Posted in New Media, Papers/Presentations on 2010-04-11 05:23Z by Steven


A Paper Presented at
Who Counts & Who’s Counting? 38th Annual Conference National Association for Ethnic Studies Conference
Session: The race in “mixed” race? Reiterations of power and identity
Washington, DC

Steven F. Riley


In the paper I describe the origins of www.MixedRaceStudies.org a non-commercial website that provides a gateway to contemporary interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, history, law, etc.) English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism.  I discuss the inspiration, conception, development and future plans for the site.

Good Morning.

I would like to take a few moments of your time to describe an online resource I created a year ago called MixedRaceStudies.org.  Before I continue, I would like to thank Dr. Rainier Spencer and Dr. Sue-Je Gage for giving me this opportunity to speak to you.

The heightened visibility of self-described ‘mixed-race’ individuals in the entertainment industry and professional sports has of recent years has captured the attention and fascination of the American public.  This heightened awareness has even led to changes in the way our decennial census collects racial data.  Even more recently, the election of ‘mixed-race’ individuals across the country from mayors (such as this city) to the president of our country has led some to believe we have in fact entered a ‘post-racial’ society.

The skeptic in me has always questioned the validity of the American popular culture multiracial gaze.  To be honest, I too have occasionally succumbed to the gaze of increasing numbers of interracial relationships (like my own 24 year relationship with my loving wife Julia), and the offspring of such unions.  In the Silver Spring, Maryland area that my wife and I live in, interracial couples and mixed-race individuals seem to be everywhere.  And this, in a racialized society as ours is fascinating.  But, like many things, what is fascinating today may be irrelevant next week, despised next month, discarded next year… and rediscovered next century. 

I was drawn to the subject of mixed race because it is so complex.  I wanted to ask questions, and to share the answers and information I found along the way.  For me, current discourses about multiracialism in pop-culture today provide us with only a cursory understanding of the lives of ‘mixed-race’ people and the societal implications of their increasing presence.  The many shortcomings of pop-cultural discourses are too numerous to mention, but include.

  1. An utter lack of historical perspective.  This ‘new’ thing has been occurring in the Americas for over five centuries.
  2. An unwillingness to dismiss or even question the (scientifically proven) fallacious concept of ‘race’ despite the fact that mixed-race individuals—as Dr. Spencer says—embody its’ fallaciousness.
  3. An unwillingness to question whether our ‘fascination’ with multiracialism may in fact be due to the persistence of racism.
  4. A tendency to view the increased number of ‘mixed-race’ individuals of heralding in an era of a “post-racial” America.

To that end, I have turned my gaze away from television, away from rising and falling sports figures, towards the writings of individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to elucidating us about multiracialism.


 I began this journey, quite by accident in January 2008 when the son of a college friend of my wife Julia came to visit us for dinner at our home.  This young man—who we had not seen since he was a child—is the son of a black Haitian man and a white Jewish woman, mentioned to us that he was bringing along his girlfriend.  This caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time wondering about the girlfriend. I’m sure you have heard the phrase or question that “dare’th not speak its’ name”… “What are you?”  “What is she?”  I wondered was she “black” like his father or “white” like his mother?  Would he be in an interracial relationship like his parents?  Would his parents approve of the relationship? Was I asking myself a lot of stupid questions and what did it matter anyway?

As it turned out, our young guest’s girlfriend (now fiance) was in fact the daughter of a black father and a white mother also.  Were they an interracial couple?  Would their children be ‘mixed-race’?…. or not.

As the evening progressed, our conversation turned to politics and our preferred candidates for Democratic presidential nomination.  Julia and I supported then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, because… we thought she could win.  Our two young guests disagreed and were convinced—and convinced us—that this “black man of mixed heritage” named Barack Obama could indeed be elected to the presidency.

My journey continued after the election of President Obama and before his inauguration.  It seemed that everywhere I looked there were articles about interracial families on television programs, in newspapers, magazines and websites… again.  Were “mixed race” people in hiding since a previous victory, not in the electoral politics, but on the golf course in 1997?  Was America on the verge of a becoming post-post racial society?  What I yearned for was not another 15 second sound bite about the “changing face of America”, but an honest appraisal of what the apparent heightened visibility of mixed-race people really meant for America.

In February of 2009, I discovered the online podcast Mixed Chicks ChatStarted in May of 2007 by educator Fanshen Cox and author Heidi W. Durrow, this wonderful podcast promotes itself as “the only weekly show about being racially and culturally mixed.”  Available live or recorded via TalkShoe or recorded via Apple’s iTunes, the 150 episodes—I appeared as a featured guest on the 150thepisode this last Wednesday—provide listeners with insightful and thought provoking discussion surrounding ‘mixed-race’ issues.  After listening to several live podcasts, I found the hosts Ms. Cox and Ms. Durrow quite knowledgeable about all aspects of the ‘mixed-race’ experience.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the some of the listeners.  On many occasions, I would post links in the “chat room” to books and articles for fellow participants unfamiliar with terms such as “one-drop rule”, “Jim Crow”,  etc.  It was after a few weeks of this exercise, I decided to create an online resource to answer these many questions.

To obtain the knowledge to begin the process of building this resource, I purchased and read Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe’s ‘Mixed Race’ Studies: A Reader.  Considered by some the definitive anthology on the subject, ‘Mixed Race’ Studies takes the reader on a 150 year interdisciplinary trek encompassing the origins of “miscegenation theory” and false notions of moral and hybrid degeneracy, to contemporary discourses on identity politics and celebration, and finally to the critiques of these political movements.  Great anthologies like ‘Mixed Race’ Studies encourage the reader to further their scholarship by reading additional discourses by the various authors.  That was and remains the goal for my site, which I named MixedRaceStudies.org in April of 2009.

www.MixedRaceStudies.org  is a non-commercial website that provides a gateway to contemporary interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, history, law, etc.) English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism.

The site contains over 1,000 posts that include over 400 articles, 300 books, and over 100 papers, reports and dissertations.

The site is by no means an exhaustive listing of discourses on ‘mixed race’ scholarship.  Some examples of the scholarship that is not available on the site are as follows:

  • Non-English language resources.
  • Out-of-print resources.  This includes important texts such as Everett V. Stonequist’s The Marginal Man: A Study in Personality and Culture Conflict (1937) and other works.
  • Non-web-based resources.

I created this site:

  • For all of those who think that race is a biological construction.
  • For Daphne who thought interracial marriage was not legal in the US until 1967.
  • For those who have always wondered why people who have complexions that range from white to dark-brown are classified as ‘black’.
  • For the young student of my 40-something pal Bradley in Manchester, England who was asked if there were any ‘mixed-race’ people older than him in Britain.
  • For Mike who told me there “weren’t many scholarly resource available on mixed-race identity.”

The goals of the site are to:

  • Provide visitors with links to books, articles, dissertations, multimedia and any other resources to enable them to further their (and my) knowledge on the topic.
  • Remind visitors that so-called “racial mixing” has been occurring in the Americas for over five centuries and in fact, all of the founding nations of the Americas were mixed-race societies at their inception.
  • Ultimately support a vision of the irrelevance of race.

In supporting the vision of the irrelevance of race, I’ve been forced to ask myself the following questions.

  • Is the ideal of no racial distinction a possibility?
  • Does mixed race identity continue the racial hierarchy/paradigm or does it change it?
  • Will the acknowledgement and study of multiraciality help or hinder a goal of a post-racial future?
  • Will the sheer volume of mixed race people provoke change?
  • …But if everybody has been mixed already and our racial paradigm hasn’t changed in the last 400 years, what do we make of the changes in these last 40 years?
  • And what changes can we expect in the next 40?

Future plans for the site

After creating the site, I firmly believed that the audience would be individuals like myself—non-scholars—with a casual to moderate interest in multiracial identity issues.  At best, I hoped that parents or caregivers of mixed race children would find some interest in the site.  To my surprise, I have discovered that the overwhelming audience—at least by those who have contacted me—have been individuals in academia!  Many scholars in fact, are regular subscribers to the site.  A professor at the University of California has told me that his institution has been trying to set up a website similar to mine, but for now there are no funds to proceed.

As for now, MixedRaceStudies.org remains a labor of love, requiring minimal financial resources to host ($10.00 per/month).  Future plans involve utilizing my programming and database skills to produce a scholar bibliographic search engine and other features.

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