The Fluid Symbol of Mixed Race

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2013-11-07 03:06Z by Steven

The Fluid Symbol of Mixed Race

Volume 25, Issue 4 (Fall, 2010)
pages 875-890
DOI: 10.1111/j.1527-2001.2010.01121.x

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

Philosophers have little to lose in making practical proposals. If the proposals are enacted, the power of ideas to change the world is affirmed. If the proposals are rejected, there is new material for theoretical reflection. During the 1990s, I believed that broad public recognition of mixed race, particularly black and white mixed race, would contribute to an undoing of rigid and racist, socially constructed racial categories. I argued for such recognition in my first book, Race and Mixed Race (Zack 1993), a follow-through anthology, American Mixed Race (Zack 1995), and numerous articles, especially the essay, “Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy,” which appeared first in Hypatia in 1995. I also delivered scores of public and academic lectures and presentations on this subject, all of which expressed the following in varied forms and formats: Race is an idea that lacks the biological foundation it is commonly assumed to have. There is need for broad education about this absence of foundation; mixed-race identities should be recognized, especially black–white identities.

Given some of the discussion of my work on race and mixed race, I should reiterate that my position was neither a denial of the existence of race nor advocacy of the elimination of race as a category. That is, while I believe that the elimination of race as a category would be a good thing in many contexts,  I have never advocated for such elimination as a next step for a society that is as entangled with ideas of race as ours is. And furthermore, I am wary of the delusional aspect of any philosopher believing that she has the authority, much less the power, to wield an idea like a magic wand over the world.  Race exists insofar as people use race to identify themselves and others racially. What does not exist is a biological foundation for human races or human racial divisions. It is an empirical question whether broad public understanding of this lack of foundation, in a society where many think that such a foundation in biological science exists, would result in an “elimination” of race terms and practices.

The recognition of mixed race that I have advocated would proceed from where we are now, in a society where many people continue to think that human racial taxonomy has a biological foundation. Recognition of mixed race would be fair, because if racially “pure” people are entitled to distinct racial identities, then so are racially mixed people.  Also, the false belief in biological races logically entails a belief in mixed biological races. But, of course, in true biological taxonomic terms, if pure races do not exist, then neither do mixed races (Zack 1997, 183-84; Zack 2002, chap. 7).

However, by the time I finished writing Philosophy of Science and Race (Zack 2002), I had come to the conclusion that broad understanding of the absence of a biological foundation for “race,” beginning with philosophers, was more urgent than mixed-race recognition or identity rights. Against that needed shift away from the false racialisms to which many liberatory race theorists still clung, advocacy of mixed-race recognition seemed self-serving, if not petty. And I think that the shift is still a work in progress. But still, the ongoing historical phenomena of mixed race and the distinctive experiences of mixed-race people continue to merit consideration, and I am grateful for this opportunity to revisit my earlier confidence and enthusiasm that mixed-race recognition was on the near horizon, with the full-scale undoing of race soon to dawn.

The twenty-first century has so far supported greater recognition of mixed race, but not as a distinct or stand-alone racial category, which was what I had hoped to see happen.  Biracial black and white Americans continue to voluntarily identify and be identified by others as black. This is surprising because the efforts of several overlapping multiracial “movements” culminated in the  U.S. Census 2000 allowance for more than one box to be checked for race. In response to that opportunity for new self-identification, 6.9 million respondents, or 2.4% of all respondents, designated themselves as members of “two or more races,” while 16 million, or 5.5 percent, indicated that they were “some other race” (Zack 2001). However, these substantial figures are rarely disaggregated as statistics pertaining to specific racial mixtures.  Based on recent political events and a current unscientific sense of contemporary culture, it’s now safe to say that the black–white distinction is as sharp as it ever has been in the United States. And mixed race, despite more robust acknowledgment, seems to have passed from a possibly viable independent identity into a variable or fluid symbol of not only this or that presumptively pure race, but a symbol of race relations as well. I think that if we carefully examine this symbolic condition of mixed race, we might learn or relearn something about the nature of our ongoing social, racial categories. Such an examination of mixed race and race would be a project of what has come to be accepted as critical race theory.  Maybe these terms should be defined before proceeding further…


The term race refers to a system of human typology or a classification scheme in modern Western history that is believed to be based on real and important biological differences among groups. In addition to its presumed, but false, biological foundation, race has a real genealogical foundation that connects the race of an individual with the race of his or her parents and ancestors. However, children have the same race as their parents and ancestors only if those forebears are of the same race. If forebears are of different races, offspring are “mixed.” In the U.S., racial mixture usually results in assignment to the ancestral group of lower “racial” status, a practice known as hypodescent. For example, biracial black and white Americans are classified as black, according to the “one-drop rule” of black racial identity.  This “one drop” has become almost completely metaphorical, since educated people no longer believe, as they did in the nineteenth century, that racial inheritance is a matter of the intergenerational transmission of racial blood types; indeed, it’s unlikely that anyone still knowingly subscribes to pre-Mendelian hereditary theories of this nature. Also, hypodescent is not applied rigorously and literally; for example, few if any believe that one remote black ancestor automatically means that an individual is black. Rather, black racial identity is based largely on how others identify the person, which is in turn based mainly on appearance. Individuals are assumed to be black and likely to identify as black if their appearance conforms to broad expectations of what black people look like. But this rule has never been symmetrical. If a person looks white, but has recent known black ancestry, many may still consider her identification as white to be an instance of “passing,” and passing is generally regarded as a kind of inauthenticity—whatever that may be…

…Overall, the term mixed race refers to a variable characteristic of individuals whose parents or ancestors are of different races. If race lacks a biological foundation as a system of human types, then so does mixed race, which would derive its foundation from that of the races in any given mixture. Culturally, mixed race has been more of a highly variable property of individuals than a stable property of groups, because mixed-race groups do not have the same extended, intra-group shared history as their members’ variable ancestry in presumptively pure racial groups. Self-identified intergenerational, mixed-race groups have nonetheless existed in quasi-isolated communities throughout the U.S., particularly in the mid-Atlantic region. But such groups have remained largely invisible to the broad population, are small in number, and do not have any political clout or distinctive entitlements. These small, intergenerational communities of multiracial Americans are primarily attended to as subjects of specialized study for anthropologists and sociologists (Reginald 2002). By contrast, the multiracial “movements” of the late twentieth century consisted largely of first-generation, mixed-race individuals, who to varying degrees continue to study themselves and their situations, in virtual communities…


…The dangers of insisting on black and white mixed-race political recognition in a system in which blacks are disadvantaged is that a mixed-race group could act as a buffer between blacks and whites and re-inscribe that disadvantage. It is interesting to note that under apartheid in South Africa, there was not only a robust mixed population known as “colored,” but individuals were able to change their race as their life circumstances changed (Goldberg 1995).  From the perspective of mixed-race individuals, this example may seem as though even South Africa was more liberatory on the grounds of race than the one-drop-rule-governed U.S. (This is not to say that South African coloreds had full civil liberties under apartheid, but only that they were better off than many blacks.)  But from a more broad perspective, in terms of white–black relations, recognition of mixed-race identity, while it may advantage mixed-race individuals and add sophistication to a black and white imaginary of race, does little to dislodge white supremacy overall. The public and political recognition of mixed-race identities could be quite dangerous to white–black race relations overall if the position of blacks remained unchanged (Spencer 1999).  But continued obliviousness about mixed-race identities holds the immediate danger of denying the existence of injustice for some presumptively pure blacks who do not have the advantages of white parentage…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Film Review: Multiracial Identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-10-02 01:36Z by Steven

Film Review: Multiracial Identity

Teaching Sociology
Volume 41, Number 4 (October 2013)
pages 397-399
DOI: 10.1177/0092055X13496205

Sara McDonough
Department of Sociology
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

David L. Brunsma, Professor of Sociology
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Multiracial Identity. 77 minutes. 2010. Brian Chinhema , director. Bullfrog Films. PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547. 610.779.8226.

Released in 2011, Multiracial Identity is a timely, well-crafted film written and directed by Brian Chinhema that presents many of the key concepts, debates, and questions surrounding mixed-race identity and multiraciality in American society. Narrated by Dieter Weber, the film integrates both scholarly and nonscholarly voices to present a number of key discussions and tensions about the place and recognition of multiracial people in U.S. society while also providing space for multiracial individuals or the parents of mixed-race children to talk about their experiences and insights on the meanings of multiraciality in the United States. Featuring prominent scholars in the field of multiracial identity, such as Rainier Spencer and Naomi Zack, as well as Aaron Gullickson and Aliya Saperstein, the film provides some basic historical background to contextualize contemporary discussions about multiraciality. While the numbers show an increase of 33 percent in the multiracial population between 2000 and 2010, the existence of multiracial people is not a new phenomenon. The film sets the historical and conceptual stage early, so students might ask, “What has changed in terms of (multi)race and (multi)racial identity in the United States?”

Viewers are provided with an introductory overview of the existence, status, and sociocultural dilemmas that have faced multiracial populations historically. The film does a good job showing the changing meaning of multiraciality across time and space (e.g., regional differences and across racial/ethnic combinations). Though the historically central organizing principle of the black/white binary is discussed, the film raises the question of the utility of this paradigm for understanding multiraciality as it gives attention to the experience of other multiracial individuals (e.g., Hapa-Haoles/Asian-white). Interfacing with the changing demographics associated with the repeal of certain anti-immigration laws in the 1960s, and the increase in Asian and Hispanic/Latino migration in particular, the film more than adequately …

Read or purchase the review here.

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The JCMRS inaugural issue will be released Summer, 2013

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, United States on 2013-03-18 03:35Z by Steven

The JCMRS inaugural issue will be released on Summer, 2013

Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies
c/o Department of Sociology
SSMS Room 3005
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California  93106-9430

The Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies (JCMRS) is a peer-reviewed online journal dedicated to developing the field of Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) through rigorous scholarship. Launched in 2011, it is the first academic journal explicitly focused on Critical Mixed Race Studies.

JCMRS is transracial, transdisciplinary, and transnational in focus and emphasizes the critical analysis of the institutionalization of social, cultural, and political orders based on dominant conceptions and constructions of ‘race.’ JCMRS emphasizes the constructed nature and thus mutability of race and the porosity of racial boundaries in order to critique processes of racialization and social stratification based on race. JCMRS addresses local and global systemic injustices rooted in systems of racialization.

Sponsored by University of California, Santa Barbara’s Sociology Department, JCMRS is hosted on the eScholarship Repository, which is part of the eScholarship initiative of the California Digital Library. JCMRS functions as an open-access forum for critical mixed race studies scholars and will be available without cost to anyone with access to the Internet.

Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2013 will include:


  1. “Historical Origins of the One-Drop Racial Rule in the United States”—Winthrop Jordan edited by Paul Spickard
  2. “Retheorizing the Relationship Between New Mestizaje and New Multiraciality as Mixed Race Identity Models”—Jessie Turner
  3. “Critical Mixed Race Studies: New Directions in the Politics of Race and Representation,” Keynote Address presented at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference, November 5, 2010, DePaul UniversityAndrew Jolivétte
  4. “Only the News We Want to Print”—Rainier Spencer
  5. “The Current State of Multiracial Discourse”—Molly McKibbin
  6. “Slimy Subjects and Neoliberal Goods”—Daniel McNeil

Editorial Board

Founding Editors: G. Reginald Daniel, Wei Ming Dariotis, Laura Kina, Maria P. P. Root, and Paul Spickard

Editor-in-Chief: G. Reginald Daniel

Managing Editors: Wei Ming Dariotis and Laura Kina

Editorial Review Board: Stanley R. Bailey, Mary C. Beltrán, David Brunsma, Greg Carter, Kimberly McClain DaCosta, Michele Elam, Camilla Fojas, Peter Fry, Kip Fulbeck, Rudy Guevarra, Velina Hasu Houston, Kevin R. Johnson, Andrew Jolivette, Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, Laura A. Lewis, Kristen A. Renn, Maria P. P. Root, Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Gary B. Nash, Kent A. Ono, Rita Simon, Miri Song, Rainier Spencer, Michael Thornton, Peter Wade, France Winddance Twine, Teresa Williams-León, and Naomi Zack

For more information, click here.

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this project is less concerned with ending racism than with responding to the racialization of all people of African descent in the United States as black…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2012-09-07 17:00Z by Steven

The presence of a biracial race would certainly disrupt popular ideas about race, but as scholars supporting biracial identity root it in biological notions of race “mixture,” it seems unlikely that such a disruption would result in the end of racial classifications. Work on race in the Caribbean and Latin America shows that a racially mixed identity is entirely consistent with a racialized social system. Moreover, recent work interrogating-color blindness has shown that this is the current dominant racial ideology, suggesting that a color-blind society as a goal is more likely to ensure the persistence of racism than its decline. I therefore find especially troubling the claims by Naomi Zack, G. Reginald Daniel, Kathleen Odell Korgen, Paul R. Spickard, Maria P. P. Root, and others discussed below, that the biracial project represents a progressive social movement.” In my view, based both on the popular push for such a reclassification and the scholarship discussed here, this project is less concerned with ending racism than with responding to the racialization of all people of African descent in the United States as black.

Minkah Makalani, “Race, Theory, and Scholarship in the Biracial Project,” in Race Struggles edited by Theodore Koditschek, Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, and Helen A. Neville Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 139-140.

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Will new age of mixed-race identities loosen the hold of race or tie it up in tighter knots?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-08-01 23:08Z by Steven

Will new age of mixed-race identities loosen the hold of race or tie it up in tighter knots?

Newhouse News Service

Jonathan Tilove

Ward Connerly, who describes himself as a roughly equal mix of French Canadian, Choctaw, African and Irish ancestry and who is married to a white woman, spent much of the last decade campaigning to end race-based affirmative action. Susan Graham, a white woman married to a black man, has spent that same decade working tirelessly as the founder of Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally) so that her two children and others like them could be counted in official statistics as “multiracial.”

For the first time in American history, respondents to the decennial census are able to identify themselves by as many races as they see fit. The tabulated results will yield 63 different categories and combinations—or 126 considering that each of those 63 could also be either Hispanic or non-Hispanic. And that does not take into account the limitless possibilities for writing in some race of one’s own devising.

But when the 2000 census is completed, all the folks at both the Connerly and Graham households will be assigned the race of their nearest neighbors. Why? Because both Connerly and Graham, for their own very different reasons, refused to check any of the boxes on the race question.

As America embarks on a new, more complicated era of racial counting, a look at how some of those close to the issue chose to answer the census race question presents a puzzle: Is this dawning age of mixed-race identities likely to loosen the hold of race on the American mind, or merely tie it up in tighter knots?

“It is progress,” said G. Reginald Daniel, a sociologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “Whether people understand it or not, we’re undoing 300 years of racial formation. We have yet to see the after-effect, but it will be radical.”

Daniel, who grew up black in Kentucky, said he has been thinking about his racial identity since Dec. 2, 1955, when his first-grade teacher reported that Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to let a white passenger have her seat on the bus. “It’s time we colored people stood up for our rights,” the teacher told her students.

Daniel was puzzled. He raised his hand and asked the teacher who “colored” people were. “Everyone in this school,” the teacher, startled, replied. But, Daniel persisted, what color are they? “We’re brown! We’re Negroes!” the teacher replied…

But Daniel’s skin was tan, a blend of white and brown, and when he asked his mother about it she explained that while they were a mix of African, Irish, English, French, American Indian, Asian Indian and maybe even German-Jewish, they were still members of the “Negro race.”

Over time, Daniel came to identify himself as multiracial. He became a leading intellectual adviser, at one point to Project RACE and on a continuing basis to the Association for MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA)—the largest of the organizations that pressed for a multiracial category on the census. The federal Office of Management and Budget rejected that possibility but in 1997, after four years of deliberation, announced that on the 2000 census respondents would be able to check as many races as apply…

…But to Susan Graham, the form felt like one step forward and two steps back. Graham had wanted a separate multiracial category so that children like hers would not have to choose between their parents’ racial identities, or end up some unclassifiable “other.”…

…“I’m not about to have my children check more than one box only to be relegated back to the black category,” said Graham, who now lives in Tallahassee, Fla. She left the race question blank.

But the census cannot permit blanks, so, by a statistical method known as “hot deck imputation,” Graham’s family will be assigned races that blend best with their closest neighbors—the assumption being that most people live in neighborhoods that match them racially. And, in Graham’s case that is true, with immediate neighbors black, white and interracial.

Rainier Spencer, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, has studied the multiracial movement in his book, “Spurious Issues: Race and Multiracial Identity Politics in the United States.” He faults Graham’s logic.

In Spencer’s view, Graham and others in the multiracial movement deploy their distaste with the one-drop rule selectively. If they truly want its repeal, they must recognize that virtually all African-Americans are multiracial.

To him, the whole notion of a multiracial identity depends on an assumption that racial identity is real. And as Spencer told some 100 students at the Pan-Collegiate Conference on the Mixed-Race Experience, held recently at Harvard University and Wellesley College, “All racial identity is bogus, no matter whether the prefix is mono, multi or bi.”

The “insurgent idea” of multiraciality can undermine the racial order by “demonstrating the absurdity of fixed and exclusive racial categories,” he writes in his book. But the moment multiracial becomes an official category—a box to be checked—it no longer undermines the existing racial paradigm, but expands it.

Moreover, Spencer said, while race may not truly exist, racism does, and OMB acted quite appropriately in ordering the racial data collapsed back into traditional categories for civil rights purposes…

Read the entire article here.

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Don’t Pass on Context: The Importance of Academic Discourses in Contemporary Discussions on the Multiracial Experience

Posted in History, Law, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Papers/Presentations, Slavery, United States on 2012-06-12 22:15Z by Steven

Don’t Pass on Context: The Importance of Academic Discourses in Contemporary Discussions on the Multiracial Experience

Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival
Japanese American National Museum
Los Angeles, California

Steven F. Riley

The following is the slightly modified text from my opening remarks.

As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, ponder about re-electing our first black President, and begin the remaining 99 decades of the so-called “Mixed Millennium,” never in any point in time have there been so many ways to disseminate and share information about the multiracial experience: online, offline, YouTube, iPhones, blogs, podcasts, self-publishing, publishing on demand, etc. Thoughts and ideas that in the not too-distant past, that may not have been published until after death; can now be broadcast to the world before breakfast.  Never have so many, been able to say so much, so quickly. But while we marvel at the quantity of the information about multiracialism, I ask that we pause and consider the quality of the information about multiracialism.  Never have so many, been able to publish so much… and say so little, so quickly.

The purpose of this workshop is to encourage writers, filmmakers, and activists to consider discourses and texts outside of their own—or their subject’s—personal experiences during the formation of their respective projects.  The ideas discussed during the workshop should not be seen as mandatory or even suggested guidelines for projects, but rather topics for consideration to help an writer or artist present and communicate their ideas in a more meaningful way.

Just a quick question for the audience… What is the year of the first census that tabulated data on individuals of two or more races? [Audience responses were mostly “2000”, there was one “1890.”  The correct answer is “1850.”]

[By the census of 1850, the aggregate number of slaves in the United States was 3,204,313. Of this number, 246,656 were of mixed blood, mulattoes, The number of unmixed negro blood was, therefore, 2,487,455. The free black and mulatto population was 434,495, in the following proportions; blacks, 275,400; mulattoes, 159,095.]

There are three interconnecting areas of discussion that I find lacking in these contemporary discourses.  I will speak briefly on each of them and explain their importance and at the same time use the narrative of Richard and Mildred Loving as a central point of focus.

Our celebration of the Lovings is an excellent entrée into an examination of co-option and the distortion of an American historical narrative.  Similar to the reduction of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life into his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC, the narrative of the Lovings has been reduced into the story of “love denied.”  Dr. King did not die because he dreamt of what America could be; he died because he demanded that America be what it should be.  Few remember Dr. King’s criticism of the Vietnam War when he said,

“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.”

Like King’s legacy, the popular narrative of the Loving saga has often been crafted in a way that ignores historical facts and denies persistent inequalities.  Like in many stories, there are truths, lies, and omissions. The story of the Lovings is no exception.  It is not that the celebration of the Lovings is inappropriate, it is that it is inadequate.

On the site, the creators state that,

“The Loving Day name comes from Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage in the United States. We found it quite perfect that a couple named Richard and Mildred Loving won their right to marry, and we know a good thing when we see it. So, Loving Day refers to two kinds of loving: the couple in the Supreme Court case, and the original definition of loving.”

Loving did not legalize interracial marriage in the United States.  It legalized interracial marriage in the 15 remaining states that still had anti-miscegenation laws.  (There were 16 states with such laws at the begining of the trial but the state of Maryland repealed its law while Loving v. Virginia was still pending.)  To its credit, does give the visitor a state-by-state and year-by-year breakdown of anti-miscegenation laws throughout the United States, nevertheless, the inaccuracy of this paragraph remains.  Loving neither increased the number of interracial marriages in the South nor did it create a so-called late-20th century “multiracial baby boom”—the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 did that by increasing immigration from Asia and Latin America.  In fact, ten states have never enacted anti-miscegenation laws. Loving did, according to Victor Thompson, “send a signal to the U.S. population that, in the eyes of the state, interracial marriage was no longer the ‘sin’ that it used to be—even if it still remained a sin in the minds of some.”  Yet even today in 2011, the state of Mississippi with the lowest ratio of white-to-black residents, and as a result the highest potential of interracial unions and multiracial births, reports the lowest rate of self-identified multiracial individuals in the country.

Our preoccupation and celebration with Loving—and in the case of with the word “loving”—diverts our attention away from the institutional inequities—that are still with us—that created “race” and racism as we know it and forced the Lovings to spend over half of their marriage fighting for their marriage.  While we may remember Richard Loving’s famous, “Tell the court I love my wife,” few remember their lawyer Bernard Cohen’s eloquent argument to the Supreme Court where he said,

“The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that if should they not wake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them. They have the right to be secure in knowing that, if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security benefits. All of these are denied to them, and they will not be denied to them if the whole anti-miscegenistic scheme of Virginia… [is] found unconstitutional.”

Race is a Social Construction

“Race is a social construction.” Though it has been nearly a century since scientists began to recognize that the concept of race has no basis in biology, yet race—or rather the belief in race—remains a salient force in our world today.  As most have you have already heard before, human beings are the most similar species on earth. When we speak of race, we speak of a concept originally designed for the commoditization, exploitation, oppression and near extermination of African, indigenous (and later Asian) populations. Race as biology is fallacious and we know it.  If we teach our children to tell the truth, then we should do the same.  I ask that writers and artists consider whether embracing an identity that is based in whole—or in part—on these social constructions merely reinforces those constructions.  As author Cedric Dover stated so eloquently in 1937, “Today there are no half-castes because there are no full-castes.” Additionally, little attention is paid to the role class has in self-identification.  It would be interesting to see projects that take leave of the college campuses, suburban enclaves, and coffee shops and investigate the lives of individuals in poorer rural and/or urban settings.

While multiracial identities give the appearance of a deconstruction of a social order based on race, I suggest otherwise. For example, many multiracial Americans of African/European descent understandably attempt to claim and reassert their non-African ancestry; reminding us how they are “a little French, a little Scottish, Italian, etc.,” few of us stop to ponder the near utter destruction of their African ancestry and how it has-even with the inclusion of European ancestry-been reduced to “black.”  While some may embrace a “Black/White” identity, I ask where are the “Luba/Lithuanians”, “Shona/Scottish”, “Ewe/Estonians”, “Igbo/Icelanders?”  It used to be our identities told us and others, where we came from, what we did, how we hunted, how we fished, where we pressed our wine, how we made cheese, when we planted, how we worshiped, and how we lived.  Only a few seem to know or notice these nearly infinite identities (even from Europe) have been reduced through the centuries by the onslaught of white supremacy to just a handful of exploitable commoditized categories. We think we can manipulate the morally corrupt framework of “race” into a modern utopia, but even the so-called “new” hybrid identities may be reabsorbed or discarded back into the oppressive essentialist elements.

Individuals and groups today in 2011 that insist and demand we all tell our whole “racial truth”, are no less misguided and insidious than the Virginians who insisted and demanded “racial integrity” in 1924.  While some criticize President Obama for identifying as Black, who here knows that “black” Mildred Loving had European ancestry along with Native American ancestry on both sides of her family tree?  What even the most ardent racists in Virginia knew—that apparently some activists today do not—was that “racial integrity” was and is pure nonsense.

I ask the creators in this room if they could create projects that consider what life in our society would be like without race.


My second area of discussion is by far, my personal favorite, and unfortunately completely neglected in the non-academic contemporary discourses.  Hopefully those in the audience will make my complaint—excuse the pun—history.

No serious discussion about multiracialism can begin without an understanding of history.  History is not merely important, it is essential.  Without an understanding of the past, we shall not only fail at transforming the future, we shall merely repeat it. Loving v. Virginia was the final battle in a 50+ year struggle to repeal all anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. For many, the history of multiracial America—if one even bothers to discuss history—begins in 1967 with Loving.  Yet even the history of this one case suggests that the genesis of multiracial America began much earlier.

As Kevin Maillard has stated,

“Looking back to Loving as the official birth of Multiracial America reinforces the prevailing memory of racial separatism while further underscoring the illegitimacy of miscegenations past. By establishing racial freedom in marriage, Loving also sets a misleading context for the history of mixed race in America. Even though Loving instigates the open acceptance of interracialism, it unintentionally creates a collective memory that mixed race people and relationships did not exist before 1967.”

Loving did not create an explosive growth in the multiracial population.  The heterogeneous residents of Caroline County, Virginia would have scoffed at such a notion just as the inhabitants of San Salvador would have scoffed at Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of their island.  Just as Columbus was a thousand of years too late to claim a “discovery,” those that suggest a post-Loving “multiracial baby boom” are 300 years too late.  If we are to use a point in time as a demarcation of the beginning of multiracial America, we should consider the year 1661, when the then colony of Maryland codified the first anti-miscegenation statute.

The fact that Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Delores Jeter began their courtship in 1950—when he was 17 and she was 11—clearly indicates that their relationship was not transgressive as far as their families were concerned.  In fact, the Jeters made it clear that “Richard [wasn’t] the first white person in our family,” indicating that Mildred—like most “black” Americans—had heterogeneous ancestry.  Perhaps the reason that the 1950’s Loving-Jeter courtship was non-transgressive within their families, was because such relationships were non-transgressive within their community of Caroline County, Virginia; which was known as the “passing capital of America” because so many light-skinned blacks were mistaken for whites.

White Supremacy provides us with what, as far as I can tell is the only interactive state-by-state map of anti-miscegenation laws that I know of. It is indeed—as they put it—“cool”.  Yet despite the information given about these statutes, we are presented no overarching reasons why these laws were enacted in the first place.  Nor are we told who wrote these laws. The site does, correctly state that, “The judiciary system played an important role in regulating interracial relationships.”  Yet something very important is missing from these texts.

Fortunately for us we have a scholar like Peggy Pascoe to tell us the whole truth.  The very first paragraph of her multiple award winning book, What Comes Naturally, Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, states:

“This book examines two of the most insidious ideas in American history. The first is the belief that interracial marriage is unnatural.  The second is the belief in white supremacy. When these two ideas converged, with the invention of the term “miscegenation” in the 1860s, the stage was set for the rise of a social, political, and legal system of white supremacy that reigned through the 1960s and, many would say, beyond.”

No one should celebrate another “Loving Day” without reading this magnificent book.

In my last of the three areas of discussion, this perhaps is the most difficult to discuss, yet perhaps the most pervasive.  No force in American society has had—and continues to have—a stronger influence on identity than that of white supremacy.

While it is tempting to frame the narrative of the Lovings as a case of love denied by racial difference, there is more to the story.  Anti-miscegenation laws did much more than prevent the marital unions between men and women of different races.  Anti-miscegenation law in fact; transformed the fiction of race into a social reality.  Their enforcement meant that a persons racial identity had to be determined in order to receive a marriage license. Furthermore, the variation in punishments—based on the determined race of the litigants—reinforced the idea of racial hierarchy. Whereas for example, a white person and Indian would both face a $200 dollar fine and two years in prison for illegally getting married, while a white person and a black person would face a $500 fine and five years in prison for the same offense.  Anti-miscegenation laws also disenfranchised spouses and children.  To make matters worse, the idea of racial hierarchy was embraced even in states that had no anti-miscegenation laws. These laws adversely affected all people of color regardless of their marital unions. In short, anti-miscegenation laws were the cornerstone of white supremacy.  Yet despite the multitudes of non-academic discourses celebrating the demise of these laws, absolutely no mention is made in them about white supremacy.

The first anti-miscegenation statutes enacted in Maryland and Virginia in the 1660s were part of the broader strategy of supporting the growing institution of slavery.  The presence of interracial couples and their mixed-race offspring threatened the belief in racial difference, black inferiority, and notion of slavery altogether. To counter this perceived threat, these laws were enacted to create a physical, moral and psychological barrier between the whites and blacks and made the concept of the ownership of another human being acceptable.

On January 6, 1959, just six months after police officers entered through the unlocked front door of the Lovings and arrested the sleeping newly married couple for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, they were sentenced to one year in prison. The sentence was suspended on the condition that they leave the state of Virginia for 25 years.  After passing sentence, the trial judge in the case, Leon M. Bazile infamously proclaimed:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Although Judge Bazile’s statement is ostensibly about the prevention of what he saw as putative marriages, a closer examination reveals a more sinister agenda. For him, not only did Mildred and Richard Loving not belong in the same bed, they—and all of their respective racial cohorts—did not belong on the same continent.  Although Jim Crow segregation could not send the “races” back to their separate respective “home continents,” it did the next best thing by consigning the races to their separate schools, separate theaters, separate hospitals, and separate water fountains.  Much like his predecessors almost 300 years before, Bazile reaffirmed the framework of white supremacy and the oppression of people of color via the ruse of anti-miscegenation laws.


While we all owe a debt of gratitude to the courageousness of Richard and Mildred Loving that can never be repaid, we should use care on how we celebrate their interracial marriage.  The increased attention towards multiraciality has brought—appropriately—more scrutiny, particularly from the academic community.  More scholars than ever before are examining the role of multiraciality within the framework of racial justice in the United States and abroad. In the case of Latin America, critics have begun to argue that “multiracialism, like the firmly discredited concept of Brazilian racial democracy, functions as an ideology that masks enduring racial injustice and thus blocks substantial political, social, and economic reform.”

The clever positioning by multiracial identity activists of the Loving marriage as the 1960s vanguards of multiraciality, promotes several troubling ideologies that should exposed and examined.  These ideologies effectively distance the Lovings’ saga from the greater African-American struggle for freedom and justice.  Firstly, the emphasis on the “marriage” of the Richard and Mildred Loving implies that these unjust anti-miscegenation laws had no adverse impact towards Black-Americans and other people of color as a whole.  Finally, and most importantly, the continual dissemination of the myth of increased multiracial births since the Loving decision, is an insidious maneuver that illogically seeks to erase the history of over three centuries of interracial marriages and the millions of descendants from those unions.  As I have stated before, we are not becoming a multiracial society, we already are a multiracial society and we have been so for centuries.

By the time the Loving decision marked its first anniversary on June 12, 1968, there was no sign of either a multiracial baby boom or an interracial marriage boom. While the Lovings were finally able to live quietly—and legally—as husband and wife in their Virginia home town, the racist attitudes that inspired the creation of anti-miscegenation laws were still very salient. (In fact, Alabama did not remove its unenforceable statute until 2000).  What “booms” that could be seen and heard were near and far and were those of dismay, protest and death.  Booms were heard loudly in January, 1968 when the North Vietnamese began the Tet Offensive that despite its military failure, shocked policy makers in Washington, D.C. enough that they became convinced that the war—even with its black and white comrades in brutal solidarity—could not be won.  Booms would be heard in cities like Newark, New Jersey—exactly one month after the decision, with riots over racial injustice. Then more “booms” in Detroit, just days later which would be just another one of the 159 race riots in the “long hot summer” of 1967. The most ironic and tragic “boom” would come from the shot of a rifle across the street from a Memphis, Tennessee hotel on April 4, 1968, which would fell Dr. King, America’s true non-violent symbol of racial reconciliation.  From hence “booms” would be heard in violent protest all over America.

The past two years have brought forth an unprecedented amount of critical examination of multiracialism.  Articles, books, live programs, even a conference—The first critical mixed-race studies conference—are forcing us to ask serious and important questions about how multiracialism and multiracial identities may impact  racial dynamics here and abroad.  Even Dr. Naomi Zack—who many of you have just seen in this morning’s movie Multiracial Identity defending the political recognition of a multiracial identity, has since, retracted that position in her article titled “The Fluid Symbol of Mixed Race” in the Fall 2010 issue of the journal Hypatia.

She states:

“The recognition of mixed race that I have advocated would proceed from where we are now, in a society where many people continue to think that human racial taxonomy has a biological foundation. Recognition of mixed race would be fair, because if racially “pure” people are entitled to distinct racial identities, then so are racially mixed people.  Also, the false belief in biological races logically entails a belief in mixed biological races. But, of course, in true biological taxonomic terms, if pure races do not exist, then neither do mixed races (Zack 1997, 183-84; Zack 2002, chap. 7).

However, by the time I finished writing Philosophy of Science and Race (Zack 2002), I had come to the conclusion that broad understanding of the absence of a biological foundation for “race,” beginning with philosophers, was more urgent than mixed-race recognition or identity rights.  Against that needed shift away from the false racialisms to which many liberatory race theorists still clung, advocacy of mixed-race recognition seemed self-serving, if not petty. And I think that the shift is still a work in progress. But still, the ongoing historical phenomena of mixed race and the distinctive experiences of mixed-race people continue to merit consideration, and I am grateful for this opportunity to revisit my earlier confidence and enthusiasm that mixed-race recognition was on the near horizon, with the full-scale undoing of race soon to dawn.”

She continues with,

“…The dangers of insisting on black and white mixed-race political recognition in a system in which blacks are disadvantaged is that a mixed-race group could act as a buffer between blacks and whites and re-inscribe that disadvantage. It is interesting to note that under apartheid in South Africa, there was not only a robust mixed population known as “colored,” but individuals were able to change their race as their life circumstances changed (Goldberg 1995).  From the perspective of mixed-race individuals, this example may seem as though even South Africa was more liberatory on the grounds of race than the one-drop-rule-governed U.S. (This is not to say that South African coloreds had full civil liberties under apartheid, but only that they were better off than many blacks.)  But from a more broad perspective, in terms of white–black relations, recognition of mixed-race identity, while it may advantage mixed-race individuals and add sophistication to a black and white imaginary of race, does little to dislodge white supremacy overall. The public and political recognition of mixed-race identities could be quite dangerous to white–black race relations overall if the position of blacks remained unchanged (Spencer 1999).  But continued obliviousness about mixed-race identities holds the immediate danger of denying the existence of injustice for some presumptively pure blacks who do not have the advantages of white parentage…”

With the next two years promising even more scrutiny of the discussion surrounding multiraciality, it is more important than ever that we all read the academic texts to help us create projects that can produce greater impact.

©2011, Steven F. Riley

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Reconstructing Race: A Discourse-Theoretical Approach to a Normative Politics of Identity

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2012-02-08 04:30Z by Steven

Reconstructing Race: A Discourse-Theoretical Approach to a Normative Politics of Identity

The Philosophical Forum
Volume 43, Issue 1 (Spring 2012)
pages 27–49
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9191.2011.00409.x

Andrew J. Pierce
Loyola University, Chicago

The claim that race is “socially constructed” has become something of a platitude in social science and philosophy. At a minimum, such a claim means to reject the notion that conceptions of race have some biological or “scientific” foundation and suggests instead that the notion of race is a purely human invention—a conventional way of ordering societies rather than a natural fact about the world. But the political and normative implications of this basic agreement are far from clear. Some have taken it to mean that we ought to stop talking about “races” as though they were real and work to develop other kinds of identifications to replace so-called “racial” identities. Others have suggested that though race may not be ontologically real, political structures that take races as basic make race an unavoidable social reality, such that as a matter of political practice, it is unwise to eliminate talk of race. And others still have argued that racial identity can be reinterpreted in such a way as to shed its deterministic connotations, but retain important features that have come to flourish under the oppressive force of, say, black identity. In short, the fact that race is “socially constructed,” important an insight as it is, tells us relatively little about what role, if any, race ought to play in a more just social order and in the construction of healthy collective identities. This paper aims to get clear on the normative implications of the “social construction” thesis, not just for political practice in nonideal societies where racial oppression remains, but in “ideal” (presumably nonracist) societies as well. That is, I am interested in the question of whether race and/or racial identity would have any legitimate place in an ideally just society, or to state it another way, whether the concept of race can be extricated from the history of racial oppression from which it arose. The position I defend is a version of what has come to be called a “conservationist” view. I argue that racial identities could be normatively justified based upon modified principles of discourse (which, I argue, are appropriately applied to contexts of collective identity formation), though I do not endorse the stronger claim that racial identities are an inevitable feature of any form of social organization that societies now structured by race could aspire to, as some other conservationists claim. Moreover, I do not take conservationism to imply that future racial groups would be the same as current racial groups, a point I illustrate through an analysis of whiteness.


The social construction thesis has led some to argue that since the concept of race has no real referent (and moreover, since “race-thinking” is often morally problematic), it should be discarded altogether. Kwame Anthony Appiah, one of the most fervent proponents of this kind of eliminativism, argues succinctly that “there are no races. There is nothing in the world we can ask race to do for us,” in short, that race “refers to nothing in the world at all.” Given, in other words, that modern science has failed to identify any discrete entities called “races,” use of the term lacks a referent and so is, strictly speaking, meaningless. Continued employment of the term rests on a conceptual mistake, one that is frequently morally pernicious besides.

But one may wonder, does the lack of a scientific foundation for race really mean that our everyday race terms lack reference? After all, do we not know who we mean when we talk about blacks, whites, Latinos, etc.? Perhaps not. Naomi Zack shares Appiah’s skepticism about the existence of races, and in Race and Mixed Race, she provides similar arguments to show that race has no scientific foundation and further, that folk criteria of race, which attribute racial membership based primarily upon heredity, fail to achieve their purported goal of completeness (such that all persons would have a designated racial membership) since mixed-race persons do not fit within their classificatory scope, and further, since there is no defensible way to distinguish mixed race persons from “pure” race persons. For example, there is no logical reason why a person with three white grandparents and one black one should be considered black, while a person with three black grandparents and one white one should not be considered white. And insofar as most if not all persons in racialized societies like the U.S. (not to mention Latin American nations) are “mixed” to some degree, then folk criteria of racial membership are fatally flawed as well.

But there are good reasons for hesitating to make the leap from this ontological claim (that races do not exist) to the normative claim that we should retire racial categories from our vocabulary, and so, presumably, from our laws and policies as well. This hesitance is based on the recognition that racial categories are useful for picking out, for example, “persons whose ancestors were victims of American chattel slavery,” and who might have legitimate moral claims based on that ancestry. That is, one intuitively plausible answer to the question, “why continue to talk about ‘races’ if there are no such thing?” is that, though race is not “real” in any ultimate metaphysical sense, it is still an important concept for understanding contemporary social reality, given that racial categories still structure the experiences of individuals and the functioning of institutions in “racialized” societies. One need not believe in God to understand the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition (or to use Appiah’s example, one need not believe in witches to understand the functioning of the concept of witchcraft in early colonial New England). One can continue to hold that such concepts have a social reality, even if one denies that they are real in the deeper senses above. In relation to race, such a position has come to be called constructivism. Racial constructivists accept that race has no biological foundation, yet they argue that as a result of human action and the widespread, consequential successes of pseudoscientific and folk theories of race, race has come to be inscribed in the institutions and practices of contemporary societies in ways that cannot be illuminated without recourse to some conception of race. Accordingly, they hold that race does have a sociohistorical reality, even if it cannot be linked to biologically significant “racial” differences…


Is it the case, one might wonder, that whites, when confronted with a confusing array of diverse racial identities, might simply “shrug and call themselves white?” That is, could whiteness continue to exist as an option for racial identification under nonracist conditions, and if not, what options does this leave for persons traditionally considered white? The question is an especially pressing one if collective identity is of the kind of constitutive importance that many have argued it is, and since one might think that the lack of a positive reconstruction of white racial identity leaves a void that is too often filled by traditionally racist, white supremacist conceptions of whiteness. The answer, I believe, is that white identity is not discursively justifiable, mainly because it is inherently coercive and exclusionary, failing, at least, the first and fourth conditions of discourse. Yet, I will argue this lack of justification need not cause too much worry since white identity lacks the intersubjective resources and benefits of other kinds of collective identity, such that, in the absence of other, illegitimate kinds of benefits (i.e., all of the economic, political, psychological, and social benefits associated with being in a position of relative dominance) one would not expect it to remain of much value to those it purported to describe anyway. That is, in precise opposition to the standard view that sees whiteness as the norm and nonwhiteness as the deviation or exception, I will argue that white identity is actually the anomalous identity, one that, when uncoupled from the system of racial oppression in which it formed, fails to provide the benefits typical of collective identity. If this is true, then one should expect that white identity would eventually be replaced by more useful and democratic forms of collective identification. The outlines of such alternatives are already visible even in our own society and demonstrate that the illegitimacy of white racial identity does not leave white people “marooned” without any resources for collective identification.

In order to begin to understand why white racial identity is illegitimate, one must understand its history, and the conditions under which it formed. Presumably, white racial identity stands in some relation to European heritage, though one should be cautious about equating the two. Previous to the eighteenth century, the idea of race as denoting specific lines of descent still marked a division between the “noble races” of European stock and their ignoble, though nonetheless similarly pigmented, countrymen. At its most general, this idea of race allowed for a commonality among nations or peoples, circumscribing the membership of the French, German, or English “races.” It was only in the New World, where English and other Europeans were confronted with the reality of slavery, that whiteness came to denote a commonality among Europeans of different types. Putatively setting aside old and deeply ingrained internal inequalities, the express purpose of such an identity was to distinguish the free European from the enslaved African, based upon the latter’s supposedly inherent dependency. In this way, slavery could be reconciled with the nascent values of liberalism. This opposition of slave and freeman is at the root of the U.S.’s binary racial system, a system into which successive waves of immigrants would be forced to assimilate…

Read the entire article here.

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Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Law, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Social Science, United States, Women on 2012-02-06 05:26Z by Steven

Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, 1st Edition

Cengage Learning
464 pages
Paperback ISBN-10: 0534573932  ISBN-13: 9780534573935

Edited by:

James Montmarquet, Professor of Philosophy
Tennessee State University

William Hardy, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Tennessee State University

This anthology provides the instructor with a sufficient quantity, breadth, and diversity of materials to be the sole text for a course on African-American philosophy. It includes both classic and more contemporary readings by both professional philosophers and other people with philosophically intriguing viewpoints. The material provided is diverse, yet also contains certain themes which instructors can effectively employ to achieve the element of unity. One such theme, the debate of the “nationalist” focus on blackness vs. the many critics of this focus, runs through a great number of issues and readings.

Table of Contents

  • Preface.
  • Introduction.
    • 1. W.E.B. DuBois: From The Souls of Black Folk.
    • 2. Molefi K. Asante: Racism, Consciousness, and Afrocentricity.
    • 3. Kwame Anthony Appiah: Racisms.
    • 4. J. L. A. Garcia: The Heart of Racisms. Contemporary Issue: Views on “Mixed Race”.
    • 5. Naomi Zack: Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy.
    • 6. Lewis R. Gordon: Race, Biraciality, and Mixed Race-In Theory.
    • 7. Martin R. Delaney: The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored Peoples of the United States.
    • 8. Frederick Douglass: The Future of the Negro, The Future of the Colored Race, The Nation’s Problem, and On Colonization.
    • 9. Marcus Garvey: From Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.
    • 10. Maulana Karenga: The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles): Their Meaning and Message.
    • 11. Molefi K. Asante: The Afrocentric Idea in Education.
    • 12. Cornel West: The Four Traditions of Response. Contemporary Issue: “Ebonics”.
    • 13. Geneva Smitherman: Black English/Ebonics: What it Be Like?
    • 14. Milton Baxter: Educating Teachers about Educating the Oppressed. Feminism, Womanism, and Gender Relations.
    • 15. Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?
    • 16. Patricia Hill Collins: The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought.
    • 17. bell hooks: Reflections on Race and Sex.
    • 18. Angela P. Harris: Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory.
    • 19. Charles W. Mills: Do Black Men Have a Moral Duty to Marry Black Women? Contemporary Issue: Women’s Rights and Black Nationalism.
    • 20. E. Francis White: Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African American Nationalism.
    • 21. Amiri Baraka: Black Woman. Violence, Liberation, and Social Justice.
    • 22. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
    • 23. Malcolm X: Message to the Grass Roots.
    • 24. Howard McGary: Psychological Violence, Physical Violence, and Racial Oppression.
    • 25. Laurence M. Thomas: Group Autonomy and Narrative Identity. Contemporary Issue: Affirmative Action.
    • 26. Bernard Boxill: Affirmative Action.
    • 27. Shelby Steele: Affirmative Action. Ethics and Value Theory.
    • 28. Alain Locke: Values and Imperatives.
    • 29. Michele M. Moody-Adams: Race, Class, and the Social Construction of Self-Respect.
    • 30. Laurence M. Thomas: Friendship.
    • 31. Cornel West: Nihilism in Black America.
    • 32. Katie G. Cannon: Unctuousness as a Virtue: According to the Life of Zora Neale Hurston. Contemporary Issue: A Classic Question of Values, Rights, and Education.
    • 33. Booker T. Washington: Atlanta Exposition Address.
    • 34. W.E.B. DuBois: The Talented Tenth.
    • 35. Patricia J. Williams: Alchemical Notes: Reconstructing Ideals from Deconstructed Rights.
    • 36. Regina Austin: Sapphire Bound!
    • 37. Derrick Bell: Racial Realism-After We’re Gone: Prudent Speculations on America in a Post-Racial Epoch.
    • 38. John Arthur: Critical Race Theory: A Critique. Contemporary Issue: Racist Hate Speech.
    • 39. Charles Lawrence and Gerald Gunther: Prohibiting Racist Speech: A Debate. Aesthetics.
    • 40. James Baldwin: Everybody’s Protest Novel.
    • 41. Larry Neal: The Black Arts Movement.
    • 42. Angela Y. Davis: Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”: Music and Social Consciousness.
    • 43. Ralph Ellison: Blues People. Contemporary Issue: Rap Music.
    • 44. Crispin Sartwell: Rap Music and the Uses of Stereotype.
    • 45. Kimberle Crenshaw: Beyond Racism and Misogyny: Black Feminism and 2 Live Crew. Philosophy and Theology.
    • 46. David Walker: David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United stated.
    • 47. James H. Cone: God and Black Theology.
    • 48. Victor Anderso: Ontological Blackness in Theology.
    • 49. Anthony Pinn: Alternative Perspectives and Critiques. Contemporary Issue: Womanist Theology and the Traditionalist Black Church.
    • 50. Cheryl J. Sanders: Christian Ethics and Theology in a Womanist Perspective.
    • 51. Delores Williams: Womanist Reflections on “the Black Church,” the African-American Denominational Churches and the Universal Hagar’s Spiritual Church.
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Visualizing a Critical Mixed-Race Theory

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2011-10-09 20:31Z by Steven

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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The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory [Review: Zack]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Slavery on 2011-10-04 01:26Z by Steven

The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory [Review: Zack]

American Nineteenth Century History
Volume 11, Issue 2 (2010)
pages 269-270
DOI: 10.1080/14664658.2010.481885

Naomi Zack, Professor of Philosophy
University of Oregon

The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory
Tavia Nyong’o
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009
Pp. 230. ISBNs 978 0 8166 5612 7 and 978 0 8166 5613 4

If The Amalgamation Waltz were not a 230-page book, published by a university press, complete with scholarly apparatus, readers might think that Alan Sokal was at it again, this time with the bad taste to caricature postmodern treatments of mixed race—as though mixed race did not already have a history of tragedy in fiction and biography. But alas, Tavia Nyong’o’s jargon-ridden exercise in “mixed-race theory” probably is the sincere but feverish reworking of a doctoral dissertation written under great stress, which it purports to be. Most readers, after reviving from the stupor induced by grappling with the first half of the introduction, would probably simply recycle the book unread and have done with it. But, I am heartened by the fact that mixed race has become a sufficiently respectable intellectual topic to support publication of even such a failed effort.

Nyong’o’s major theme appears to be that the idea of racial miscegenation enables certain errors in the mass political memory (which is something like a Jungian collective unconscious, only structured by anxiety). The idea of racial miscegenation leads to a “miscegenation of time.” When time is miscegenated, temporal order gets disorganized, so that what people imagine as A preceding B is in reality a case of B preceding A. Thus, the idea of mixed race is imagined to come after the idea of pure race. But in reality, the idea of mixed race comes first and the idea of pure race is constructed as a defense against the nightmarish chaos and danger evoked by the idea of mixed race. However, to put it this way might be too literal, because Nyongo writes, “My method employs the archive as a practice of ‘countermemory’ but without the pretense of using it to build a complete or coherent historical narrative” (p. 7). Indeed, such a narrative is not possible insofar as the “spurious issue” of mixed race/hybridity/amalgamation is not a thing but a performance that defers solution of racial problems into some future in which it (m-r/h/a) will transcend race.

Although Nyongo begins The Amalgamation Waltz by castigating Americans for the assumption that that the history of race in the U.S. offers the final meanings of race words, the four chapters of the book are largely restricted to American history. Chapter one, “The Mirror of Liberty,” is about representations of Crispus Attucks, a mixed-race patriot or insurgent who was killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre on 5 March 1770. Nyong’o weaves Attucks’s role as a symbol of unresolved racial injustice in colonial times with reflection on a book in the Wellcome Library in London that is falsely described as bound in the “Tanned Skin of the Negro whose Execution caused the War of Independence.” Nyong’o notes that some books were in fact bound in human skin, a practice called “anthropodermic bibliopegy” (p. 37). Chapter two, “In Night’s Eye,” begins with a nineteenth-century story about a traveler in a coach at night, who informs his companions that the idea of amalgamation is used by anti-abolitionists to frighten and shock abolitionists. This notion of moral panic, based on imagery of sexual disorder, is further developed throughout the chapter, and Nyong’o makes a lucid case that such imagery was used by both sides of the slavery…

Read or purchase the review here.

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