The Ethics of Mixed Race Studies

The Ethics of Mixed Race Studies

The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
May 2009
215 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3363443
ISBN: 9781109229738

Justin Ponder

A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English

The Ethics of Mixed Race Studies argues that Mixed Race Studies can challenge racial assumptions with mêtissage . Scholars in this field claim that American discourse has falsely labeled multiracials as monoracial minorities through the unethical use of ambiguity, lying, ignorance, illogic, and stereotype. To challenge this discourse, they encourage multiracials to assert racially mixed identities through the ethics of definition, truth, knowledge, logic, and self-representation. Advocating these virtues, however, scholars imply that the multiracial subject can define, truthfully reveal, know, logically cohere, and represent herself in the first place. This ignores the extent to which all subjects remain opaque to themselves in ways that undermine the ethics of Mixed Race Studies. Considering the complications of definition, truth, knowledge, logic, and self-representation, scholars in this field must also consider the ethics of ambiguity, lying, ignorance, illogic, and stereotype. Rather than advocating definitions that divide multiracials from monoracials, scholars should use ambiguity to blur the lines between them. Instead of claiming that racially mixed people should self-identify truthfully, scholars should explore how self-identifying deceptively can challenge racial thinking.

Scholars encourage the multiracial to know herself, but remaining ignorant of oneself in order to know the racial assumptions of another is a better way to undermine those assumptions. Mixed Race Studies advocates logical discourse, but illogical discourses contain the contradictions necessary to challenge racism. Multiracial autobiographers try to challenge racial assumptions with self-representation, but one might better undermine those assumptions by evoking, repeating, and subverting stereotypes. These ethics of ambiguity, lying, ignorance, illogic, and stereotype fall under what I call ” mêtissage.” Métis is a French word for racially mixed people. Métissage refers to sexual, social, and conceptual hybridity that challenges racism. Mêtis is an ancient Greek term for cunning intelligence by which competitors defeat more powerful opponents. Mêtissage combines these three concepts, challenging métis to subversive forms of métissage that employ mêtis. I conclude that the ethics of Mixed Race Studies can and have challenged racial assumptions in American discourse, but scholars must go further and consider the ethics of mêtissage.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: The Ethics of Mixed Race Studies
  • 1. The Ethics of Ambiguity: Mixed Race Studies and the Limits of Definition
  • 2. The Ethics of Lying: Mixed Race Studies, the Census, and the Limits of Truth
  • 3. The Ethics of Ignorance: Mixed Race Studies. “What are you?” Encounters, and the Limits of Self-Knowledge
  • 4. The Ethics of Illogic: Mixed Race Studies. Methodology, and the Limits of Logic
  • 5. The Ethics of Stereotype: Mixed Race Studies. Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, and the Limits of Self-Representation
  • Conclusion: The Ethics of Metissage: Some Possibilities for Mixed Race Studies

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