(Mis)educating about "Mixed Race": Discourse on Multiraciality and the Prospects of Higher Education Policy
Andrews, Matthew M., Chun, Jeffrey, Asian American Policy Review
The mixed-race issue, it would seem, is susceptible to being politically defined in a number of competing and contradictory ways. How will it be read in the immediate future?
In the above statement, scholar Michael Omi (2001, xii) warns of the possible cooptation of issues pertaining to mixed-race individuals (1) by those interested in advancing their particular political agendas. Ironically, not long after Michael Omi expressed these concerns, Ward Connerly, University of California (UC) regent and famed conservative political activist, would use the "mixed-race issue" to advance his own agenda. If one may recall, Connerly is best known for his anti-affirmative action policies, such as California's Proposition 209 and Michigan's recently passed Proposition 2. However, in the fall of 2004, Connerly directed his attention toward California's growing mixed-race population and proposed "that UC should collect data from potential students using a 'multi-racial' or 'multi-ethnic' check box and that the President should request that the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) revise its guidelines to permit this" (Regents of UC 2004, 11). Although Connerly, mixed race himself, purported to be speaking on behalf of mixed-race and multiracial-identified individuals, (2) when one takes into account his political record, one cannot help but question his intentions.
For Asian America's mixed-race members, such a critical outlook is especially important, given their growing numbers within both the Asian American and mixed-race populations. According to the 2000 census, of the 11.9 million individuals who identified as being of Asian heritage, 13.9 percent, or 1.7 million, identified with at least one other race. In addition, 24.3 percent of all individuals who identified with more than one race marked "Asian" as one of them (Jones and Smith 2001). Recent studies have shown that these numbers will only increase in coming years (Lee and Bean 2004). In fact, some scholars have projected that as high as 36 percent of the Asian American population will be of mixed racial heritage by 2050 (Smith and Edmonston 1997). Through analyzing issues surrounding the 2004 "Multiracial" category initiative, we call for a reassessment of popular understandings of multiraciality in an increasingly multiracial America. Recognizing that one of the most enduring characteristics of American higher education has been its commitment to "benefit society at large, both by advancing knowledge and by educating students who will, in turn, serve others," we propose how changes in higher education policy can serve as vital first steps in this process (Duderstadt and Womack 2003, 45).
Connerly's Racial Project
Michael Omi and Howard Winant's (1994) concept of a "racial project" provides a critical lens through which to frame Connerly's political record and his "multiracial" category initiative. According to Omi and Winant, understanding the dynamics of a racial project is to understand its linkage of structure with representation, for a racial project "is simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular racial lines" (56). Connerly's initiative for a multiracial category reveals his own "interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics." That is, we argue that multiraciality has joined anti-affirmative action policies as the vehicle by which Connerly relentlessly pursues his political campaign for colorblindness.
In a 15 November 2004 news article by Elysha Tenenbaum for The Daily Californian, Connerly asserted that "there are a significant number of people in California who consider themselves 'multiracial' ... That is their identity, and it is not sufficient for them to check several boxes and then leave it to the discretion of the University of California to decide how those several boxes are going to be collapsed into one for reporting purposes. …