The New Colored People: The Mixed Race Movement in America (Book Review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-11-19 04:32Z by Steven

The New Colored People: The Mixed Race Movement in America (Book Review)

Mixed American Life

Charles T. Franklin

The New Colored People: The Mixed Race Movement in America by Jon Michael Spencer (1997) makes the argument that the US multi-cultural movement, like other movements in the past, is something that we need to pay attention for two reasons. Spencer cites the first reason to pay attention is due to the increasing numbers of people who are born with or have become more comfortable expressing their “mixed-race”heritage. The second reason Spencer gives is his assertion that our society as whole is not particularly ready to deal with the potential social, legal, and cultural consequences that could happen as a result. In other words, the multi-racial movement is more than just the right to check multiple ethnicities or the “Other” section for race on an application. Spencer’s interest in the growing multicultural movement of the US is not for its own sake (though he believes it worth studying) , but to compare this movement with similar movements in South Africa and use that comparison to predict the impact of the multicultural movement in the future. Spencer conducts a comprehensive analysis on the subject; however his primary audience and the target of his study is the impact of the mixed-race movement on the African-American community…

Read the entire review here.

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Review of Spencer, Jon Michael, The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-01-09 13:05Z by Steven

Review of Spencer, Jon Michael, The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America

H-Net Reviews
January 1998

Richard L. Hughes

The Census, Race, and…

Amid a racial climate which includes a presidential advisory board on race and a discussion of slavery within the popular media, there lies an increasingly prominent dialogue on race in American culture. As the United States nears its next federal census in the year 2000, many Americans have expressed dissatisfaction with the accuracy of the current four categories of white, black, Asian and Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native. Some observers have supported the addition of a “multiracial” category where others, such as historian Orlando Patterson, have criticized the continued existence of racial categories on the census as a “scientifically meaningless” and “politically dangerous” “Race Trap.”[1]

One of the reasons why this debate resonates with so many Americans is that the discussion of race and public policy includes both the persistent belief that race is a fixed biological factor and the emerging notion of many scholars and policymakers that race is a fluid historical and sociopolitical construct. Acknowledging both perspectives, Jon Michael Spencer’s The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America is the latest scholarly contribution to this ongoing debate concerning the census and the possible use of the category “multiracial.” Borrowing both the title and analytical framework from Joel Williamson’s New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States (1980), which focused on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Spencer offers a cautionary tale about a “multiracial” category in the contemporary United States.[2] He contends that without a “frank assessment of race” and the end of racism, such a category would be “politically naive” and even “suicidal” to black Americans (pp. 148,155).

While Spencer shares Williamson’s astute perspective that the status of “mulattoes” or, to use Spencer’s term, “multiracial” Americans, is an instructive index for race relations, his argument about the dangers of a new government-sanctioned racial category centers on a “cross-cultural analysis” of multiracial Americans and the coloured people of South Africa (p. 11). Building on the comparative work of historian George Fredrickson, the writings of coloured intellectuals such as Richard Van der Ross and Allan Boesak, and interviews with other “coloured nationalists,” Spencer concludes that the creation of a coloured “middle status” under apartheid served to divide and oppress nonwhites by creating a buffer zone between white elites and the black masses (pp. xiii, 91).[3] The result was the continued oppression of South African blacks and a marginal status for coloured South Africans. Cognizant of the centrality of issues of personal identity in the current American debate, Spencer adds that the middle status robbed coloureds of the identity, esteem, and culture only possible through a unified black consciousness movement in more recent South Africa. Spencer’s valuable contribution lies in his comparative analysis in which the tragedy of South African apartheid underscores the possible dangers in careless additions to America’s racial landscape…

Read the entire review here.

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The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, South Africa, United States on 2009-10-23 18:01Z by Steven

The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America

New York University Press
224 pages
ISBN: 9780814780725

Jon Michael Spencer (Yahya Jongintaba), Tyler and Alice Haynes Professor of American Studies and Professor of Music
University of Richmond

foreword by Richard E. Vander Ross

In recent years, dramatic increases in racial intermarriage have given birth to a generation who refuse to be shoehorned into neat, pre-existing racial categories. Energized by a refusal to allow mixed-race people to be rendered invisible, this movement lobbies aggressively to have the category multiracial added to official racial classifications.

While applauding the self-awareness and activism at the root of this movement, Jon Michael Spencer questions its ultimate usefulness, deeply concerned that it will unintentionally weaken minority power. Focusing specifically on mixed-race blacks, Spencer argues that the mixed-race movement in the United States would benefit from consideration of how multiracial categories have evolved in South Africa. Americans, he shows us, are deeply uninformed about the tragic consequences of the former white South African government’s classification of mixed-race people as Coloured. Spencer maintains that a multiracial category in the U.S. could be equally tragic, not only for blacks but formultiracials themselves.

Further, splintering people of color into such classifications of race and mixed race aggravates race relations among society’s oppressed. A group that can attain some privilege through a multiracial identity is unlikely to identify with the lesser status group, blacks. It may be that the undoing of racial classification will come not by initiating a new classification, but by our increased recognition that there are millions of people who simply defy easy classification.


  • Foreword by Richard E. van der Ross
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • ONE: The Rainbow People of God
  • TWO: The Blessings of the One-Drop Rule
  • THREE: The Curses of the Amorphous Middle Status
  • FOUR: Thou Shalt Not Racially Classify
  • Postscript
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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