The popular media and specifically the Race Remixed series in the New York Times propagate the myth of multiracialism. According to this social myth, the increasing number of interracial families and multiracial children in America is transforming race and paving the way for a post-racial future. This myth assumes the existence of a growing mass of mixed youth who both identify with their multiracial heritage and who have a clear conception of its significance and transformative potential. At best, writers and audiences (popular and academic) who believe in this myth are engaged in wishful thinking. From my experience and observation, they confuse a few individuals for the many.
For instance, I remember that Timesia is colorful. She wears yellow, purple, red, and taupe colored tops with brown, indigo and maroon pants. She is awkward and sweet, sixteen or seventeen. She’s from the neighborhood and probably poor. She is brown, black, copper, beige, and she wants to start a club for mixed kids like her.
Or at least this is what she initially tells me when she asks me to be the faculty sponsor for her club. The year is 2006, and I am working as an English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Van Nuys High School. I recall that it’s my future wife, her counselor, who suggests to her that I might be the right teacher to sponsor her club.
I am more than happy to sponsor her club, but there’s a hitch. She has to complete an application: Describe the club. Explain its purpose. Give it a name.
We talk after school about her vision for the club. I try to be of help without suggesting to her what she should say in her application. It is her club after all. I give her a brief run down on the growing number of multiracial college clubs, about organizations like Mavin, AMEA, and Swirl, as well as about writers like James McBride, Danzy Senna, and Rebecca Walker. I give her some homework: do some research on Google; check out some of the multiracial clubs and organizations now in existence; see if what they’re doing appeals to you; investigate why being mixed seems to be such a big deal to so many people today; figure out why it matters to you; work on the application; come back next week.
We talk again a few weeks later. She has done some research, and she has a name for the club: The One Love Club. Good name. We’ll meet in your classroom every other week and discuss topics like mixed celebrities, fashion, diversity, racism, haters and world peace. Write it down.
An administrator approves the application, and a small and motley group of black, white, brown, yellow, and olive kids starts to gather in my classroom every other week at lunch. Most of them are Timesia’s friends, and a few are students from my classes.
The club meetings become increasingly unfocused, so I suggest to Timesia that she might try writing an agenda, or perhaps have a conversation with the group about how to promote the club. There is also the complication or excuse of a ninth grade student from one of my classes who gets no love because she annoys other students to the point that they don’t want to hang out with her at lunch. The club loses its momentum in two months flat. Timesia and the few students who continue to attend don’t seem to be clear on why they are there, except to eat lunch and to socialize.
Looking back, the club goes nowhere for the main reason that Timesia remains unclear and confused about the club’s identity and purpose. Likewise, she remains vague about how being mixed matters to her and to others.
Maybe being mixed doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t matter. Maybe discussing it is irresponsible and selfish given the history of slavery and racism in America. Maybe it’s just another way of trying to become black or white. Maybe one love gradually triumphs over ethnoracial tribes as their profiteers, representatives, and supporters slowly fade into the background of history.
Maybe, but here I’m reflecting on what Timesia might have been thinking at the time through an academic lens…when in actuality she was probably just unclear, confused, and/or indifferent about the repercussions and possibilities of being mixed, and probably still is.
Therein lies the problem with much of the research and writings about mixed race people and the multiracial movement. That is, there are too many journalists and academic writers who jump to the conclusion that an individual’s decision to check more than one ethnoracial box on a survey and/or ability to describe multiracial experiences and feelings in an interview constitute her/his multiracial identity.
In high school, Timesia could discuss her multiracial background; she could express feelings, experiences, and complexities connected to her being mixed, and she could check more than one box. Nevertheless, she was unclear and unsure about how her mixed background, feelings, and experiences connected to her having (if at all) a multiracial identity, which should not then mean that by default she becomes black, white, red, yellow, brown, or postracial.
There is also the question of her socio-economic situation. Kids like Timesia who come from situations where the parent(s) barely makes enough money to survive will probably not have the time and motivation to reflect on how being mixed matters to them, or to develop an identity that is inclusive of all of their roots. Of course, if you are privileged, educated, and fortunate enough to attend Stanford, NYU, Yale, a research university, or a liberal arts college like Wellesley or Wesleyan you are likely in a situation where if you want you can reflect upon the significance of being mixed, start a club, and/or develop a multiracial identity.
Moreover, if you are a graduate student in the humanities or a university professor you likely have the time and wherewithal to reflect in sustained manner on the significance of being mixed, on how it could affect the status quo, and on how it raises the ire and anxiety level of color-line stewards and advocates.
You can also say like Kip Fulbeck does in his book Paper Bullets that multiracial identity is a personal and contingent process that may or may not matter in the long run. I would add that multiracial identity doesn’t matter to the majority of mixed heritage individuals in the present for the main reason that it is difficult and unclear.
I wonder how Timesia is doing these days. Does she have clearer conception of herself as multiracial? Does one love still resolve the issue for her?