Mixed (Me)dia’s understanding of Mixed Race Studies is grounded in Critical Race Theory, the framework that posits race as a socially constructed concept with no scientific basis, but that nevertheless continues to have very real implications for people’s everyday lives. It is important to understand that Mixed Race Studies does not inherently believe in racial difference, but that the field builds on Critical Race Theory to examine the real implications of the race ideology on the everyday lives of people with multiple ethnicities (mixed “race” people).
“Even when attempting to transcend race it is necessary to continue to refer to racial categories and racial logic which leads to a reinscription of race albeit in more sophisticated hybrid and multiplied forms.” - Steven Masami Ropp in “Do Multiracial Subjects Really Challenge Race?: Mixed Race Asians in the United States and the Caribbean” in Amerasia Journal 31(1), page 264
For hundreds of years, we have been living with the untrue story of race. Science has proved over and over again that racial categorization doesn’t make sense. It is impossible to divide people into groups based on phenotype or appearance. In fact, all people are inherently “mixed”! There is no such thing as a “pure” white or Asian person. Yet the ideology of race still holds our society spellbound, and we continue to institutionally and systematically categorize and hierarchize people based on these false racial groupings.
From police brutality against people of color, redlining in housing and real estate and employment discrimination, to rising anti-immigrant sentiment and hate crimes against people of color and religious minority groups, and more subtle racism such as media invisibility and racial microaggressions, our society is far from being “equal” or “fair.”
Adults often think that young children’s innocence and naivety make them unable to understand or see race and racism. However, according to child development research, children begin forming their own racial biases and stereotypes, and developing feelings of internalized oppression or privilege, by ages three to five years old. Children may begin choosing friends or playmates based on race, or may choose to play with dolls based on a hierarchy of skin color that they have adopted from the media they consume and the patterns they observe in their daily lives.
Without the positive influence of intentional adults providing clear messages about race, research shows that children will develop their own conceptions. So, it is important to start discussing race with children from a young age, as developmentally appropriate; toddlers might be able to have simple conversations about skin color differences and patterns they observe in their daily environments, while elementary school children can begin to understand the history of race and racism.
One of the most important messages we can try to send to our mixed race children when they encounter confusion or difficulties around their own racial identity, is that it is not inherently their particular ethnicity or their mixedness that is problematic. It is not their fault if people question them or stare at them; rather, it is our problem — society’s problem.
While science has proved that “race” is a fallacy, a deeply embedded belief in racial difference and categorization continues to persist today. Because mixed race people do not neatly fit into racial categories, we often become a source of confusion and disbelief for many people who still believe in the immutability of racial categories.
Historically, mixed race people were seen as problematic, insane, and less than a whole person. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional in the historic case Loving v. Virgina, allowing people of different races to marry nationwide in the United States, and it took until 1999 for the last state, Alabama, to remove language of anti-miscegenation from its state constitution.
As a consequence of the oppressive social construction of race categories and a history of discrimination against “racial mixing,” mixed race people in the United States today continue to experience a diverse range of racial oppression. It is important that when mixed race children face monoracism in their lives, they are armed with the knowledge and understanding that there is nothing wrong with them, but rather there is something deeply wrong with society.
It’s important for the adults in mixed race children’s lives to understand that there is no “right” or “best” way for mixed race people to identify. While some research has shown that mixed race children who identify as “biracial” are happier than those who identify as a single race, the verdict is still out on whether any particular variation of identification is best for a child’s well-being.
Considering the wide variety of mixed race experiences in the United States, it makes sense that mixed race children identify in different ways. In particular, the psychosocial challenges of being mixed race are different depending on the physical appearance of a given mixed race child. White-passing mixed race children have a far different experience than children whose race is more visible. In a society that is highly colorist, mixed race children’s experience in the social world will also depend on the shade of their skin, not just their perceived race. Light-skinned mixed Asian/white children will have a different experience than dark-skinned mixed Asian/white children. Children might also identify differently depending on their family situations and their environments; do they spend much more time with one side of the family than the other? Do they have positive relationships with both of their parents? Are they surrounded by peers predominantly of one racial background?
Identity is fluid and changes over a lifetime, it can even change within different contexts. Many mixed race children choose to identify themselves differently depending on whose asking, where they are, the people around them, or even how they feel that day, never mind at different stages throughout their lives. Creating a fixed, unchanging identity for a mixed race child is not always practical nor flexible for the variety of situations they’ll likely encounter. Many mixed race kids who identify as mixed/ biracial/ multiracial still identify more strongly with one ethnicity than another, explained by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy through their Continuum of Biracial Identity.