Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (review)

Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (review)

Volume 34, Number 1 (Winter 2011)
pages 208-210
E-ISSN: 1080-6512; Print ISSN: 0161-2492
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2011.0007

Kirin Wachter-Grene
University of Washington, Seattle

Jared Sexton. Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Anxieties about American multiracial identity and practices, known in the nineteenth century as “amalgamation” or “miscegenation,” have been percolating in the national imagination for centuries. Since the 1980s, however, this cultural fascination has become explicitly politicized across sundry civic and intellectual landscapes, and since referred to as “multiracialism” or “mestizaje” (“mixture”). Broadly speaking, multiracialism, while re-structuring racial/ethnic classifications, curiously strives to provide freedom from being identified as or self-identifying as explicitly racialized. It is, in essence, a call for a supra-racial, or post-racial society. While the socio-political complications of this proposal have been the subject of recent scholarly work, the sexual politics of the multiracial movement have gone largely critically unexamined.

In his first book, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism, Jared Sexton argues that multiracial politics, presented as the solution to racial controversy in the post-civil rights United States, actually reifies racial essentialism, evokes and implements antiblack racism, and denounces decades of black theoretical work and organizing traditions in its ultimate attempt to de-legitimize blackness as a viable political, social, and sexual identity. Lewis Gordon, Minkah Makalani, and Rainier Spencer have constructed similar arguments about the supposed inherent antiblack racism prevalent in multiracial politics, but Sexton, while acknowledging and extending their insights, integrates a strong argument about sexual politics into the prevailing discourse. He argues that multiracialism is not, as it claims, a political antithesis to white supremacy or sexual racism. Rather, multiracialism codifies normative sexuality within and across the color line with disastrous effects, producing a desexualization of race, and a deracialization of sex that reinforces racist sexual pathologies. Exposing the inextricable relation between sexuality and racism, specifically in regards to multiracialism’s articulations of interracial sex (defined by Sexton as a relationship in which one of the partners is black), comprises the bulk of this work. Throughout the book the terms “multiracialism” and “interracialism” are primarily used by Sexton to examine relations between blacks and whites or blacks and non-white, non-black people. Rarely does he apply the terms to analyze relations between other racial groups, a theoretical move that at times is awkwardly articulated and exclusionary, but integral to Sexton’s thesis that blackness is the matrix through which racialization is constructed, and that multiracialism engenders a denial of specifically black legitimacy.

Multiracialism strives to disarticulate mixed race individuals from the one-drop rule of hypodescent—the rule that was wielded in nineteenth-century America to render all mixed race individuals black by law. Multiracialism, Sexton argues, is an epistemological denouncement of systems of racial classification, not of racism itself. It is the goal of contemporary multiracialism to allow for mixed race individuals to self-identify as “mixed” (i.e., Sexton argues, not black). Claiming to be “mixed” and more broadly, claiming a “mestizo” (4) American nationalism is erroneous, in that it disregards the de facto Atlantic hybridity of all black subjects, and propagates a neoliberal “color blind” ideology that is really an amalgamation of whiteness actively striving to eradicate blackness from the cultural ethnic makeup. “Because the disassociation of multiracial people from racial whiteness is historically intractable,” Sexton writes, “the description of ‘the offspring of these unions’ as ‘neither one race or another’ is an artifice, a means of more subtly declaring that ‘mixed race’ should never have been viewed merely as a ‘subset’ of ‘blackness'” (74). In other words, though the multiracial movement strives to eradicate white supremacist tendencies by disarticulating notions of racial essentialism, it succeeds only in reifying those same racialized categories. If one is mixed and, in essence, claiming neither race, one is suggesting that there are pure races with which to disidentify, particularly the race of “pure” blackness because whiteness is normative and historically obstinate. Ultimately, it is this amalgamated form of “whiteness” that Sexton posits as the ideological goal of multiracial advocates…

Read the entire review here.

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