Breaking news: the New York Times has discovered mixed people. Did you know that the number of racially mixed families in the US is growing? Or how about that some mixed kids feel pressured to choose one race? And get this—multiracial people find it annoying to be asked, "What are you?"
Yeah, that's about as deep as the Times Jan. 29 piece on multiracial youth got. The paper evidently rolled out the article because the Census Bureau will soon unveil data about racial groups in the U.S., including how many people identified as more than one race—a move the government first allowed on the 2000 census.
I suppose the article could've been eye-opening for those who've never read about race or met any mixed-race people, but for the rest of us, this piece came off like "Mixed People for Dummies" or "Multiracials 101." It even includes a slide show of mixed-race students at the University of Maryland so viewers can get a look at an actual multiracial person. It's as if Keanu Reeves, Salma Hayek, and Halle Berry never graced the cover of a magazine. Suffice it to say that every American has seen a mixed-race person—if not in person, then on the silver screen. An article that posits that multiracial people are a fast-growing demographic, wooing advertisers and launching festivals, operates on the false premise that mixed folks are oddities that the public may not be familiar with.
This article not only bugged me because it rehashed the same ole' things we hear about mixed people all the time—they just want to be accepted, they just want to transcend race—but for reinforcing stereotypes. Why, for example, did the reporter feel the need to point out how all mixed people are not created equal? Susan Saulny notes:
Some sociologists say that grouping all multiracial people together glosses over differences in circumstances between someone who is, say, black and Latino, and someone who is Asian and white. (Among interracial couples, white-Asian pairings tend to be better educated and have higher incomes…).
I'm not saying this stat isn't true. It does, however, perpetuate the idea of blacks and Latinos being the underclass in the US and Asians the model minority on par with whites in achievement. Moreover, the point about black and Latino couples being uneducated is undermined considering that the article features a black-Latino couple enrolled at the University of Maryland.
As required by law after Election Day 2008, all articles about multiracial people must make note of President Obama. And this piece follows suit. Why did Obama just check black on his census form? Isn't he white, too? Should we call him the first black president or the first multiracial president?
Look, the two aren't mutually exclusive. Obama is black and white, meaning that he's the first black president and the first mixed president—that we know of, anyway. The discussion of Obama's racial identity is just one glaring problem with the limitations of this article. The media simply have to complicate the discussion of race. Let's discuss why Obama and other biracial African-Americans choose to identify as black. It's not always because of the one-drop rule or social pressure. Many African-Americans just feel that the black experience in the U.S. includes that of mixed people, mono-racial people and all oppressed people generally.