Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches

By Gary Taylor; Steve Spencer | Go to book overview
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Mixed Race

David Parker

This chapter explores the social identities of 'mixed race'. It argues for a more sober account of the distinctive experiences of this rapidly growing constituency. It argues for greater attention to be paid to the particular local histories of 'mixed race' arising from various global entanglements. It addresses some of the issues involved in recent population Censuses in Britain and the United States. Through an analysis of interview material, fictional representations, internet sites it calls for 'mixed race' people to be given the opportunity to articulate their complex identities in their own terms. Neither 'mixed race' nor racism will disappear quickly.

In 1991 I was an 'Other - other', by 2001 I was 'mixed'. In between times I hadn't changed, but the checkboxes on Britain's Population Census form had. At last I was no longer relegated to the bottom of the page, invited to fill in the blank space beneath 'Any other', never being quite sure what that lead to. As the racialised demography of Britain becomes more complicated, so thousands of people have made this journey towards administrative recognition. Yet virtually nothing is known about whether individuals' sense of themselves has also changed in the last two decades. Does the onset of bureaucratic neatness and politeness speak to a profound and important new 'mixed race' identity, or is it merely a governmental convenience, for a group with little public voice and even less in common with each other? Are persons of mixed descent pioneers of hybrid, multiple forms of identity defined by contingent, flexible identifications irreducible to single points of origin and thus characteristic of the new identities of the coming century? In short, are 'mixed race' identities the defining social identities of the future?

The popular discourse of 'mixed race'

On both sides of the Atlantic people of 'mixed race' have recently been recruited to paint optimistic portraits of a peaceful multicultural future which they embody. The questioning of fixed racial boundaries which their very existence implies turns 'mixed race' people into exemplary figures of postmodern, post-racial, postethnic fluidity:

A critical mass of acknowledged mixed-race people heightens the credibility of an ideal according to which individuals decide


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Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches


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