'The New Colored People' (Book Review)
The New Colored People:
Movement in America
Book written by Jon Michael Spencer.
( New York : New York UP, 1997)
Reviewed by Katya Gibel
Azoulay -- Grinnell College
[The book] 'The New Colored People:
The Mixed Race Movement in America'
is a political, often speculative, critique of
"Multiracialists" and their demand for official
recognition as a separate "racial" category.
Jon Michael Spencer carefully maps out the logic
of the Multi-racialists, candidly discarding biases
when finding validity in some of their arguments.
[His] attention [focuses] on the
[assumed] "negative implications"
of the Multiracialist-Movement for
[so-called] "black" America .
[However,] the comparison with Coloured
[i.e.`Mixed-Race'] people in South Africa is
not so illuminating as scholars might [assume].
Broad-based petitions to increase available
racial classifications highlight the legacy of
nineteenth-century theories of racial typologies.
White obsession with miscegenation intensified with
the rise of social Darwinism as scientists legitimized
popular mis-beliefs about blood and heredity.
Spencer's early concession, however
minimalist, that "race has some relationship
to biological make-up" is excessive.
Asking rhetorically whether Mixed-Race people
exist, Spencer answers "Yes - not so much
because they can be seen (as of yet)
but because they can be defined."
This serves as a departure point
for providing an overview of the
Multiracial-Movement from the late 1970s.
It is not incidental that both spokespeople of
and media attention to the census movement
have focused primarily on `Black/White' racial
Identities (Tiger Woods notwithstanding).
In 1967 the Supreme Court overruled
state laws prohibiting Interracial
marriage (Loving v. Virginia ) ...
The problem with statistics and discussions of
"Intermarriage" is that traditionally these have
referred almost exclusively to unions between
'Whites' and those designated "not White".
1993 estimates suggested that
approximately eighty percent of interracial
marriages are not between "blacks" and 'Whites'.
In this context -- for [so-called "black"
Americans the Ethnic group known by
the misnomer of ] African Americans ---
the Multiracial Movement ... may be less
"threatening" than Spencer 'speculates'.
The goal of organizations like the American
Association of Multi-Ethnic Americans (AMEA),
headed by Carlos Fernandez ("half Mexican
and half White"), and Project-RACE (Reclassify
All Children Equally), whose founder and
executive director Susan Graham is the White
(Jewish) wife of a "black television anchorman, is
"to oblige public recognition" of Mixed-Race people.
In the sixties, appropriation of "race" labels
functioned as an explicit strategy for
mobilization and `political activities'.
In the nineties, a politics of self-definition
has emerged as part of a public
conversation about `Identities'.
Spencer admits a shift in his opinion about
the motives of many of the Multi-Racialists.
He accepts as valid their goals for an eradication
of the fear of miscegenation and "a recognition of
the complexity of Multiple heritage" by transcending
racial boundaries, and he acknowledges that Tthe
Movement is not necessarily propelled by the
desire for a disassociation from "black" `Identities'.
Spencer remains suspicious [and rightfully so]
of people like Susan Graham who want the
government to define as 'Multiracial' [only those]
"whose parents have origins in two or more of
the above [existent] racial and ethnic categories."
Such a narrow and limited definition
negates the significant reality that
most [people who are members of the
Ethnic group currently referred to by
the misnomer of] African Americans
-- particularly [those labeled under
the clearly oxymoronic, misnomer of
being so-called] "light-skinned blacks"
-- are [in fact, actually] "Multi-Racial".
Beginning with the U.S. Census of 1850,
the category "Mulatto" appeared
(quadroons and octoroons were
temporarily added in the 1890 Census).
These intermediary categories were primarily
based on appearance and common knowledge.
Census-takers were instructed [that]
Mulattoes were **not** limited to
persons of White and Black biological
'parents', as Susan Graham demands.
In this context, Spencer wisely interrogates
the logic, motives, and interests of
the "Mixed-Race Movement."
Spencer provides a brief background
of Statistical Directive No. 15, which
standardizes "Racial" and 'Ethnic'
classifications that facilitate a uniform
reading of data used to track demographic
shifts and develop public policies.
The link between distribution of
government resources and
is a political issue:
Critical are the criteria for how groups are defined,
those who are officially recognized as members
of these groups, and, thus, the groups' size.
Spencer gives voice to some of the people
who chafe under the limited scope of current
Mono-Racial classifications and anticipates
[possibility of] averse political effect this may have
on governmental policies toward African Americans.
He quotes biracial sociologist Reginald
Daniel, who recommends that
"we must devise a means of statistically
numerating individuals who `identify'
themselves as Multi-Racial in a manner
that does not negatively affect the
measuring of African American
demographics, potentially undermining already
besieged policies designed to redress the
continuing effects of past racial inequities."
Unfortunately, Spencer's comparative
use of South Africa is not well established.
Historically the status of "Mixed-Race" people has
presented an administrative and political problem
for racial oligarchies, but the situations of South
Africa and the United States differ significantly.
Keeping in mind that Afrikaners fine-tuned
segregation/st policies of their British
predecessors, a careful reading of the
sophisticated vocabulary of apartheid reveals
pronounced discomfort in relying on biology and
genetics in differentiating population groups.
The minimal interest in "mathematizing"
ancestral heritage reflected an expedient means
of preserving the fragile alliance between White
Afrikaners and Anglos on the basis of White
supremacy, while simultaneously accentuating
ethnicity and language under the guise
of preserving cultural groups (i.e.
to protect Afrikaner hegemony).
After the 1976 Soweto uprisings, many
(classified) 'Coloured' South Africans aligned
politically with 'Black' Africans (who were
classified into separate "national" groups
by language, thus legitimizing territorial
apartheid or the policy of Separate Homelands).
[Just like in the United State , the term] "black" came
to signify a named "political identity"for Coloureds,
Africans, and Asians, particularly youth activists.
Spencer accurately argues that, while
[so-called] "black" Americans "may be
caught between devotion to 'White' cultural
forms and black cultural substance,"
nevertheless they "are not racially-marginal
like the Coloured people" in South Africa,
and yet he underestimates the profound
significance of this observation ...
American culture has been shaped and colored
by this diversity of [these so-called "black" people]
Spencer provides little new
ground for "black" Americans.
The contradictions in the language of
race may prompt white Euro-Americans
to reconsider their own articulation
of ancestral heritage under the
overburdened label "White".
In the final analysis, the Mixed-Race
Movement is about interrogating and
naming subjective 'personal identities'.
Spencer appropriately reminds us to address
the more substantive issue of finding structural
solutions to the legacy of racial discrimination
against people [who are of any part-African descent ...
COPYRIGHT 1999 African American Review
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group
Excerpted from the following source:
Discussion Thread Summaries:
On Mixed-Race Types:
On MGM-Mixed Lineage:
On Mixed-Race Support:
On the Unique Situation of MGM-Mixed
Mixed-Race people who lived in VA & LA:
On Racial Manipulation and Mis-categorization
by the Census Bureau & Political Movements:
On having an Amerindian Ancestry:
On the rather unique situation of the AA `Ethnic' Group:
On Skin Color &. Full-Lineage:
Examples of a few MGM-Mixed / Mixed-Race families from VA:
Historical and Famous Mixed-Race People:
Media Representations of Mixed-Race People & Relationships: