“What Are You?” Multiracial Identity and the Persistence of Racism in a “Post-Racial” Society

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Dissertations, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-10-27 18:30Z by Steven

“What Are You?” Multiracial Identity and the Persistence of Racism in a “Post-Racial” Society

University of Virginia

Hephzibah Virginia Strmic-Pawl

In 2000, and for the first time, the U.S. Census allowed individuals to “mark one or more” races, and now the U.S. Census projects that those who choose two or more races will triple by 2050. The occurrence of the “biracial baby boom,” a new post-racial ideology, and the election of the first Black (or biracial depending on one’s categorization) U.S. president have led to great hopes for a nation where race no longer matters.

On the other hand, there is persistent discrimination including wide disparities in education, wealth, and employment. Thus, does multiracialism signify that society’s race relations are improving and that we are deconstructing racial categories and racism? Or, does multiracialism naively overlook the continuing vestiges of race and racism and merely reify “race” in efforts to defend the recognition and experiences of those who are “mixed race?”

Through a study of 70 people of mixed-race descent, I seek an answer to this debate. I ask: how does multiracial identity manifest itself and align with and/or contest the current racial hierarchy? I find 67 of the 70 respondents do prefer a multiracial identity, a preference that reveals the coherence of multiracialism and its ability to challenge the racial hierarchy. Yet, much of this dissertation is dedicated to the differences in experiences of Asian-Whites and Black-Whites. The majority of the Asian-Whites have close White friends and networks, have few experiences and perceptions of racism, and have a color-blind approach to racism. By comparison, BlackWhites are more likely to be aligned with Black networks and Blackness, experience and perceive racism to be a significant problem, and expend significant effort navigating their race.

This project, then, has two main findings: 1) those of mixed-race descent are choosing to identify with both races and 2) the continuing significance of race and racism leads to markedly different narratives for those of Asian and White descent compared to those of Black and White descent. Thus, multiracialism has validity yet is limited in its ability to move the discussion forward on race, for it relies on race in order to defy race.

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Equally Multiracial? A Study of Asian/Whites and Black/Whites

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Identity Development/Psychology, New Media, Papers/Presentations, United States, Women on 2010-09-25 03:42Z by Steven

Equally Multiracial? A Study of Asian/Whites and Black/Whites

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting
Hilton Atlanta and Atlanta Marriott Marquis
Atlanta, Georgia
19 pages

Hephzibah Strmic-Pawl
University of Virginia

In a study with 28 individuals with either Asian/White or Black/White descent I find that all the participants prefer some variation of a multiracial identity. However, when investigating how class and gender intersect with race to affect one’s racial identity, I find that Asian/Whites have more positive experiences of their multiracial identity than Black/Whites. This discrepancy is largely due to persistent stereotypical and racist depictions of Blacks and of Asians.

…The Asian/White women in this study spoke of their mixed race identity with pride and ownership, which was often connected to beauty ideals. Their “exotic” look got them attention, most often to White men. One woman, Nancy, 29 years old and a graduate student is often asked “what are you?” When I asked her if that question bothered her, she said:

Uh, honestly I don‘t take offense. I think its kinda cool cause I have people stop me on the streets sometimes or in the elevator or something or when I go to work and meeting new people and they‘ll say,—I‘m sorry, I have to ask you, “what are you?” I always find it intriguing that people can look at me and be like she stands out—she‘s unique. I‘ve been told that I‘m beautiful, that I‘m exotic because I stand out. I actually don‘t mind, I love people questioning.

This woman repeatedly noted that she liked being seen as pretty and that her mixed-race identity did not lead to uncomfortable situations or discrimination. Instead, it was a positive experience for her. All of the Asian/White women noted having predominantly or all White partners (as well as White friends), revealing, I argue that their beauty is acceptable by the standards of the dominant White society. None of them remarked on having problems with dating or finding a partner; in fact one Asian/White woman, Kelly, 22 years old, and an artist, actually remarked that she often found men that have an “Asian fetish” men that were particularly attracted to the cultures and physical looks associated with Asian. This woman also noted that she enjoyed being “ethnically ambiguous” and that others were attracted to this feature; she notes:

I actually kind of take pride in being biracial because it… I kind of get a lot of attention as a result and I think being one or the other doesn‘t give you as much as attention, is that weird? I‘m so conceited. No, I‘m not saying that I love attention all the time but it does, it‘s more gratifying to say that you‘re biracial than to say that you‘re one, it makes you more special.

In this case, she clearly receives positive attention from being biracial and from appearing mixed race. She is attractive both because she is Asian and because she is “ethnically ambiguous” her identity serves her overall in a positive capacity.

In contrast to those of Asian/White descent, women of Black/White descent spoke to more distressing experiences related to their gender. In their case, although their biraciality likewise lent to a more unique look, it also was a point of contention when developing potential friendships with Black women, when having mostly all White friends, and when navigating relationships with men. Many of the women commented on how interactions with other Black women were problematic, teasing about skin color and hair texture were common experiences. Ashley, 24 years old, and a senior in college, noted that she continues to feel some animosity from Black women. In this passage she talks about how she goes to a bar that is often frequented by Black women, she says:

Again, love the music so I‘m going to keep going there but it was like, the Black girls were like, and I get there is this hair thing in the Black community so it‘s like my hair is always a dead give away for them to want to not like me or something like that… then I would assume that… Black people are kind of like ―oh, she‘s the mixed girl, she thinks she‘s better than us…

Read the entire paper here.

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