Race, Biraciality, and Mixed Race—in Theory

Posted in Books, Chapter, Media Archive, Philosophy, United States on 2013-09-29 22:19Z by Steven

Race, Biraciality, and Mixed Race—in Theory

Chapter in: Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age

Rowman & Littlefield
288 pages
August 1997
Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-8476-8447-2
eBook ISBN: 978-0-585-20172-6
pages 51-71

Lewis R. Gordon, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Institute for the Study of Race and Social Thought and Director of the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies
Temple University

“You, who are a doctor,” said I to my [American] interlocutor, “you do not believe, however, that the blood of blacks has some specific qualities?”

He shrugged his shoulders: “There are three blood types,” he responded to me, “which one finds nearly equally in blacks and whites.”


“It is not safe for black blood to circulate in our veins.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, “Return from the United States”

An African American couple found themselves taking their child, a few months of age, to a physician for an ear infection. Since their regular physician was out, an attending physician took their care. Opening the baby girl’s files, he was caught by some vital information. The charts revealed a diagnosis of “H level” alpha thalassemia, a genetic disease that is known to afflict 2 percent of northeast Asian populations. He looked at the couple. The father of the child, noticing the reticence and awkwardness of the physician, instantly spotted a behavior that he had experienced on many occasions.

“It’s from me,” he said. “She’s got the disease from me.”

“Now, how could she get the disease from you?” the physician asked with some irritation.

“My grandmother is Chinese,” the father explained.

The physician’s face suddenly shifted to an air of both surprise and relief. Then he made another remark. “Whew!” he said. “I was about to say, ‘But—you’re black.'”

The couple was not amused.

Realizing his error, the physician continued. “I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, I know Hispanics who are also Asians, so why not African Americans?”

Yes. Why not?

The expression “mixed race” has achieved some popularity in contemporary discussions of racial significations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It is significant that these three countries are marked by the dominance of an Anglo-cultural standpoint. In other countries, particularly with Spanish, Portuguese, and French influences, the question of racial mixture has enjoyed some specificity and simultaneous plurality. For the Anglos, however, the general matrix has been in terms of “whites” and” all others,” the consequence of which has been the rigid binary of whites and nonwhites. It can easily be shown, however, that the specific designations in Latin and Latin American countries are, for the most part, a dodge and that, ultimately, the primary distinctions focus on being either white or at least not being black.

We find in the contemporary Anglophone context, however, a movement that is not entirely based on the question of racial mixture per se. The current articulation of racial mixture focuses primarily upon the concerns of biracial people. Biracial mixture pertains to a specific group within the general matrix of racial mixing, for a biracial identity can only work once, as it were. If the biracial person has children with, say, a person of a supposedly pure race, the “mixture,” if you will, will be between a biracial “race” and a pure one. But it is unclear what race the child will then designate (a mixture of biraciality and X, perhaps, which means being a new biracial formation?).

To understand both mixed race and its biracial specification and some of the critical race theoretical problems raised by both, we need first to understand both race and racism in contemporary race discourse…

…But blackness also points to a history of mixed racialization that, although always acknowledged among blacks, is rarely understood or seen among other groups. I have argued elsewhere, for instance, that to add the claim of “mixture” to blacks in both American continents would be redundant, because blacks are their primary “mixed” populations to begin with. Mixture among blacks, in particular, functions as an organizing aesthetic, as well as a tragic history. On the aesthetic level, it signifies the divide between beauty and ugliness. On the social level, the divide is between being just and unjust, virtuous and vicious; “fair skin” is no accidental, alternative term for “light skin.” And on the historical level, the divide signifies concerns that often are denied…

Read the entire chapter here.

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New Faces, Old Faces: Counting the Multiracial Population Past and Present

Posted in Books, Census/Demographics, Chapter, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-06-26 17:19Z by Steven

New Faces, Old Faces: Counting the Multiracial Population Past and Present

Ann Morning, Associate Professor of Sociology
New York University

Chapter in:

New Faces in a Changing America: Multiracial Identity in the 21st Century
SAGE Publications, Inc.
Paperback ISBN: 9780761923008
432 pages

Edited by:

Loretta I. Winters
California State University, Northridge

Herman L. DeBose
California State University, Northridge

Multiracial Americans have often been heralded as “new people” and in fact have been rediscovered as such more than once in the last century. Charles Chesnutt’s 1899 novel The House Behind the Cedars features a mulatto character who uses the phrase to describe himself and others like him; in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, “the new Negro” described a people that was “neither African nor European, but both” (Williamson, 1980, p. 3). More recently, Forbes (1993) has used the term “Neo-Americans” to denote populations combining African, European, and American Indian roots, and a century after Chesnutt’s work appeared, numerous articles and books—including this volume—convey the sense of multiraciality’s newness in titles such as “Brave New Faces” (Alaya, 2001) or “The New Face of Race” (Meacham, 2000).

Yet having populated North America for nearly four centuries, mixed-race people are far from being a recent phenomenon in the United States. Their early presence has been recorded to greater and lesser degrees in legal records, literature, and historical documentation. As far back as the 1630s and 1640s, colonial records attest to the punishment of interracial sexual unions and the regulation of mulattoes’ slave status (Williamson, 1980). Dictionaries chart 16th-century English usage of the word mulatow (Sollors, 2000), although the meaning of this term has varied over time (Forbes, 1993). Finally, mixed-race people have long populated American literature, particularly since the early 19th century (Sollors, 2000). In sum, the multiracial community is not a new, 20th century phenomenon but rather a long-standing element of American society.

By obscuring the historic dimensions of American multiraciality—emphasizing its newness but not its oldness—we may run the risk of ignoring lessons that past racial stratification offers for understanding today’s outcomes. For one thing, older social norms still make themselves felt in contemporary discussion of mixed-race identity (Davis, 1991; Waters, 1991; Wilson, 1992). In addition, history reminds us that these attitudes toward multiraciality were embedded in complex webs of social, political, economic, and cultural premises and objectives, thereby suggesting that the same holds true today. Finally, turning to the past highlights how malleable racial concepts have proved to be over time despite the permanence and universality we often ascribe to them. Given the United States’ history, the extent to which public attitudes toward mixed-race unions and ancestry have changed is remarkable. Perhaps the real new people today are not just those of multiracial heritage but also Americans in general who now conceptualize, tolerate, or embrace multiple-race identities in ways that were unacceptable in the past.

The history of census enumeration and scientific estimation of the multiracial population in the United States offers an illuminating window onto older conceptions of mixed-race status and a thought-provoking opportunity to compare past treatment of this community with its contemporary reflection. Although the introduction of multiple-race self-description on the 2000 census is often depicted as an entirely new innovation—much as multiracial people themselves are considered to be a new group (Nobles, 2000)—it was not in fact the first time that mixed-race origins have been recorded on the U.S. census. In the 19th century, multiracial response categories were a common, if sporadic, feature of decennial censuses whose appearance and disappearance can be traced to the social, political, and economic outlooks of the nation’s white citizenry at the time. Accordingly, this chapter seeks both to describe historical practices for counting the mixed-race population and to link them with the racial ideologies that motivated and shaped them. Although the focus is on national census enumeration, I also study the efforts of scientists who sought for over a century to estimate the size of the multiracial population and who tended to share the same preoccupations and preconceptions about race as the census officials of their day. Finally, I consider possible implications of the historical record for our understanding of the introduction of multiplerace classification on the 2000 census, suggesting that factors similar to those that weighed in the past are still discernible today…

Read the entire chapter here.


Mixing Up the Game: Social and Historical Contours of Black Mixed Heritage Players in British Football

Posted in Books, Chapter, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2013-03-25 02:08Z by Steven

Mixing Up the Game: Social and Historical Contours of Black Mixed Heritage Players in British Football

Mark Christian, Professor & Chair of African & African American Studies
Lehman College, City University of New York

pages 131-144

in the volume Race, Ethnicity and Football: Persisting Debates and Emergent Issues
288 pages
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-415-88205-7

Edited by:

Daniel Burdsey, Senior Lecturer of Sociology
Chelsea School of Sport
University of Brighton


As the world comes to terms with the reality that the most powerful man on earth, President Barack Obama, is of African-American (mixed heritage) background, it is evident that multiracial heritage has become a popular subject matter. Yet much of this interest stems from the fact that history has been made in terms of a person of colour holding court in the most powerful office in the world. That stated, the social world of mixed heritage persons continues to be one of mixed fortunes. In relation to football, however, there is little doubt that the emergence of players of mixed heritage is palpable in the English Premier League and England team set-up.

This chapter primarily focuses on the socio-historical experiences of black mixed heritage’ footballers within the context of British society. What qualifies me to write on such a subject as black mixed heritage footballers in the UK context? In the world of social science, my social background and academic training would probably be deemed “organically connected” to the phenomena under scrutiny. Indeed having been raised in the city of Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s, I am acutely aware of both British football and institutional racism. Moreover, my black British heritage and intellectual interests have intersected with my love for the beautiful game and the experience of black British players in general.

Additionally, I played for over a decade in the amateur football scene in Liverpool during the 1980s in predominantly black mixed heritage teams based in Toxteth/Liverpool 8, winning league titles and cups on a regular basis. During the 1980s, both of the city’s professional clubs, Everton and Liverpool, had very successful teams, yet it was rare to see a black face on the pitch or on the terraces. Racialised relations were rather poor, and it was difficult for local blacks in the city to go beyond the boundaries of Toxteth/Liverpool 8, where the majority resided, without incurring physical threats to one’s life. Moreover, the city council also had an appalling record of discrimination in employment against its local black population (Gifford et al. 1989).

Most importantly, beyond the structures of institutional racism in Liverpool, I know what it is like to be called a “black bastard” while playing a game of football. Indeed, racism was rife in amateur football on the pitch and in the professional game on the terraces. I recall John Barnes making his England debut in 1983, and later the chants of the England supporters: “there ain’t no black in the Union Jack, Johnnie Barnes, Johnnie Barnes”—a chant that would lead the academic Paul Gilroy (1987) to coin the phrase for his bestseller There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack


Britain has a long history of amnesia in what could be deemed a “racialised mongrelisation” memory loss. After all, it is a state that has historically “mixed” with many cultural groups. To be sure, since the earliest times of British history, peoples with varied ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, languages and cultures have settled in Britain; from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages (5000 BC-100 BC) to the Roman Britain era (55 BC-410 AD). Briefly, the Picts, Celts, Romans, Saxons, Angles, Danes, Jutes, Vikings and Normans are key historical cultural groups that led to the “normative” white ethnic category now described homogenously as “white” and singular in authoritative government census surveys…

Read the entire chapter (by permission of the author) here.

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Afro-Germans and the Problems of Cultural Location

Posted in Books, Chapter, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-03-25 02:03Z by Steven

Afro-Germans and the Problems of Cultural Location

Molefi Kete Asante, Professor of African American Studies
Temple University

The African German Experience: Critical Essays
Greenwood Publishing

edited by Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay

The leitmotif of the German society in regards to African people has a lot to do with the way Germans approach racial difference. Thus, the German society, in many ways, similar to that of other European nations views Africans as other and lesser. This is a particularly troubling problem for children of mixed heritage since in the German construction of social reality they cannot be German by blood and therefore are African, the other.

It is claimed in this essay that the Afro-Germans, those born of African fathers and German mothers or German fathers and African mothers, a less frequent combination, have a peculiar problem of cultural location which is unlike the problems of other residents of Germany. There is a relatively sizable population of immigrants from Turkey, Greece, Italy, and the former Yugoslavia who reside In Germany. But while Turks, Italians, and Greeks may be defined as not-German they are still seen in the light of their own nationality, but to which nation is the Afro-German connected? This is at once an existential and a locational question for the Afro-German, encompassing being and physical place…

Read the entire chapter here.

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Passing and the Problematic of Multiracial Pride (or, Why One Mixed Girl Still Answers to Black)

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Chapter, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States, Women on 2013-03-13 18:16Z by Steven

Passing and the Problematic of Multiracial Pride (or, Why One Mixed Girl Still Answers to Black)

by Danzy Senna

Chapter in: Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture
University of Michigan Press
416 pages
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-472-09840-8
Paper ISBN: 978-0-472-06840-1
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-472-02545-9

Edited By:

Harry J. Elam, Jr., Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities and Professor of Drama
Stanford University

Kennell Jackson (1941-2005), Associate Professor of History
Stanford University

I have never had the comfort zone of a given racial identity. My mother is a Bostonian white woman of WASP heritage. My father is a Louisiana black man of mixed African and Mexican heritage. Unlike people who are automatically classified as black or white, I have always been up for debate. I am forever having to explain to people why it is that I look so white for a black girl, why it is that my features don’t reveal my heritage. It’s not something I should have to explain, but in America, at least, people are obsessed with this dissonance between my face and my race. White Americans in particular have a difficult time understanding why somebody of my background would choose blackness. With Tiger Woods proclaiming himself a Cablinasian, multiracial activists demanding new categories, and Newsweek declaring it hip to be mixed, it strikes most people as odd that I would call myself a black girl.

But my racial identity developed when I was growing up in Boston in the 1970s, where there were only two choices for me: black and white. For my sister, a year older than me, with curly hair and more African features, there weren’t even these choices. There was only black. And my parents, smitten with the black power politics of the time, taught my siblings and me, in no uncertain terms, that we were all black. They saw this identity as armor against the racism beyond our front door. They also knew that my sister didn’t have a choice, and to define us differently would be damaging to us as a family unit. The tact that the world saw each of us as different (my sister as light-skinned black, my brother as Puerto Rican, and me as Italian) raised complications, but didn’t change the fact that we were all one tribe…

Read the entire chapter here. (pages 83-87)

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Mixed Asian Americans and Health: Navigating Uncharted Waters

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Chapter, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2013-01-19 02:11Z by Steven

Mixed Asian Americans and Health: Navigating Uncharted Waters

Chapter in: Handbook of Asian American Health

pages 129-134
Print ISBN: 978-1-4614-2226-6
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4614-2227-3
DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-2227-3

Edited by:

Grace J. Yoo
San Francisco State University
Mai-Nhung Le
San Francisco State University

Alan Y. Oda
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California

Chapter Author:

Cathy J. Tashiro, PhD, RN, Associate Professor of Nursing
University of Washington, Tacoma

Over 2.6 million people who self-identified with more than one race in the 2010 U.S. Census claimed Asian ancestry, about 15% of the total population of Asians, making these individuals a significant part of Asian America. Mixed Asian Americans come from a variety of backgrounds, making it difficult to generalize about their health, though some common characteristics have emerged. While research on physical health outcomes of mixed Asian Americans is still limited, there is a growing body of research that may indicate increased risk for behavioral problems among some subgroups. The chapter reviews the existing research and discusses social and genetic factors relevant to the health and wellbeing of mixed Asian Americans.


What are the health implications of being a mixed Asian American? Very little is known about this diverse and rapidly expanding population. The little we do know is complicated by the collision between biological concepts of “race” and the social process of racial categorization. Asian America includes such diverse populations that it’s difficult to make biological generalizations about them. Yet there are some well-established differences between certain Asian groups and the majority population that have important health implications. Two examples will be discussed in this chapter. For people of mixed Asian ancestry who may also have ancestral roots in Europe, Africa, and/or the Americas, the complexities of possible combinations and their implications are daunting. But there is an urgent need to tease apart the social and biological meanings of being a mixed Asian American. Researchers whose studies are discussed in this chapter are beginning to do this important work. Hopefully, in the near future, a mixed Asian American confronted with health risks by race who asks “But what does this mean for me?” will find real answers…

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Passing for Black in Seventeenth-Century Maryland

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Chapter, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-12-18 00:56Z by Steven

Passing for Black in Seventeenth-Century Maryland

Chapter in:

Interpreting the Early Modern World: Transatlantic Perspectives
246 pages
eBook ISBN: 978-0-387-70759-4
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-387-70758-7
Softcover ISBN: 978-1-4614-2709-4

Edited by: Mary C. Beaudry and James Symonds

Chapter Authors:

Julia A. King, Associate Professor of Anthropology
St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Edward E. Chaney

In the Chesapeake region of the United States, archaeologists (including ourselves) typically organize the men and women who made up colonial society into one of three categories: European, African, or Native American. Although these three categories at one time were conflated with skin color, today, they are conceived primarily (although not always) in terms of ancestry or origin. Archaeologists have used these categories to document and interpret social life in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and to understand the nature and origins of altitudes toward difference, especially racial and ethnic difference. The best of this work has revealed a range of responses to post-Contact life in the region. Enslaved Africans, for example, were able to use material culture to exert some control over their material and spiritual lives. Many Chesapeake Bay Indians maintained traditional practices long after the arrival of English men and women, while others did not. Meanwhile. English men and women were doing their damndest to transplant English ways of life to the region, usually, but not always, with considerable success.

Indeed, the use of the terms European, African, and Indian to frame Chesapeake history has often served as a counterbalance to the work of the region’s very productive social history school, which focused the majority of its scholarly attention on the experiences of the English colonists who made their way to Maryland and Virginia in the seventeenth century. This work, which has contributed enormously to Chesapeake historiography, has, with some important exceptions, had the unintentional effect of displacing and even erasing the indigenous and African people who were also a part of this history. Putting Native Americans and Africans back into the landscape was a necessary corrective to what was then shaping up to be a wholly European story. The cure, however, while not worse than the disease, raises its own issues concerning the study of racial and ethnic difference. European, African, and Indian have become fixed, unchanging, a priori categories of identity, givens rather than problems for study. Not only do the categories mask considerable variability, they ignore how these identities themselves came to be constructed, and how these identities, then and now. subtly reinforce colonial hierarchies through the use of imposed identities (sec Epperson. 1999 for an early critique).

That such assumptions about race and ethnicity continue to influence the direction of Chesapeake studies is illustrated by the Smithsonian Institution’s recently opened (2009) exhibit. Written in Hone: Forensic Files from the 17th Century. The exhibit’s curators use morphological and metrical measurements collected from Chesapeake skeletons to conclude that “only three groups … were here in the 1600s and early 1700s—individuals of Native American. European, and African origins” (Smithsonian Institution, 2009). The exhibit goes on to list the biological attributes of these “origins” and then quite seamlessly link these attributes to culturally specilied groups. As historian Ken Cohen has pointed out in his review of the Smithsonian’s exhibit for the Journal of American History (2009), such determinations and linkages conflate origin and identity, imposing twentieth- and twenty-first-century racial categories on past groups and. in so doing, “[erasing] multi-racial individuals and cultural adaptations such as ‘passing.'” Cohen concludes that, for the exhibit’s visitors, “the oversimplified treatment of race [will prevent them] from understanding the dynamic experience of the seventeenth-century moment when modern definitions of race were forming but not yet crystallized.”

Cohen’s point is especially well-taken for the seventeenth-century period, when racial categories of identity were not nearly as fixed as they would become in the eighteenth century. And, even in the eightteenlh century, while these imposed categories became increasingly “real” in a social sense, we still have trouble showing how people in this period constructed their own identity. Studies of race and ethnicity in other places have revealed the role of material culture in identity formation. Yet, surprisingly few archaeological studies of the construction of racial categories have been undertaken for the Chesapeake region’s first century of colonization. In Maryland, this is largely because, or at least the argument goes, Africans constituted a small minority of the population through the end of the century. Given the profound influence of the social history school on Chesapeake historiography and its emphasis on a quantitative approach, this argument is not unexpected. The argument is unpersuasive, however, given that the indigenous population, especially in the first century of sustained contact, hardly constituted a minority, and few studies have focused on the emergence of the category Indian in the seventeenth century (but see Potter. 1993).

An important exception is Alison Bell’s (2005) study of white ethnogenesis in the colonial Chesapeake. Using patterns in Chesapeake domestic architecture first identified by Cary Carson (Carson et al.. 1981). James Deetz (1993. 1996). Henry Glassie (1975), and Dell Upton (1982, 1986), Bell concluded that changes in the construction and layout of Chesapeake dwellings through time revealed one strategy by which Anglo-Americans (her term) were able to reconfigure themselves as a new social category they called “white.” As Chesapeake planters began building houses distancing themselves from the men and women who labored on their farms, they continued to use technologies and building designs that required planters to rely on other planters (and “whites”) in a kind of traditional network lo help maintain those houses. Racism, Bell (2005:457) concluded, “slowed the development of capitalism…

Read or purchase the chapter here.

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Organizing 101: A Mixed-Race Feminist in Movements for Social Justice

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Chapter, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science, United States on 2012-10-12 00:52Z by Steven

Organizing 101: A Mixed-Race Feminist in Movements for Social Justice

Chapter in:
Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism
Seal Press
April 2002
432 pages
ISBN-10: 1580050670
ISBN-13: 9781580050678

Edited by:

Daisy Hernandez
Bushara Rehman

Foreword by: Cherríe Moraga

Chapter Author:

Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz

pages 29-39

I have vivid memories of celebrating the holidays with my maternal grandparents. My Jido and Sito (“grandfather” and “grandmother,” respectively in Arabic), who were raised as Muslim Arabs, celebrated Christmas rather than Ramadan. Every year, my Sito set up her Christmas tree in front of a huge bay window in their living room. It was important to her that the neighbors could see the tree from the street. Yet on Christmas day Arabic was spoken in the house, Arabic music was played, Arabic food was served and a hot and heavy poker game was always the main activity. Early on, I learned that what is publicly communicated can be very different from what is privately experienced.

Because of the racism, harassment and ostracism that my Arab grandparents faced, they developed ways to assimilate (or appear to assimilate) into their predominantly white New Hampshire community. When my mother married my Jewish father and raised me with his religion, they hoped that by presenting me to the world as a white Jewish girl, I would escape the hate they had experienced. But it did not happen that way. Instead, it took me years to untangle and understand the public/private dichotomy that had been such a part of my childhood.

My parents’ mixed-class, mixed-race and mixed-religion relationship held its own set of complex contradictions and tensions. My father comes from a working-class, Ashkenazi Jewish family. My mother comes from an upper-middle-class Lebanese family, in which—similar to other Arab families of her generation—women were not encouraged and only sometimes permitted to get an education. My mother has a high-school degree and no “marketable” job skills. When my father married her, he considered it an opportunity to marry into a higher class status. Her background as a Muslim Arab was something he essentially ignored except when it came to deciding what religious traditions my sister and I were going to be raised with. From my father’s perspective, regardless of my mother’s religious and cultural background, my sister and I were Jews—and only Jews.

My mother, who to this day carries an intense mix of pride and shame about being Arab, was eager to “marry out” of her Arabness. She thought that by marrying a white Jew, particularly in a predominantly white New Hampshire town, that she would somehow be able to escape or minimize the ongoing racism her family faced. She converted to Judaism for this reason and also because she felt that “eliminating” Arabness and Islam from the equation would make my life and my sister’s life less complex. We could all say—her included—that we were Jews. Sexism and racism (and their internalized versions) played a significant part in shaping my parents’ relationship. My father was never made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome because he had married a Muslim Arab woman. He used his white male privilege and his Zionistic point of view to solidify his legitimacy. He created the perception that he did my mother a favor by “marrying her out” of her Arabness and the strictness of her upbringing.

My mother, however, bore the brunt of other people’s prejudices. Her struggle for acceptance and refuge was especially evident in her relationship with my father’s family, who never fully accepted her. It did not matter that she converted to Judaism, was active in Hadassah or knew all of the rituals involved in preparing a Passover meal. She was frequently made to feel that she was never quite Jewish enough. My Jewish grandmother was particularly critical of my mother and communicated in subtle and not so subtle ways that she tolerated my mother’s presence because she loved her son. In turn, I felt as if there was something wrong with me and that the love that I received from my father’s family was conditional. Many years later this was proven to be true: when my parents divorced, every member of my father’s family cut off communication from my mother, my sister and me. Racism and Zionism played a significant (but not exclusive) role in their choice. My father’s family (with the exception of my Jewish grandfather, who died in the early seventies) had always been uncomfortable that my father had married an Arab woman. The divorce gave them a way out of examining their own racism and Zionism.

Today my mother realizes that her notions about marrying into whiteness and into a community that would somehow gain her greater acceptance was, to say the least, misguided. She romanticized her relationship with my father as a “symbol of peace” between Jews and Arabs, and she underestimated the impact of two very real issues: racism within the white Jewish community and the strength of anti-Semitism toward the Jewish community. At the time she did not understand that her own struggle against racism and anti-Arab sentiment was both linked to and different than anti-Semitism…

Read the entire chapter here or here.


Race, Theory, and Scholarship in the Biracial Project

Posted in Books, Chapter, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-08-31 18:12Z by Steven

Race, Theory, and Scholarship in the Biracial Project

Chapter in:

Race Struggles
University of Illinois Press
352 pages
6.125 x 9.25 in.; 4 tables
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-07648-0

Edited by:

Theodore Koditschek, Professor of History
University of Missouri, Columbia

Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, Associate Professor of History; Associate Professor of African American Studies
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Helen A. Neville, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Educational Psychology
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Chapter Author:

Minkah Makalani, Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies
University of Texas, Austin

Since the early 1990s, there has emerged in the United States a push to racially reclassify persons with one black and one white parent as biracial. A central feature of what I am calling the biracial project is a cohort of scholars, themselves biracial identity advocates, who argue that such an identity is more appropriate for people of mixed parentage (PMP) than a black one. These scholars maintain that when PMP identify as biracial, they gain a more mentally healthy racial identity, have fewer experiences of alienation, and are able to express their racial and cultural distinction from African Americans. In addition to the presumed personal benefits of such an identity, these scholars suggest that a biracial identity is a positive step in moving society beyond race and toward a color-blind society. What remains troubling about this scholarship, though, is a tendency to conceptualize PMP as a distinct racial group, and the inattention to the potentially negative political impact such a reclassification would have on African Americans.

Historically and currently, white supremacy in the United States has hinged on the oppression of people of African descent. The position of African Americans in the political economy has served as the basis for developing a racialized social system, restructuring that system at different historical moments, and incorporating new social groups into the racial hierarchy as races. Asserting a new racial group premised on a claim to an inherent (biological) whiteness and a rejection of blackness taps into the intricacies, logics, and values of that very system. It is therefore important to remember that the push for a biracial racial category arose and made its greatest strides amid predictions that by the year 2050 whites will be a numerical minority. More than a question of self-identity, the push for a biracial identity concerns substantiating the existence of a new race to be positioned as an intermediary between blacks and whites in a reordered racialized social system. Indeed, in the United States there have always been multiple racial groups situated below whites in the racial hierarchy. Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has recently argued that, increasingly, different groups are beginning to hold a position of “honorary whiteness” within that hierarchy. Taking into account the structures of race in Latin America and the Caribbean, I remain unconvinced that an honorary white racial status in the United States would include PMP, as Bonilla-Silva suggests, though I agree with his claim that various racialized groups that were previously denied the privileges of whiteness increasingly enjoy advantages, privileges, and access to centers of power that continue to be denied black people and those whom Bonilla-Silva calls the “collective black.” Far from helping to erase existing color lines or challenging the new racial formations described by Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Bonilla-Silva, it would draw yet another color line. And unlike certain Asian and Latino groups, a new biracial race stakes its claim, quite literally, on possessing whiteness.

The biracial project approaches racial identity as racial identification, or the assertion of a racial category. Using identity as a synonym tor race has also entailed inadequate attention to the complexities of identity. Consequently, these works rarely engage the psychological scholarship on black identity formation, not to mention the historical, sociological, and cultural interrogations of blackness that have appeared in Black Studies over the past century. Most troubling is the inattention, if not utter aversion, to the history of PMP considering themselves black and struggling over the meanings of blackness.

It is hardly coincidental that these scholars presume certain antiracist attributes to inhere in a biracial identity. In asserting the subversive character of a biracial identity, Maria P. P. Root maintains that it “may force us to reexamine our construction of race and the hierarchical social order it supports.” Naomi Zack and G. Reginald Daniel more plainly argue that a biracial identity hastens the end of racial categories altogether by challenging popular notions of race. For Zack in particular, a biracial identity serves as the basis for “ultimately disabus(ing) Americans of their false beliefs in the biological reality of race,” thus leading society away from racial classifications and hastening racisms demise. Still, the progressive qualities of a biracial identity are more apparent than real, largely asserted with little research substantiating the claims of its proponents.

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.

Situating the discussion of biracial identity in the context of race and racial oppression as structural relationships, I provide a detailed review of the theoretical and prescriptive literature advocating a biracial identity. Specifically, I am concerned with this racial projects theoretical basis for a biracial identity, how it conceptualizes race and racism, the place of the one-drop rule in this conceptualization, and the defense of biracial identity as an antiracist tool…

Read the chapter here.

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The Passing of Anatole Broyard

Posted in Biography, Books, Chapter, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-08-01 04:18Z by Steven

The Passing of Anatole Broyard

Chapter in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man
Random House
256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-679-77666-6

Chapter pages: 180-214

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research
Harvard University

In 1982, an investment banker named Richard Grand-Jean took a summer’s lease on an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Fairfield, Connecticut; its owner, Anatole Broyard, spent his summers in Martha’s Vineyard. The house was handsomely furnished with period antiques, and the surrounding acreage included a swimming pool and a pond. But the property had another attraction, too. Grand-Jean, a managing director of Salomon Brothers, was an avid reader, and he took satisfaction in renting from so illustrious a figure. Anatole Broyard had by then been a daily book reviewer for the Times for more than a decade, and that meant that he was one of literary America’s foremost gatekeepers. Grand-Jean might turn to the business pages of the Times first, out of professional obligation, but he turned to the book page next, out of a sense of self. In his Walter Mittyish moments, he sometimes imagined what it might be like to be someone who read and wrote about books for a living—someone to whom millions of readers looked for guidance.

Broyard’s columns were suffused with both worldliness and high culture. Wry, mandarin, even self-amused at times, he wrote like a man about town, but one who just happened to have all of Western literature at his fingertips. Always, he radiated an air of soigné self-confidence: he could be amiable in his opinions or waspish, but he never betrayed a flicker of doubt about what he thought. This was a man who knew that his judgment would never falter and his sentences never fail him.

Grand-Jean knew little about Broyard’s earlier career, but as he rummaged through Broyard’s bookshelves he came across old copies of intellectual journals like Partisan Renew and Commentary, to which Broyard had contributed a few pieces in the late forties and early fifties. One day, Grand-Jean found himself leafing through a magazine that contained an early article by Broyard. What caught his eye, though, was the contributor’s note for the article—or, rather, its absence. It had been neatly cut out, as if with a razor.

A few years later, Grand-Jean happened on another copy of that magazine, and decided to look up the Broyard article again. This time, the note on the contributor was intact. It offered a few humdrum details—that Broyard was born in New Orleans, attended Brooklyn College and the New School for Social Research, and taught at New York University’s Division of General Education. It also offered a less humdrum one: the situation of the American Negro, the note asserted, was a subject that the author “knows at first hand.” It was an elliptical formulation, to be sure, but for Anatole Broyard it may not have been elliptical enough.

Broyard was born black and became white, and his story is compounded of equal parts pragmatism and principle. He knew that the world was filled with such snippets and scraps of paper, all conspiring to reduce him to an identity that other people had invented and he had no say in. Broyard responded with X-Acto knives and evasions, with distance and denials and half-denials and cunning half-truths. Over the years, he became a virtuoso of ambiguity and equivocation. Some of his acquaintances knew the truth; many more had heard rumors about “distant” black ancestry (wasn’t here a grandfather who was black? a great-grandfather?). But most were entirely unaware, and that was as he preferred it. He kept the truth even from his own children. Society had decreed race to be a matter of natural law, but he wanted race to be an elective affinity, and it was never going to be a fair fight. A penalty was exacted. He shed a past and an identity to become a writer—a writer who wrote endlessly about the act of shedding a past and an identity…

Read the entire chapter here.

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