The Mixed Debate: What does it mean to be ‘mixed’?
There have been a lot of interesting posts in the news and in the blog world lately. Many that promote the celebration of mixed heritage and some that make us pause to consider, “What does it mean to be mixed?” This isn’t an easy question to answer and I can imagine that while there are some ways in which many “mixed” stories line up…such as the “What are you?” question…there must also be many ways in which “mixed” experiences vary. With the number of individuals who identify as “mixed” growing, and having a president who’s grown from mixed roots, it seems the world has suddenly taken an interest in the discussion.
The growing debate
The New York Times has made it their business and actually has a series devoted to the examination of mixed identity, called “Race Remixed,” which has been well-received by much of the visible mixed community. The series addresses interracial marriage, multiracial identity, census debates and has fueled a discussion online that is bringing attention to this long unacknowledged topic.
The growing interest in mixed experiences has provoked a variety of conversations in the online community. Recently, Racialicious published a post about “Who get’s to be mixed race?” which focuses on the debates that are taking place on social media outlets about who qualifies as “mixed race”. The author gives us a back and forth perspective of why or why not a distinction should be made between mixed individuals who are the result of modern interracial or “black and white” relationships and individuals who consider themselves mixed, but sprout from a uni-racial, or “historically” mixed, family.
In my opinion, this is an excellent and needed debate. Seeing examples of both sides of this story, it’s clear to me that there are more similarities than differences. We live in a world of white privilege…a world where “whiteness” or light skin is highly valued and dark skin or “blackness” is something to be avoided. So, how does this affect the “mixed race” debate? The truth is, that even in relationships where both individuals are people of color, or where families are “visibly” the same race, there can be marked differences that cause very similar internal struggles. Individuals in these families often meet conflict about whether or not they may have a “right” to claim their identities or see themselves as mixed, rather than choosing one identity over the other.
Examining the stories
An interesting example…my husband’s family is 100% Mexican in society’s view, but behind closed doors, they are a mix of Native, European and “American” identities. There was a constant battle while growing up in his home between lighter skin/darker skin, “good” hair/”bad” hair, light eyes/dark eyes, Spanish fluency/non-fluency, authentic accent/”white” annunciation, authentic heritage/”Americanization” aka “whiteness”. While my husband’s parents may look the same to many individuals, there are raw scars left behind from colonial mixing that are in alignment with the struggles of modern day “mixies”. This is also evident for many Latinos who have AfroLatino heritage; a mix of African, Indigenous and European ancestries, who often share unique and upsetting experiences of being left out of both Black and Latino communities and being seen as “the other” by each. I’m not disagreeing that there is a marked difference from the experiences of those who are the result of a modern interracial mixing, but instead, I’m asserting that the commonalities are too numerous to ignore and that the emotional perspectives about mixing and mixed heritage are not so narrow as some might perceive. There is obviously a unique dynamic in how society views couples who are visually different (interracial) and the children of that union, but it’s equally important to recognize the stories of individuals in mono-racial families who have unique perspectives to share about their “mixed” experiences.
There are many stories out there, floating around, waiting to be acknowledged, or moving on in satisfaction that their own acknowledgement is enough, even though society might not see them as “qualifying” to be part of the discussion because they don’t look or sound like the perceived mixed experience.
Defining ‘What it means to be mixed’
One might wonder, what does this have to do with “the mixed experience”? In many ways, this is the mixed experience…a struggle to embrace “mixed” identity despite the solitary “race” that society has assigned us. We want to be accepted by others like us, but are instead viewed as “too white” and “too Americanized” or “too dark” and “too foreign”. There’s this struggle for identity between the social classifications of “ethnic” and “white”, two terms that seem to clash and everyone believing that we should be on one side or the other. Since a racial hierarchy and white privilege are established practices in our society, there seems to be this “positive” and “negative” mindset when addressing racial/ethnic heritage. It’s not something that we can think about neutrally, which means that society is constantly pummeling mixed individuals with their views about mixed identity and insisting that one race is either superior or inferior to the other. Such is the struggle of the mixed individual…the struggle to create a ‘mixed’ identity, one that can embrace all parts of their multiracial/multiethnic heritage, in spite of society’s need to categorize everyone into a easily defined box.
While there are differences among mixed individuals and distinctions are necessary, I think it’s also important to create a dialog that is inclusive of a variety of mixed experiences and one that doesn’t alienate others or create a ‘mixed’ rule of qualifications that must be met. In this way, each mixed experience can become a contribution to the greater knowledge of “what it means to be ‘mixed’.
Read more about being “mixed” and Latino at News Taco, Bicultural Mom, New Latina and Spanglish Baby. Learn more about mixed life and identity on the Mixed Chicks Chat and Is That Your Child? podcasts.