The Challenge of Identity: The Experience of Mixed Race Women in Higher Education [Book Review]

The Challenge of Identity: The Experience of Mixed Race Women in Higher Education [Book Review]

Academic Matters
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty
Journal of Higher Education

Yasmin Jiwani, Associate Professor of Communications Studies
Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The gaps between policies and the realities of those to whom these policies are addressed remains a crucial issue in any critical policy analysis. Indra Angeli Dewan’s Recasting Race brings to the fore an analysis of the experientially-based identities of mixed race women and their entry into, as well as experiences within, the realm of higher education.

Anti-racist advocacy movements of the last three decades have highlighted the embedded nature of discrimination in the education policies, pedagogical approaches, and curricular materials used at different levels of schooling and higher education. They have emphasized the need for inclusive educational policies and practices. These social movements have spurred critical analyses of, and interventions in, education policy and praxis. Many of the existing studies have documented the paucity of representations of racialized groups and the erasure of their histories in traditional pedagogical approaches and standard curricula. [1] Indeed, some studies have gone further and explored how racialized youth negotiate the school yard and their encounters within the structure of the school system. Issues of racism have been underscored as shaping the lived realities and constraining the life choices of racialized youth within mostly white schools. [2]

Dewan’s work takes this analysis further by first focusing on mixed race women and then exploring their encounters within higher education institutions and their response to educational policies. This allows her to refrain from essentializing race and racialized identities, thereby emphasizing the constructed nature of such identities. She argues that the trap of essentialism surfaces in terms of how popular discourses position mixed race people—as either belonging to one “race”—usually perceived as being inferior—or as celebratory embodiments of postmodern identity. In the latter respect, mixed race people are regarded as signs of the “end of racism” and the evolution of a whole new world marked by race-lessness. Canadian scholar Minelle Mahtani has described this as a “vacant celebration of hybridity” that “veils gendered and racialized power dynamics.” (p. 74) [3] While Dewan adopts a constructionist perspective, she argues that her findings suggest that “essentialist, postmodernist and individualist theories and discourses do not manifest themselves in mutually exclusive ways.”…

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