Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Mixed-Race Women and Epistemologies of Belonging

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Mixed-Race Women and Epistemologies of Belonging

Article excerpt

How is it people know when they belong and to what they belong? This question, about the epistemology of belonging, carries a particular complexity for mixed-race women. How is it that mixed-race women create a sense of identification with others? What are the unities and disjunctures? What can we understand about epistemologies of belonging through examining how mixed-race women create belonging? Through qualitative work based on the life stories of women of mixed heritage, in this paper I examine how the navigation of hybridity, as it is experienced in the lives of six "hybrid" mixed-race women, illuminates the complexities of identity construction and epistemologies of belonging. (1) I use the term epistemology to signify the nature of knowledge, how we come to know things, in this case knowledge, or knowing, related to belonging. Belonging in human relations is connected to identity, both sell-identification and identification with others.

Stuart Hall argues that identities are constituted discursively. He states:

  I use "identity" to refer to the meeting point, the point of suture,
  between, on the one hand, the discourses and practices which attempt
  to "interpellate", speak to us or hail us into place as the social
  subjects of particular discourses, and on the other hand, the
  processes which produce subjectivities, which construct us as
  subjects which can be "spoken". Identities are thus points of
  temporary attachment to the subject positions which discursive
  practices construct for us. (2)

He contends that because identities are constructed through discourse, they are strategic, positional, multiple, intersecting and antagonistic, and increasingly fragmented and fractured. (3) Identities as "points of temporary attachment" are thus fluid yet bound by discourses and practices, both our own and those of other people. This point is particularly salient for mixed-race women who are often hailed, and thus identify, in a variety of ways. Identification with particular subjectivities related to race, nonetheless, creates or severs opportunities for belonging; these notions of belonging are further complicated by gender role expectations related to, for example, hetero normative assumptions of dating and parenting. These women's stories of (dis)identification disrupt essentialized notions of family, reveal oppressive patriarchal norms, overtly destabilize constructions of fixed racial categories, and highlight epistemologies of belonging and exclusion.

Wanting to collect the stories of mixed-race women for a research project, I hailed participants with a flier that contained images of popular mixed women--Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Halle Berry, and Shakira--and large bold letters across the top asking, "Are you a woman of mixed heritage?" Although I am most interested in the stories of women who are mixed white and "of color" for that study, my desire was to find people of mixed heritage, ethnicity, or race who are at least part "of color" and not limit the project population to distinctly white/of color biracial women.

The federal government defines five racial categories: "American Indian or Alaska Native," "Asian," "Black or African American," "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander," and "White." (4) In addition, the government recognizes one ethnicity: "Hispanic or Latino." to use the term mixed race to describe my project would have technically excluded Latinos. Although by government delineation Latino is not considered a race, Latinos often view themselves and are treated as peoples from a distinct racial category, and as such I wanted to include mixed Latinos.

I advertised primarily through university electronic mailing lists at a large public southeastern institution. The fliers were sent to all the campus lists for students of color as well as the Campus Y list. I decided I would see who stepped forward and have that determine my participant selection. …

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