Containing Multitudes

Containing Multitudes

Mixed Dreams: towards a radical multiracial/ethnic movement

Nicole Asong Nfonoyim

“Communities had to be created, fought for, tended like gardens. They expanded or contracted with the dreams of men– and in the civil rights movement those dreams had seemed large. In the sit-ins, the marches, the jailhouse songs, I saw the African-American community becoming more than just the place where you’d been born or the house where you’d been raised. Through organizing, through shared sacrifice, membership had been earned. And because membership was earned–because this community I imagined was still in the making, built on the promise that the larger American community, black, white, and brown, could somehow redefine itself—I believed that it might over time, admit the uniqueness of my own life.”

Barack Obama from Dreams From My Father

Alright, I know, I know, talking about Obama and multiraciality is like beating a dead horse. But, I swear, I have a really good point (or two) to make!


It sounds simple enough: Race is not biological, it’s a social construct. Identities are fluid, they change and even expand over time. But most of U.S. society hasn’t caught on yet. And ultimately we need to ask, who gains from keeping these strict boundaries around identities?

In the U.S. we’ve gotten pretty good at essentializing identities into strictly defined, carefully bound, digestible boxes. The black American community, in particular, has long been seen as a monolith—a static and unassimilable one at that—and yet nothing could be further from the truth. I recently watched the Kobina Aidoo documentary film The Neo African-Americans.  The film aims to explore issues facing Caribbean and continental African immigrant communities and their descendants in the U.S. Though, it was at best an introduction to some very deeply rooted issues concerning black people in the Diaspora, the film definitely brings up some provocative points around identity, authenticity and community. The film got me thinking about the (often invisible) multitudes racial and ethnic identities contain and how crucial and yet limiting the process of “self-naming” can be for historically marginalized groups. As people of color, many of us live on the “hyphen”—as hyphen “Americans” in a way that members of white ethnic groups do not.

Indeed, many of the issues faced by mixed people, mirror those faced by many “monoracial” people of color, especially as our society becomes increasingly defined by it’s heterogeneity while migration, gender, socioeconomic class and sexuality further shape and shift our identities over time. We’re all struggling to define and (re)define who we are as individuals and as collectives. Thus, crises of authenticity, legitimacy, community, progress and belonging are not the sole domain of one particular ethnic or racial group. In significant ways, we can say that they have become woven into the very fabric of our racial inheritance in this country and as such we are all implicated:  black, brown and (perhaps especially) white in tackling these issues head on…

Read the entire essay here.

Tags: , ,