Your Tragic, Pitiable Forebears Are Right Behind You!

Posted on February 1, 2011


The New York Times has a somewhat inspiring article today about the dawn of mixed race respectability:

The crop of students moving through college right now includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States, and they are only the vanguard: the country is in the midst of a demographic shift driven by immigration and intermarriage.

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.

Many young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting the color lines that have defined Americans for generations in favor of a much more fluid sense of identity. Ask Michelle López-Mullins, a 20-year-old junior and the president of the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association, how she marks her race on forms like the census, and she says, “It depends on the day, and it depends on the options.”

They are also using the strength in their growing numbers to affirm roots that were once portrayed as tragic or pitiable.


Seriously, though I don’t think people today really understand the mind-f^%$ mixed race used to be, and what a double-down mind-f^%$ing it was to be two races that aren’t even real races in the sense of the primary made up races. And how long that specter has haunted our culture (I’ve always felt that Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights was a mixed-race archetype).

I’m not convinced that we’re anywhere near wiping out race, because as long as there are class links to racial background, and income equalities that seem to be reproduced via biology, race will continue to be one of the most intractable, confusing and ugly issues we face as a nation. And even in the issue of mixed race,  not all races seem to mix equally. I remember quite a kerfuffle when Kamala Harris became San Francisco’s first African American District Attorney, but not its first Asian American Attorney General even though she could have been both or either. Or neither, as the case may be, depending on your viewpoint and how strident it is. And, of course, the election of Barack Obama, seems to have put us back a few years, instead of having advanced our understanding of race. Perhaps Obama is our first African American president. But he also could have been our first Muslim President, from a certain perspective, or our first transnational President. Or our first mixed race President. It seems too confusing to put all these things together, and in a sense it seems that it would rob African Americans of a much needed sense of actual ownership in this country to spread it out too thin. That’s our own fault, of course, for waiting so long to get even one non-white or non-male person into the White House, that people sort of had to get in line, worst hardship first.

Maybe these things will accelerate now, with benefits for everyone. Though as always, I’m skeptical. But, you know, I used to think that my son, a Native American-White-Palestinian-Colombian, was quite a mix. And these days, it’s starting to seem rather bland.