Multiracial Politics or the Politics of being Multiracial?: Racial Theory, Civic Engagement, and Socio-political Participation in a Contemporary Society

Multiracial Politics or the Politics of being Multiracial?: Racial Theory, Civic Engagement, and Socio-political Participation in a Contemporary Society

University of Southern California
August 2010
376 pages

Jungmiwha Suk Bullock


This dissertation examines the impacts of historical and contemporary racial theories, socio-political movements, and grassroots mobilization efforts of community-based organizations in transforming the politics to define multiracial identity and the “two or more races” population in the United States. Using an interdisciplinary and mixed methods research approach, I investigate the shifting and contested ways the multiracial population is defined in public and private discourses, paying particular attention to the complexities this community raises within and among monoracial identified communities. Examining the multiracial population in the U.S. has a significant and critical place in the larger trajectory of social scientific scholarship on race, gender, class, and other intersecting identities. This body of research counters the argument that multiple identity formation is inconsequential to theory, civic engagement, and socio-political participation in a contemporary society. This study urges scholars to (re)examine how race and ethnicity continues to be framed, analyzed, interrogated, and understood in ways that are restricted by historically racist/racialized moments that still linger today. These moments, I argue, are sharpened and more pronounced when centering the politics of what it means to claim a multiracial identity in America in the twenty-first century.

Three primary research questions examined in this study are: 1) How do we define the multiracial population in the United States and what do these definitions offer about racial and ethnic ideologies and the future for public policy post-Census 2000?; 2) What critical insights can centering the experiences of multiracial Americans and the efforts to define them on the local, state, and/or national levels (publicly and privately), offer for other groups in American society?; and 3) Under what conditions is it possible to politically mobilize around this shifting and contested category and what are the unmet needs of this emerging population?

The theoretical model for this study was Grounded Theory. Principle data collection methods were the “insider-outsider” and case study research approaches using extensive face-to-face audio and/or photographed interviews; participant and field observations of key local, state, and national events, including U.S. Census proceedings and California Senate Judiciary hearings; and content analysis of primary and secondary documents, including media coverage and organizational archives. Data was collected between 2004 and 2009 in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, New York, and Sacramento. These cities exhibited the most heightened multiracial activity across the country in this timeframe. I also investigated exclusive, never before documented, behind the scenes initiatives to recognize the unmet needs of this emerging population through an in-depth case study of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA)—one of the oldest leading national advocacy organizations for multiracial, multiethnic, and transracially adopted individuals, families, organizations, and allies.

Table of Contents

  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Abstract
  • Introduction/Chapter 1: Multiracial Politics or the Politics of Being Multiracial?: The Challenge of Racial Biology and Hegemonoracial Ideology in a Contemporary Society
    • Endnotes
  • Chapter 2: The Multi-Whos?: Unpacking the Historical Discourseon Defining the Multiracial Population in the United States Census and in Social Science Research, 1850 to 2000
    • Endnotes
  • Chapter 3: Simultaneous Identities: Comparative Interviews Among a Diverse Combination of Multiracial Experiences
    • Endnotes
  • Chapter 4: From Manasseh to AMEA: A Case Study of Multiracial Community Building and Grassroots Activism through the Association of MultiEthnic Americans
    • Endnotes
  • Chapter 5: Civically Engaging Identities: Keys to Effective Mobilization Toward Building a Collective Multiracial Community
    • Endnotes
  • Chapter 6/Conclusion: Beyond the Politics of Being Multiracial: Toward a Revised Theoretical and Pragmatic Approach to Multiracial Presence in the U.S.
    • Endnotes
  • Bibliography

List of Tables

  1. Racial Designations to Classify Multiracial Identity on U.S. Census Enumeration Schedules (1850 to 2000)
  2. Racial Designations to Classify Multiracial Identity on U.S. Census Enumeration Schedules (1850 to 2000) and a Historical Trajectory of Racial and Ethnic Theories in the United States
  3. Participants Reported Self-Identification
  4. Self-Reported Descriptions Given By Participants on Where Primarily Raised
  5. Timeline of the Formation of Multiracial Organizations by Decade

List of Figures

  1. Multiracial Births in California, 1997
  2. Population Projection Excluding Multiracial Identity in California
  3. Intersectionality Diagram
  4. Intersectionality + Race/Ethnicity/Culture/Nationality Diagram
  5. Multiracial Identity + Intersectionality Flowchart Diagram
  6. Multi/Monoracial Identity + Intesectionality Venn Diagram
  7. Flowchart of “Mulatto” Identity Formation as Depicted by Michael Davenport in “Heredity in Relation to Eugenics” (1911)
  8. AMEA Organizational Structure
  9. Multiracial Complexity Web of Identity/ies

Read the entire dissertation here.

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