Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

The New Creolism

By Thomas Kochman - 03.27.2010

The 2010 census that allows people of mixed racial ancestry to write in their own racial/ethnic identity gives them a unique opportunity to define themselves in ways that don’t subscribe to any of the previously recognized official categories –themselves the result of racial and ethnic mixing historically — like “African American” or “Hispanic”.

What’s different today is that first generation individuals whose parents are of different racial backgrounds choose to characterize themselves as “mixed”, resisting the mindset of earlier generations that compelled individuals to choose one (but not both) of the officially recognized racial/ethnic classifications. Apart from what it says about personal loyalty issues –as our tribally mixed American Indian colleague says today when people ask him to declare which tribe he belongs to: answers, “Which grandparent would you have me deny” – it also says something about “the new rules of the game” in our ever-changing society.

In the past, a child of a mixed marriage was placed in the social category that was not white. And even if parents and individuals had misgivings about denying the race of the white parent, the matter was decided for them, first by law and social covenants, and then by conventional social usage.

And even if individuals today have a choice on how they would see and define themselves, how others might socially see and classify them is harder to influence and control. As one child of a biracial marriage, when told that he was “mixed” by a white friend rather than “African American”, as he classified himself, said, “Yeah! When I run on the playground everyone says, ‘Look at how fast that mixed dude runs’”.

So what to make of this new census category? One thing is clear, changes in government, law and politics happen a lot quicker than changes in social perception and usage on the street, playground or workplace.

Yet, the handwriting is on the wall, and, as Charles Blow notes, the  future is before us.

And that gives all of us pause for thought.

One Response so far

I think you are absolutely right. It’s great that the government now realizes that so many people can’t classify themselves into just one category. However, what you said about social conceptions is true too. I think it will be a long time before everyone accepts the idea of a “mixed” race person. However, I believe we’ve taken the first step with this census, and maybe one day being mixed will be understood and accepted by all.

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