“Founding Mothers:” White Mothers of Biracial Children in the Multiracial Movement (1979-2000)

“Founding Mothers:” White Mothers of Biracial Children in the Multiracial Movement (1979-2000)

Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
April 2012
142 pages

Alicia Doo Castagno

A thesis submitted to the faculty of Wesleyan University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Departmental Honors in American Studies


  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Interrogating Multiracial Advocacy
    • The Multiracial Movement
    • Methodology
    • Chapter Outline
  • Chapter 1: The Multiracial Movement
    • Pre-History of the Multiracial Movement
    • First Steps Towards a Movement: Interracial Family Organizations
    • AMEA, Project RACE, and Multiracial Activism
    • Census 2000
    • Post-Census 2000
  • Chapter 2: Founding Mothers – A Study in White Privilege
    • Altered Perspectives, Shifting Identities
    • Race and Family: Locating Interracial Relationships
    • White Racial Identity Development
    • White Racial Identity and Interracial Family Organizations
    • Flesh and Blood: Complicating Sentimental Politics
  • Chapter 3: Whiteness and Privilege in the Multiracial Movement – Project RACE as Case Study
    • Complicating the Multiracial Politics of Recognition
    • Project RACE
  • Conclusion: The Thwarted Utopian Potential of Multiracial Politics
  • Appendix I: Sample Interview Permission Form
  • Appendix II: Transcript of Telephone Interview with Mandy – I-Pride
  • Appendix III: Transcript of Interview with Mandy – I-Pride
  • Appendix IV: Transcript of Telephone Interview with Anonymous – I-Pride
  • Appendix V: Transcript of Telephone Interview with Susan Graham – Project RACE (part I)
  • Appendix VI: Transcript of Telephone Interview with Susan Graham – Project RACE (part II)
  • Appendix VII: Helms’s White Racial Identity Development Model
  • Bibliography


In early November 2010, I interrupted my junior semester abroad in Lima, Peru, to attend the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference hosted by DePaul University in Chicago. I had been asked to participate in a roundtable discussion regarding the student forum I co-created and co-taught the fall semester of my sophomore year at Wesleyan University entitled, “Mixed Heritage Identity in Contemporary America.” After speaking only Spanish for three months, I found myself clumsy and thick-tongued in English as I attempted to describe my experience as a student facilitator and my involvement with mixed race activism. Later in the day, DePaul featured another roundtable entitled, “Community-Based Multiracial Movements: Learning from the Past, Looking toward the Future.” Representatives from multiracial organizations MAVIN; Swirl, Inc.; Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival; Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC); Lovingday.org; and Biracial Family Network (BFN) Chicago led the discussion. I have been involved with mixed heritage politics since the age of fifteen, when I was an intern at Seattle’s MAVIN Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that deals specifically with mixed heritage issues. I was already aware of the history of the Multiracial Movement and some of its internal tensions. It was not until I attended the DePaul roundtable, however, that I began to question some of the movement’s more unusual historical characteristics…

…Chapter Outline

In Chapter 1, “The Multiracial Movement,” I chronicle the history of the Multiracial Movement from 1979-2000, focusing specifically on the role of interracial family organizations within the movement. I reveal the tensions between different players within the movement, such as AMEA and Project RACE, as well as the tension between multiracial activists and monoracial civil rights groups. I briefly outline the pre-Multiracial Movement socio-political history that set the foundations for Census 2000 and formal multiracial recognition to become the movement’s cornerstones. I argue that focusing on multiracial politics of recognition limited the movement’s potential for radical change.

Chapter 2 is entitled, “Founding Mothers: A Study in White Privilege,” and tracks the various ways in which being part of an interracial relationship or family altered the way white women in the 1970s-90s perceived themselves and the world. I situate white women’s political involvement in a historical context that favors monoracial families and emphasizes racial belonging as an important aspect of healthy childrearing. Moreover, I link white mothers’ campaigning for multiracials to separate spheres ideology and sentimental politics. I assert that the coping mechanisms white mothers of biracial children employed to deal with being an interracially married white woman in the 1970s-90s ultimately resulted in the formation of interracial family groups and participation in multiracial politics that unwittingly attempted to regain racially privileged experiences and status.

In Chapter 3, entitled “Whiteness And Privilege In The Multiracial Movement—Project RACE as Case Study,” I examine the ways in which white female involvement led to the movement’s focus on multiracial politics of recognition, and the ways in which these politics of recognition ultimately limited the movement’s potential. I connect the arguments I have laid out in my first two chapters through the example of Project RACE, and elaborate on the history of the Multiracial Movement discussed in Chapter 1. Susan Graham did groundbreaking political work as the head of Project RACE, and facilitated the entry of multiracial politics into the OMB’s discussion of changing racial categories for Census 2000. However, her politics remained grounded in a perspective of white privilege. The political alliances she made and her unwillingness to sympathize with monoracial civil rights groups’ concerns lost her the support both of monoracial people of color and multiracial activists…

Read the entire thesis here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,