(An)Other English city: Multiethnicities, (post)modern moments and strategic identifications

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2012-07-08 01:02Z by Steven

(An)Other English city: Multiethnicities, (post)modern moments and strategic identifications

Ethnicities
Volume 2, Number 3 (2002)
pages 321-348
DOI: 10.1177/14687968020020030301

Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Visiting Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Duke University

The interpretive turn in urban studies signals a heightened emphasis on the locus of the city as the site for both the making and unmaking of identities and differences. Juxtaposing examples from British popular culture with narrative extracts from my published ethnographic research on ‘mixed race’ family and memory, this article addresses two key problematics associated with this discursive shift. First, I explore the concept of multiethnicity as another paradigm for understanding the relationship between structures and forms of agency, particularly as multiethnicity forces a rethinking of racialized and essentialist notions of Englishness and non-Englishness; what I refer to as differentiating between the hyphen and the ampersand. Second, I assess the extent to which lived and constructed ideas of `the urban’ in general and `the city’ in particular are preconditions for the performance of multiethnicity. That is, are urban sites ideal laboratories for an illustration of the ways in which `mixed race’ and multiethnic subjectivities are intertwined?

INTRODUCTION

Mulattos may not be new. But the mulatto-pride folks are a new generation. They want their own special category or no categories at all. They’re a full fledged movement. (Senna, 1998: 14)

For as long as humans have populated the earth, intergroup mating and marriages have been commonplace (Gist and Dworkin, 1972: 1). As such, it is argued that there are no discrete or pure biological ‘races’ (Rose et al., 1984). Yet, in the popular folk imagination as well as in interdisciplinary scholarship, the problematized idea of ‘mixed race’1 persists (Alibhai-Brown, 2001; Daniel, 2001; Parker and Song, 2001; Williams-Leon and Nakashima, 2001). In fact, not since the 19th-century Victorian era, when pseudoscientific treatises on the presumed social pathology of the ‘racial’ hybrid abounded, has there been such an academic interest in ‘mixed race’ studies. That said, the intellectual content and social and political contexts of contemporary scholarship are very different. Rather than being objects of the scientific gaze (as speaking subjects), scholars, many of whom identify as ‘mixed race’ or ‘multiracial’, have deployed the idea that ‘race’ is a social construct that shifts across space and time. In so doing, they seek to validate ‘mixed race’ as a legitimate psychosocial and political category.

Over the past decade, and particularly in North America, theoretical, empirical and biographical work on ‘mixed race’ that addresses the fluidity, dynamism, complexity and practices of identity politics has flourished. As we begin a new century, a body of writings is emerging that talks back and to the resurgent literature that gave birth to the ‘multiracial’ nomenclature and its contested politics (Christian, 2000; Gordon, 1995; Mahtani and Moreno, 2001; Masami Ropp, 1997; Njeri, 1997; Spencer, 1997, 1999). By critically engaging with either the problematics or the possibilities of ‘multiracial’ activism, expression and ideology, this latest phase signals the emergence of a critical discourse on ‘mixed race’ and ‘multiraciality’ from which there are no signs of retreat.

This empirical and experiential celebration and contestation of ‘mixed race’ and ‘multiraciality’ is by no means unified or essentialist. The most interesting debates have emerged from different conceptualizations of the canon. For example, conceptual and political disagreements over the categories ‘mixed race’, ‘biracial’ and ‘multiracial’ stem from the dominance of binary ‘black/white’5 paradigms in US and British ‘racial’ discourses (Leonard, 2000; Mahtani and Moreno, 2001; Price, 2000). The emphasis on socially designated ‘black/white mixes’ is said to exclude those who are socially designated and identify as dual minority ‘mixes’ that do not include ‘black/white’ and neglect certain individuals who claim triple or more ‘mixes’:

In the recent explosion of writings about multiraciality, we have seen a plethora of discussion about white/black crossings and white/Asian crossings (and we want to remind you that we are using these terms very suspiciously). But we worry that we have not yet seen a great deal of discussion about people who are of dual minority mixes, or who are not part white. (Mahtani and Moreno, 2001: 67)

This binarism also overlooks the important fact that conceptions of ‘race’, ‘mixed race’ and social status are historically, geographically and culturally specific and hence do not travel easily (Erasmus, 2000; Torres and Whitten, 1998; Whitten and Torres, 1998). The American ‘one drop’ rule, which subsumes anyone with at least one known African ancestor under the heading ‘black’ whether or not they also have European and/or Native American ancestry, differs remarkably from the more fluid notion of ‘race’ and social hierarchy in Brazil, wherein ascribed gradations between ‘black’ and ‘white’ are varied and many (Daniel, 2000; Twine, 1998; Winant, 1999). In a British context, ‘black’ as a collective ‘multiracial’ identification does not perform the same intellectual, political or cultural labour as it did in previous decades (C. Alexander, 1996; Gilroy, 1987; Mercer, 1994; Mirza, 1997; Modood, 1988). The fact that the Irish have ‘become white’ in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, along with recent racialized class and ethnic conflicts in the north of England as well as the current European/American rhetorical ‘clash of civilizations’ are all powerful indicators of the ways in which ‘blackness’/’non-whiteness’ and ‘whiteness’ are shifting and thus unstable signifiers of exclusion and inclusion (Bonnett, this issue; Hall, 2000; Hesse, 2000).

A broader historical and geographical vantage point also highlights the cross-cutting ways in which the global processes and erotic projects of slavery, imperialism and diaspora(s) have created similar shifts in the local making, management and regulation of status and power as articulated through the everyday discourses and practices of ‘race’, ‘mixed race’ and social hierarchies. These trends are manifest in the long tradition of intellectual engagement with issues of mestizaje (Latin America, Spanish Caribbean), métissage (French Canada, francophone Caribbean, francophone Africa), mesticagem (Brazil, lusophone Africa) and miscegenation (anglophone Africa, anglophone Caribbean, Australia) as comparative examples of scholarship on the contested notion of ‘race’ mixture. All of these interwoven and historically located positions rupture allegedly stable racialized fault lines and at the same time (paradoxically in the case of some) reinscribe ‘race’ – a term predicated on scientifically dubious criteria.

In the historical moments of slavery and imperialism, ‘mixed race’ communities were socially engineered and managed. Yet, it is worth pausing for a moment to ponder why the circumstances are ripe in certain contemporary social and political milieux for the (re-)emergence of a politicized ‘multiracial’ movement and not in others. For example, in the USA, organizations such as RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally) and AMEA (Association of MultiEthnic Americans) unsuccessfully lobbied the US Congress and marched on Washington demanding the inclusion of a ‘multiracial’ category on the 2000 census (Fernandez, 1996; Nakashima, 1996). Not wanting to upset the very powerful American caucuses of colour, in particular African Americans, as a compromise solution the Census Bureau introduced the ‘tick all that apply’ option which means that, for ‘statistical’ purposes, those who tick more than one box may be subsumed under one ‘racial’ heading such as ‘black’ or ‘African American’. On the other hand, in Britain, changing demographics suggest that ‘mixed race’ families and their children will be a formidable force in the future. Although this may be demographic fact, other than the support group People in Harmony, the ‘mixed race community’ displays minimal public signs of the degree of politicization evident across the pond. In fact, it was previous responses to the 1991 census as well as consultation with focus groups, and not external pressure, that motivated the Office of National Statistics to deploy the ‘mixed ethnic’ option with a free text field for the 2001 census (Aspinall, 1997; Owen, 2001). Since the 1970s, in Brazil, once heralded as a model of ‘racial’ democracy, political movements such as the movimento negro have re-emerged, suggesting that all is not well in ‘racial paradise’ (dos Santos, 1999; da Silva, 1999; Ribeiro, 1996). In (post-)apartheid South Africa, in light of the ‘official’ dissolution of apartheid categories and the everyday persistence of racism in the new guise of economic apartheid and heightened conflicts among and between Africans, Asians and ‘coloureds’, historically ‘coloured’ communities are having to redefine and reposition themselves (C. Alexander, 1996; Marais, 1996; Rasool, 1996).

Whatever the global context, political motivations for either the social engineering, suppression, dismantling or reconstruction of the ideas and practices of ‘mixed race’ are contingent. As Small reminds us: ‘the analytical enterprise . . . must continue to focus on structural contexts, institutional patterns, and ideological articulations as they are expressed in the light of local histories’ (2001: 129). ‘Multiracial’ or ‘monoracial’ identity politics is frequently governed by unresolved and played out tensions between the sovereignty of the state and the public sphere as they collide with both individualized expressions of multiethnic and/or ‘multiracial’ identities as empowerment, and monoethnic and/or ‘monoracial’ collective mobilization in the competition for economic resources and civic recognition (Body-Gendrot, this issue). This dialectical dance performed by structure and agency is succinctly described by Burroughs and Spickard:

There is a real split, then, as yet unresolved, between the compelling logic of multiethnicity and its promise for mixed individuals on the one hand, and the practical political imperatives of monoethnically defined groups on the other, in an age that has not yet wholly given up monoethnic definitions. (2000: 247)

In the second and third sections of this article, I will explore in greater detail the specific extent to which the restricted and racialized natures of ‘white’ English group membership and the compulsory ‘black’ non-English designation limit the ‘[multi]ethnic options’ (Waters, 1990; see also Song, 2001) of individuals who identify as ‘mixed race’ and/or multethnic as these affiliations and identifications are constructed, played out, maintained and transgressed in the specific contexts of ‘the urban’…

Read the entire article here.

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When the Mirror Speaks: The Poetics and Problematics of Psychic Performance for métisse Women in Bristol

Posted in Books, Chapter, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom, Women on 2012-02-06 02:16Z by Steven

When the Mirror Speaks: The Poetics and Problematics of Psychic Performance for métisse Women in Bristol

Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Visiting Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Duke University

Chapter in: Ethnicity, Gender and Social Change
Macmillan
1999
pages 206-222
ISBN-10: 0312217633; ISBN-13: 978-0312217631

Edited by:

Rohit Barot, Harriet Bradley, and Steve Fenton

Note from Steven F. Riley. Click here to read a definition of the term métis and the reasoning of its usage and subsequent dis-usage by Dr. Ifekwunigwe.

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Setting the State
  • Is English Synonymous with Essential Whiteness?
  • Akousa: Is Being Dark-Skinned the Primary Criterion for Essential Blackness?
  • Sarah: Narratives of Space, Place, and Belongings
  • Ruby: Accepting Blackness when Praying Doesn’t Make One White
  • Similola: Dressing ‘The Part’
  • Yemi: Re-Defining ‘The Issues’
  • Bisi: Racism in Our Families or Origin or Nowhere to Hide
  • Beginnings by Way of Concluding Remarks
  • Acknowledgments

We can try to deprive ourselves of our realities but in the darkest hour of the night, when no one else is around and we have gone to the loo to spend a penny, we must look in the mirror. Eventually that moment comes when we look in the mirror and we see a Black woman…

Sharon

Sharon is a woman in her thirties who grew up in racial isolation in care in the north of England without either her White English mother or her Black Ghanaian father. In an English society which codes its citizens on the basis of their colour, Sharon must reconcile the psychic split between a genealogical sense of herself which is Ghanaian and English and a racialized self which is Black and White. As her statement reveals, the psychological struggle begins when she realizes that hi-racialized English society dictates that she embrace her Blackness and deny her Whiteness.

Her sentiments reflect the profound existential paradox facing individuals whose lineages historically situate them as grandchildren of both the colonizers and the colonized. I refer to such individuals métis(se). In England, the multiplicity of terms in circulation to describe individuals who straddle Black and White racial borders drove me in search of a new formulation. More often than not, received terminology either privileges presumed ‘racial’ differences (‘mixed race’) or obscures the complex ways in which being métis(se) involves both the negotiation of constructed ‘Black’/’White’ racial categories as well as the celebration of converging cultures, continuities of generations and overlapping historical traditions. The lack of consensus as to which term to use as well as the limitationsof this discursive privileging of ‘race’ at the expense of generational, ethnic, and cultural concerns, led me to métis(se) and métissage.

In the French African (Senegalese) context, in its conventional masculine (métis) and feminine (métisse) forms, métis(se)refers to someone who, by virtue of parentage, embodies two or more world views, for example, French mother and Black Senegalese father (Diop, 1992; Koubaka, 1993). However, it is not exclusively a ‘racial’ term used to differentiate individuals with one Black parent and one White parent from those with two Black or White parents. Métis(se) also pertains to people with parents from different ethnic/cultural groups within a country, for example in Nigeria, Ibo and Yoruba, or in Britain, Scottish and English. By extension, métissageis a mind set or a shorthand way to describe the theorizing associated with métis(se) subjectivities: oscillation, contradiction, paradox, hybridity, polyethnicities, multiple reference points, ‘belonging nowhere and everywhere’,  métissage also signals the process of opening up hybrid spaces and looking at the sociocultural dynamics of ‘race’, gender, ethnicity, nation, class, sexuality, and generation and their relationship to the mechanics of power.

Sharon is one of twenty five métis(se) individuals who were participants in my two-year-long ethnographic study based in Bristol, England. Their individual and collective voices represent the significant part of a greater multigenerational whole comprising people in England with Black continental African or African Caribbean fathers and White British or European mothers. By virtue of the aforementioned contradictory bi-racialized classification in Britain, métis(se) individuals’ narratives of self and identity both reflect the gender, generational, racial and ethnic tensions of English society and are located outside it in an imagined but not imaginary ‘grey’ space. That is, the ways in which the women and men I worked with tell their stories are as newfangled griot(te)s. They simultaneously construct dual narratives, which embody lived stories. At the same time, their memories preserve and reinterpret senses of past interwoven cultures. In his essay, The Choices of Identity,’ Denis-Consant Martin talks about identity as narrative (1995,
pp. 7-8):

The narrative borrows from history as well as from fiction and treats the person as a character in a plot. The person as a character is not separable from its life experiences, but the plot allows for the re-organization of the events which provide the ground for the experiences of the person/character… Narrative identity, being at the same time fictitious and real, leaves room for variations on the past—a plot can always be revised—and also for initiatives in the future.

These métis(se) narratives of identity provide scathing sociopolitical commentaries and cultural critiques of contemporary English African Diasporic life and its manifest bi-racialized problematics.

However, the specific focus of this chapter is the differcnts ways in which cultural memories shape contradictory meanings of ‘race’, self and identity for six women who by virtue of birth transgress boundaries and challenge essentialized constructions of self, identity, place and belonging. Their specific lived realities epitomize psychosocial struggles to make sense of explicit epistcmological tensions between subjectivity and alterity. In particular, drawing on their testimonies, I will address the ways in which six métissewomen confront problematic tensions between being métisse and becoming Black. English and Ghanaian philosopher Anthony Appiah (1992, p. 178) formulates an ethos of identities politics which reflects this complexity:

identities arc complex and muliiple and grow out of a history of changing responses to economic, political, and cultural forces, almost always in opposition to other identities… that they flourish despite what I earlier called our ‘misrecognition’ of their origins; despite that is, their roots in myths and lies… there is, in consequence, no large place for reason in the construction—as opposed to the study and management of identities.

The principal narrators are: Similola who has a White German mother and a Black Tanzanian father and Ruby, whose mother is middle class White English and her father middle class Black Nigerian, both of whom were brought up in children’s homes; Yemi and Bisi, who are sisters, grew up in a middle class family in Ibadan, Nigeria with both their White Northumberland English mother and their Black Yoruba-Nigerian father; and another set of sisters, Akousa and Sarah who came of age in a working class, predominantly Black African Caribbean community in Liverpool, with their orphaned White Irish mother and without their Black Bajan (from Barbados) father. Each woman’s mother is at once White and Irish, English or German. Their fathers are both Black and either Bajan, Nigerian or Tanzanian.

Accordingly, as their stories reveal, most of their identities work concerns the management and negotiation of polycthnicity in social and cultural contexts which frequently demand that they choose an essentialized Black identity. This is despite the fact that by virtue of lineage, they can and do situate themselves within at least two specific and yet over-lapping historical narratives…

Read the entire chapter here.

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Old Whine, New Vassals: Are Diaspora and Hybridity Postmodern Inventions?

Posted in Books, Chapter, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States, Women on 2011-11-17 03:01Z by Steven

Old Whine, New Vassals: Are Diaspora and Hybridity Postmodern Inventions?

Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Visiting Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Duke University

Chapter in: New Ethnicities, Old Racisms? (pages 181-204)
Zed Books
May 1999
253 pages
ISBN-10: 185649652X; ISBN-13: 978-1856496520

Edited by:

Phil Cohen, Emeritus Professor
University of East London

The recent bag of re-poetics (recuperate, rewrite, transport, transform, and so forth) proffers the opportunity to confront many of the assumptions and confusions of identity I feel compelled to ‘reconfigure’. The site of this poetics for me, and many other multi-racial and multi-cultural writers, is the hyphen, that marked (or unmarked) space that both binds and divides… a crucial location for working out the ambivalences of hybridity… In order to actualize this hybridity … the hybrid writer must necessarily develop instruments of disturbance, dislocation and displacement. (Wah 1996:60)

In the past six years or so, Wah’s literary summons has been answered by a virtual flourishing of North American (Canada and the United States) texts in the forms of websites, fiction, poetry, autobiographies, biographies, and academic texts by ‘mixed-race’ writers who are overwhelmingly middle-class and either academics or students. On the other hand, there have been relatively few books in England during this period by ‘mixed-race’ writers about ‘mixed-race’ identity politics. These countries’ different historical legacies vis-à-vis immigrant and indigenous communities might explain this discrepancy: ‘While the United States is a country of immigrants where ethnic diversity is constitutive of the society, British society has aspired and continues to aspire to monoculturalism: the people of the empire have no claim on British territory’ (LaForest 1996: 116). In a more profound way than in the United States and Canada, the rigidity of the class structure in Britain also limits the extent to which ‘hybrid’ writers are recognised, published, marketed and received (Sabu 1998). However, Friedman would argue that on both sides of the Atlantic a ‘hybrid’ identity is not accessible to the poor: ‘The urban poor, ethnically mixed ghetto is an arena that does not immediately cater to the construction of explicitly new hybrid identities. In periods of global stability and/or expansion, the problems of survival are more closely related to territory and to creating secure life spaces* (Friedman 1997: 84).

My fundamental contention is that as socio-cultural and political critiques, fluid contemporary métis(se)A narratives of gendered identities engage with, challenge and yet have been muffled by two competing racialised, essentialised and oppositional dominant discourses in England. The first is the territorialised discourse of ‘English nationalism, based on indigeneity and mythical purity. That is, ‘Englishness’ is synonymous with ‘whiteness’:

something to do with an elusive but powerful sense of one’s own Englishness and what that means in terms of belonging. The notion of the collective unconscious, after all, suggests the unity of thosewho partake of the racial memory at the same time as it defines the ‘other’. The ‘other’ is everybody else. (Maja-Pearce 1990: 132).

The second is the deterritorialised discourse of the English African diaspora which is predicated on (mis)placement and the one-drop rule: that is, all Africans have been dispersed and one known African ancestor designates a person as ‘black’. For example, Paul Gilroy’s configuration of the ‘Black Atlantic’ is based on compulsory blackness and displacement:

The black Atlantic, my own provisional attempt to figure a deterritorialised multiplex and anti-national basis for the affinity or “identity of passions’ between diverse black populations, took shape in making sense of sentiments like these which are not always congruent with the contemporary forms assumed by black political culture. (Gilroy 1996: 18)

On the other hand, Avtar Brah’s formulation of ‘diaspora space’ speaks to an ‘entanglement of genealogies of dispersion with those of ‘staying put’ (Brah 1996: 181). Although Brah’s model recognises the forged dialectical relationship between settlers and indigenous communities, her conceptualisation is still both racialised and binary rather than fluid. ‘Migrants and their descendants’ (black) have been dispersed. The ‘English’ (white) are ‘natives’ (Brah 1996: 181). As a result, like Gilroy, Brah has not created conceptual space for méttis(se) individuals for whom by virtue of both English and diasporic parentage, ‘home’ is de/territorialised (Pieterse 1995)- As such, ‘home’ represents an ambivalent bi-racialised sense of both territorialised place—England—and de-territorialised diasporic longings. Their family histories are braided from the gendered, bi-racialised and sexualised residues of imperial domination and colonised submission (Young 1995; Lavie et al 1996; Fanon 1967).

I want to illustrate the ways in which, as we hobble towards the new millennium, métis(se) declarations delimit and transgress bi-racialised discourses and point the way towards a profound realignment of thinking about ‘race’, ethnicity and ‘English’ identity. This chapter engages with notions of biological and cultural hybridities as articulated in nineteenth-and twentieth-century discourses on ‘race’ and identities. I have divided the chapter into three sections. First, I trace the origins of the term hybridity back to its problematic beginnings in ninteenth-century ‘race’ science, and especially evolutionary anthropology. Second, I critique contemporary cultural theorising on hybridities which reframes ‘race’ as difference(s). Third, the testimonies of contemporary métisse women provide necessary context and content for my discussions of continuities between theories predicated on so-called biological ‘race’ science and ‘postmodernist’ cultural explanations. These autobiographical examples illustrate that the older construct of hybridity as a biological ‘grafting’ of so-called different ‘races’ is continuous with its contemporary redefinition as cultural heterogeneity, fragmentation and diaspora(s)…

Read the entire chapter here.

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MixedRaceStudies.org

Posted in New Media, Papers/Presentations on 2010-04-11 05:23Z by Steven

MixedRaceStudies.org

A Paper Presented at
Who Counts & Who’s Counting? 38th Annual Conference National Association for Ethnic Studies Conference
Session: The race in “mixed” race? Reiterations of power and identity
Washington, DC
2010-04-10

Steven F. Riley

Abstract

In the paper I describe the origins of www.MixedRaceStudies.org a non-commercial website that provides a gateway to contemporary interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, history, law, etc.) English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism.  I discuss the inspiration, conception, development and future plans for the site.

Good Morning.

I would like to take a few moments of your time to describe an online resource I created a year ago called MixedRaceStudies.org.  Before I continue, I would like to thank Dr. Rainier Spencer and Dr. Sue-Je Gage for giving me this opportunity to speak to you.

The heightened visibility of self-described ‘mixed-race’ individuals in the entertainment industry and professional sports has of recent years has captured the attention and fascination of the American public.  This heightened awareness has even led to changes in the way our decennial census collects racial data.  Even more recently, the election of ‘mixed-race’ individuals across the country from mayors (such as this city) to the president of our country has led some to believe we have in fact entered a ‘post-racial’ society.

The skeptic in me has always questioned the validity of the American popular culture multiracial gaze.  To be honest, I too have occasionally succumbed to the gaze of increasing numbers of interracial relationships (like my own 24 year relationship with my loving wife Julia), and the offspring of such unions.  In the Silver Spring, Maryland area that my wife and I live in, interracial couples and mixed-race individuals seem to be everywhere.  And this, in a racialized society as ours is fascinating.  But, like many things, what is fascinating today may be irrelevant next week, despised next month, discarded next year… and rediscovered next century. 

I was drawn to the subject of mixed race because it is so complex.  I wanted to ask questions, and to share the answers and information I found along the way.  For me, current discourses about multiracialism in pop-culture today provide us with only a cursory understanding of the lives of ‘mixed-race’ people and the societal implications of their increasing presence.  The many shortcomings of pop-cultural discourses are too numerous to mention, but include.

  1. An utter lack of historical perspective.  This ‘new’ thing has been occurring in the Americas for over five centuries.
  2. An unwillingness to dismiss or even question the (scientifically proven) fallacious concept of ‘race’ despite the fact that mixed-race individuals—as Dr. Spencer says—embody its’ fallaciousness.
  3. An unwillingness to question whether our ‘fascination’ with multiracialism may in fact be due to the persistence of racism.
  4. A tendency to view the increased number of ‘mixed-race’ individuals of heralding in an era of a “post-racial” America.

To that end, I have turned my gaze away from television, away from rising and falling sports figures, towards the writings of individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to elucidating us about multiracialism.

Conception

 I began this journey, quite by accident in January 2008 when the son of a college friend of my wife Julia came to visit us for dinner at our home.  This young man—who we had not seen since he was a child—is the son of a black Haitian man and a white Jewish woman, mentioned to us that he was bringing along his girlfriend.  This caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time wondering about the girlfriend. I’m sure you have heard the phrase or question that “dare’th not speak its’ name”… “What are you?”  “What is she?”  I wondered was she “black” like his father or “white” like his mother?  Would he be in an interracial relationship like his parents?  Would his parents approve of the relationship? Was I asking myself a lot of stupid questions and what did it matter anyway?

As it turned out, our young guest’s girlfriend (now fiance) was in fact the daughter of a black father and a white mother also.  Were they an interracial couple?  Would their children be ‘mixed-race’?…. or not.

As the evening progressed, our conversation turned to politics and our preferred candidates for Democratic presidential nomination.  Julia and I supported then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, because… we thought she could win.  Our two young guests disagreed and were convinced—and convinced us—that this “black man of mixed heritage” named Barack Obama could indeed be elected to the presidency.

My journey continued after the election of President Obama and before his inauguration.  It seemed that everywhere I looked there were articles about interracial families on television programs, in newspapers, magazines and websites… again.  Were “mixed race” people in hiding since a previous victory, not in the electoral politics, but on the golf course in 1997?  Was America on the verge of a becoming post-post racial society?  What I yearned for was not another 15 second sound bite about the “changing face of America”, but an honest appraisal of what the apparent heightened visibility of mixed-race people really meant for America.

In February of 2009, I discovered the online podcast Mixed Chicks ChatStarted in May of 2007 by educator Fanshen Cox and author Heidi W. Durrow, this wonderful podcast promotes itself as “the only weekly show about being racially and culturally mixed.”  Available live or recorded via TalkShoe or recorded via Apple’s iTunes, the 150 episodes—I appeared as a featured guest on the 150thepisode this last Wednesday—provide listeners with insightful and thought provoking discussion surrounding ‘mixed-race’ issues.  After listening to several live podcasts, I found the hosts Ms. Cox and Ms. Durrow quite knowledgeable about all aspects of the ‘mixed-race’ experience.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the some of the listeners.  On many occasions, I would post links in the “chat room” to books and articles for fellow participants unfamiliar with terms such as “one-drop rule”, “Jim Crow”,  etc.  It was after a few weeks of this exercise, I decided to create an online resource to answer these many questions.

To obtain the knowledge to begin the process of building this resource, I purchased and read Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe’s ‘Mixed Race’ Studies: A Reader.  Considered by some the definitive anthology on the subject, ‘Mixed Race’ Studies takes the reader on a 150 year interdisciplinary trek encompassing the origins of “miscegenation theory” and false notions of moral and hybrid degeneracy, to contemporary discourses on identity politics and celebration, and finally to the critiques of these political movements.  Great anthologies like ‘Mixed Race’ Studies encourage the reader to further their scholarship by reading additional discourses by the various authors.  That was and remains the goal for my site, which I named MixedRaceStudies.org in April of 2009.

www.MixedRaceStudies.org  is a non-commercial website that provides a gateway to contemporary interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, history, law, etc.) English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism.

The site contains over 1,000 posts that include over 400 articles, 300 books, and over 100 papers, reports and dissertations.

The site is by no means an exhaustive listing of discourses on ‘mixed race’ scholarship.  Some examples of the scholarship that is not available on the site are as follows:

  • Non-English language resources.
  • Out-of-print resources.  This includes important texts such as Everett V. Stonequist’s The Marginal Man: A Study in Personality and Culture Conflict (1937) and other works.
  • Non-web-based resources.

I created this site:

  • For all of those who think that race is a biological construction.
  • For Daphne who thought interracial marriage was not legal in the US until 1967.
  • For those who have always wondered why people who have complexions that range from white to dark-brown are classified as ‘black’.
  • For the young student of my 40-something pal Bradley in Manchester, England who was asked if there were any ‘mixed-race’ people older than him in Britain.
  • For Mike who told me there “weren’t many scholarly resource available on mixed-race identity.”

The goals of the site are to:

  • Provide visitors with links to books, articles, dissertations, multimedia and any other resources to enable them to further their (and my) knowledge on the topic.
  • Remind visitors that so-called “racial mixing” has been occurring in the Americas for over five centuries and in fact, all of the founding nations of the Americas were mixed-race societies at their inception.
  • Ultimately support a vision of the irrelevance of race.

In supporting the vision of the irrelevance of race, I’ve been forced to ask myself the following questions.

  • Is the ideal of no racial distinction a possibility?
  • Does mixed race identity continue the racial hierarchy/paradigm or does it change it?
  • Will the acknowledgement and study of multiraciality help or hinder a goal of a post-racial future?
  • Will the sheer volume of mixed race people provoke change?
  • …But if everybody has been mixed already and our racial paradigm hasn’t changed in the last 400 years, what do we make of the changes in these last 40 years?
  • And what changes can we expect in the next 40?

Future plans for the site

After creating the site, I firmly believed that the audience would be individuals like myself—non-scholars—with a casual to moderate interest in multiracial identity issues.  At best, I hoped that parents or caregivers of mixed race children would find some interest in the site.  To my surprise, I have discovered that the overwhelming audience—at least by those who have contacted me—have been individuals in academia!  Many scholars in fact, are regular subscribers to the site.  A professor at the University of California has told me that his institution has been trying to set up a website similar to mine, but for now there are no funds to proceed.

As for now, MixedRaceStudies.org remains a labor of love, requiring minimal financial resources to host ($10.00 per/month).  Future plans involve utilizing my programming and database skills to produce a scholar bibliographic search engine and other features.

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Review: “Black Gal Swing”: Color, Class, and Category in Globalized Culture [Review of works by Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Arthur K. Spears, and Rainier Spencer]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2010-01-29 04:30Z by Steven

Review: “Black Gal Swing”: Color, Class, and Category in Globalized Culture [Review of works by Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Arthur K. Spears, and Rainier Spencer]

American Anthropologist
Volume 103, Issue 1 (March 2001)
pages 208-211
DOI: 10.1525/aa.2001.103.1.208

Fred J. Hay, Professor and Librarian of the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection Library
Appalachian State University

(Son Bonds) Now a yellow gal will kiss you. she will kiss you awful sweet—brownskin gal kiss the same.
(John Estes) What do a black gal do?
(Son Bonds:) But a black gal spit ‘bacco juice, spew snuff all on your lips—oh, loving you just the same.

“Black Gal Swing” Delta Boys, 1941

This lyric speaks to the multiple concerns and issues addressed in these three books. In a few short lines, it depicts and satirizes social distinctions based on phenotype. it mocks the dominant economic class’s insistence on the value of whiteness, it rejects these constructs and in addition flaunts (sociologists Odum and Johnson referred to the blues as “the superlative of the repulsive [Odum and Johnson 1925:166]) its defiance of while American capitalist cultural hegemony. It is a multivocalic, nuanced, and subversive manifesto of cultural affirmation by and for those most reviled, oppressed, and economically deprived. Also, it is brutally honest and humorous. Unfortunately, it is rare for scholarly writing to achieve this level of sophistication or this degree of conciseness.

Ifekwunigwe’s Scattered Belongings (“mixed race” people in England) and Spencer’s Spurious Issues (“mixed race” people in the United States) are revised dissertations (Berkeley and Emory, respectively). Spears’s edited volume Race and Ideology is a collection of essays, by nine scholars, each examining an aspect of how racism is “interconnected and maintained” through “language, symbolism and popular culture” (back chut blurb). Ifekwunigwe, Spencer, and Spears agree on one thing: “race” is not a scientifically valid concept and should be discarded. But on how to achieve the goal of a deracialized social order, and on what intermediate steps should be taken to facilitate progress to that goal, there is little agreement among the three.

Spencer, of white German maternity and black American paternity, grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Queens. Ifekwunigwe, of British and Caribbean maternity and Nigerian paternity, was born in Nigeria moved to England when quite young, and then, at the age of ten, moved to “upper middle-class Jewish West Los Angeles” (p. 35). Both authors include family pictures emphasizing the wide range of color and other “racial” traits manifested in their families.

A self-proclaimed “antiracialist” and “antiracial advocate.” Spencer attacks multiracialism on the grounds that biological race does not exist and “social” race—based as it is on outdated concepts of scientific racism and popular readings of phenotype—is also spurious. Spencer argues that without race there would be no racism and that multiracialism is based on the false race concept supporting the hegemonic system of white supremacy. Furthermore, as Spencer notes, if race really existed, most, if not all, Americans would be multiracial.

Spencer’s is a straightforward presentation in which he reconstructs the history of federal racial classification and examines its purpose. He analyzes the ideology and goals of the multiracial movement in the United States, especially of the groups Project Race and the Association of Multiethnic Americans. (Spencer has been a prominent figure in multiracial circles through his column “Spurious Issues” regularly featured in InterRace magazine.) The bottom line is that Spencer is opposed to classifying people by race and adamantly against adding a new category of mixed or multi-race to the federal census. With regret, he acknowledges that for purposes of monitoring the enforcement of civil rights legislation—we must continue to use. for the present, the federal government’s existing racial categories.

Spencer’s argument against muluracialism is sound and well-articulated but, perhaps because of his commitment to antiracialist ideology, Spencer downplays issues of class: he does not acknowledge that the majority of the people in the multirace movement are middle class and committed to upward social mobility. He also downplays Project Race’s denial of and desire to escape from, blackness; ignores recent revitalization movements among what were once disdainfully referred to as “little races” and “tri-racial isolates” (especially the new Melungeon pride crusade); and fails to address issues related to individuals who share a “racial” culture different from their “race” (e.g., R&B legend Johnny Otis, culturally black son of Greek immigrants)…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Scattered Belongings: Cultural Paradoxes of Race, Nation and Gender

Posted in Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, United Kingdom, Women on 2009-10-21 04:28Z by Steven

Scattered Belongings: Cultural Paradoxes of Race, Nation and Gender

Routledge an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group
1999-01-14
240 pages
234×156 mm
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-415-17096-3

Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Visiting Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Duke University

When the American golfer Tiger Woods proclaimed himself a “Caublinasian”, affirming his mixed Caucasian, Black, Native American and Asian ancestry, a storm of controversy was created.  This book is about people faced by the strain of belonging and not belonging within the narrow confines of the terms ‘Black’ or ‘White’.

This is a unique and radical study. It interweaves the stories of six women of mixed African/African Caribbean and white European heritage with an analysis of the concepts of hybridity and mixed race identity.

Table of Contents

  • Illustrations
  • Prologue
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Cracking the Coconut:Resisting Popular Folk Discourses on “Race,” “Mixed Race” and Social Hierarchies
  • 2. Returning(s):Relocating the Critical Feminist Auto- Ethnographer
  • 3. Setting the Stage:Invoking the Griot(te)Traditions as Textual Strategies
  • 4. Ruby
  • 5. Similola
  • 6. Akousa
  • 7. Sarah
  • 8. Bisi
  • 9. Yemi
  • 10. Let Blackness and Whiteness Wash Through: Competing Discourses on Bi-Racialization and the Compulsion of Genealogical Erasures
  • Epilogue
  • Select Bibiographies
  • Index
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Rethinking ‘Mixed Race’

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom, United States on 2009-10-15 21:28Z by Steven

Rethinking ‘Mixed Race’

Pluto Press an imprint of MacMillan
May 2001
5.5 x 8.25 inches, 208 pages, 4 figures
ISBN: 978-0-7453-1567-6
ISBN10: 0-7453-1567-4

Edited by

David Parker, Lecturer and Faculty of Social Sciences
School of Sociology and Social Policy
University of Nottingham

Miri Song, Professor of Sociology
University of Kent

One of the fastest growing ethnic populations in many Western societies is that of people of mixed descent. However, when talking about multicultural societies or ‘mixed race’, the discussion usually focuses on people of black and white heritage. The contributors to this collection rectify this with a broad and pluralistic approach to the experiences of ‘mixed race’ people in Britain and the USA. The contributors argue that people of mixed descent reveal the arbitrary and contested logic of categorisation underpinning racial divisions. Falling outside the prevailing definitions of racialised identities, their histories and experiences illuminate the complexities of identity formation in the contemporary multicultural context.  The authors examine a range of issues.  These include gender; transracial and intercountry adoptions in Britain and the US; interracial partnering and marriage; ‘mixed race’ and family in the English-African diaspora; theorising of ‘mixed race’ that transcends the black/white binary and includes explorations of ‘mixtures’ among non-white minority groups; and the social and political evolution of multiracial panethnicity.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Rethinking ‘Mixed Race’ David Parker and Miri Song
1.  How Sociology Imagined Mixed Race—Frank Furedi
2.  Re-Membering ‘Race’: On Gender, ‘Mixed Race’, and Family in the English-African Diaspora—Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe
3.  Same Difference: Towards a More Unified Discourse in Mixed Race Theory—Minelle Mahtani and April Moreno
4.  The Subject is Mixed Race: The Boom in Biracial Biography—Paul Spickard
5.  Triples: The Social Evolution of a Multiracial Panethnicity: An Asian American Perspective

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‘Mixed Race’ Studies: A Reader

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2009-09-25 00:53Z by Steven

‘Mixed Race’ Studies: A Reader

Routledge
2004-06-17
352 pages
Trim Size: 246mm x 174mm
Binding(s): Hardback, Paperback
ISBN13: 9780415321631; ISBN-10: 0415321638

Editor:  Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Visiting Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Duke University

Mixed race studies is one of the fastest growing, as well as one of the most important and controversial areas in the field of race and ethnic relations. Bringing together pioneering and controversial scholarship from both the social and the biological sciences, as well as the humanities, this reader charts the evolution of debates on ‘race’ and ‘mixed race’ from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. The book is divided into three main sections:

  • tracing the origins: miscegenation, moral degeneracy and genetics
  • mapping contemporary and foundational discourses: ‘mixed race’, identities politics, and celebration
  • debating definitions: multiraciality, census categories and critiques.

This collection adds a new dimension to the growing body of literature on the topic and provides a comprehensive history of the origins and directions of ‘mixed race’ research as an intellectual movement. For students of anthropology, race and ethnicity, it is an invaluable resource for examining the complexities and paradoxes of ‘racial’ thinking across space, time and disciplines.

Table of Contents

  • Part 1:  Tracing the Origins: Miscegenation, Moral Degeneracy, and Genetics
  • Part 2:  Mapping Contemporary and Foundational Discourses: ‘Mixed Race’, Identities Politics, and Celebration
  • Part 3:  Debating Definitions: Multiraciality, Census Categories, and Critique.  Index.
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Metisse Narratives

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2009-09-24 03:14Z by Steven

Metisse Narratives

Soundings: A journal of politics and culture
Issue 5, Spring 1997

Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, Visiting Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Duke University

Jayne Ifekwunigwe discusses the testimonies of women of ‘mixed race’ parentage in the English-African diaspora.

Rather than representing a portrait of metisse (‘mixed race’) girls as unruly, at age six Sandra and Aneya have exposed the major problematic of ‘race’.  Their discussion highlights the cultural paradoxes of ‘race’ and colour which multiple generations of women, men and children in England silently negotiate in their everyday lives.  These individuals descend from lineages which cut across so-called different ‘black and white’ ‘races’, ethnicities, cultures, and classes. Their roots are both endogenous and exogenous.

In varied cultural and historical contexts, countless terms are employed to name such individuals – mixed ‘race’, mixed heritage, mixed parentage, mestizo, mestiza, mulatto, mulatta, Creole, coloured, mixed racial descent, etc. I deploy the terms metisse (f), metis (m), metissage which more appropriately describe generations of individuals who by virtue of birth and lineage do not fit neatly into preordained sociological and anthropological categories.  In England, at the moment, there are a multitude of terms in circulation which describe individuals who straddle racial borders.  More often than not, received terminology either privileges presumed ‘racial’ differences (‘mixed race’) or obscures the complex ways in which being metis (se) involves both the negotiation of constructed ‘black’/’white’ racial categories and the celebration of converging cultures, continuities of generations and over-lapping historical traditions.  The lack of consensus as to which term to use, as well as the limitations of this discursive privileging of ‘race’ at the expense of generational, ethnic, and cultural concerns, led me to metis(se) and metissage…

…Gettin’ into me late teens, I didn’t think much about meself because of all these conflicts that were startin’ to come up from the past. Also new ones that were comin’ in from other communities – black communities – that were really shockin’ me. I mean there were times when I wouldn’t show me legs. I’d go through the summer wearing tights and socks. Cause I thought they were too light and too white-lookin’. There was a lot of pressure. I remember one day I was leanin’ up somewhere and this guy said to me, ‘Boy, aren’t your legs white.’ I just looked in horror, and felt really sick and wanted to just run away. I was thinkin’, God why didn’t you make me a bit darker? Why did you make me so light? It took me years to reconcile that…

Read the entire article here.

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métis

Posted in Definitions on 2009-08-21 16:42Z by Steven

From Wikipedia: A métis is a person born to parents who belong to different groups defined by visible physical differences, regarded as racial, or the descendant of such persons. The term is of French origin, and also is a cognate of mestizo in Spanish, mestiço in Portuguese, and mestee in English.  In the Western Hemisphere, this term usually is used to describe someone born or descended from the union of a European and an Amerindian.  However, the term was used by other groups around the world, mostly in countries which were under French influence, such as Vietnam. It is still commonly used by Francophones today for any multiracial person…

Comments by Steven F. Riley:

Scholar Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, had used the term métis and/or métisse instead of ‘mixed-race’ in her early works as a way of focusing away from ‘race’ as a form of identity.  Her desire was to create a common non-racist, non-sexist term that ‘mixed-race’ individuals could claim as one of their own.  But later she states in Mixed Race Studes: A Reader

“…Using a French-African term in an English context, even if simply for discursive analyses, could be percieved as potentially exoticizing and further marginalizing ‘mixed-race’ subjectivities…”

She goes on to state…

“…Furthermore, one could argue that partially deflecting the attention away from what I call the popular folk concept of ‘race’ to other forms of identification and stratification diminishes the significant and potent function institutionalized racism plays in the maintenance of privilege and power for some and disadvantage and discrimination for others.  Finally, in attempting to construct a new lexicon, I am perpetuating a fictional history which ignores the ways in which the social processes of ‘racial’ mixing are themselves old.”

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