as an f.y.i. aside, the treatments are taking their toll on me, in terms of my level of fatigue–which is high (sigh) and which is one reason I haven’t been blogging as regularly as I like), I drank some water, and I open up my laptop to read The New York Times. And the first thing that caught my eye this morning was this blurb from the article, “At Camp, Make-Believe Worlds Spring Off the Page“:

“Organized role-playing literary camps, like the weeklong Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn, are sprouting up around the nation.” [The emphasis in bold is my doing]

The article describes a trend for summer camps based on literary themes, most notably those centered around fantasy children/young adult works of fiction, like the Harry Potter novels or the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

Apparently the premise of the Jackson series (and this I’ve gleaned from the article and from the trailers to the movie of the same name that came out last summer) is that Percy is a young kid who finds out that his Mom slept with a god and so Percy is a demi-god in the making–a “half-blood” if you will. So this Brooklyn summer camp divides up these kids into different “half-blood” groups–like some are the half-human/half-divine offspring of Apollo or of Ares.

[Note: they probably didn't choose some of the more "problematic" gods, like what would the group look like and what would they DO if they were the offspring of Bacchus or Hades? And apparently all the kids in this particular camp are boys, but it still doesn't make sense why they don't seem to have an Artemis group or a Hera group, although Aphrodite may also be problematic in a different way...]

So I get it. The “half-blood” designation is supposed to refer to the fact that these kids are pretending (like their literary counterpart) to be half human and half god.

But is it just me or does anyone else see a lot of problems with the use of the phrase “half-blood”?

First of all, these kids are pretending that their Mom shacked up with a god–and that it’s perfectly normative for these male gods to have fathered multiple children with various women who have apparently all cuckolded their partners or the “human” fathers of these children. Now, I know: I’m being nit-picky here. And I don’t think that any of these kids are really confused or that it’s sending a bad message about their particular mothers. But I do think that the idea that you can be a male god and have sex with any number of women, human or divine, is part of what gives license to male privilege and the idea that it’s OK for men to have multiple sex partners and to father multiple children without also PARENTING them. Because I mean look at poor Percy–he grows up not knowing who his real Dad is until he’s 12. So where was his old man? Off doing the divine thing? And he gets cut slack because he’s a god? Who was changing Percy’s diaper and teaching him to walk and taking him to school and providing for his basic material and emotional needs? The single mom.

Seems like there’s a ripe human contemporary counterpart in the making if we think about male celebrities. I mean, don’t we hear stories all the time, esp. in the world of music, about rock stars or even someone like Ravi Shankar, who leave behind bits of their seed in the form of actual children who grow up and, in the case of Norah Jones, becomes a major recording artist following in the footsteps of the father who fathered but didn’t parent her.

Anyway, the real reason I find the phrase “half-blood” problematic is that it’s an offensive term that has typically been used as a racial slur against mixed-race people and very specifically against mixed American Indian people.

For example, if you google “half blood definition” you will find the following from both Answer.com and The Free Dictionary [which gets their source from the American Heritage Dictionary]:

half blood also half-blood

a. The relationship existing between persons having only one parent in common.
b. A person existing in such a relationship.

2. Offensive A person of mixed racial descent, especially a person of Native American and white parentage.
[emphasis in bold is mine]

3. A half-blooded domestic animal.

And according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “half-blood” has at its core the idea that there is both a quantifiable (”half”) notion of blood AND a qualifiable (as in hierarchical) idea embedded in the phrase “half-blood”:

“half-blooded a., born of different races; spec. of superior blood or race by one parent only.”
[again, emphasis in bold is mine]

It just makes me cringe to think that these kids are going to these “half-blood” camps and will be referring to themselves as “half-bloods” without understanding the long and painful racial/racist history behind that term AND without understanding how problematic it is to split one’s “blood” and the not-so-implicit connotations of blood (and really, wherever you see the word “blood” you should insert the word “race”) as purity–of being able to determine which bloodline is better than the other.

Better to be a divine than to be human — sure, that’s easy to see. Who wouldn’t want to be able to fly or have supernatural powers. But we don’t live in a fantasy world–and I just think it’s too easy to to take that thinking to the next level–how much better to be white (the normative, the majority, the race that is associated with beauty and power and prowess) than to be “other”–one of those hyphenated, brown-skinned, minority Americans.

And finally, (and forgive me because what follows next is my attempt to be ironic through a self-conscious use of racial slurs — which I KNOW are offensive and hurtful, but I am trying to slam home a point with a blunt tool) but I just can’t see any camp or book publisher being OK with titles like: Harry Potter and the Chink Princess or Percy Jackson and His Nigger Friends or Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Lost Kikes.

But on second thought, maybe “half-blood” isn’t as offensive a term as these other racial slurs…maybe it’d be more like the equivalent of Harry Potter and the Oriental Princess or Percy Jackson and His Negro Friends, in which case I wouldn’t put it past any mainstream publishing house to go with these titles, esp. “Oriental.”

Anyway, if your child comes home proclaiming to be a “half-blood,” it may just be time to sit him/her down and have a talk about language. I mean, I know language changes, and there’s a movement to reclaim phrases. But last time I checked, large groups of Indian American activists were NOT agitating to use the phrase “half-blood” as a term of empowerment in the way that gay and lesbian activists have tried to take back the term “queer.”

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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