The Explosion In Mixed-Race Studies
The Explosion In Mixed-Race Studies
A new generation of academics is pushing the
boundaries of ethnic studies, compelling people to
look beyond the traditional minority groups, to the
experiences of Mixed-Race individuals in America .
By Erica Schlaikjer
Just five years ago, you would have
been hard-pressed to find a college
course that addressed Mixed-Race issues.
But ever since people self-identified as multiracial
in the 2000 census by choosing two-or-more races,
the interest in Mixed-Race studies has exploded.
At least sixteen universities across the country
from New Haven , CT to Santa Barbara , CA
offer classes that explore the social
implications of being Mixed in America .
A Mixed-Race Movement is clearly taking form:
politically, socially, and now, educationally.
"We start at the personal level, and then move
to the social and historical issues of race," says
Professor Robert Allen, who teaches a class
called People of Mixed Racial Descent at
the University of California , Berkeley .
The students' first assignment is to write a 2-3 page
autobiographical essay describing how they became
aware of their racial and ethnic identity, what
they learned, and how it has defined them.
The class, one of the first of its kind, was established
in 1981 by Native American professor Terry Wilson.
It began as a response to the growth of the
Mixed-Race population, especially in California 's
Bay Area, as well as student interest on campus.
Historically, the West has always been very
multiracial because of high immigration levels and
an early end to laws against interracial marriage.
Forty percent of the 6.8 million U.S. residents who
checked off more than one box for race live in the
West, so it's no wonder many Mixed-Race studies
courses originate in states like California .
Allen's class has over a hundred students.
About half are Multi-Racial (of "all imaginable,
possible combinations,") -- others are involved in
interracial relationships -- and some are neither.
Allen uses a variety of literature, texts, readings,
films, and speakers to teach the subject matter.
An anthology edited by Teresa Williams-Leon and
Berkeley Graduate student Cynthia Nakashima
"The Sum of Our Parts" and Dr. Maria Root's
"The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders
As the New Frontier" serve almost as "textbooks"
in the class, although, many fictitious novels telling
stories of Mixed people around the world are also
included in the course's critical analysis of race.
Another approach to Mixed-Race studies is
`finding where one fits' in the bigger picture.
Prof. Steven Ropp teaches Biracial
and Multiracial Identity in the U.S. at
California State University, Northridge.
He stresses the importance of "being a part of
all the communities we belong to, by having a
presence, communicating, staying active."
The class he currently teaches began about six years
ago under the tutelage of Teresa Williams-Leon,
professor and co-editor of "The Sum of Our
Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans."
This year is the first year Ropp has taught the class.
His vision is to create a general Multi-Racial studies
class, in hopes that it will draw more students
than a class catered to a specific ethnic group.
There are three course objectives:
1) to understand the history of race and racism,
2) to gain an understanding of the Multi-Racial
experience in different communities, and
3) to examine the integral role Multi-Racial people
have in post-civil rights "identity politics."
The class is diverse, comprising Asians,
part-Asians, Mono-Racial students, and one Creole.
"I want the students to understand their
role in the community and society," he says.
Ropp asks the students to organize a campus-wide
event and share it with the college community
to emphasize service and activism.
However, Ropp believes, "We [Multi-Racial
people] shouldn't have to be the only
ones to be a bridge, to facilitate harmony."
Racial issues affect society as a
whole, not just the individual person.
On the east coast, Professor Jennifer
Chan teaches `Asian-Americans of
Mixed Heritage' at New York University .
She believes that "thinking about Mixed-Race
allows us to understand most clearly the way
that race is shaped and defined in this country."
She is excited about the emergence
of Mixed-Race studies.
"I think it's terrific.
For a long time, Mixed-Race individuals
have been both very present and yet
absent in the cultural discussions over race.
I am glad to see a discussion about
Mixed-Race becoming louder, more
articulate and more sophisticated."
Mixed people have traditionally been forced to fit into
one racial category, and oftentimes, they assume the
role of "the other" - those that aren't Caucasian.
But Prof. Allen insists that these categories
"don't make sense except from the standpoint
of racial oppression," and therefore are
becoming "more and more archaic."
"The concept of Mixed-Race is ambiguous
and evolving," Allen observes, "but at least
there is a recognition of it now."
However, there still exists an "exoticism"
towards people of Mixed racial descent.
Allen says, "that makes it hard for them
to express their personal identity."
There are disagreements, even amongst
students, about the best way to
approach Mixed-Race studies
Paul Young, Co-President of the Hapa Issues
Forum (HIF) founding chapter at UC Berkeley
was a student in Robert Allen's class
While realizing that learning about history
is important, Paul says he was
"looking for a more contemporary approach
... about what was going on NOW.
I liked that," he says.
Prof. Allen's Ethnic Studies lecture was bigger and
more diverse than Paul's Asian American Studies
class (130 students from all ethnic backgrounds
compared to 40, mostly Mono-Racial Asian
students), but he felt "closer to home."
Professor Gloria Bogdan teaches a class
called Mixed Heritage Asian Americans
at California State , Fullerton .
At first she thought her class was going to be "a whole
bunch of White people, because they should be the
ones who should be learning about Mixed-Race."
But it turns out that only three White students
signed up, and the rest were Asians and Hapas
Bogdan sees the future headed
towards Mixed-Race Studies