Excerpted from: Alynia Phillips, The Multiracial Option: A Step in the White Direction, 105 California Law Review 1853 (December, 2017) (187 Footnotes) (Full Document)
For some, picking a racial category is simple and intuitive. For me, it is nearly impossible; I have yet to come across a classification box that accurately captures my background. If I identify with my mother, I am white--a mix of Swedish and German ethnicities. If I identify with my father, I am black--an ethnically Latina descendant of Africans imported to work in Caribbean sugar plantations. I am mixed race. In this country, how I choose to identify myself is a point of contention and debate.
One of the most pressing racial questions circulating in today's public discourse is whether or not whites will become a minority in the United States within the next fifty years. It has been projected that the population of individuals belonging to a racial minority will surpass the white population by 2044. But this prediction can come to fruition only if the racial categories we know today remain static over time. Countering the white minority hypothesis, prominent critical race theorist George Yancey argues that the threat of such a power shift will lead the white majority to adopt Asians and Latinos as part of the white race, thereby maintaining its majority. However, little has been written about the role mixed race individuals will play in the potential redefinition of whiteness.
Throughout U.S. history, mixed race individuals have inhabited a variety of different identities in politics, media, and society at large; this population has been confronted with every sentiment from praise to condemnation. Recently, this racial subgroup has garnered targeted attention due to growing insecurity about the position of whites in the U.S. racial hierarchy. This Note examines how the promotion of the use of “multiracial” as a descriptor for all mixed race individuals influences a shift towards whiteness for this population. First, it examines the development and possible ulterior motives of the “multiracial movement.” Then, it charts the histories of other ethnic groups similarly situated to the contemporary mixed race community that have ultimately secured admission into the white race by assimilating and embracing white superiority. Finally, this Note will consider the potential impact the multiracial movement's implicit devaluation of minorities might have on mixed race individuals and eventually the racial hierarchy of the United States.
This Note uses the existing and continued push for the addition of the multiracial option to future censuses as a tool to demonstrate the impact this movement has on politics and societal power dynamics. The 2020 U.S. census is close on the horizon. While there have always been changes to the racial categories displayed on the census, it is important to examine the negative effects that these changes may have on the racial stratification of this country. Adding a multiracial option to the census would further emphasize the racial hierarchy in the United States by demeaning the status of minorities in the public eye and in the private identities of mixed race individuals.
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It is not clear whether the multiracial option will ever make it to the U.S. census. Regardless of the ultimate success or failure of the multiracial movement, multiracial exceptionalism does and will continue to have a significant effect on the way race operates in American society. The addition of a multiracial option to the census will not necessarily be the final step before mixed race individuals can be considered white. It is, however, a significant step towards distancing mixed race individuals from their minority race to deracialize this population.
Multiracial exceptionalism as a step towards whiteness also degrades the uniquely valuable position mixed race individuals already enjoy in this country. Through recognizing the validity of all the racial and ethnic components of their identities equally, mixed race individuals have the power to fill gaps and bridge racial divides in a way no other ethnic subgroup can. By distancing mixed race individuals from their minority heritages, the invention of a new multiracial classification eliminates the power mixed race individuals would otherwise have.
Multiracialism conforms well to the American melting pot ideal. Regardless of what minority race is thrown into the cauldron, mixed race individuals can emerge cleansed of any minority inferiority, and free to enjoy the privilege of multiracial exceptionalism. But America is not a melting pot. It is a complex mixture of a variety of actors that we constantly try to understand and classify. With the fraught state of race relations in the United States, it is important to recognize the exploitation of racial identity for political gain, and to take steps towards preventing this exploitation whenever possible. In the years to come, the seemingly small choices we make in an effort to classify ourselves and others will ultimately determine whether or not mixed race individuals will be the next ethnicity to become white.