Getting Back to Basics: Re-Reading NYT’s “Race Remixed”

A few weeks ago, @TrickAmaka sent me a New York Times piece by Susan Saulny on the high numbers of adults who identify as mixed-race as of the 2010 census.  In what was apparently the first in a series titled “Race Remixed,” the article focuses on a group of students at the University of Maryland as part of “the crop of students moving through college right now” who make up “the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States.”  Apparently, inquiring minds expect to latest census to reflect the changing dynamics of race in America:

One in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities, according to data from 2008 and 2009 that was analyzed by the Pew Research Center. Multiracial and multiethnic Americans (usually grouped together as “mixed race”) are one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups. And experts expect the racial results of the 2010 census, which will start to be released next month, to show the trend continuing or accelerating.

I’m glad I waited until after V-Day to even click the link.  Turns out the second article basically redacted the first (it is, *gasp* a “complex” matter, quantifying and analyzing the mixed-race population), and the third (well, what do you, our ever so intelligent and enraged readers, think?) threw the topic to the wolves of the blogosphere for further discussion.

*sigh* Mainstream media in the era of the interwebs.

In general, I’m inclined to agree with Nadra Kareem Little at Bitch Magazine.  The piece is mostly NYT playing Columbus and re-discovering race (mixture) in this country.  Again.  After all, what do you with bleached out phrases like these:

“Some proportion of the country’s population has been mixed-race since the first white settlers had children with Native Americans.”

A bit of rape with your legacy of colonialism?  A dollop of indentured servitude and forced labor on the side?  How Disney of you:

Pocahontas is SO right.

But it didn’t take me long to stop being (so) annoyed at the New York Times and realize the heart of the article is the way students these days are grappling with questions of mixed-race and bi-cultural identity.

Laura Wood, President of the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association at UMCP, who happens to be mixed black and white:

“I think it’s really important to acknowledge who you are and everything that makes you that,” said Ms. Wood, the 19-year-old vice president of the group. “If someone tries to call me black I say, ‘yes — and white.’ People have the right not to acknowledge everything, but don’t do it because society tells you that you can’t.”

And Michelle López-Mullins (mixed with Latino, Asian, Cherokee, Shawnee, and white) on checking the race box:

“It depends on the day, and it depends on the options.”

My alarm bells are going off as I read.  Later in the piece:

“I don’t want a color-blind society at all,” Ms. Wood said. “I just want both my races to be acknowledged.”

To which Ms. López-Mullins countered, “I want mine not to matter.”

Hmm.

I am a woman of color.  Those colors happen to be African-American and Puerto Rican, the combination of which, on both sides, makes me a part of the global black diaspora.

And I affirm Ms. Wood, Ms. López-Mullins, and all of the other students who were brave enough to talk to a reporter about what is going on in their hearts and in their heads.  Figuring out who you are is no easy feat, regardless of your race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, etc., etc., etc.

But there is a legacy of violence that underlies all of these identity claims and we need to make that central to the discussion.   Once upon a time a black man boy was lynched for whistling at a white woman.  Once upon a time a black woman was raped for walking down the wrong road.  Once upon a time a white woman was enslaved for not being white enough (or was she?).

And because we should never speak of these relations as though they were simply a matter of romance, a rainbow conflagration of resistance that just happened to occur between the legs of women of color, I will also never advocate for “mixed-race” as a corporate identity.

But we are failing our young people if we are unable to impart this history to them.  Tuning into the the Blacking It Up Podcast this week, I cringed as comedian Elon James described his first boycott (*throws glitter*) by a black student organization, the intense anxiety of a Haitian student trying to un-discover race, and attempts to move a discussion of racism from race-as-terminology to race-as-structural-oppression.

This cannot be where we are in discussions of race, or discussions of being mixed-race, in the United States.  This is criminal…and fatal.

I will always and forever affirm someone’s right to be what they want to be.  But there is no great glory in claiming mixed-race.  In fact, when we do, what we end up discussing is a legacy of rape as old and as violent as the first slave ship as bodies became black, white, brown, red, European, African and more according to what a census enumerator decided.  And I am referring to both the children who were born and the living beings involved, coupling on a spectrum of impossible consent as texts and narratives of discovery and imperialism built societies out of racialized fictions of difference.

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One thought on “Getting Back to Basics: Re-Reading NYT’s “Race Remixed”

  1. Pingback: Mixed Race Studies » Scholarly Perspectives on Mixed-Race » Getting Back to Basics: Re-Reading NYT’s “Race Remixed”

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