Mixing It Up

[ Anthropology ]

Mixing It Up

Multiracial Subjects

Edited by SanSan Kwan and Kenneth Speirs

Mixing It Up brings together the observations of ten noted voices who have experienced multiracialism first-hand.

2004

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Paperback

6 x 9 | 225 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-74345-8

The United States Census 2000 presents a twenty-first century America in which mixed-race marriages, cross-race adoption, and multiracial families in general are challenging the ethnic definitions by which the nation has historically categorized its population. Addressing a wide spectrum of questions raised by this rich new cultural landscape, Mixing It Up brings together the observations of ten noted voices who have experienced multiracialism first-hand.

From Naomi Zack's "American Mixed Race: The United States 2000 Census and Related Issues" to Cathy Irwin and Sean Metzger's "Keeping Up Appearances: Ethnic Alien-Nation in Female Solo Performance," this diverse collection spans the realities of multiculturalism in compelling new analysis. Arguing that society's discomfort with multiracialism has been institutionalized throughout history, whether through the "one drop" rule or media depictions, SanSan Kwan and Kenneth Speirs reflect on the means by which the monoracial lens is slowly being replaced.

Itself a hybrid of memoir, history, and sociological theory, Mixing It Up makes it clear why the identity politics of previous decades have little relevance to the fluid new face of contemporary humanity.

  • Preface (Naomi Zack)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction (SanSan Kwan and Kenneth Speirs)
  • I. Issues and Trends
    • 1. American Mixed Race: The United States 2000 Census and Related Issues (Naomi Zack)
    • 2. Misceg-narrations (Raquel Scherr Salgado)
  • II. Multiracial Subjects
    • 3. A Passionate Occupant of the Transnational Transit Lounge (Adrian Carton)
    • 4. Miscegenation and Me (Richard Guzman)
    • 5. "What Is She Anyway?": Rearranging Bodily Mythologies (Orathai Northern)
    • 6. Resemblance (Alice White)
    • 7. "Brown Like Me": Explorations of a Shifting Self (Stefanie Dunning)
    • 8. Toward a Multiethnic Cartography: Multiethnic Identity, Monoracial Cultural Logic, and Popular Culture (Evelyn Alsultany)
    • 9. Keeping Up Appearances: Ethnic Alien-Nation in Female Solo Performance (Cathy Irwin and Sean Metzger)
    • 10. Against Erasure: The Multiracial Voice in Cherríe Moraga's Loving in the War Years (Carole DeSouza)
  • About the Contributors

We are always in negotiation, not with a single set of oppositions that place us always in the same relation to others, but with a series of different positionalities. Each has for us its point of profound subjective identification. And that is the most difficult thing.

—Stuart Hall, "What Is This 'Black' in Black Popular Culture?"

We began with the future. The origins of this collection are rooted in our imaginings of the future for people of mixed race. We are a newly married couple. We are also an interracial couple. When our thoughts occasionally, and excitedly, roam toward future events and experiences, we find ourselves wondering about our children. How will they live? How will they understand what it means to be both "Asian" and "White"? How will they choose to identify themselves? How will they be identified by others? How will these identifications influence their lives?

From these personal considerations of the future, we were moved to know more about the experiences of other mixed-race individuals. Mixing It Up: Multiracial Subjects is the result of our inquiry. We gather here ten autobiographical essays that narrate, from a personal perspective, the very diverse experiences of multiraciality. These wonderful essays were chosen based on our belief that the individual life offers the best response to both historical and contemporary erasures and misrecognitions of multiraciality. Writing their own lives now, these writers, we hope, inscribe multiraciality onto the future.

Historically, multiraciality in the United States has been a mark of shame and ignominy. The need to establish and sustain firm categories of race as a way to maintain White dominance in America left no place for the multiracial. Thus the mixed blood, who threatened these categories, was either monoracialized or represented as "deviant" and "pathological." As Michael Omi notes in the foreword to a recent collection on mixed-heritage Asian Americans, "The rigidity of the 'one-drop rule' of race, long-standing eugenic fears of racial pollution, and the persistence (until the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia) of antimiscegenation laws demonstrate how the color line historically has been policed in the United States" (xii).

In more recent years, we find thankfully that multiraciality has become a more visible and accepted feature of our cultural landscape. The phenomena of mixed-race marriages, multiracial families, interracial relationships, and cross-race adoption are on the rise. While some of our contributors take issue with the ways in which the United States Census 2000 recognizes and thus reifies racial categories—and also fails to recognize multiraciality as a category in itself—the Census is groundbreaking in that it now allows respondents to check more than one box for race, and it provides no less than thirty separate racial categories from which to choose, plus eleven different subcategories under "Hispanic ethnicity" and four additional write-in lines (Bureau of the Census). In the year 2000 there were more than 1.3 million mixed-race marriages in the United States (Campo-Flores et al. 40). As our contributor Richard Guzman notes, the reality of the mixed-race experience fuels a growing multiracial movement in America that boasts college clubs (Prism at Harvard and Spectrum at Stanford), magazines (Interrace, New People, Mavin), and a growing body of impressive research and writing. Multiracial figures in popular culture, we also notice, are enjoying increased visibility. Several of the essays in our collection explore the questions the new visibility of mixed-race stars such as Tiger Woods and Mariah Carey raise.

This is not, of course, to deny the persistence of acts of discrimination and violence toward interracial couples, as well as the very specific forms of prejudice that multiracial people experience, such as exclusion from "stable" racial categories, the enduring "What are you?" question, continual misrecognition, accusations of passing, and so forth. The multiraciality confronts a culture dependent on visibility in order to name and to classify. The visual provides the context through which our limited categories of race are most often read and designated. We see, we label. Despite the well-known fact that race is a biological fiction, our fetishistic attachment to skin, hair, and body enables essentializing determinations. For many, the mixing of races poses a substantial threat to the ideal of racial purity. The multiracial image upsets the existing visual cartography. As a result, a multiracial individual is often forced into a cartography that cannot ever fully accommodate her; parts of her must disappear.

Nevertheless, in contrast to the history of oppression and elision of mixed-race people, the current rise in multiraciality signals, for some, a utopian progression toward racelessness. According to this logic, the ideal is for all of us to eventually become one brown race. The possibility of a color-blind society provides an attractive solution to the pervasive challenges of our racialized world. Michael Omi provides us with several examples of this "solution." For instance, he observes that a 1996 New York Times Magazine article by Stanley Crouch declares in its title that "Race Is Over: Black, White, Red, Yellow—Same Difference" (xii). Speculating on the next one hundred years, Crouch argues that race will cease to be an important identity marker. Carrying this optimism further, Senator Bulworth, in Warren Beatty's 1998 film Bulworth, promotes intermarriage as the most effective way to end racism. To do away with race through mixed-race marriages, Bulworth reasons, is to do away with racism. "All we need," he raps, "is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction" (quoted in Omi, xii). Mixed-race marriages and children, according to this line of thinking, accelerate the movement away from racial identification and politics and toward a raceless society. With such a trend, claims a recent article in Newsweek, "the color line is fraying around us. . . . [and] with the rudest reminders of racism washed away, it will be a lot easier to tell ourselves that we finally have overcome" (quoted in Williams-León and Nakashima, 4). The vision of a color-blind society that has finally "overcome," that attaches no special meaning, and certainly no special rights or privileges, to an individual's race, resonates with American society's long-held valuing of abstractions such as "fair play" and "equal access and opportunity." In fact, for many the melting-pot ideas of equality and equal opportunity are central to American democracy.

While the historic representation of the mixed-race individual as tragic, pathological, or threatening is unsustainable, this collection argues that the seemingly egalitarian multicultural paradigm is similarly problematic. This melting-pot ideal avoids the challenges of race in favor of a kind of "brown washing." To embrace a "brown" or raceless society and to dispense with concepts of race are to deny the beauty there is in difference, a beauty that each of our unique essays reveals in its own way. Brown washing hopes to erase the ugly patterns of racism and in one grand gesture homogenize us all. This collection, on the contrary, is built on the desire to acknowledge these patterns and at the same time celebrate our differences. Such a celebration of differences is central to our imaginings of our children's lives, the genesis of this project. Our celebration, however, precisely acknowledges that not all mixes are the same. Each is a product of specific historical influences, racial hierarchies, and power relations that are not always in harmonious balance. In other words, the confluence of more than one so-called racial category into a single body clearly does not end racism. The varying histories of power and oppression are carried within the mixed-race body, and it is important to recognize these tensions. The challenge, we suggest, is for our children to understand themselves as not simply "brown," but as, for example, Chinese-English-Scottish-German-American all at once—with the various unequal histories that these identities carry.

But how do we do this? In an era preoccupied with racial classifications, how do we find a place that honors the multiplicity, as well as the particular histories, of mixed-race experiences without simply creating another encompassing box? The great diversities of individual mixed-race genealogies are difficult to subsume under one politically efficacious category. What's more, even to talk about a concept of mixed race is itself to reify racial categories, with mixed race being simply a combination of various separable, but stable, classifications. The concept of mixed race, we must recognize, carries the danger of reinscribing monoracial paradigms.

This collection of autobiographical essays is based on the belief that, by virtue of its place outside of established racial and ethnic designations, multiraciality is not generalizable. Abstract discourses on race, which attempt to define and to fix, cannot fully apprehend multiraciality. Thus, we propose that the personal is the best avenue to understanding that which is necessarily unclassifiable. It is only through the individual lived experiences of mixed-race people that we can understand the plural nature of multiracialities.

Mixing It Up: Multiracial Subjects opens with essays from two leading scholars in the field of mixed-race studies. These articles identify major issues in the field and thus provide some necessary context for the essays that follow. In "American Mixed Race: The United States 2000 Census and Related Issues," Naomi Zack explores the treatment of mixed race in the most recent United States census. In her estimation this treatment reflects long-held misunderstandings about race and racial identification in America, particularly erroneous ideas about the biological basis of race. These misunderstandings, supported by notions of racial purity, have been accompanied by a general denial of mixed-race identity. Zack considers education and activism as ways of achieving mixed-race identity recognition—on the heuristic grounds that such recognition will ultimately disabuse Americans of their false beliefs in the biological reality of race.

Raquel Scherr Salgado's "Misceg-narrations" outlines the overarching argument for our collection. Surveying the recent history of racial theory in the United States, Salgado argues that in the late 1960s and early 1970s the politics of identity, reacting against the hegemony of White and Eurocentric discourse, necessarily essentialized ethnic difference, thereby subsuming other histories, languages, cultures, and experiences that did not quite fit. This strategic essentializing has more recently been replaced by poststructuralist theories of conditionality and contingency. The problem with this new shift, Salgado observes, is that politics or theory that slips and slides cannot be very efficacious. Theories necessarily stand outside the contingencies of experience, working instead to define, categorize, and classify. This means, however, that theory cannot fully account for the complexity of an experiential moment, which is both emotional and intellectual. Thus, Salgado asks, where does that leave those of us who are of mixed race, who hover on the margins of one and another ethnicity, who incorporate paradox and contradiction, and who depend on nuanced language to translate experience? Can we have a theory?

Her highly compelling answer to this crucial question, in fact, provides the framework for this project, a collection of personal essays that "theorize" the experience of multiraciality. Salgado argues that any development of multiracial theory will be difficult unless it grows out of personal narrative. Increasingly, postmodern theorists have used the self as a referent and relied on autobiography and memoir as a genre, acknowledging in the act the need to make theory performative and, at the same time, concrete. Any theory addressing mixed race, of necessity, will resurrect both author and work to central positions precisely because the mixed-race experience is so individualized it needs the universalizing resources of literature to communicate itself. That is, if theories of multiraciality are to be written, if they are to do the work of inscribing the multiracial into U.S. society, they must be written in ways that are personal, experiential, contingent, performative, and yet still insistent. In particular, the essay represents an ideal model because it combines theory and personal reflection. A multiracial theory, inspired by the personal essay, can make an individual story universal, because only such a theory can show us that we are, and are not, so different.

Zack's and Salgado's essays lay the foundation for exploring the multiracial subjects narrated in the personal essays that follow. It should be noted that our collection is unique not only in its combination of the personal and the theoretical, but also in its expansion beyond the traditional Black/White discourse of multiraciality in the United States.4 The writers included in Mixing It Up narrate a wide variety of multiracial heritages, including: Anglo-Indian, Iraqi-Cuban, Eurasian, Mexican-Jewish, Korean-German-Irish adopted by White American parents, and Asian adopted by Black American parents. In addition, our essays move in and out of the United States and other locales, recognizing the always already transnational nature of multiraciality.

The first essay in our collection, Adrian Carton's "A Passionate Occupant of the Transnational Transit Lounge," dramatizes the dynamics of likeness and difference that are central to the mixed-race experience. As the title of his intriguing essay suggests, Carton, who is of mixed European and South Asian origin, takes us on a global journey, from his early childhood in 1970s Britain to his migration to Australia in the 1980s, and through numerous transit lounges in Los Angeles, Bangkok, and other places along the way. As he moves, he narrates his struggles with his sense of belonging, of home, feeling always and everywhere that his home is elsewhere. Thus India as a mythic home occupies an increasingly urgent place in Carton's imagination; finally he "returns" to India, only to recognize that here, too, his sense of self is fraught with uncertainty and complication, as is India itself. The piece explores the multiplicity of his South Asian Eurasian experience, as categories of hybrid racial description change within spaces of national context and transnational traveling. On a more theoretical level, Carton discusses the ways in which the nation-state narrates itself by configuring citizenship—and thereby identity—through a process of inclusion and exclusion. Each nation's process differs, but in his experience they all give the Eurasian no home at all except the home of the imagination, the home of the transnational transit lounge.

As with Carton's imaginings of India as a mythic home, Richard Guzman in "Miscegenation and Me" explores the greater freedom and possibility California offers mixed-race couples. Weaving together history, theory, and personal narrative, Guzman's essay surveys the history of interracial love in the United States. Contrasting the experiences of interracial couples in California with those in other parts of the United States, he sees California as a space of racial turbulence, and paradoxically perhaps as the racial "paradise" toward which the whole country may be moving. Noting the growing acceptance of interracial marriage, Guzman's essay points with hope to a future in which multiracial children might reconfigure the way we view (mixed) race.

Orathai Northern's beautiful essay, "'What Is She Anyway?'—Rearranging Bodily Mythologies," continues the exploration of geographies—actual and ideal—and multiracial subjectivity. The essay blends narratives of family, travel, kinship, and birth across distant and disparate spaces, connected through exchanges of (mis)identification and (mis)identifying gazes. In a personal meditation about traveling to and through spaces where her body signifies in familiar and unfamiliar registers, Northern (re)considers how visual economies of race shift and permutate depending on the landscape she inhabits and who is (mis)reading whom. Traveling within the Southern United States and South and Southeast Asia, Northern investigates the ways in which she maps race onto others and race is mapped onto her. She hopes to make legible her own vexed investments in racial codes, codes that she uneasily relies upon at times, and challenges at others, recognizing them as mutable social constructs that often perpetuate biologism and essentialism.

Alice White's "Resemblance" similarly explores the situational, shifting nature of multiracial identity. Her essay employs the notion of resemblance, or physical likeness, to present the problem of identity formation and self-knowledge from the point of view of a mixed-race woman. Employing a fragmented personal voice and sometimes decontextualized depictions of momentary images, White's work is more like a prose poem than an expository essay. In its very form, then, it exemplifies the kinetic experience of multiraciality. White offers a series of anecdotes to gradually build a picture of an increasingly complex biracial identity. The stream of questioning voices and contradictory images eventuate in the author's ultimate sense of confusion and placelessness. Contributing to this sense, White, an American-born adoptee of Korean and German-Irish origin raised by a White family, does not see her likeness among her adoptive parents and siblings, her classmates, or her neighbors. She strives to recognize her image reflected in the mirror and in photographs, but the contradictions she finds only contribute to her doubt. This inability to find resemblance—to recognize herself and be recognized—impacts her sense of identity in complex and profound ways.

Further exploring the challenges of locating a multiracial self, Stefanie Dunning, in "'Brown Like Me': Explorations of a Shifting Self," interrogates several assumptions found in typical representations of mixed-race people. For example, she dismantles the notion that biracial people are "raceless," that they "combine the best of both races," and thereby transcend the racial divide. Dunning turns her attention to an investigation of the traditional literary characterization of the multi- or biracial subject as "the tragic mulatto," who must disavow some part of herself or narratively die in order that the identificatory conflict be solved. Resisting these notions of multiraciality, Dunning chooses in her own life to embrace the contradictions and complications of both discussing and representing multiraciality.

Evelyn Alsultany, in "Toward a Multiethnic Cartography: Multiethnic Identity, Monoracial Cultural Logic, and Popular Culture," similarly works to interrogate and reconceptualize existing notions of multiraciality. Using her personal experiences of misrecognition in social interactions as a starting point, Alsultany demonstrates that the current operating cartography of ethnic identity is too narrow to account for multiethnic identity. In seeking out ways to make our ethnic cartography more inclusive of multiethnic identity, Alsultany, whose father is Iraqi and whose mother is Cuban, considers the role of the media and examines representations of multiethnic celebrities in popular culture. Through her examination of various representations of Mariah Carey and Paula Abdul, she tracks the ways that their multiethnic identities are reinscribed as monoracial. In contrast, Alsultany examines the experiences of Tiger Woods and Melissa Howard and argues that their challenges to a monoracial cultural logic present at least the possibility of a shift in our conceptual mapping of ethnic identities.

In the co-authored "Keeping Up Appearances: Ethnic Alien-Nation in Female Solo Performance," Cathy Irwin and Sean Metzger enact a critical dialogue on the limits of autobiographical solo performance by examining the cases of two female multiracial performers in Los Angeles. Focusing on the personal in these performances, in addition to drawing on their own multiracial experiences, their essay raises and explores a number of intriguing questions: How does the multiracial body, narrating her personal history through the medium of live performance, negotiate an identity among dominant racial and ethnic minority communities? What is the specific role of the multiracial female body in the reproduction of ethnicity and American-ness? In what ways do different constituencies (theatrical venues, ethnic communities, and performers) invest in these performances, and what are the consequences of such commitments? This lively essay addresses these questions by looking at both Sandra Tsing Loh's Aliens in America and Paula Westin Solano's Appearances.

The tensions that Irwin and Metzger uncover in these performances are further examined in Carole DeSouza's "Against Erasure: The Multiracial Voice in Cherríe Moraga's Loving in the War Years." DeSouza contextualizes her argument by outlining the ways that the United States has institutionalized monoraciality as compulsory, rather than granting some individuals the right to exist as "both" of their parental races. DeSouza shows the ways in which we are socialized to accept the criterion of one race per person. For an individual to claim two or three races is to risk appearing schizophrenic or compromised. This essay then demonstrates how the tragic mulatto/a exemplifies social and political investments in racial disharmony and works to create fear in multiracials, who are cast as naturally inferior, pathological, and doomed. In search of a racially multiplicit voice of her own, DeSouza looks to an example of contemporary American literature that deconstructs American conceptualizations of "race." In DeSouza's keen analysis, Cherríe Moraga's Loving in the War Years proves a complex discursive site against historical erasure and the traditional negative literary interpretation of the multiracial. Moraga's recounting of her childhood monoracial socialization, her reinterpretation of blood as a measure of similarity, and her multilingual narrative, all culminate in a multiracial voice that challenges the "either/or" binary based on racial purity.

As Stuart Hall reminds us, "[w]e are always in negotiation." Mixing It Up: Multiracial Subjects lives in this fluid site of negotiation. These personal narratives, each reflecting different positionalities, demonstrate the various ways mixed race disrupts efforts to fix and to categorize. The lives written here struggle to overturn both past crimes and present discriminatory practices, while working to create new multiracial subjectivities. This is the most difficult thing, as Hall reminds us; this we believe is the most necessary thing.

 

Sansan Kwan is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. Kenneth Speirs is Assistant Professor of English at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York.

"These essays do a wonderful job of blending theory and practice.... This collection embraces a number of tensions [that] raise provocative questions about the nature of identity and the relationship between identity and social justice.... This collection should have broad appeal."

—Diane Raymond, Dean and Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies, Simmons College