Anthropology

Anthropology

Assigned reading 1 page summaries and 1 page outlines.

HAPTER

15

The Hazards of Visibility
“Biraciar’:t Women, Media
Images, and Narratives of Identity
CAROLINE

A.

STREETER

The republic of the United States is a society consumed by ideas of racial purity
and racial denial. Therefore, the United States is also replete with fascination
with racial mixing and racial difference.

I

n this chapter, I examine the topic of
biracial women through two lenses:
media images from the United States and
a small sample of creative writing and docu­
mentary videos produced by college-age
women from two University of California
campuses. We encounter an immediate
dilemma with regard to terminology because,
in media imagery, it is rarely possible to dis­
cern whether a woman depicted is “biracial,”
that is, has two parents of different “races.”!
For that reason, I often use the more general
designation “mixed-race,” especially in the
first part of the chapter, which focuses on
print media.2 A second dilemma involves
why one needs to know, and how one goes

Donna Haraway (1997)

about determining, whether a woman
depicted in a media image is of mixed race.
To bring a quality of hypervigilance to the
visual markers of race entails participation in
the discourse that makes physical features
synonymous with racial classification. Even
if the goal is to ascertain “mixedness,” one
becomes engaged in an attempt to fix what
“mixed” looks like.
The discourse of race in U.S. media is heavily
weighted toward an understanding of race
relations that is limited to African Americans
and European Americans. In a cultural climate
in which the legibility of race is restricted to
“black” and “white,” mixed-race people tend
to be imagined as black/white or “mulatto.”

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RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY

Yet recent manifestations of racial/ethnic
conflict such as the riots/rebellions that took
place in Los Angeles 10 years ago clearly indi­
cate how inadequate that model is (Gooding­
Williams, 1993). Although in the world of
popular culture the black/white racial
dichotomy continues to be exploited, in recent
decades many have jumped onto the lucrative
multicultural bandwagon. This phenomenon
has revolutionized media images, especially in
advertising. Led by the Italian clothing
company Benetton, advertisements increas­
ingly depict a wide range of ethnicities as well
as many types of multiracial people. The
visual pleasure provided by diverse ethnic
types, however, has disturbing antecedents in
19th century racial science and the ethnographic
photography that accompanied European
colonial expansion. The assumption that
“race” and “mixed race” can be determined
through the visual evidence of physical
features has been used repeatedl y to buttress
the logic of racial hierarchies. As the black
British photographer and writer David
A. Bailey (1989) has commented:
If we look at early anthropological photo­
graphy we can see the process of categori­
sation and construction of racial difference
in which cultures were either photogra-phed
voyeuristically within their homelands
(emphasizing physical features) or pho·
tographed and measured in studies. This is
reproduced in the Benetton campaign by the
categorisation of differences and the empha­
sis on physical features such as eyes, hair and
skin color. This emphasis on physical fea­
tures is also similar to the early medical and
police photographs of mental, physical
and social deviants. Likewise the framing
and cropping of the United Contrasts [sic} of
Benetton advertisements is very similar to
these earlier photographs. (p. 65)

In addition to the troubling history
invoked by attempts to translate physical
features into racial “types,” the title of this

chapter, “the hazards of visibility” refers to
an ongoing debate about how media images
affect individuals and groups in society.
Although Census 2000 made it clear that the
United States has undergone dramatic demo­
graphic change, the implicit understanding of
an American as a white person of Western
European descent is not only deeply embed­
ded in our national narratives but also is
everywhere visible in media representations.
In other words, images of white people dom­
inate the visual culture that saturates our
everyday environment. The idea that media
images and the visual and textual narratives
they contain affect us, although seemingly a
commonsense notion, is controversial. I sug­
gest that although women and people of
color naturally enough wish to see them­
selves in the images with which all of us are
relentlessly bombarded, we must be vigilant
about the terms of our inclusion. Like ethnic
advocacy groups such as the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP), organizations such as the
Association for MultiEthnic Americans
(AMEA) and Multiracial Americans of
Southern California (MASC), as well as mag­
azines aimed at multiracial individuals and
families like Interrace and Mavin consistently
applaud the increase in representations of
mixed-race people in media images as a pos­
itive development. I argue here that visibility
is a complex phenomenon that should
not be uncritically celebrated. As the word
“hazard” indicates, a possible danger to
be carefully negotiated, the stream of media
images from which I analyze selected
examples can be considered a kind of traffic.
U.S. society is characterized by a formidable
traffic in media images, in which we all
may be said to participate but in which
the profits and benefits are very unevenly
distributed.
Many of the women in the media images
that I analyze can be called “virtual girls”

The Hazards of Visibility

because their personal history is unknown to
the viewer. They exist solely on the level of
the image. By contrast, in the second part of
the chapter, I discuss “real girls,” exploring
media representations of the celebrity Mariah
Carey as well as writing and documentary
video by college-age women. The use of the
term biracial is more appropriate when we
have evidence of how people identify, espe­
cially when, as in the writing and video,
women draw substantially on autobiographi­
cal material. My analysis of texts that draw
on autobiography-the narratives of identity
to which the chapter’s title refers-demon­
strates how young women deploy the tools of
feminist theory and antiracist activism to
engage what it means to inhabit a biracial
female body.

THE METAPHOR DANCE:
WHEN DOES MULTICULTURAL
MEAN MULTIRACIAL?
Print images that feature mixed-race people
are a prominent example of the multicultural
representations that have become ubiquitous
in contemporary media. The ideology of mul­
ticulturalism that is referenced by such images
emphasizes the pleasurable aspects of ethnic
diversity without engaging the challenge of
cultural differences and the existence of racial
hierarchies and racial inequality. Multicultural
images that use multiracial people envision a
future that is free of such power struggles. In a
recent example that I discuss more thoroughly
later, in 1993 Time magazine imagined the
future U.S. population as represented by a
multiracial woman created through a com­
puter program, featured on the issue’s cover.3
Time used the metaphor of the multicultural
society to update that of the melting pot.
Traditionally, the melting pot required ethnic
groups to assimilate to a generic American

model. 4 The concept of a multicultural “stew”
might appear more inclusive than the melting
pot, in that it would allow for the survival of
ethnic particularity, influencing the definition
of “American” rather than requiring the
burden of change to be fully borne by ethnic
“others.” However, multiculturalism in the
hands of corporate interests has frequently
merely facilitated the commodification of
ethnic difference.
In media imagery the idealized future­
free of troubling difference and conflict-has
often been represented by a mixed-race child,
in a move that demonstrates how multicul­
tural ideology becomes represented by
images of multiracial people. This phenome­
non of conflation is especially evident when
images of mixed-race children are deployed
to represent visions of racial harmony
deemed unthreatening because they are so
“cute.” In one example, a Baby Gap ad pub­
lished in 0 (The Oprah Magazine) in May
2000 depicting an Afro-Asian baby girl rein­
forces the tenacious myth that mixed-race
children are “naturally” the most beautiful
(Figure 15.1).
The media’s fixation on beautiful children
of mixed descent provides an example of
why the increase in the number of visibly
racially mixed bodies depicted “positively”
does not necessarily constitute a progres­
sive move in representation. Adorable images
do little to challenge the basis for social
inclusion.
Just as advertising photography deploys
strongly contrasting skin colors to signify
racial difference, it often uses “rainbow
imagery” (intermediate skin tones) to portray
people of mixed descent. s In fact, rainbow
baby is a term used to describe racially mixed
children, particularly those of black and white
heritage. The ubiquity of phrases such as
“rainbow babies” and “coffee-colored
children” is indicative of the tendency to
infantilize the subject of mixed descent.

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RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY

I

Figure 15.1

Baby GAP, 0 (The Oprah Magazine), May-June 2000

An overriding concern for children, whether
articulated to caution against interracial rela~
rionships or to advocate for an institutional­
ized multiracial classification (Graham, 1996),

dovetails with trends in advertising and
television, which are currently obsessed with
young models and actors, and the more ado­
lescent looking, the better (Hirschberg, 1999).

The Hazards of Visibility

As well, in this climate, “everybody’s going for
the multi-ethnic girl” (Namkung, 2000).
As I have mentioned, Time magazine gave
prominent visibility to a multiethnic girl in a
special issue published in fall 1993, although
this particular cover photo was computer
generated (Figure 15.2).
Time’s cover consisted of a “morph” based
on the projected future racial and ethnic com­
position of the u.s. population. According
to Time, “the image of (their) new Eve” is
“15% Anglo Saxon, 17.5% Middle Eastern,
17.5% African, 7.5% Asian, 35% Southern
European and 7.5% Hispanic” (“The New
Face,” 1993). Apparently, as Eve’s face emerged
on the computer screen, Time’s staff members
became heartbroken that “she doesn’t exist”
(“The New Face,” 1993). However, the writer
Danzy Senna (1998) contends
Of course, anyone could see that women
just Eke the computer face they had created
did exist in Puerto Rico, Latin America, and
Spanish Harlem …. As I read the article, it
reminded me of an old saying they used to
have down South during Jim Crow: ‘If a
black man wants to sit in the front of the
bus, he just puts on a turban.’ Maybe the
same rule applied here; call yourself mixed
and you just might find the world smiles a
little brighter on you. (p. 14)

Senna’s comments echo the suspicions of
black Americans who question the purpose of
a multiracial category, a critique influenced
by historical attempts on the part of individu­
als and groups to “pass” and become reclas­
sified as anything but black (or Negro or
colored).6 Likewise, Senna alludes to the
instability of visual markers of race as well as
to the importance of historical, geographic,
and cultural factors in determining racializa­
tion. 7 Her critique of the ways that mixed-race
people can escape the social prejudice that is
aimed at people of color brings to mind what
I call the “safe hybridity,” represented by
individuals who inhabit an intermediate racial

category. In fact, my juxtaposition of the
terms safe and hybridity is intentionally para­
doxical. Hybridity as conceptualized by post­
colonial theorists such as Trinh T. Minh-ha
and Homi Bhabha cannot be safe. Bhabha
has remarked, “A strategy of hybridization
does not celebrate cultural diversity, it cele­
brates … cultural difference” (Trinh, 1999,
p. 28). However, the hybridization that is
practiced by the Time magazine cover is emp­
tied of political content through its celebra­
tion as mere curiosity-a high-tech feat. Time
reduces hybridity to horticulture; the meaning
of the woman’s face is limited to her (sexually
attractive) blended features.
The words on Time’s cover make it clear
that Eve is not racially “pure”; “Take a good
look at this woman. She was created by a
computer from a mix of several races.” When
we consider the iconic status of blue-eyed,
blonde-haired, and white-skinned femininity,
not just in the United States but throughout
western European and Latin American coun­
tries, Time’s rendering of the representative
American woman of the future as an olive­
skinned brunette with hazel eyes could be con­
sidered progressive. s Nevertheless, some have
contended that the image looks like a white
woman. 9 Like Danzy Senna, others disagreed
with the Time staff’s lament that their Eve
does not exist, finding her ethnicity conceiv­
able, albeit ambiguous. My mixed-race friends
and I concurred that Eve’s hair was quite
intriguing. While it is not wavy, its texture
hints at a fuzziness that will be familiar to the
parents of rainbow babies. Yet the magazine’s
cover elides the topic of miscegenation, allow­
ing the apparently more palatable multicul­
tural to stand in for multiracial. The magazine
text invokes the narrative of immigration to
account for the multiracial and multiethnic
composition of their cover girl: “What you see
is a remarkable preview of … The New Face
of America. How Immigrants Are Shaping the
World’s First Multicultural Society.”

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RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY

1
!

Figure 15.2

Time Magazine, Fall 1993
The Hazards of Visibility

Time’s article explaining how the morphing
program worked was accompanied by a grid
of photographs illustrating examples of the
program’s generation of the “progeny” of 14
men and women of various racial and ethnic
backgrounds. The grid, appearing under
the title “Rebirth of a Nation-Computer
Style,” makes a cultural reference that should
give us pause. D. W. Griffith’s silent film of
1915 The Birth of a Nation repudiated the
outcome of the United States’ Civil War,
especially the Reconstruction Era, during
which newly enfranchised black Americans
voted and held office in the southern states.
The film’s vicious racial stereotypes, includ­
ing rapacious black men who preyed on
white virgins as well as corrupt and over­
sexed mulattoes, had an enduring influence
on American cinema. As Lauren Berlant has
commented, Time’s reference to the film is
simultaneously innocuous and deeply trou­
bling. 1o For my purposes here, Time’s
“Freudian slip” is especially meaningful
because it betrays the extent to which
ambivalence about miscegenation, which,
in The Birth of a Nation, was the most
depraved result of black emancipation, per­
sists in contemporary discourse about race.
Judging by the images of mixed-race prog­
eny in Time’s “Rebirth of a Nation” grid,
gender categories presented unexpected com­
plications for a computer program written to
mimic biological reproduction. Many of the
photos struggle for gender determinacy, and
it is frequently difficult to tell whether the
morph is male or female without looking
at the “parents,” in which case the hairstyle
seems most determinative of “gender.” It is
intriguing that the computer program would
create ambiguously gendered offspring from
images of men and women, undermining the
myth of heterosexual normativity, at least in
cyberspace! Because the parameters by which

the program functioned are so different from
those that drive genetic reproduction, it seems
curious that Time’s staff felt compelled to
mimic heterosexual reproduction. Why not
morph women with women and men with
men? Would “gay” and “lesbian” parents
render offspring with a more easily identifi­
able gender? In fact, Time’s unambiguously
female Eve was created by morphing the fea­
tures of all seven of the women used to pro­
duce their “Rebirth of a Nation” chart.
In addition to virtual miscegenation, Time
highlights what is actually called “crossbreed­
ing” in their tex”!: real live adults in interracial
relationships and the children born from these
unions. The subjects are presented in a format
similar to the virtual morphs on Time’s cover
image and in their “Rebirth of a Nation” grid,
photographed with seemingly nude torsos and
looking directly into the camera lens, fully
available to the viewer. ll Looking at these
images, one experiences the unsettling yet irre­
sistible urge to compare the real-life “mixed
breeds” with their morphed counterparts and
to note which physical features the children
have inherited from their parents. The com­
pulsion to focus on the physical characteris­
tics, especially the face of a person, is precisely
the impulse that advertising that features
mixed-race women plays on.

REBIRTH OF A NATION
Advertising makes explicit the routes by
which persons might individually and collec­
tively give a name to their desire (Berlant,
1997, p. 11).
An ad from the clothing designer Calvin
Klein’s campaign for the fragrance cKone
highlights the ways that ethnic mystery
becomes a sign of miscegenation in an image
that emphasizes the vulnerable and available

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RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY

sexuality of a mixed-race woman. In this
way, the cKone ad metaphorically fulfills the
expectations raised by advertising that eroti­
cizes interracial couplesY In the full-page
photograph, three quarters of the space is
devoted to a close-up image of the face and
throat of a young woman with an Afro­
Asian appearance, flanked by a partial image
of a fragrance bottle (Figure 15.3).
Lighting in the photograph emphasizes
the model’s skin, especially its golden, lumi­
nous quality. Her skin is a shade that could
be described as maple or honey, a color that
is clearly located in the continuum between
black and white.
An image of an Afro-Asian woman evokes
a different kind of biracial subject, one whose
existence was not the object of antimiscegena­
tion law in the United States. As Phillip Brian
Harper has observed, “The centrality of the
white subject’s interest in the phenomenon of
miscegenation is indicated by the dictionary
definition of the term, which characterizes it as
denoting especially ‘marriage between white
and non-white persons”m (p. 31). Instead, the
model’s “hapa” features conjure histories of
American imperialism and military occupations
in Asia as well as relationships between Asian
women and black American soldiers. 14 The
photograph is composed to expose the model
to the viewer; the hollow in her throat and her
graceful, yet fragile neck signal vulnerability.!S
If there was any doubt as to her sexual avail­
ability, the woman’s alleged contact informa­
tion appears in the lower third of the image.
The phrase ..e-mail: kristy@cKone.com..
updates the proverbial scrawl in the bathroom
stall for the Internet age (i.e., “For a good time
call … “).16 That “Kristy” strongly resembles
a grown-up version of the little girl in the Baby
Gap ad should come as no surprise. Although
rainbow babies are celebrated as signs of racial
harmony, the taboo of interracial sexuality
lurking in their genetic make-up becomes
full-blown in erotic images of mixed-race
women.

At the same time, some advenisements
represent alternative possibilities for the Baby
Gap girl child’s future. In the winter of
1998-1999, an ad campaign by Levi’s capi­
talized on discourses of multiculturalism by
making racial ambiguity representative of a
different type of fantasy. Rather than offering
the consumer the illusion of unfettered sexual
access to a mixed-race woman, this campaign
positioned her as the embodiment of post­
civil rights era idealism, making consumption
of her image a surrogate for antiracist
activism. The campaign featured teenagers
from a variety of ethnic backgrounds holding
placards inscribed with phrases. One image
depicted a young black man with dread­
locks holding a sign proclaiming, “Conformity
Breeds Mediocrity.” Another showed a
Latino with a placard that declared, “Latinos
Presente.” In a third ad, two teenagers, one
male and one female, both of indeterminate
ancestry, held a sign saying “We Are One.”
The image that immediately drew my atten­
tion was of a young woman holding a sign
inscribed with the words, “I can’t be Prejudice
[sicJ, I’m Mulatto [sic]” (Figure 15.4). The
motto of the campaign-the phrase “What’s
True”-was visible on the lower right side of
each advertisement.
The first time I saw these Levi’s ads (in
San Francisco in December 1998), only
the “mulatto” images had been mounted.
Multiple larger-than-life sized posters of the
teenage girl were plastered over wooden
partitions that were being used to delineate
the construction site around a building in
the Mission District (a working class Latino
neighborhood undergoing intense gentrifica­
tion). The young woman’s hair made me nos­
talgic for my own teen years, when I wore an
Afro “as big as a rain cloud. “17 Only later did
I realize that the ad was one of a series. By the
time I attempted to track them down to make
photographs approximately 2 months later,
they had all but disappeared. Although I
eventually found all four images in an alley in

The Hazards of Visibility

Figure 15.3

Calvin Klein, Vibe Magazine, August 1999

. downtown San Francisco, they had been
with the word uno, which obscured
phrases on the signs held by each model. IS
My Own initial surprise at seeing the word
mulatto used in an ad is typical of the lack of

consensus about terms that mark identity. ]
joke with my friends that mulatto, unlike
words such as black, nigger, queer, faggot, or
even girl, has not been rehabilitated. By the
same token, I have encountered young

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RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY

Figure 15.4

Levi-Strauss Billboard Photographed in downtown San Francisco by Caroline A.
Streeter, February 1999

people of mixed blacklwhite descent who
embrace mulatto, feeling that it describes
their heritage in a succinct and accurate way.
I e-mailed the office of consumer services at
Levi’s to ask how they made decisions
regarding the language used in the billboards.
They responded:

In the “What’s True” campaign we gave a
forum to all different types of people. The
campaign represents diversity in thoughts,
ideas and style, which is what the Levi’s®
brand is all about. We didn’t use models or
actors and the spots are unscripted, unedited,
and spontaneous. They were created with

The Hazards of Visibility

teens off the street-not in a studio–speaking
candidly about what “true” means to them.
The assertion that an advertising cam­
paign is “unscripted, unedited and sponta­
neous” is misleading to say the least. In fact,
Levi’s response to my query could be inter­
preted to mean that the models are not even
wearing the company’s clothing. More­
over, the girl in the mulatto ad looks very
groomed; she wears makeup and has mani­
cured nails, and her hair appears styled to
embody a particular aesthetic that is associ­
ated with rainbow babies, brushed out to
emphasize its volume and texture.
What of Levi’s claim that the ads feature
teenagers “off the street … speaking can­
didly?” Although the mixed-race girl in the
Levi’s image may indeed describe herself as
mulatto, I doubt that Levi’s had no influence in
the conception of the phrase that she allegedly
“created” herself. By composing the ad in
this way, Levi’s states that “the truth” is that
racially mixed people “can’t be prejudice,” a
statement that makes the mixed-race subject
the embodiment of liberation from racial dis­
crimination. The idea that the mixed-race child
represents the elimination of prejudice is part
of a utopian dream adopted by many political
activists during the civil rights movement.
When young people from all over the United
States went south to work in voter registration
drives (especially during the summer of 1964),
blacks and whites worked and socialized
together, and became lovers (Evans, 1979).
This was the nightmare that the segregationists
had warned about. Such activity also con­
tributed to the seductive mythology that if
people could transcend racial barriers in their
private lives, the elimination of society’s racism
would follow. In this sense, Levi’s “What’s
True” image of a mixed-race teenage girl is the
alternative grown-up depiction of the Afro­
Asian child in the Baby Gap ad. Rather than
exploiting the lure of sexual availability, the
image promises liberation from social injustice.

Yet the Levi’s notion of mulattoes relies on
celebratory and ahistorical rhetoric that elides
the vexed strategies that racially mixed sub·
jects have deployed to negotiate hierarchies of
race and color. 19 This kind of multicultural
imagery makes racially mixed people symbolic
embodiments of antidiscrimination while
using their images to mask persistent race·
based inequalities. 20 The Levi’s discourse also,
oddly enough, solidly reinforces the authority
of the “one-drop rule.” This occurs through
the spelling “error” in the sentence “I can’t be
prejudice, I’m mulatto.” The phrase evokes
Ebonies, or Black English, thus inscribing
blackness as effectively as the girl’s Afro,21
The muddled messages in the advertisement
also point to the contradictory expectations
that Americans harbor for miscegenation.
Although the outcome, mixed-race people, are
expected to free the society of prejudice, they
are as subject to being defined in racialized
terms as anyone. Because we are confused
about what racism is–Is it the articulation of
taboo words? The dissemination of negative
images?-it is difficult to gauge when racial
language or imagery is problematic.

RAINBOW BABY

In the transition to thinking about “real
girls,” I begin with an analysis of the media’s
discourse about the well-known celebrity
Mariah Carey. Carey is a unique example
because her image transformed quite literally
from white to black before our very eyes, a
process exhaustively documented in the
mainstream and African-American media
over the past decade. 22 When her first album
was released (1990), Carey’s record company
marketed her as a pop singer with no dearly
defined ethnic identity. Like the biracial
actress Jennifer Beals, Carey’s ambiguous fea­
tures enabled her to remain racially unclassi­
fied, (synonymous with being white in

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America). As Carey’s fame grew, journalists
delving into her background soon “dis­
covered” that she is biracial, with a
European-American mother and a father of
African-American and Venezuelan heritage. 23
Much was made of Carey’s “passing,” partic­
ularly by black journalists, and articles about
her began to routinely comment on her mixed
heritage as well as her attempts to articulate a
biracial subjectivity.24 Once she had been
“outed,,25 Carey’s music videos began to shift
from rainbow imagery (with children of diverse
races26 ) to representations that prominently
featured black men. She also began collabo­
rating with male and female rap and hip-hop
artists on her albums. Carey’s divorce from
the white record executive Tommy Mottola
(almost two decades her senior) after a 5-year
marriage seems to have accelerated her emer­
gence as a black female celebrity. Since her
divorce in 1998, she has made appearances at
venues such as the NAACP Image Awards,
pursued high-profile collaborations with
African American artists, and been linked
romantically to a number of black male
celebritiesY In addition, her image on maga­
zine covers and in music videos became
significantly more sexual. Magazines in
particular repeatedly alluded to her single
status and sexual desirability.28 Like the
cKone ads using mixed-race models, refer­
ences to Carey’s biracial heritage functioned
to increase her sexual allure. 29
Mariah Carey’s racialized sexuality is the
potent and unstable flash point that renders
her image perpetually troubling. The confla­
tion of Carey’s racial heritage and her sexual­
ity became pop cultural fodder in arenas such
as the performer Sandra Bernhard’s one­
woman show, I’m Still Here … Damn It!
(which I saw live in San Francisco in 1999).30
Bernhard’s comments on Carey demonstrate
how race can be sexualized and sexuality
raced. In a voice dripping with sarcasm,
Bernhard related, “Mariah’s been getting a

little niggerish on us … she been seeing those
rap stars and saying oh yeah baby do it, do
it … give me some of that big black dick!” In
Bernhard’s discourse, Carey assumes a posi­
tion analogous to how white women are
often depicted in advertising that features
black male/white female interracial couples:
eroticized as the light-skinned vessel for a
“big black dick.”3! Bernhard’s humor simul­
taneously frames Carey as a white-looking
woman and a mulatta subject, exploiting her
racial ambiguity to fuel stereotypical images of
white women and black men in interracial rela­
tionships as well as insatiable mulatta sexual­
ity. Carey herself offered astute commentary
on Bernhard’s monologue:
Sandra Bemhard used words that every
African American I know-and definitely I,
personally, find inappropriate. If my skin
were two shades darker, she wouldn’t have
done it…. (C)alling me a “phony white
bitch” and saying I was “acting niggerish” is
acceptable because she figures, “Who’s
gonna stick up for her?” I think she perceives
me as white, which is a common perception.
And yeah, I’m a freaking mutt, I’m a triracial
freak, but she implied I was a white person
trying to be black. And it’s offensive to me,
because I’ve been a victim of racism on both
sides. (Herman, 1999, p. 128)

Carey’s statement about skin color is espe­
cially insightful, pointing to the ways in which
her “white-looking” features are read as defus­
ing Bernhard’s racial slurs. Her comments
imply an awareness that her body is “marked
by a border condition, a position at the
rim … neither fully inside nor fully outside”
(Burgin, 1996, p. 257). Although the exploita­
tion of Carey’s image as a mixed-race woman
gives us valuable information about trends in
popular culture, her unique status as a pop star
make it difficult to consider her “representa­
tive” of mixed-race women in everyday life. In
the next section, I tum to “real girls” with less
rarefied personal circumstances, from twO

The Hazards of Visibility

University of California campuses, who have
explored biracial identity in autobiographical
writing and documentary video.

MIXED-RACE
WOMEN’S INDEPENDENT
WRITING AND VIDEO
In the 1990s, the topic of multiracial identity
entered the public sphere through the publica­
tion of academic texts as well as general inter­
est literature, especially autobiography and
family histories,32 Multiracial concerns began
to be addressed in national discourses of
American identity, most notably in debates
that preceded the dramatic shift that enabled
people for the first time in the year 2000 to
check more than one racial category on U.S.
Census forms. As well, social organizations
for multiracial individuals have proliferated
on co !lege campuses throughout the nation.
Students have produced literary anthologies,
films, and videos that document multiracial
identity from a variety of ethnic perspectives.]3
YDung mixed-race women offer creative
explorations of multiracial female identity that
reach far beyond the limited parameters delin­
eated by the media’s fantasies of post-civil
rights era rainbow babies. Voices (by the group
Students of Mixed Heritage, University of
California, Berkeley, 1992) and Out of Many.
One. (Students of Mixed Heritage, University
of California, Santa Cruz, 1995) are collections
of autobiographical narrative, poetry, and
creative writing. In both works, women
make up the majority of contributors. To some
observers, the proliferation of social groups for
people of mixed heritage on college campuses
is an indication that identifying as mixed
occurs in contexts of relative privilege and
material comfort, encouraging some to label
the “mixed-race movement” a “middle-class
phenomenon.”34 It may be that class privilege
affords the opportunity to explore mixed racial

heritage. However, as expressed by the writers
in Voices and Out of Many. One., the desire
for the freedom to express multiracial identity
does not necessarily translate into a wish
to stake out “new” racial territory. Compared
with much of the academic writing by scholars
of multiraciality, writing and video work by
racially mixed women are far less invested in
“the right to choose identity.”35 In the collec­
tively written introduction to Voices, the
editors of No Press Collective (1992) declare:
We do not advocate the creation of a new
racial category for people of mixed descent. If
mixed people realize that “race” is a fiction,
and that the constructions of racial bound­
aries are an illusion … , then the possibility of
creating yet another race-based category,
however fluid, is self-defeating. (p. xxvi)
It is interesting to note that although iden­
tifying as mixed is important, the creation of a
census category is not a strategic move that
interests the writers. A political commitment
to people of color, opposition to racism, and
concern about cultural erasure are all strong
elements of writing and video by racially
mixed people. For many of them, identifica­
tion with their nonwhite heritage grounds
their identities. Because they are not invested
in a specific label that would identify them as
a group, these racially mLxed people do not act
as gatekeepers to the category “mixed race.”
The political perspectives in both antholo­
gies reflect an integration of the critiques of
racism, class discrimination, gender oppres­
sion, and homophobia that have been elabo­
rated by feminists of color (see especially
Anzaldua & Moraga, 1981; Smith, 1983).
Like the anthologies by women of color that
seem to be the models for both Voices and
Out of Many. One., the editorial groups for
the mixed-race publications emphasized the
extent to which the groups functioned as com­
munity for the individual writers. The shifting,
contingent, and constructed nature of these
individuals’ mixed-race identities, then, is

.113

314

RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY

mirrored in the contingent and constructed
nature of their mixed-race communities. The
work in anthologies by people of mixed
descent reflects a critique of fragmentation
that is accompanied by a simultaneous recog­
nition of how fragmentation overdeter­
mines social experience. The editors of Out of
Many. One. write, “The very words ‘Mixed
Heritage’ call to mind parts of a whole, but
‘Fractions are for math, not for peo­
ple.’ … Our title (is) expressive of the struggle
we have undertaken to claim our identities in
their entirety” (Students of Mixed Heritage
Collective, 1995, p. IV). This assertion takes a
cue from feminist of color theory. Like women
of color, racially mixed people want to be able
to bring their whole selves to their art and
their activism.
Writing by mixed-race women, as com­
pared with writing in women of color antholo­
gies, expresses a uniquely rigorous questioning
of racial categories. In an excerpt from her
poem “Collage,” Tamu C. Green writes,
A little brown girl stopped me

at the rec. today.

“What is you?” she asked.

Her big sister, hovering a foot taller,

looked interested, too.

Wasn’t it obvious?

“White on the outside & Black on the

inside,”

I shrugged & said without thinking.

But now I’ve got that look on my face.

Now I’m thinking.

Hard.

After all, Dad said you can’t be

half Christian & half Jewish.

Does that mean you can’t be

half Black & half White too?

(Students of Mixed Heritage
Collective, 1995, p. 55)

One radical potential that grows from the
mixed-race movement is the possibility that

racial ambiguity will take root within
“monoracial” white communities rather
than being perpetually projected onto com­
munities of color. People of mixed-race
prompt the interrogation of the boundaries
that define whiteness because they may be
“people of color” in a white skin. Although
theory has begun addressing whiteness as a
political construct, it has had less to say
about whiteness as lived experience, espe­
cially one that “people of color” may know.
In an excerpt from her poem “Untitled II,”
the Chicana/white Jill Flores writes,
Pasty blue face

fools them into thinking

I’m frozen harmless

as blood swims and darts

below my skin,

waiting.

Underneath,

I am glowing

stored energy.

To peel away

my disguise would

blind them dead.

(No Press Collective, 1992, p. 139)

Thinking about identity for biracial
women of Chicana descent gives us an oppor­
tunity to investigate a different resonance for
the term mulatta. In this context, the term no
longer functions as the hinge that simultane­
ously links and separates the racial categories
black and white but, rather, refers to a mes­
tiza identity that can be traced to the indige­
nous, European, and African heritage of
Mexico, the Caribbean, and other Latin
American countries. Since the “Latin Explo­
sion,” which occurred primarily in popular
music of the 1990s, we have witnessed a
fascinating case of the U.S. mainstream
media heralding members of a diasporic
culture that is multiracial, multiethnic, and
multinational and that has a long history of

The Hazards of Visibility

mulatta celebrities. Tellingly, any traces of
African or Indigenous heritage among Latina
celebrities tend to be erased. As I have men­
tioned, this erasure has its counterpart in
Mexican culture, which also privileges images
of feminine beauty that are blonde and angli­
cized. Likewise in the American popular
media, images of women of color entertainers
often move inexorably away from ethnic
models of beauty as they become more
famous. This has been a disturbing aspect of
the career of the Puerto-Rican American
Jennifer Lopez, arguably the most prominent
female of the Latin Explosion. In just 2 years,
Lopez morphed from a dark-haired ethnic
beauty wearing deep-toned cosmetics, her
photo appearing under the heading “Butter
Pecan Rican” (in the pages of Vibe magazine,
June 1997) to a blonde-streaked “Diva Loca”
(on the cover of Vibe, August 1999), sporting
make-up in pastel shades.
In contrast to the way that light skin and
European features are valued in some Latina
celebrities, Chicana-identified women of
mixed descent in California report the resis­
tance they experience to being included in
the ethnic community because they are light
skinned. The equation of color with racial
authenticity is a strong theme expressed
in Manijeh Fata’s video So)’ Chicana Y
Mas//So)’ Chicano Y Mas! (1997), a work
that focused on biracial students living in the
Chicano ethnic theme house on University of
California, Berkeley’s campus (Fata, 1997).
All of the light-skinned biracial Chicanas in
Fata’s work related the way in which their
color impacts whether they will be accepted
in the Chicano community at University of
California, Berkeley. Although last name and
knowledge of Spanish were other “ethnic
badges” that influenced the acceptance of
mixed-race Chicanas, several stated that skin
color was the first characteristic used to judge
acceptance and that other students often
assumed that they were white and “passing”

in the Chicano community because of their
appearance. Interestingly, the Chicanas in
Fata’s video dcclare their biracial heritage.
They seek to be accepted as Chicana and
Irish, Chicana and Greek, or Chicana and
Persian within their Chicano community.
Unlike monoracially identified people of
color who either do not know about or do
not acknowledge multiracial background,
many mixed-race people seek to be included
in their multiplicity. They refuse to repress
their background in order to fit in. This iden­
tification can be a source of consternation to
others. Brooke, one of the biracial women in
So), Chicana/o Y Mas! related an anecdote
about a man who questioned her about her
ethnic background and her hairstyle. The
man said to her, “You’re mixed right?” to
which Brooke confirmed, “Yeah.” He contin­
ued, “But you’re not black?” and she replied,
“I’m Mexican and Irish.” The man said, “But
you’ve got braids!” To which Brooke
laughed, “You don’t gotta be black to have
braids!” In this story, we see that contempo­
rary people of mixed-race are testing different
types of racial boundaries, and they are not
limited to the races/ethnicities in their “bio­
logical” heritage.
The phenomenon of not being recognized
as part of an ethnic group or of being identi­
fied as part of an ethnic group with whom
one does not share a heritage is a common
experience for many racially mixed people.
In fact, the increased social awareness of
mixed race has given rise to occasions when
a mixed person is identified as the “wrong”
mix. For example, Jennifer Jackson (1997), a
woman of black/white biracial heritage,
relates in an untitled independent video her
experience of frequently being mistaken for
hapa, the colloquial name that has been
adopted by many biracial people of Asian,
especially Japanese American, descent.
This limited sample of autobiographical
writing and documentary video by mixed-race

315

316

RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY

women is expressive of a variety of tensions
with regard to how they will locate themselves
vis-a.-vis the category “women of color.” They
identify as women of color, albeit with differ­
ences. It may be that remaining racially uni­
dentified, or unclassified, was not politically
expedient in the 1990s and may well not be in
the new millennium. The refusal to identify at
all racially, or the impulse to identify as racially
hybrid, may be too easily co-opted in a society
that fetishizes racial difference even as it
manufactures a rhetoric of racial equality in a
multicultural, postaffirmative action moment.

CONCLUSION

This chapter has explored the dilemma of vis­
ibility for mixed-race women by proposing
that the increased representation of people of
mixed descent in media images should be
viewed with caution rather than celebrated
uncritically. I have argued that attempts to fix
the terms that describe racial mixture and to
identify mixed-race women visually betray
failures of language and questionable partici­
pation in troubling discourses of race. In my
analysis of the “virtual girls” on the cover of
Time magazine and in selected advertisements
by The Gap, Calvin Klein, and Levi’s, I inves­
tigated the media’s romance with the notion
of the rainbow baby and the imagined racial
harmony that will characterize a multicul­
tural society. Yet when we look closely, it is
clear that a deep ambivalence about misce­
genation undergirds these images, whether
they are designed to seduce the viewer with
a mixed-race woman’s sexual availability or
to convince us that buying jeans somehow
constitutes anti racist activity.
The example of Mariah Carey’s celebrity
career is a unique phenomenon because her
image became transformed when her mixed
heritage was revealed. Although Carey’s African
American parentage became emphasized as a

result of the power of the one-drop rule, we
also observed the ways in which Carey’s
mixed status and physical appearance make
her vulnerable to particular sexualized racial
stereotypes.
Although I have in this chapter empha­
sized an interrogation of the desire to fix
terms that describe racial identity and
advocated a rigorous examination of media
images of mixed-race women, I also acknow­
ledge the valid impulse on the part of indi­
viduals and groups both to seek their own
images in popular cultural representations
and to use the language they feel best
accounts for their identities. As an example
of those attempts to negotiate representation
in language and in visual images, the chapter
investigates autobiographical poetry and
documentary video by mixed-race women.
These independent efforts demonstrate that
mixed-race women model their creative
efforts on writing by feminists of color, who
express a strong critique of inequality and
discrimination of all kinds and who empha­
size the importance of community. Although
mixed-race women question the logic of
racial categories, many nevertheless tend to
align themselves with people of color, while
remaining mindful of how mixed heritage
makes their own personal experience unique.
In a world that is overwhelmed with media
images, it is tempting to simply be entertained
by them, to equate their ephemeral nature
with relative harmlessness. As Lauren Berlant
has noted, “These materials frequently use the
silliest, most banal and erratic logic imagin­
able to describe important things, like what
constitutes intimate relations, political person­
hood, and national life” (BerIant, 1997,
p. 12). However, as she also suggests, “devel­
oping … a mode of criticism and conceptuaJ­
ization that reads the waste materials of
everyday communication in the national pub­
lic sphere as pivotal documents in the con­
struction, experience and rhetoric of quotidian

The Hazards of Visibility

citizenship in the U.S.” constitutes a kind of
“counterpolitics of the silly object” (p. 12).
This chapter advocates studying media images
of mixed-race women and the discourses that
they generate with both humor and skepti­
cism. Because of the ubiquity of these images,
it is also important to seek out alternatives.
Unfortunately, other options are not always
easy to locate. The anthologies and videos that
I discuss were distributed in very limited

contexts and are not widely available. Still,
the relative accessibility of writing, and to an
increasing extent video technology, means
that alternative narratives and images are,
quite literally, being produced all the time.
Although these alternatives may be as fleeting
as media images, it is heartening to know that
mixed-race women contribute to the stream of
narrative and visual representations that
reflects and shapes our popular culture.

NOTES
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1. We can be certain of racial heritage only when autobiographical
information accompanies a photograph, or the person’s parentage is known because
of celebrity status (e.g., Mariah Carey). My use of quotation marks around terms
that denote racial heritage points to the problematic status of the concept of ~race.”
Although I do not use quotation marks throughout the chapter whenever racial
terms are used, the problematic status of “race” as an idea is consistently implied.
2. My use of “mixed race” includes those who are “immediately mixed,”
with parents of different races, as well as those who are mixed because ancestors in
earlier generations of their families were of different races. This use of the term, in
that it relies on “biology” or heredity, does not take into account all of the reasons
why people might identify as mixed race, including ethnic and cultural identifications.
3. Several theorists have made astute analyses of this image, including
Bedant (1997), Burgin (1996), Haraway (1997), and Smith (1999).
4. Such a model prompts some to wonder, “melting pot or incinerator?”­
a repeated refrain in British filmmaker Ngozi Onwurah’s Coffee-Coloured
Children (1988). Onwurah’s short film, which incorporates autobiographical
elements, investigates the racism experienced by children of mixed descent in
1970s London.
5. Rainbow imagery can also signify racial diversity and multiculturalism
in ads that use models from a variety of ethnic backgrounds with a range of skin
colors.
6. Historical attempts by individuals and groups to negotiate the system of
racial classification to avoid discrimination have, in many cases, involved the
disavowal of black heritage. An example is the case of trifacial isolate groups. See
Daniel (1992).
7. Senna’s comments about the ways that a culturally specific item of
clothing can determine racialization is consistent with those of theorists Floya
Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis (1992), who argue against the monolithic definition
of racism as skin color prejudice.
8. For example, in Mexican soap operas-“telenoveJas”-the leading
actresses are invariably blonde haired and blue eyed. The video artist Ximena
Cuevas has created a funny and scathing comment on Mexican femininity and the
cultural obsession with becoming blonde in her video, “Natural Instincts” (part of
the 1998 30-minute compilation Dormimundo Vol. 1 Incomodidad).

317

318

RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY
9. See, for example, Victor Burgin (1996): “Although only fifteen percent
Anglo-Saxon, the woman nevertheless has the appearance of a White woman
recently returned from a holiday on the Mediterranean” (p. 259). As I have
written elsewhere, the reception of actresses of different racial backgrounds who
portray black, white, and mixed-race heroines in film and television indicate that
there is some type of “common sense” about what blackness, whiteness and
“mixed-ness” look like, especially among African Americans. At the same time, it
is increasingly clear that there is little stable consensus about the racial meaning of
physical features (see Streeter, 2000).
10. Can it be an accident that the new face of America is captioned with a
citation of D. W. Griffith’s racist nationality? (An answer: Sure, racist citation can
be unconscious or unintentional; that is what makes the simple pun and other
cruel and popular forms of dominant cultural privilege so hard to contest) (Lauren
Bedant, 1997).
11. “The bodies are still and naked…. available for erotic fantasy and
consumption” (Berlant, 1997, p. 202).
12. See my analysis of interracial imagery in advertising, “The Post 19605
‘Biracial Baby’ in Contemporary Media” (Streeter, 2000).
13. Harper (1999) cites The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language.
14. The term hap a originated in Hawaii to describe people of mixed
ancestry (hapa haole or “half white”). The word has since been appropriated by
people of mixed Asian descent (especially Japanese American and European
American) in the United States. See King and DaCosta (1996). The woman’s
appearance also recalls the diverse and little-known Afro-Asian history of the
United States. There are, for example, communities in the southern United States
that descend from Asian male immigrants who intermarried with native African
American women (Loewen, 1971). There are also communities made up of the
families of African American GIs and their Asian wives (see Houston, 1991).
15. The cKone ad simultaneously brings to mind racially mixed women in
Asia as well as America’s “native” “rainbow babies.” Because the American
military presence in many Asian countries dates from the turn of the century and
continues to this day, some communities have successive generations of mixed­
race Asian people in their populations. See Spickard (1989).
16. Although I established e-mail contact with Kristy, she did not answer
any of my questions about her racial heritage or ethnic identity.
17. I take this description from a remark made in Sandler’s video, A
Question of Color (1992). For an excellent essay analyzing, among other things,
contemporary popular culture’s engagement with a range of symbolic meanings
that are associated with the Afro hairstyle, see Davis (1994).
18. Although I do not pursue a detailed analysis of the graffiti here, it is
certainly significant that the billboard images were tagged with the Spanish word
meaning “one” to obscure the placards held by the models rather than the
corporate logo or the teenagers’ faces. In fact, the posters had been plastered over
a wall that already bore white spray-painted graffiti (like the “uno” tag), possibly
indicating that the taggers returned to re-mark their turf. I can only point here to
the potential for analyses of such negotiations of urban space between corporate
institutions and local interests.
19. To anyone acquainted with African-American literature, the phrase, “I
Can’t Be Prejudice, I’m Mulatto” will sound simplistic. Novels of the 19th and
early 20th centuries in particular depict the mulatto’s struggle with identity and
social position as exacerbated by the way that the racial hierarchy encourages
people of mixed descent to disavow blackness. Examples include William
Wells Brown’s Clote/, or The President’s Daughter (1853/1969) and Frances Ellen

The Hazards of Visibility
Watkins Harper’s lola Leroy (189511987). Early 20th-century and Harlem
Renaissance novels that deal with the theme of the temptation of racial passing
experienced on the parr of the light-skinned African American and the spiritual
impoverishment of the individual who succumbs to that temptation include James
Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (191211960) and Nella
Larsen’s Passing (192911986.)
20. The political climate of the 19905 is characterized by significant
backlash against policies of the 1960s and 19705 designed to redress
institutionalized racial discrimination. Ironically, although California is in the
vanguard of the ethnic diversity and demographic change that is predicted for the
rest of the country, it leads the nation in the elimination of affirmative action
policies and the attempt to implement measures that would limit immigrants’
access to state services. See Lydia Chavez (1998).
21. In the context of the ad, the word “prejudice” is being used in an unusual
way, as a noun that refers to a person. In standard English the phrase would use the
adjective form of the word, as in, “I can’t be prejudiced, I’m mulatto.”
22. I first began to think about Mariah Carey as a morphing mulatta after
hearing a paper by my colleague Dr. Laura Harris, whose description of Carey’s
transformation I paraphrase above. In her paper, Harris (1997) linked Carey to
characterizations of the mulatta in Harlem Renaissance literature.
23. Despite Carey’s Venezuelan heritage, she has not until recent years been
considered Latina by the mainstream or ethnic press. Carey’s career has not been
represented in the media as constituting part of the “Latin Explosion” that in the
late 1990s, jump-started the careers of singers Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony
and actress/singer Jennifer Lopez. Such tacit reliance on the one-drop rule is an
example of the paradox of mixed heritage for African Americans, as it is
simultaneously acknowledged and repressed. The puhlic perception of Carey’s
identity also indicates the importance of individual experience (Carey recognizes
her Venezuelan heritage but does not express a Latina cultural identity) and the
extent to which ethnic media respect each other’s turf.
24. “In person, Carey came across, quite clearly, as a rainbow baby of
African descent, skin toasted almond and hair light brown” (jones, 1994).
25. Outing is a term that originated in the gay and lesbian movement. It
refers to a closeted person’s homosexuality being made public knowledge.
26. An example is the video for the song Emotion (1991).
27. Carey appeared at the NAACP Image Awards (which recognize
achievement in the arts and entertainment) in 1999 to perform with the African
American pop sensation Whimey Houston. Their duet, “When You Believe,” was
the theme song from Disney’s movie Aladdin.
28. Carey was photographed in profile and topless with her blonde hair
concealing her breasts on the February 1998 cover of Rolling Stone. Vibe magazine
depicted her in a silver lame bikini (November 1998). On the cover of a number of
publications aimed at women, Carey kept her clothes on, although the magazine cover
discourses did not change. She posed for the April 1999 issue of Jane, which was
devoted to celebrities and sex. Mirabella recycled Rolling Stone’s headline (“Sex and
the Single Diva-How Mariah Carries On”) in May 1999. Only Glamour has offered
a more subtle cover: “Mariah’s New … Music, Movie, ~1an,” November 1999).
29. Carey (or at least her record company) seems willing to exploit her
multiracial heritage and her sexual attractiveness to sell albums. The cover of a
recent release, Rainbow (1999), features Carey’s nubile body scantily dad in white
briefs and tank top emblazoned with-what else?~ rainbow.
30. Bernhard, a Jewish-American woman, is known for performances that
involve racial mimicry and masquerade. I have paraphrased quotes from her
monologue based on notes taken when I saw the show.

319

320

RACE, GENDER, AND HIERARCHY
31. As mentioned earlier, I discuss just such depictions of interracial couples
in advertising in “The Post 1960s ‘Biracial Baby’ in Contemporary Media”
(Streeter, 2000).
32. Examples of autobiographical literature include; Shirlee Taylor Haizlip’s
The Sweeter the Juice: A family Memoir in Black and White (1994), Marcia
Hunt’s Repossessing Ernestine: A Granddaughter Uncovers the Secret History of
Her American Family (1996), James McBride’s The Color of Water: A Black
Man’s Tribute to his White Mother (1996), Scott Minerbrook’s Divided to the
Vein: A Journey into Race and Family (1996), Barack Obama’s Dreams from my
Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995), Adrian Piper’s “Passing for
White, Passing for Black” (1996), Judy Scales-Trent’s Notes of a White Black
Woman: Race, Color, Community (1995), Gregory Howard Williams’s Life on
the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black
(1995), and Rebecca Walker’s Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a
Shifting Self (2001). Even as I completed the final draft of this chapter, a new text
by Neil Henry appeared entitled Pearl’s Secret: A Black Man’s Search for His
White Family (2001).
33. Organizations include Kaleidoscope (University of California, Berkeley),
Students of Mixed Descent (University of California, Santa Cruz), Hapa Issues
Forum (University of California, Berkeley), Prism (Harvard University) and Mixed
Initiative (Mills College, CAl. See Namkung (2000). Publications include Voices of
Identity, Rage and Deliverance (No Collective Press, 1992) and Out of Many.
One. (Students of Mixed Heritage Collective, 1995). Films and videos include Just
Black? Multiracial Identity (Twine, Warren, & Ferrandiz, 1991), Soy Chicana Y
Mas! Soy Chicano Y Mas! (Fata, 1997), and Children of Mixed-race: Who You
Wanna Be (Lightholder, 1997).
34. The “mixed-race movement” refers to a variety of different activities,
including changes to the U.S. Census and the myriad social clubs and creative
groups that have sprung up around the country, although they tend to be
concentrated on the West Coast, in urban centers, and on college campuses. In
addition, the term movement can include the growth of curricula in academic
settings that address the topic of people of mixed racial descent as well as the
research that is being done in this area. The class dynamics that characterize the
mixed-race movement, as well as the fact that the activities of the movement have
been primarily based on gaining recognition for mixed-race identity, influences the
critique that this movement has limited political potentiaL
35. The idea that mixed-race people should exercise the right to choose an
identity is a strongly American notion, linked to powerful ideologies of liberal
humanism and the primacy of the individual. Maria P. P. Root’s “Bill of Rights
for Racially Mixed People” draws precisely upon these ideological references.

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