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An Introduction: Egalitarian Humanist and Cosmopolitan Approaches to Mixed Race

A Panel at the 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference at Depaul University: November 15, 3:15 pm – 4:45 pm in the Depaul Student Center, RM 314 A/B

In introducing this interdisciplinary panel, I also want to tell about how it came together and explain its rationale.  But first I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to two world-class philosophers, Professors Naomi Zack and Jason Hill, for accepting my invitation to present.

Professor Zack is also one of the foundational scholars of our emergent academic discipline, Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS). I include myself among the many second-wave mixed-race scholars, activists, and artists who have been challenged and inspired by her writings on race and mixed race.  I invited her to join this panel so that we can all learn about her latest thinking on mixed race, and more specifically about how mixed-race identity fits into her current project of developing an ethics of race.

Professor Hill is well known in the world for his critique of multiculturalism and for his radical, post-human cosmopolitanism. I invited him to join this panel because I think that his version of cosmopolitanism could be a viable identity option and path of inquiry for some multiracials who want to evolve beyond established notions of ethnicity and race in their personal lives.

To explain how this panel came together I need to account for the absence of another first-wave CMRS scholar, Rainier Spencer. Indeed, my idea for this panel was motivated by a Facebook group discussion that I had with Rainier, Mark James, Steven Riley, and a stubborn, mixed-race-identified Englishman named Adrian Baillie. This discussion, which occurred in the CMRS Facebook group in the summer of 2013, focused on Rainier’s metatheoretical approach to mixed race in relation to mainstream media celebrations and depictions of multiracials. Rainier’s metatheoretical approach prescribes radical skepticism toward the longstanding collective belief that race is real, and by extension toward the growing false belief in the existence of mixed-race individuals, families, and cultural products that are worthy of recognition and respect. Rainier had agreed to deliver a paper on this panel developing his notion of racial suicide for mixed-race persons, but unfortunately had to drop out.

Influenced by this Facebook discussion, the rationale for this panel rests on the presumption that recent history has witnessed a steady increase in the number of multiracial-identified individuals of various mixes and backgrounds in the US and abroad, an increase that has accelerated in the age of Obama and social media. Furthermore, in proposing this panel I presumed the likelihood that going forward more and more children of mixed ethnic and racial unions will choose to identify themselves as mixed.

But are these presumptions false? Put differently, is the purported growth of the multiracial-identified population a mirage?

This panel will also consider and give voice to the opposing view that it is still very difficult for individuals to sustain and cultivate a mixed-race identity in public spheres insofar as mixed-race identities lack adequate recognition and support from state institutions and our legal system. In other words, individuals who choose to identify themselves as mixed race in public or in academia are also adopting a socially and politically vulnerable identity—one that is susceptible to the beliefs, anxieties, commitments, and objectives of established ethnic and racial groups, state institutions, politicians, marketers, activists, and academics.

In synthesizing these divergent views, it just might be the case that racially mixed individuals have become in recent history more socially visible and more at liberty to publicly assert mixed identities that, in most contexts, are still vulnerable and difficult to maintain. In other words, it would seem to be the case that multiracials of various mixes and backgrounds are now recognized and celebrated in the mainstream media and in the society at large, yet the individual act of publicly asserting, performing, and cultivating a mixed-race identity is still risky and difficult to sustain.

That is to say, multiracials are socially visible today, yet they continue to be politically and socially contested and up for grabs. For instance, in celebrating multiracials, the mainstream media tends to depict them in ways that perpetuate the notion that races and ethnicities are static and durable. Mixed-race families and children often are presented as evidence of racial progress, multicultural harmony, and/or of a forthcoming post-racial America. Additionally, the children of mixed unions are assumed to embody, balance, and/or bridge the cultures of their assumed mono-racial or mono-ethnic parents, which are assumptions that also perpetuate the heteronormative social myth that interracial marriage and procreation are progressive acts that help democratic societies evolve beyond race and racism. Added to this, multiracial college students are now presented with competing conceptions of mixed-race identity and with specific demands by activists and academics about how they should think and act as progressive multiracials.

I also proposed this panel because I am deeply concerned about the personal wellbeing of the current generation of multiracial-identified individuals who need to negotiate social contexts in which they are targeted, contested, and saddled with various competing demands and conceptions. In light of this concern, I think that CMRS should also embrace and develop alternative approaches to mixed race that emphasize individual rights, harms, and possibilities—hence my idea to put together this panel on egalitarian humanist, cosmopolitan, and metatheoretical approaches to mixed race.

But what exactly are egalitarian humanist, cosmopolitan and metatheoretical approaches to mixed race? What are their key themes and assumptions? Hopefully, the presentations and subsequent discussion will help answer these questions.

I would like to conclude however with a few brief comments about what these approaches have in common. All three approaches are skeptical of biological race. All see race as an illogical and harmful social construct. To various degrees, all frown on notions of ethnic or racial group pride, and on the politics of conserving the culture and identity of particular ethnic or racial groups. Yet, all view as justifiable the provisional use of racial or ethnic identities and narratives for strategic, political purposes—so as to counteract racist beliefs and practices, and other forms of social injustice that target oppressed groups. Finally, all highlight individual harms, rights, justice, and duties vis-a-vis racialization, the politics of identity, and the history of white supremacy.

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