Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Are You?

As a parent of two "mixed race" children, I read this article in The New York Times with interest:

The crop of students moving through college right now includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States, and they are only the vanguard: the country is in the midst of a demographic shift driven by immigration and intermarriage.

The article, part of a series called "Race Remixed," is interested in raising questions about what the growing population of biracial and multiracial individuals "means" for our society. For example: "Optimists say the blending of the races is a step toward transcending race, to a place where America is free of bigotry, prejudice and programs like affirmative action."

In fact, we prob'ly need to acknowledge that a fair amount of "blending" has occurred in human history, and it seems not ever to have resolved thinking about difference as a problem.

What I think is far more compelling in the article is hearing from individuals like the college student who, when asked, "What are you," has learned to answers: "How much time do you have? Race will not automatically tell you my story."

I think the student got it exactly right. A question like "What are you" is important and meaningful in the United States today b/c it is a socially accepted and culturally pre-inscribed way of hearing someone's story about who they are: In other words, it is asking what others have said and continue to say about who you are.

I wish we might start to question what kind of stories "race" really tell us.

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