Sunday, January 30, 2011

We ARE a Mixed Race America

There is an article in the New York Times Sunday edition entitled, "Race Remixed: Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Chose All of the Above." The journalist interviewed several members of University of Maryland's Multiracial and Biracial Student Association on their choice to identify as mixed race and on the prevalence of others, especially younger Americans, having the freedom to identify as multi- rather than mono-racial.

And if you are a regular reader of this blog, the article is not going to come as a surprise; rather, it will be affirmation of something that you and I have known for quite some time. That the U.S. is (and has always been) a multiracial space. I suppose what seems new is the freedom with which people are choosing to identify as mixed race. That the idea that one must only choose a singular race out of loyalty or social stigma or ethnic nationalism no longer rules the day.

However, the academic in me can't help but think about these choices occurring in the backdrop of a university setting. In other words, do mixed-race people feel as much choice as to how they identify if they are living in mono-racial areas where there may be a stigma to identifying as mixed-race or perhaps more accurately, to not identify within a particular racial or ethnic sphere would mean having charges of being a "sell out" or "acting white" leaving one in a socially vulnerable position--and would this also be exacerbated by one's other, potentially minoritizing, identities, like being gay/lesbian/bisexual/non-Christian/atheist/other-abled/working-class/poor?

I'm not trying to take away from the Times piece nor from the community and identities that the mixed race college students of University of Maryland are forging as a shared collectivity of "others" who reject one-drop rule prescriptions of who they should be and how they should identify. And I think the piece was good to remind us that the idea of a mixed race American or multiracial people does not spell an end to racism or racial divisions--being multi-racial does not mean that one transcends race or has racism licked. Being multiracial becomes another identity that people are free to choose in the 21st century. I guess I just want to remind us that our ability to choose is never as simple as making the choice--that it is often constrained by other factors.

Anyway, let me just end with two other pieces from the article. First, this interactive family tree--you can see (and hear) Lou Diamond Phillips (that's right, of La Bamba fame!) describe his mixed race family tree and you can develop one of your own (click here) and finally there's this video essay about this new generation of mixed race Americans:


Lesboprof said...

You were my first thought as I read this piece. I wondered at the decision to root the discussion about defining identity in a group of college students. Of course, as an academic, I am interested in what students are thinking, but it seems much more interesting to talk to people who have matured a little more into these discussions, or to compare and contrast what these identities mean to people in different age groups.

Jennifer said...

Nice to hear from you! I feel so rusty as far as regular blogging/commenting and it really brightened my day to see your comment both because I think it's very astute (I didn't even think about the homogeneity of ages that college students represent) and because it's just nice to hear from someone I consider a blogging friend and a regular reader.

And I absolutely agree--I think how we choose to identify inevitably changes as we change/grow/experience different circumstances. I suppose the advisor to the club offers this perspective since he is now identifies as bi-racial (black-Chinese) but for various reasons when he was a college student he chose to identify as African American--and that choice makes A LOT of sense given the time period (1970s) and atmosphere he was growing up in. And people who may identify as multiracial here and now may change that identification upon leaving the U.S. or if/when the social climate changes.

Good food for thought!