McNair Scholars Research Journal
‘It is a peculiar feeling, this multiple-consciousness:’ Putting the Multiracial Experience Into Multicultural Education
Alexis is the product of miscegenation. Her mother is White and her father is Black. Her appearance blends both races so that, at a glance, she might be described as light brown with slim, European facial features. Growing up, Alexis faced many stereotypical situations mixed-race individuals face. She was constantly asked, “What are you?” and told she looked exotic. When others tried to guess her racial makeup, she was called Hispanic, Arabic, or Filipino, rarely ever identified with her correct racial ancestry. Even though Alexis may not be a living person, her experience is one to which many mixed-race individuals can relate.
The year 2000 marked a milestone for the mixed-race population in the United States. This was the first year any person of mixed race was allowed to identify as such on the U.S. Census. As a result, the population of non-Hispanic, multiracial persons jumped from 0 in 1990 to 4,602,146 in 2000 (“Population by race,” 2000). Where did all these people of mixed race come from? The simple answer: they were always here.
Despite persons of mixed-race existing well before 2000, research on this portion of the United States’ population is lacking. This literature review begins to connect mixed-race history and theory to educational theory and practice. The purpose of this connection is to examine the mixed-race experience in multicultural education and why it is underreported in current research. Bridging the gap between multiracial experiences and multicultural education might possibly make education more inclusive, not just for mixed-race students but for all students, because it will bring to the forefront similarities and differences that students, parents, and teachers should understand.
Race permeates American culture, acting as a “fundamental organizing principle of human affairs” (Spickard, 1992, p. 12). It is most often associated with individual physique, such as skin tone and facial features, as a form of biology. However, Wardle and Cruz-Janzen (2004) distinguish between genotype, “the genetic code each person carries in his or her chromosomes”, and phenotype, “the physical characteristics an individual displays” (p. 28). They acknowledge the general public belief that individuals with the same genotype carry the same phenotype, and, yet, argue this is not fact. Harrison (2010) shares a statement on race from the American Anthropological Association: “Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groups differ from one another only in about 6%” (p. 23). To use another example, this understanding of genetics among races is analogous to comparing granulated sugar, table salt, and corn syrup. While granulated sugar may look like table salt, chemically it has more in common with corn syrup. This analogy begins to break down the argument of race as biology.
Some scholars view race as a social construct (Spickard, 1992; Harrison, 2010). As a social construct, race becomes a way to maintain boundaries (Spickard, 2010), commonly referred to as the color line. Wardle and Cruz-Janzen (2004) claim that “maintaining the color line truly translates to maintaining the power line” (p. 97). Power, especially in the United States, feeds the stratification system that creates racial group division, placing Whites at the top. As a result, oppressed racial groups “fight for numbers” to “fight against the institutional structure designed to perpetuate their dehumanization and oppression,” in addition to fighting against other oppressed racial groups for “limited resources” (p. 98).
Further support viewing race as a social construct is the “flexibility” of race. Views on race have changed throughout history. Race has “been defined and used in different ways by different cultures in different time periods” (Harrison, 2010, p. 21). However, if race is to be seen as a biological occurrence, the understanding of it should follow suit. The fact that the understanding of race varies between groups and over time leads me to define it as a social construct.
Additionally, the concepts of monoracial and mixed race need to be defined. In our common understanding of race, an individual is identified by a single racial category. These categories include Caucasian, African American, Native American, Asian-Pacific Islander, Arab and Hispanic/Latino. When introducing persons who represent a mix of any of these labels, a distinction must be made between those persons, and individuals who are represented by only one group. Therefore, a monoracial individual has parents who fall into the same socially-constructed racial group, while a mixed-race individual has parents who fall into two or more racial groups.
To begin to understand how race, and specifically mixed-race individuals, fit into educational studies, the changes that mixed-race categorization has gone through must also be examined. Just as Harrison believes, racial categorization is not a stagnant concept, and this rings true for descriptions of mixed-race individuals.