Lacans mirror stage implies that our first notion of self-identity goes hand in hand with the action of recognizing ourselves in our reflection. That it is the external image and not an internal process that creates the connection between body, mind, and soul. While psychologist remind us that people born blind do indeed have a self-identity, they may use other senses (like hearing) to conceptualize that identity. But the implications of the affect of the visual is an important one to note. Its influence, if not paramount for all of man, is a force upon the individual that should not be ignored.
In the world of today, and especially in America, the self-reflexive "culture of I" is (many times) what it once was, and yet the pull of conformity is still propagated by the visual. We, as a nation, are all intrinsically tied to the culture of mass-media. If the visual is in fact a stepping stone to self-identity and self awareness as previously discussed, the implications of a culture and country obsessed with media in all its visual forms are wide reaching, and possibly damaging to the progress of self awareness based in the individual and not the visual external. When paired with the sociopolitical issue of race and race identification in America the visual external rules. You are what you appear to be under the strict categories that have been designed by the dominant order.
Biracial and multiracial people in America are therefore placed in a position where their physical attributes are often called into question and, in relation, their self-identity. Whether they appear to be of one race or multiple (races) is often up to the scrutiny of many, and the visual perception of others calls their self identity into question,both in society as well as on a personal level. It is on this personal level that the biracial and multiracial person begins to question not only themselves, but the society that prefers them as categorizable. In my own life as a biracial woman the question of why I must conform to the vision of others, who are often not in agreement, (sometimes implying I should pass as white, others to pretend I am Hispanic, and in some cases to be placed among the black race because of the traditional one drop rule) and yet always be forced to assume or ask for a monoracial identity. My intent in this study is to answer the question of monoracial assumption. Why in America, with its history of interracial sexual relationships (though it has always been taboo), does the possibility of a biracial or multiracial race identity rarely, or as an afterthought enter into the mind of someone attempting to categorize a person of unidentifiable race? Is there a correlation between the culture of media images and race relations and race identity in America? Most importantly does the lack of biracial and multiracial representation in media and the popular race symbols of American society put them in a pivotal position to comment on medias influence on social concepts of race and race relations?
In discussing these questions and more, the appearance of quotation marks around such categories as black and white indicate my unwillingness to categorize under such wordage for it connotes the societal usage of the words, which imply a pure race where there is no connection between the two, or other cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Capitalization is used for defined race categorization by the U.S. government, such as Hispanic, Caucasian and African American. Because multiracials and biracials are not recognized race categories in America they are not capitalized, however the Multiracialists are capitalized signifying that they are a movement, such as the Civil Rights movement.
Class and the beginnings of Biracial and Multiracial America
The social stratifications of class and race have long been in bed with one another. It is hard to ignore that those under the poverty line are often of a minority category and those in power are often of a white Anglo cast. African Americans, who long have had a history of racial discrimination in this country, still make up the larger percentage of poverty stricken in this country. It is also in the history of African Americans and the classes of little social or economic status do we find the beginnings of biracial and multiracial people and culture.
The history of biracial and multiracial people in America is intrinsically connected to that of the African Americans history in America. There is early on in the historys literature a differentiation between Negro peoples and culture and Mulatto peoples and culture, but this was short lived. Many African American leaders have been of more than one race but are included in black history and pride. In many peoples minds there is no distinction. Williamson, as well as others, have argued that the African American culture and appearance, is the product of years of interracial interaction and mixing and, because mulattoes and pure blacks came ultimately to fuse their cultural heritages, what begins in the colonial period as mulatto history and culture ends in the twentieth century as Negro history and culture. (Williams, 1980) This is especially apparent when researching the available literature on biracials and multiracials in this country. Until quite recently, and still to this day, most literature on the subject is concerned with the children of white and black couplings. Only recently, with the statistical surge of new biracial and multiracial children born during the 80s and 90s has there been literature based on a broader inclusion of mixed raced backgrounds.
It is obvious that the black/mixed experience is not the only experience worth mentioning when discussing the subject of biracial and multiracialism. However while the earlier literature is often shadowed by unfavorable ideas such as notions of inferiority, psychological malignancy, and (my favorite) the inability to procreate, it is still a good starting point to begin to understand societal trends towards biracial and multiracial people, as well as a road map to possible reasons these relations flowered in the first place.
Relationships, generally, are the product of commonalities between two people. Age, interests, and class are all a part of what is now standard for most of America and the worlds standard for a successful relationship. But that is now, meaning this wasnt always the case. Only one of the three has been a majority constant when it comes to match making. While the other two have surely been a plus, class and social status, have been the determining factor, and not love, in consummating marriages since the creation of modern society. It is then not completely surprising to find that early interracial unions were found in classes of little economic and social status. This trend is as common as it is natural and has taken place across the earth in, Africa, Europe, and Asia for eons before Columbus sailed the Western ocean, and they mixed in Latin America for a century before either white Englishmen or black Africans came to the Virginia Shore. Consequently, the blacks who first came to America were, as a group, In some degree already mixed with white- and vice versa
(Williams, 1980) It is interesting to note then that popular beliefs surrounding early interracial couplings has very often revolved around the white rape scenario of female African American slaves. Not to say that such atrocities did not take place, however both Lemire and Williamson note that with the rising popular warfare against Amalgamation those who chose to have regular relations with their slaves would have been significantly pressured by their social status to do otherwise. The sensibility of forced pairings between white slave-holders and black slaves in making up most of the mulatto population is quite untrue. Instead a forgotten puzzle piece played a major hand in the birthing of a new people, as Williamson writes, or a mulatto population.
Many of the first slaves were in fact white and unlike indentured servants were property till their deaths as well as their offspring. This however is not nearly as crucial in the appearance of mixed race slaves in the south as the sale of whites as blacks during this period. Often people of the lowest economic class such as immigrants and poor children from urban areas were caught and sold in to black slavery by traders who dyed their skin and placed hot irons on their scalps to kink their hair. While the sale of white slaves was still common black slaves fetched a higher price and many traders, wanting to cash in on such a trend, disguised their white captives accordingly. (Hoffman, 1999) When eventually their skin and hair returned to their normal physical appearance their racial status did not. They instead continued to be labeled as black and lived out their lives in slavery often begetting children from forced or unforced unions with their black counterparts. (Talty, 2003) The forgotten history of the white slave is most interesting in that it points to the transparency of race in our culture, especially during a time when Southerners who in trying to win support over the light skinned slave issue boasted to being able to tell if a person had black blood in them, even if they appeared white.
The mulatto status in the South was therefore more present than in the North. With their complex system of marking people of african ancestry the position of the mulatto became more situated within the culture. A person of three fourths African ancestry was called a quadroon and a person of one-eighth was called a mustefino or quintroon. As the mulatto community grew so did a pattern of favoritism for the lighter skinned of both slave and free peoples of color. When pairings between slaves and their masters did occur it often was with a slave of lighter complexion. This was the convention as famously noted both in Thomas Jefferson own life with Sally Hemmings, a quadroon, as well as in his book Notes On The State Of Virginia. Relations with slaves however, even for Jefferson, was not accepted in popular society. For those who did break convention, unlike the popular notion of forced unions between slave holder and slaves it is documented that while, A few were promiscuous, there was a highly significant number of white men who, established a long-running relationship with a single mulatto woman
while these men may have exploited their mistresses, one should take into consideration not just the exploitation of race but of women at this point in time on a whole. While some may bring up such a notion as the house nigger complex to explain such behavior it is important not to gloss over the complexity of domestic life during this period. Williamson brings up the point that While some may believe that all women where forced into relationships with these men, and that they did nothing with their own consent, the research here proves this untrue. (Williamson, 1980) Women were very often treated in a similar manner to African Americans in that they were often treated as property, they had very little mobility in society with out a (white) male as their guardian and so if compared to a relationship between a white man and a black women the similarities are many. While women may have had a choice in their freedom they were brought up to have a mentality similar to that of the ideal slave. They often were taught to want to be a loving wife and servant to their lord and master. This mentality then should be noted as a characteristic of its time among ideal slaves as well as women. (Williamson, 1980) These men who dared to continue relations with their slaves against social outcry did so in the defiance of the rising inclinations of their society. Their affluence and their standing in the ruling class suggests a high degree of socialization in their lives, yet their mulatto children and their often protective and promotive attitude toward those children marked them as mavericks. This promotive attitude, unlike the image of the despicable rapist who keeps such activities swept under the rug, the latter would have been the more provocative and despicable of the two among his class. (Lemire, 2002)
The occurrence of sex and relations across the race line was not only contained to the Southern lands of America, nor was it left to those of indentured servants and slaves. It instead was, as mentioned before, most common among the lower economic classes both North and South. Early sociologists, as noted by Talty, found that Wherever there is a poor community of Irish in the North they usually herd with the poor Negroes and as a result of the various offices of kindness which only poor pay to one another, families become intermingled and connubial relations are formed
(Talty, 2003) Both groups were disenfranchised and marginalized in American society. In many cases the Irish were subjected to similar hate crimes on the grounds of racial hierarchy, where in they ranked as low or were compared to the low rank of an African American. This put both racial groups, on one hand against one another, and on the other, paired them against the majority. (Spencer, 1997)
Some have argued that because such unions are often found in the lower classes that they are then related to the supposed degenerate nature found to be characteristic of their status. This however falls under scrutiny with the ugly histories of forced relations with African Americans by the white upper class. In one example the solidarity found on July 11th 1863 in The Five Points of New York City shows quite a morality of character, which some could say the upper class in this instance, even the mavericks among them, lacked.
One of the more documented instances of early interracial unions and communities, The Five Points, was one of the only neighborhoods to stand up against the Civil Riots of July 11, 1863, where black men, women, children and those sympathetic to them were brutally murdered in a reaction to Lincolns Civil War draft. The mobs main points of attack were institutions and neighborhoods of New York that pandered to abolitionists points of view. The attacks were focused on whites as well specifically white women well known for their marriages to black men. Mobs also burned brothels that housed both white and nonwhite prostitutes as well as destroyed waterfront property where blacks prominently worked and mixed socially with other ethnicities. The Five points, being such a place, was surprisingly quite on that day and instead, noted by Harris, had only two documented instances of violence, which were both in support of their black brethren and in opposition to the mob. In one instance the interracially mixed residents of The Five Points trapped a portion of the mob at a dead end and poured hot starch on them from their rooftops. On another occasion when the mob began to threaten a black storeowner by the name of Philip White, his Irish neighbors, instead of joining the mob, drove them away from attacking the store, reportedly because of Whites kindness in extending them store credit. It is interesting to note that many of the aggravators were of Irish decent, as were many occupants of The Five Points. (Harrison, 2004) This makes The Five Points solidarity a very special show of alliance and camaraderie. Many Irish and white inhabitants could have sided with the mob and blamed their black neighbors for the forced draft but instead banded to protect them.
While the upper class has from very early on denounced interracial relationships as against nature, and from the time of the abolitionists, have viciously depicted it as depraved, disgusting and unfit for proper society to condone the lower classes have always been freer of such constricting beliefs. While some may hold their unfavorable notions of the lower classes interracial living the observations made by Harrisons account of The Five Points as well as Williamson and Lemires account of the upper classes, show an indifference to the rules and regulations of the upper class that have allowed for the flowering of interracial relations. By doing so they have disregarded the majority of social standards propagated by the white patriarchal form, which had discriminated, disenfranchised and marginalized them all to begin with.
Self-Esteem, Identity and the Multiracialist Argument
The Multiracialist movement is the culmination of the histories described in the last section. Born directly out of the statistical surge of interracial families during the 70s 80s and 90s, is a group of multiracial orginazations fighting together for civil rights for the children of such interracial families in this country. Their main goals include bringing the issues of specialized health, education, identity formation, child-rearing and most importantly, a multriracial race category on all forms, to the attention of the American government. But opposition from other civil rights groups has lead to a heated argument over race identification. There seem to be no right answers floating in the dense sea of opinions concerning the status of people born to parents of different races. It does not help that this argument is more than your every day disagreement; it is extremely emotionally charged, in all directions. Because racial identity is such a personal and often difficult reality to negotiate, it makes discussion sometimes hard to navigate. Opinions and ideas concerning how the discussion should be resolved are often left moot in the face of such high emotions. Factor in the vague nature of race and it begins to seem like a never-ending argument with no answer in sight. The only thing one can do is weigh each argument against one another as clearheadedly as possible. This might be a better job for someone who is not so close to the argument, but because it is based in race (something we are all, in our own ways, connected to) it is hard to be neutral.
Spencer attempts neutrality in his book The New Colored People: The Mixed Race Movement in America. In his text Spencer outlines both sides of the argument. He starts with the beginnings of the grassroots movement by parents and individuals of bi/multiracial backgrounds. The largest of their concerns was the necessity for the race of bi-multiracial people to be recognized in schools, the census and all other forms requiring racial identification. With this backed agenda comes an enormous backlash from the 'black' community. Each argument represented in Spencers book is found to be either more inclined to a fatalistic point of view or possibly too idealistic and consequently naive, as is the case with other academic literature on this topic.
The Multiracialist argument is the sum of many different components, political and personal. Susan Graham, the founder of RACE and white mother of biracial children was quoted as saying that self-esteem is really the basis for this entire movement (Spencer, 1997). This sentiment has become the backbone to the Multiracial movement. However, the correlation between self esteem and social status is not as clearly defined by Susan Graham and her colleagues. It is done more so by the critics of the movement, who have in their own push for civil rights and equality referred to the correlation between class status, equal treatment and opportunity among the upper and lower classes. For example, in the OMH 2007 census 24.5% of African Americans in America lived below the poverty line and were twice beneath that of non-white Hispanics in unemployment(OMH, 2007). The lack of equal opportunity in schools for African Americans and other minorities coupled with discrimination of people in the lower economic classes leaves such ethnicities open to psychological scarring and fatalistic mentalities concerning both their sense of worth and their place in our society. Minorities are not alone in this; while many white Americans born in middle and upper classes often exhibit a strong sense of self and entitlement, poor white trash are often found in the same psychological and economical boat as their minority brethren.
One has to believe in oneself if one is to succeed. This is one of the larger differences between the classes, let alone the white and non-white races. Pinderhughs in her study of biracial children found that a correlation between a childs progress in school was directly connected to their emotional state over identity issues. Due to the self-demeaning effects many young biracial children often suffer in school, led by other students (and at times teachers) into reinforcing their notion of not knowing their place in the world. (Pinderhughes, 1995) Pinderhughes, in this way, is in agreement with Graham the founder of RACE and her cause.
On a cultural level Americans have held the notion that bi-multiracial people were, and are, mixed up, misfits, degenerates, moral deviants, tormented and pathological souls for generations. (Pinderhughes, 1995) These claims, which are historically based off of scientific studies done during a period of heavily institutionalized racism, have been propagandized in film- and literature-based media and popular culture in an effort to demean bi-multiracial people on what was believed a neurological level. (Williamson, 1980) Though these behavioral studies continue, Pinderhughes and other scientists believe that many of the findings are negatively marked by test subjects drawn from already high stressed environments separate from issues of race. (Pinderhughes, 1995) The difficulties facing biracial and multiracial people then arent intrinsic to our nature, but instead the result of a country, culture and society born from ideals of racial hierarchy. While some bi/multiracial people may feel confused of their status in the racialized world of America, many are aware even at a very young age that it is the result of a society obsessed with race that makes their lives difficult.
In her book What Are You; Voices of Mixed-Race Young People, Gaskinss interviewees, both young and young-adult age, highlight this sentiment; no one more clearly then Chela Delgado, a fourteen year old biracial teen who said, Being biracial isnt hard because were confused about our racial identity. Its hard because everyone else is confused. The problem isnt us - its everyone else. (Gaskins, 1999)
Monoracial people, speaking generally, are found by many biracials and multiracials to be guilty of placing labels on those who dont easily fit into racial categories. When in an effort to take control of their own racial identity bi/multiracials, and in the case of cultural identity monoracial people whether black, white, Indian, or Spanish are found to feel, as Adrian Piper writes, ...not having done wrong but as being wrong. The effect on the person whose sense of self is disregarded or called into question frequently is a sense of self that is replaced with the feeling of ...something bogus relative to their criterion of worth, and false relative to their criterion of authenticity. (Piper, 1991) Their being the person who calls the individuals self into question and in doing so affectively forcing their notions of worth and authenticity. These notions however, especially when faced with the imperceptible nature of race is subject the whims of an ever changing race culture, which varies from borough to borough, state to state, country to country. Everything from an individual's style, dress, speech to their consumerism patterns and behavior signifies people in racialized terms, or in the case of biracials and multiracials who commonly do not fall within specific culture race patterns, casts into the realm of misfits.
For these reasons individuals of the Multiracial movement want to have a race all to themselves and many find the other category, Washington's compromise on the subject, unsatisfactory. Their belief is that a Multiracial race category would give them and their children a sense of ownership of their identity that could not be put into question. In many ways however, both arguments for and against the Multiracialist lobbying for their own race is in opposition of this social practice. As Spencer points out in the second half of his book, the worry of many African Americans in accepting a multiracial category is that the repercussions would have negative affects on their community, which would include the same affects of low self-esteem that Multiracialists wish to eradicate with their own race category. While this argument is more specific to the black community and black biracials and multiracials it is one that the government recognizes. (Spencer, 1997)
It is interesting to note that the opposition to a multiracial category stems from a general internalization of the one-drop rule, which historically was a hypodescent law, which was enforced to keep all decedents of African American parentage in, what they believed was, the inferior black status. The re-appropriation of the one-drop rule has been used since the turn of the 20th century to unify and strengthen upward mobility for the race. Historically the mulatto category that had legally separated biracial and multiracial people from African Americans (and consequently scarring relationships between the two) was dropped in the 1920s and black was used to cover everyone with any known black ancestry. Spencer writes, By including mulattoes under the category of black, it was clear (and has been clear ever since) that black and its earlier synonyms no longer denoted a people who were pure. Rather it referred to a people who were not white and who had at least 'one drop of black blood'.(Spencer, 1997) This soon became obvious when the previous privileges of lighter skinned mulattos began to disappear. This is also why in the earlier half of the 20th century many of our African American leaders were of European and African American decent. Those against the Multiracial cause are so wary of their objective that they accuse them of wanting to steal their cultural heros for their own. Spencer, who ponders this question as well, writes it has been by our numbers and unity, both a result of the one-drop rule, that we have made strides in attaining civil rights in this country. In fact, from the days of slavery we were Colored, Negro, Black, Afro-American, and African American together, and together we have come this far.(Spencer, 1997) This sense of unity is why many biracial and multiracial children with African American heritage choose to identify as black especially if told they are, or are treated as black. This reason has been used by both Hale Barry and President Obama who personally identify as black because that has been "their experience. Their decision, if caused by peoples assumption and treatment, is based on the visual perception of others and therefore is an external one, which for this reason has been criticized by Multiracialists. However their inclusion allows for our society to label their achievements as a part of the black struggle in America, which undoubtedly it is, but many biracials and multiracials are hurt by the lack of recognition in those accomplishments, such as Obama's status as first biracial president, or Barry's as first biracial oscar winner. These star figures add clout to the African American Civil Rights movement and not the Multiracial movement, which some have said include a far greater ethnic community in its struggle for equality.
Multiracials believe they have an experience as well that justifies a need for a racial category that includes them. It has been argued by them that the multiracial category is no less valid than the other census categories, in part because all multiracial people feel a kinship of historical bond. They give for examples the support groups and communities that have sprung up across America. These are communities that are both old and new who came together because of similar historical, cultural, and social characteristics and in turn created a distinctive group of people (Spencer 1997). Elain Pinderhughes when researching American biracial children also came to the conclusion that The situation of the biracial child creates a unique experience of difference, since the child experiences difference not only from peers and others, but from parents as well. There is a sense of being both yet neither. (Kich, 1992)
Spencer, who in his book uses the Coloureds of South Africa (a group of similar European and African ancestry) as both a for and against argument in the Multiracial movement does concede, through the words of Van Der Ross a Coloured South African scholar, that in their case they are recognizable, if not all that definable. The Coloured people are a community, concluded Van Der Ross, for everyone knows them when they see them, and they know themselves. (Spencer, 1997)
Spencer however does not use the Coloured South Africans as a favorable example for the Multiracial movement but one that instead looks to predict the negative outcome if a Multiracial category were to be given. The racial classification of Coloureds was a part of the imperialist apartheid government, who in an effort to keep devisions among the race and classes created strict laws around race categories, the Coloureds being one of them. In his research and interviews, Spencer found that many, including a coloured scholar by the name of Jimmy Ellis, was under the impression that with a few exceptions, the situation of coloured South Africans was parallel with that of black Americans. and not the bi/multiracial peoples of America. Ellis, to draw the groups together describes how, both groups evolved out of slavery during which they mixed with whites, that both speak the language of the white settlers, that both adopted the Christian religion brought by whites, and both had a subculture, that existed within the larger Western culture. (Spencer, 1997) Spencer uses this information to predict, what he believes would be an unhappy outcome to the Multiracial movement, which would be a reversal in black and non-white peoples rights. This prediction being that another category would only continue to create a pattern of white dominance by the use of divide and conquer. This is a point that the Multiracialist, in my reading, had little rebuttal to. Yet there is an obvious difference between the apartheid South African government forcing a racial classification and identity onto a people, and the American Multiracialists evolving from the social, political, and cultural times that we currently living in. Outright racism is no longer popular in our culture, and so to say that we would mirror a time where it was would be a faulty example to rely on. While there may be a shared history and parallels between African Americans and Coloureds that should be heeded, this particular argument has been used by very few, that I know of. Spencer however still believes that the Multiracial movement will only fracture the strength of the African American Civil Rights movement. He found that in the African movement of the 60s when Coloureds and blacks Africans came together to Undermine racism and racial classification... their effort was stronger. They were able to in saying together that they will not allow the white government to break off a piece of the disenfranchised community and accept it while leaving the rest behind to make changes that had not been possible divided. The real fear that Spencer outlines in his interviews with Civil Rights leaders is that the Multiracial category will deplete the number of blacks from their movement.
This is the true center of the argument, which looks to parallel a tug of war between siblings. The older sibling afraid to share the power and achievement they have cultivated, and the younger not wholly aware of the repercussions that may ensue if allowed guardianship. It is a prickly dilemma that few are finding easy to rationalize with a cool head. In the case of African American Civil Rights leaders one of their biggest worries sounds surprisingly like an old insecurity. Their ultimate fear is that if the Multiracialist movement were to succeed it would in affect create a new age passing. Arthur Fletcher a Civil Rights and National Urban league representative, quoted by Spencer spoke of a host of light-skinner blacks (that) would run for the door the minute they had another choice in racial classification. Fletcher is under the presumption that these light-skinned blacks would run for the door not necessarily because their immediate parents are interracial, he fears, but because they sense that there would be some relief from the racism they generally face in this society. They might think, for instance, that economic opportunities would await them if they were classified as something other than black. (Spencer, 1997) In other words affectively reinstating the impetus to pass. Because of this the Multiracialists and Graham of project RACE specifically have been accused of wanting a separate category for their children so they will not be labeled as black and therefor treated discriminatorily. This however would be a naive and sinister hope of the Multiracialists if true. Gaskins in her interviews found that many of the subjects were often presumed to be monoracial and were treated accordingly both by negative external parties as well as those within the race culture. In the case of one subject, Nikkole Palmatier, a model, who is neither black or hispanic but instead Japanese and European, found upon starting her career in America that the only jobs available to her were not based on her actual ethnicity but what the casting agents assumed, therefor hiring her for such events as the Ebony fashion show. Both Gaskins and Pinderhughes found that in the case of most bi/multiracial children the impetus to side with their non-white backgrounds weighed far heavier than their white backgrounds. (Gaskins, 1999) (Pinderhughes, 1995) (Rockquemore, 2002) (Brunsma, 2002)
There is also the current cultural climate in America to consider on whether such an event would take place. The current cultural climate of today is far more inclusive. In fact the popularity of non-white cultures in media has lead to a reversal in popular culture. The style and manner most copied today is instead black culture. Wynter makes the point that unlike each of the two generations that have been identified since these white boomers were teens... Americas corporate giants (have been) tripping over themselves to guide, affirm and especially serve them in their quest across the (color) lines. (Wynter, 2002) This is prevalent in our society today, only a few decades ago was it a rarity to see a lipstick add with a black woman marketed in a prominently white neighborhood (Wynter, 2002). In present day America these images are inescapable, and with the hordes of white teenagers pandering to the style of black culture one can agree with both Wynter and Gaskins that the African American community is safe from such a betrayal. One instead might see many white Americans running to redefine themselves as having African American ancestry. In Adrian Pipers video Cornered she refers to scientific data that states that most white Americans have up to 5 to 20% black ancestry. (Piper, 1998) This further suggests that white Americans may be more interested in changing their racial identification rather than black Americans who have their rich and very popular culture and community.
It is interesting that both sides do not see that they are fighting for similar if not an identical cause, which is to over throw the dominant white male government that still treats and provides for them unequally. Why is it necessary for the African American population or the Multiracial group to fight this goliath of oppression alone, it truly a mystery. This is a fight that should include all minorities including Multiracialists who have sighted more than once the benefits of inclusion towards such a movement. Some within the movement as well as scholars go as far to say that bi-multiracial people because of their vast racial backgrounds are a cure to racism. Pinderhughes sites a quote that states, The very clear racial boundaries which are deemed necessary to maintain the social, economic, political, and psychological organization of our nation in the interest of White domination are seriously threatened by the presence of biracial persons (Nagashima, 1992; Spicakrd, 1992). (Pinderhughes, 1995) And while this may be a gross fantasy, it is hard to discard the hope that if interracial families werent such a taboo, then maybe racism would not be such a problem etc. etc ...
The current state of the census, and in relation the argument for and against the Multiracial movement is at a standstill. No one wins, accept one might say, the dominant (white male) order. While the government has added the other category to the census it does nothing to signify a people as the Multiracials had hoped for. Instead the other category has enraged many bi/multiracials including a few of Gaskins interviewees. A 19 year old by the name of Candace Rea having just graduated at the time of her interview felt that she had more conflict checking the other box because she she felt that, I am not an other and have never been an other. I am a person of mixed race. I dont belong in some outcast category. I am a person just like everyone else. (Gaskins, 1999) The other category for many bring up negative feelings. It instead of validating them links biracials and multiracials to someone or something that isnt as important. It says They are the other people not just a people. (Spencer, 1997) In simple terms it others them from the dominant and even minority groups, they become the double minority.
It is however important to note that even if granted a racial category the ambiguity and affects of a social culture obsessed with race categories reinforced by media trends would still have the negative affects on children that concerns the Multiracialists the most. As it stands the other category acts as a favorable outcome for the government. It does nothing other than to allow the biracial and multiracial individual the illusion that they are being counted as a distinct group based on their culture and race. When in fact under directive #15 the federal government can and does deem them monoracial when they feel it is necessary. They relocate individual who have checked the box other and specified their background, into a monoracial category depending on (of all things), the order in which they write each race. For example if an individual of Hispanic and Chinese backgrounds wrote on the census Hispanic/Chinese they would be relocated to the Hispanic category. Such a loophole seems to defeat the purpose of the other category all together. Such a backhanded play leads one to agree if not align oneself closer with the African American civil rights argument of opposing a new racial category. Or to go even further one must consider the option of eliminating all race categories. For if a multiracial category does not eliminate the social actions and race culture of the public and institutions what would be the difference if none of the race categories existed at all? Gaskins in interviewing a college student who was currently working on a project of similar theme concluded that as a biracial person, as well as a human being, the Multiracialists incentive for a new race category was, though at first attractive, deemed unhelpful in the long run. It is unhelpful and possibly detrimental, not because of what the opposition argues, but instead is in similar to the trend of imperialist white culture and their need to race categorize. (Gaskins, 1999) The Coloureds of South Africa did not feel the need to identify under one name instead it was placed upon them. This pattern of categorization is not a positive position to take but rather a negative because it feeds the tribalistic nature of man as seeing someone as different and in many cases worse. Bi/multiracials, if truly race defying, should embrace this status and propagate it by refusing to racially identify, which has been what others have pushed upon us for such a long time. Blacks, Hispanics, and minorities of all backgrounds and even whites should instead push for an America that no longer needs racial classifications so that other problems of prejudice such as class and gender can begin to unravel as well.
The History of Media, Race, and Racial Othering in the U.S.
While ones culture, historical background, and environment all influence an individuals sense of self and racial identity the link between media and specifically visual based mediums has a great affect on society as a whole. It changes our enviornment, it tracks and reinterprets our history, and influences ar culture. Consequently media does have an affects on the individual and especially the individual of today. The mass media, or better yet the massive media, has grown extensively since the invention of the printing press, in the 15th century, to include any and all technological devices that spread the expression of man. These media devices include newspapers, books, advertisements, broadcasting, television and the radio. There is also the media of movies and more recently the World Wide Web, which is making a play to trump them all. From its inception media has played a large role in popularizing ways of thinking and agendas. In one example, the Revolutionary War would have been lost without its use of pamphlets and newspapers to spread the goal of freedom against the rule of Great Britain. Mass media has been a big part of the American peoples' lives, and now, in the ad congested environment we live in more than ever, media is a force that is difficult, nearly impossible, to ignore.
Though media in all its forms is defined as the expression of human existence it is not always the expression of every human. The reasons for this are both political as well as economic. Culturally as Americans we are aware of the power of media, if only because of the wealth it exudes. It is Pop, it is our most prized industry, and why not? It has marketed itself to that effect. It has produced the image of power, for it is only logical that whatever controls communication in our society in turn controls mass wealth, and whoever controls mass wealth, (to be quite cynical about it) simply controls. Since the mass production of the image, and even before, with the ability to spread and print the word of man, a struggle for dominance has taken place. The concern for diversity within the media is not a new interest but rather a slow movement finally allowed its place in popular debate. Minorities all across America have felt underrepresented, and have been non-existent in ad campaigns, television, radio and other forms of media. In fact in the past when a film or television show called for a non-white character, often they were played by white actors in makeup and were depicted in a demoralizing manner. The lack of diversity in media can be traced to a number of reasons, the most prominent being racism by a dominant demographic toward any culture other than Anglo-Aryan. However, a reason that is surprisingly glossed over, but made quite clear by Dyer, is that from its inception media, with possibly the exclusion of the Internet, has been developed, with white people in mind and that habitual use and instruction continue(s)
(Dyer, 1997) We have come far from the days of black face and yet as Dyer suggests, the preference for white main characters and white interests is still the majority of media programming.
Wynter, the author of American Skin: Pop culture, Big Business, and the End of White America, has different views however. He comments that counter to popular belief the age of discriminatory depictions and white favoritism is at an end. His reasoning for this miraculous emergence of a non-white media is not centered on the contradictions and aspirations of black and other non-white media but instead on the major affect of a massive shift in American marketing during the 1980s. With the free market came a swift change in media marketing, the ultimate irony being that the triumph of free marketing capitalist ideology in the Reagan revolution lead the way for the global markets insatiable need for information, which in turn finally demolished the hegemony of the white-bread culture (that) Ronald Reagan epitomized. (Wynter, 2002)
The 80s gave us our first glimpse into a multiracial world more like our own, with black and white buddy flicks, such as the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor comedies, their first being Blazing Saddles (1974), which they starred in and co-wrote. They went on to star in four more films during the 80s, which were all top billings. Other popular 80s films featuring the black white buddy structure are the Lethal Weapon (1987) films with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson as well as Stir Crazy (1980) and 48 hours (1982) both with Eddie Murphy. However one could argue that though there was more use of African American stars during this period it by no means encompassed all non-white ethnicities. Also one may note that the tone of these films is still centralized around the white male as the main character and that often the black characters are put in the subordinate position of the nurturing and understanding friend. This is only part of a general lack of proper representation of non-white people in film-based medias. As Dyer imparts, the mechanics of media, especially the visually based media, was and continues to be made for rendering the white subject visible. In such films as Lethal Weapon, while Mel Gibson is made visible by lighting and camera technique, Glover is not always as favored.
To make this point clearer it is necessary to go into the history and details of the camera and camera mechanics. Since the first negative of Henry Fox Talbot the rendering of light subjects rather than dark has always taken precedent. Everything from film stock, to the system used to light people has been developed for people of lighter complexions. When color film was invented camera mechanics were influenced even further by aesthetic views of what the dominant white order thought was the proper look of the end subject. As Dyer writes, In the history of photography and film, getting the right image meant getting the one which conformed to prevalent ideas of humanity. This included ideas of whiteness, of what colour what range of hue- white people wanted to be (Dyer, 1997) For example in the early years of color film actors and actresses wore heavy pancake makeup and hot specialty bulbs were used to render the subjects a color complexion acceptable to the studio. Without such devices white actors would have appeared browner than acceptable. (Dyer, 1997)
While this is not the case anymore, color film has been tested and re-tested to create natural skin tones, the issue of lighting and subject lighting is still described as a problem by cinematographers and photographers. An early example of both obvious intended and unintended racism is King Kong (1933). The story, which has been remade several times, does not immediately strike the viewer of today as racist. It is a simple story. A large Gorilla falls in love with a woman and then is captured by an opportunist who takes him back to New York City to be shown at top billing. The Gorilla then escapes, wreaking havoc through the streets and ultimately dying at the (metaphorical) hands of his captors. This is a film ingrained in our social conscious, even for those who have never seen the original.
Dyers description of lighting and faults ingrained in the cameras mechanical structure shine a light on a more effectively disturbing portrait of the beloved film. Even before the viewer lays eyes on the massive King Kong, the depiction of non-whites are filtered through racist stereotyping, but more importantly inadequate lighting. When the crew, who are all white, except for their Chinese cook, land on Skull Island their first encounter is with the natives. In this scene the crew sneak up and hide behind a bush to peer in at the natives who are holding a ceremony to sacrifice a young woman to Kong. While the shot of the crew has been properly metered so that the camera, exposure, and shutter speed are all in perfect harmony for each individual to be properly exposed, rendering them as separate individual beings, the natives are not. Instead for the natives what is likely is that the shutter speed and exposure had not been changed to suit the amount of light that bounces off the natives darker skin. When the camera pans over to the action taking place in the native camp the individual actors, presumably African American (and some darkened further by paint) are indistinguishable from each other. They become a black mass. Even the girl who is to be offered up to Kong, and in that moment the center of attention, is rendered without features except for the whites of her eyes. This is due to both a lack in lighting technique as well as a lack of care in rendering these subjects as individuals, something that was generally common during this period of cinema. (Dyer, 1997)
This information, coupled with Lemires work in placing the movie in a historical context further pervert the film and film based media. Her essay on the film places it within a cultural framework that helps to further define the relationship between popular notions of race and racism transcended through the tool of imagery. During the period in which the film was made, though the notion of African Americans being more closely related to apes may have been slowly falling out of the sphere of openly-held beliefs, it was still a notion that was rampant in American society. In Lemires account, the question of whether or not black person was of the same genetic makeup as a white person was a highly popular discourse during and before the end of slavery. The theory of the Chain of Being, which places race on a hierarchy with whites and God at the top and blacks and apes at the bottom, was a popular topic in books- and literature-based medias and would have been widely read in the white middle to upper-middle classes. (Lemire, 2002) The notion of black people being beneath whites was still a common notion in 1933 when King Kong was released and can be seen not only in its subject matter but in the careless rendering of darker skinned people as well.
Rendering all those of darker complexions as a black mass is the allowance of a representation that will be viewed as less than important. It is true that since the invention of the photograph, even before the negative, when Louis Daguerre was fixing images in plate glass, the magic of the image changed the world. In Rogers book Delias Tears (2010) he describes the after effect of August 19th 1839, the day the French government announced the invention to the world. It soon became a global phenomenon, changing our relation to ourselves, the world, and time. Never before had perfect replications of world treasures been possible to see unless by travel. Memories of loved ones could be protected after they had gone. Time itself could be preserved. All of these wonders and more attracted thousands of people, but no more so than in America where more than 3 million images were made in 1850 (Rogers, 2010). All of a sudden places and people that may have been drawn or painted in the past, now having been photographed, became all the more real. It is this conception of realness that attracts and misguides people to this day. It is the reason why allowing people of darker complexions to be rendered as a mass, or unequally lit to their white counter parts, is a problem. Even today, with the the move to digital sensors rather than film it has still not been addressed.
The historical lack of favorable media representation of minorities has not only placed them within a social category of subordination in the eyes of dominant white society, it has also affected non-white ethnicities on a personal level. Their identity, which for most is wrapped up in their visual representation (which includes their own style of dress and in their perception of how they are perceived), has historically either been demoralized, unlit, or simply unseen. Naturally because of these issues and the historical stance of media, self-esteem, and in return a sense of self and identity, has been greatly affected. Even today with our strides in racial inclusion, stereotyping and oversimplifications of a person's culture and racial identity have ties to how a person chooses to perceive oneself. This is because the image is still received as Truth, truth rather than something molded by corporations who are looking to make the most money possible, or writers who have never experienced what they are describing. Children and young teens are affected more than anyone by the visual imagery of the media, for not only does it purport truth, it symbolizes the awesome and powerful. This only further ignites the obsession and loyalty in persons young of age who, still in the process of self identifying, look toward the media as a means to self identify. While children of same race parents may feel comfortable choosing from the list of media representations, often biracials and multiracials do not. While one may argue that demoralizing depictions of biracial and multiracial individuals in the media are seen less, their inclusion in films, television shows, and other film based medias is lacking. Not to say that biracial and multiracial actors are not used, for this is not the case; one may even argue that the favoritism of mulatto or exotic individuals is still upheld in visual mediums. It is instead the lack of representation that affects the biracial or multiracial teen. While one might see a girl on television who may be of more than one race her parents do not reinforce this representation. Because they are unseen in media, and because our society looks towards media as a reproduction of our society biracials and multiracials become unseen in society as well. The correlation between medias lack of representation, self-esteem, and the commonplace monoracial assumptions experienced by a multitude of bi/multiracials is a problem that should be addressed.