Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mixed Race, Pretty Face

 ©  Sharon Chang, April 4, 2013  as seen on Racism Review

It was once thought multiracial children were destined to be confused, inwardly conflicted and maladjusted. “Think of the children”, used to be the warning used to discourage interracial couples from marrying. Mixed-race children often faced discrimination and prejudice. Experts worried that these children would suffer from poor self-esteem and lack of identity.1  The “tragic mulatto” archetype was featured prominently in American culture (Show Boat, 1951). Usually female, she embodied dislocation, incompatibility and confusion. Similarly we often saw the heartrending, Native American/White “half-blood” (Dances With Wolves, 1990) and in Yellow Peril fiction, the interracial love affair that ends tragically (Sayonara, 1951).2

Sayonara (1951) (image source)

  
Things have certainly changed.

In 1993, TIME Magazine published a special issue on multiculturalism in America. The now well-known cover featured an ethnically ambiguous woman over the caption “The New Face of America: How Immigrants Are Shaping the World’s First Multicultural Society”. Their model however was not a real person. Her image was computer generated by merging men and women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. The editors felt she was a preview of what was likely to emerge in tomorrow’s America:

(image source)

She was bold, beautiful, and significant enough to capture a prominent magazine cover. I remember being a young multiracial woman in Los Angeles when this issue was released (at a time when there weren’t near as many multiracial people). I was mesmerized. Perhaps I swelled with some pride and dignity knowing I was a part of the “future”.

Well that future seems to have arrived. According to the 2010 Census, those identifying with multiple races grew by 32% over the decade, for a total of 9 million while single-race identifiers grew by just 9.2%. A February 2012 Pew Research report showed the number of intermarriages has more than doubled since 1980. It credited growing public acceptance of mixed-race relationships as one reason for the rise (huffingtonpost.com). Nowadays it’s all about “Multiracial Chic”. Being mixed is the coolest thing you can be. Take for example the 2006 Psychology Today article “Mixed Race, Pretty Face?” detailing a study which suggested part Asians are considered more beautiful than their monoracial counterparts (psychologytoday.com). Such pieces lauding the beauty of mixed race peoples abound. And this wide admiration is clearly visible in pop culture. Multiracial models are taking over advertising, plastered across billboards and magazines. Mixed race actors and pop stars are on the rise.

So what does this racial shift mean for our “global” future? Interestingly, the bodies of multiracial peoples (rather than their experiences) are now often being cited as proof that we have become a “postracial” society where racism is frowned upon and ethnic diversity is celebrated. Multiracial people supposedly breakdown racial boundaries just by their mere existence. Their ambiguous appearance alone is enough to destabilize and ultimately eradicate white privilege and the racial hierarchy. Others are beginning to contest this claim. Some predict that growing numbers of mixed race Americans will lead to a new racial hierarchy based on pigment, like those characterizing most Latin American countries. What may look like the “end of race” as more people of color gain political, social, and cultural visibility actually veils a redistribution of power. And multiracial people themselves are perhaps getting caught in the crosshairs, blurring the boundaries between whiteness and nonwhiteness even as they receive certain privileges that historically have been conferred upon those with white bodies.3

It begs the question. How will the children of today feel about their multiraciality as they come of age in this new America? Will they be the enlightened world leaders of a model “postracial” society? Or will they find themselves entrenched in a new, confusing racial hierarchy with redefined standards. One in which some of them are privileged and others are not?



1. Fields, Julianna. Multiracial Families: The Changing Face of Modern Families. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest, 2010. Print.
2. Nakashima, Cynthia L. “Servants of Culture: The Symbolic Role of Mixed-Race Asians in American Discourse”. The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans.  Ed. Teresa Williams-León and Cynthia L. Nakashima. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. 35-57. Print.
3. Park, Jane. “Virtual Race: The Racially Ambiguous ActionHero in The Matrix and Pitch Black”. Mixed Race Hollywood.  Ed. Mary Beltrán and Camilla Fojas. New York and London: New York University Press, 2008. 182-202. Print.

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