Visualizing a Critical Mixed-Race Theory

Visualizing a Critical Mixed-Race Theory

Stance: An International Undergraduate Philosophy Journal
Volume 2 (Spring 2009)
pages 18-25
Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
ISSN: 1943-1880

Desiree Valentine, Departments of Philosophy and Communication Studies
Marquette University

In this paper, questions regarding the cultural understanding of mixed race are explored, which have the ability to complicate the accepted portrayal of race in society as a black/white binary system. Thus, the acknowledgement of something other than this binary system offers new ways of theorizing about race, particularly concerning the sociopolitical implications of mixed-race designation. This paper argues that the visually mixed-race person has a certain direct ability to challenge the binary and its racist logic. Furthermore, this paper goes on to offer a unique interpretation of where power for working against a racially oppressive system lies within critical mixed-race theory.

I was in kindergarten when I had a clear understanding of the racialized world in which we live, when I had to check a box on my school registration papers recognizing myself as either black or white. This simple action can be quite complicated when one is a daughter of a black father and white mother. I was finally offered the choice of “mixed” by the time I reached Jr. High. But what is this concept of “mixed” and what does it offer a nation still infused with racism years after the time period known as the “Civil Rights Era” has ended?

Questions of mixed race bring with them complications to the established black/white binary system and thus offer new ways of theorizing race as well as the sociopolitical implications of mixed race designation. As Lewis Gordon states, “In spite of contemporary resistance to ‘binary’ analyses, a critical discussion of mixed-race categories calls for an understanding of how binary logic functions in discourses on race and racism. Without binaries, no racism will exist.” Can a breakdown of the current binary logic, which places social and political advantages on white individuals, occur with the inception of a critical mixed race theory? And could this lead to a society free of racism?

This essay will focus on the views of theorists Lewis Gordon and Naomi Zack and their conceptions of the racial binary system and mixed race. I will begin by looking at both theorists’ views on the racial binary system, posing the question, “How do we understand the spectrum of race?” From there, I will explore the approaches each theorist offers for deconstructing the binary, followed by a comparison and critique of both theorizations, with the end goal of offering my own interpretation of where power for working against a racially oppressive system lies within a critical mixed race theory. It is my view that what often gets overlooked in these theorizations is the effect of visual incoherency to the black/white binary that can be provided by the mixed race individual. The concept of the “visibly mixed race person” will be used in this essay to explore the transformative areas for a society still enmeshed in the ugly history of racism…

Read the entire article here.

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