Friday, May 20, 2016

Raising Mixed Race and the Danger of Racial Assumptions



by Sharon H. Chang

I'd like to clarify a few things about my book Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children In a Post-Racial World. And full transparency here - this emerges from a recent email thread I was part of as well as a notable number of exchanges, side comments, critiques, messages, emails, etc. at this point where I've come to see folks make a lot of assumptions about my book based on its title, cover image, and the fact that it's about parents and children. Now it's important to say I have also gotten a lot of really amazing, positive feedback at this point too from tons of supportive, engaged and brilliant readers which you can read here and here. I think overall there have been far more folks who love and support Raising Mixed Race than those who pigeonhole and pin it down with their presumptions.

That said I think it's still worthwhile to look at the handful who have allowed their assumptions to take hold. They tend to look like this: Politicized readers who don't like "post-racial" in the title, think I'm espousing post-raciality, and refuse to read the book. Activists who see mixed-race identity politics as unimportant, ask how I will put aside ideas about "specialness" in service of greater racial causes, and probably won't read the book. Parents who have read the book but are frustrated because they expected a parenting guide and feel I "didn't tell them what to do." People in Preschool, K-12 learning and the general public who are confused because they thought the book would be about celebrating ethnic and national heritage, multiculturalism, and multiracial children as bridge-builders. And then everyone who cannot (or will not) believe that young children know anything about race and so will never read it ever. Oh - and I supposed I should tack on everyone who thinks mixed race is not really a thing (or if it is, then it's an anti-POC thing) and so will never read it ever.

Let me clarify . . .

First. Raising Mixed Race is not a parenting book. Though it certainly can be (and has been) read by parents to great benefit. Raising Mixed Race is a sociological study for which I interviewed 68 parents of young multiracial Asian children about race, racism, identity and parenting. Why? Because (a) mixed race is the fastest growing identifier among youth today, (b) early childhood is a critical race learning period thus (c) a critical point for pouring anti-racist foundations in caring for the self/others - also known as undoing racism - but (d) it is adults that are predominantly in control of children's early learning environments and experiences. And what did I discover? Adults tend to be very under-informed and believe vastly disturbing things about race, mixed race, themselves and their children. Which certainly doesn't bode well for the future of racial justice.

Raising Mixed Race 
is not a parenting book.
It's a book about racism.

Second then. Raising Mixed Race is a book about racism. Not about multiculturalism, ethnic holidays, traditional costumes, favorite restaurants, dragon dances and so forth. It's a look at how mixed race exists within and in relation to settler colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, anti-Indigeneity, anti-Black and Brown racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, etc. It's a discussion about racial realities, past and present, histories to today, how multiracial peoples have always been part of those narratives; how we can learn something unique and really so much overall from looking at mixedness within conversations about race; and also how critical it is to engage mixed folks in working to undo racism now and at a young age.

And finally. Raising Mixed Race is not a book about post-racial anything. It's a book about how far we have to go. It actually problematizes the idea of mixed people as "post-racial" or the end of race. Because doing so distracts from the reality that we're actually no where near solving racism. Think post 9-11 Islamophobia, Black Lives Matter, Flint Michigan, the upcoming election. The U.S. has always been a very racist nation. But more, the book folds in thinking about global racism and our shrinking world due to technology, Internet, social media and so forth. So it's a book about hoping for the future too. Rather than claiming we're at the end of the road, Raising Mixed Race asks where are we going? How are we going to get there? Are we on the right path? And are we all in this together?

I hope this brief post helps. I hope it helps with imagining where Raising Mixed Race might connect with you, your life and/or work, and whatever communities you're part of. I hope this helps those of you who haven't read yet feel excited about reading. I also hope it helps derail the many damaging assumptions we all have about race (e.g. young children know nothing about racism, mixed race isn't a "real" race thing, or multiracial = colorblind multiculturalism) that really do derail us from true progress and from moving forward.


2 comments :

  1. oh, please dear god. what would you write without the use of the words racism, racist, or race? seems shallow and highly unintelligent to believe there are different races within one human race. different colors? yes. different races? no. wake up.

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    Replies
    1. You fundamentally misunderstand.

      "Race" is indeed a cultural construct and mental construct of individuals - however, that absolutely doesn't make it non-existent!

      1.) Even infants have been shown in experimental studies to quickly learn to stop bothering to differentiate the faces of people who are visibly outside of their parents'/caregivers ethnic group(s) (e.g a baby raised by two white people will stop differentiating between different black people) - the tendency towards racist bias is very strong in humans thanks to the way our brains try to become more "efficient" by taking shortcuts like this. Every individual will have this issue. Every one of them. ALL OF US. This means that judgment based on physical features that are specific to certain populations, is ALWAYS going to be a thing all of us are prone to, from the get-go, and worse yet, people will fail to recognize people from not in their childhood "in-group" as individuals (which has HUGE repercussions not just for stereotyping but in things like the criminal justice field, where eyewitness testimony or visual snap-judgments can and have pegged the wrong person as a criminal many times based on "racial" features!).

      Pretending that "there is no race but the human race" SOUNDS nice on paper, and it's a great ideal to strive for, but it's not how we're wired - and we have to ACTIVELY RECOGNIZE that we do this kind of thing, or we WILL have even worse racism in the future. Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away when the tendency towards it, is hard-wired into us from birth.

      2.) Even leaving that aside, people have different ethnicities - different cultural heritage - which is often tied to where their ancestors came from, which is likewise tied to what they might look like - from something as simple as "more people are blond from here" to "visibly distinct facial features". Cultural differences can be VAST, and lead to a lot of misunderstandings and mistreatment, and yes, when this is TIED to associations with or judgment based on physical appearance, it becomes racism. Yes, this means racism and racist things do exist, she's not making the hell up.

      3.) Even ignoring that people as young as babies will automatically start sorting people into "my in group" and "my out-group", even if this does not inherently carry negative weight...what do people learn in their life about people not of their background?

      Well, the first thing they learn is going to be generalizations and stereotypes - and even the most "positive" stereotypes, such as the "smart Asian" stereotype, are going to have repercussions. For instance, many kids of Asian descent struggle in life because they have undiagnosed learning disorders, such as dyslexia, and the reason they go undiagnosed is that people jump to the assumption that Asian Kids Easily Do Well In School So Surely These Kids Are Just Lazy. If you do not fit the "positive" stereotype, which itself creates enormous social pressure, then you face such things as social rejection, neglect and mistreatment - and even assuming you don't have something like dyslexia in the way, can you imagine the huge pressure of being constantly told you are "smart" because of your genetics and should thus automatically succeed in everything? Can you not imagine the weight of those expectations on a person?

      Even "positive" stereotypes can have huge repercussions, and people. Will. STEREOTYPE. We do it automatically. We do it instinctively, impulsively, collectively - we pass these ideas on to each other, we "teach" these horrid ideas unconsciously or without realizing they're wrong, and we do this both to other adults and to children.

      Not talking about it DOES NOT make it go away. Pretending it's not "real", doesn't make it not exist. It just makes the problem worse, because then nobody realizes it's even happening!

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