Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Scales of Whiteness and Racial Mixing: Challenging and Confirming Racial Categories

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Scales of Whiteness and Racial Mixing: Challenging and Confirming Racial Categories

Article excerpt


David Brunsma (2006) investigates the contrasts between how black-white biracial people self-identify on the Census and how they identify when not confronted with strict categorical limitations. He characterizes these differences as personal worldviews versus societal expectations. Brunsma contends that there is a disjuncture between how biracial people "understand themselves racially and die ways that they wish to present and manifest themselves in other contexts" (Brunsma 2006, 573). He defines this gulf as the distance between public categories, such as Census classifications, "that appear to be the same in every part of the United States," and private identities, articulated in numerous ways as "those specific expressions of private racialized selves" (2006, 574). This noted separation between public categories and private identities carries with it an implicit scalar undertone.1 Indeed, the public categories of the Census operate at a broad, national scale whereas self-identifications unfold at the individual and household scales.

In this paper, I foreground the scalar dimensions of private identities and public classifications to underscore the reproduction of a racial hierarchy and the mutability of racial identities evident within heterosexual mixed-race households living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Two different scales, namely the mixed-race partnership and the mixed-race household, comprise the heart of my empirical discussion. In each of these contexts, I examine the ways in which static, broad scale racial categories reaffirm a presumed hierarchy of race and explore the more dynamic expressions of racial identities that surface within private and small scale settings. This discussion illustrates both how public categories shape private identities and vice versa. It also reveals how a scalar approach consistently unsettles reified interpretations of race and necessitates more multi-faceted engagements with social identities. Indeed, a geographical appreciation for scale and space extends the interpretative landscapes on meanings of race within mixed-race households.\

As an added entry point into this discussion on scale, racial categories, and racial identities, I accent the work of whiteness within mixed-race partnerships and households. I foreground whiteness because understanding whiteness as an evaluative set of practices and processes that implicitly or explicitly legitimate a dominant racial hierarchy helps make plain challenges to and confirmations of racial categories (see DiAngelo 2006). Addressing whiteness also involves addressing racism because, as DiAngelo and Alien explain, "Whiteness refers to dimensions of racism that serve to elevate white people over people of color" (2006, 3). Adopting this perspective on whiteness and its role in die manifestation of racism - defined here as systemic and structural inequities rather than just individual acts - means that scholarship on whiteness seeks to "unravel die racialized intersection between social position, knowledge construction, and power" (DiAngelo and Alien 2006, 4).

Confronting racism and related assumptions about racial categories requires first acknowledging how and where such norms exist. Pausing to take stock of both the possibilities for different racial identities to emerge through mixed-race households and the stubborn presence of static racialization in these settings is critical as it simultaneously highlights the changes evident in society and emphasizes the need to continually address contemporary inequities. Therefore, I explore seemingly contradictory expressions of racial categorization in an effort 1) to point to the resilience of racism and 2) to indicate moments and spaces wherein racial identities change.

I draw upon examples from qualitative interviews with mixed-race partners for this discussion. These interviews are a subset of a larger study I conducted in 2005 on the racial discourses expressed by mixed-race households in Tacoma, Washington. …

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