Racism Review: Mixed Race, Pretty Face

by , under Racism Review

It was once thought multiracial children were destined to be confused, inwardly conflicted and maladjusted. “Think of the children”, used to be the warning used to discourage interracial couples from marrying. Mixed-race children often faced discrimination and prejudice. Experts worried that these children would suffer from poor self-esteem and lack of identity (Fields, Julianna. Multiracial Families: The Changing Face of Modern Families. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest, 2010.)

The “tragic mulatto” archetype was featured prominently in American culture (Show Boat, 1951).

Usually female, she embodied dislocation, incompatibility and confusion. Similarly we often saw the heartrending, Native American/White “half-blood” (Dances With Wolves, 1990) and in Yellow Peril fiction, the interracial love affair that ends tragically (Sayonara, 1951). (Nakashima, Cynthia L. “Servants of Culture: The Symbolic Role of Mixed-Race Asians in American Discourse,” Pp.35-57 in The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans.  Ed. Teresa Williams-León and Cynthia L. Nakashima. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. ).

Things have certainly changed.

In 1993, TIME Magazine published a special issue on multiculturalism in America. The now well-known cover featured an ethnically ambiguous woman over the caption “The New Face of America: How Immigrants Are Shaping the World’s First Multicultural Society”. Their model however was not a real person. Her image was computer generated by merging men and women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. The editors felt she was a preview of what was likely to emerge in tomorrow’s America (). She was bold, beautiful, and significant enough to capture a prominent magazine cover. I remember being a young multiracial woman in Los Angeles when this issue was released (at a time when there weren’t near as many multiracial people). I was mesmerized. Perhaps I swelled with some pride and dignity knowing I was a part of the “future”.

Well that future seems to have arrived. According to the 2010 Census, those identifying with multiple races grew by 32% over the decade, for a total of 9 million while single-race identifiers grew by just 9.2%. A February 2012 Pew Research report showed the number of intermarriages has more than doubled since 1980. It credited growing public acceptance of mixed-race relationships as one reason for the rise.

Nowadays it’s all about “Multiracial Chic”. Being mixed is the coolest thing you can be. Take for example the 2006 Psychology Today article “Mixed Race, Pretty Face?” detailing a study which suggested part Asians are considered more beautiful than their monoracial counterparts.  Such pieces lauding the beauty of mixed race peoples abound. And this wide admiration is clearly visible in pop culture. Multiracial models are taking over advertising, plastered across billboards and magazines. Mixed race actors and pop stars are on the rise.


So what does this racial shift mean for our “global” future? Interestingly, the bodies of multiracial peoples (rather than their experiences) are now often being cited as proof that we have become a “postracial” society where racism is frowned upon and ethnic diversity is celebrated. Multiracial people supposedly breakdown racial boundaries just by their mere existence. Their ambiguous appearance alone is enough to destabilize and ultimately eradicate white privilege and the racial hierarchy. Others are beginning to contest this claim. Some predict that growing numbers of mixed race Americans will lead to a new racial hierarchy based on pigment, like those characterizing most Latin American countries. What may look like the “end of race” as more people of color gain political, social, and cultural visibility actually veils a redistribution of power. And multiracial people themselves are perhaps getting caught in the crosshairs, blurring the boundaries between whiteness and nonwhiteness even as they receive certain privileges that historically have been conferred upon those with white bodies (Park, Jane. “Virtual Race: The Racially Ambiguous ActionHero in The Matrix and Pitch Black”. Mixed Race Hollywood.  Ed. Mary Beltrán and Camilla Fojas. New York and London: New York University Press, 2008. 182-202. Print.).

It begs the question. How will the children of today feel about their multiraciality as they come of age in this new America? Will they be the enlightened world leaders of a model “postracial” society? Or will they find themselves entrenched in a new, confusing racial hierarchy with redefined standards. One in which some of them are privileged and others are not?

~ Sharon Chang’s blog is MultiAsian Families

Read original blog entry here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      PS voter, I added the correct link. Thank you for the heads-up.

  1. Farang

    Don’t you think this article is totally racist?

    Or is it ok to praise appearance of people based on their race as long as it’s not white people who are praised?

    • Mark

      Why would you not praise white people for their racial characteristics? I think praising racial characteristics is not itself the problem. As the article discusses, it’s whether there would be a confusing racial hiararchy where some are priveleged and others are not.

    • Mark

      I think you misunderstand the article. It’s not saying that ‘this’ or ‘that’ race should be perceived any better than another. On the contrary, it is looking at how society is valuing different racial characteristics and pointing out that mixed race characteristics are being more highly valued than before. In fact, it does look at the possible negative side of this new ‘fashion’ in mixed race appearances. That’s the point.

      I think it’s quite a stretch to try to see racism in this article, Farang.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      So what’s the point of this story, Farang? Is it to point out how postcolonialism racism continues to exist in South Africa? This so-called survey is a good example of how postcolonialism racism works in our society. It is a vertical pole with “good” races on tops followed by those that are “not as good.” If you study your history, this is how white Europeans organized their colonies.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Farang, you don’t get it: The racism we see in Europe today comes from the same racism that white European imposed on Africa to organize their colonies.

    • Farang

      I’m not sure what the point is. I’m just observing today’s attitudes, which are pretty much discriminating against white people and these two articles are a good example of it.

      Whenever racial characteristics are compared, for whatever reasons, if the outcome is that white race has the “best result”, it is condemned as racist. But whenever the outcome is that some other races has the “best result”, it is said to be good thing.

      This is just painting the picture that white people are the evil in this world and everything that is done against them is good.

    • Mark

      I think you are missing the point. Fashion is about what is rare. If it’s mass produced, then it has, by its nature, a lower value. Mixed race is still new, still finding its way, and as such, it’s taken a position among the ‘chic’ which the mainstream ‘white’ doesn’t hold. But fashion is at best a ‘clothes horse’, it’s not a real, living pulse of society. It’s a ‘reflection’ of what is going on, what people imagine and desire. It’s interesting, but it’s not the end of the story, by any means.

      It is ridiculous to say that ‘white’ is somehow evil. The power and wealth of the world are very much concentrated in the hands of the white folk. That the rich and powerful are potrayed as ‘evil’ in some contexts is hardly new or surprising, and the ‘white’ part is not always the most important part either.

      It seems like you are incapable of seeing any kind of ‘nuance’. It amazes me how you so often seen the most ‘blunt’ version of events.

    • Farang

      It is not that complicated. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are here, it’s only the outcome which shows the true nature how the “politically correct” part of the world relate to different skin colour.

      These two articles (the one Enrique linked and the one I linked) are pretty much concentrated on similar event:

      1) In the other one mixed race was rated as the most attractive by appearance. This one was seen as a good thing.

      2) In the other one white race was rated as the most attractive by appearance. This one was condemned as racist.

      So, the question remains: Why do you think it is appropriate to publish such statements based on race?

      And let’s take this a bit further. What do you think the response would have been if that fashion/beauty article was otherwise same, but instead of mixed race it would have been about white race?