Miri Song is the Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in England. Dr. Song has extensive publications including Helping Out: Children’s Labor in Ethnic Businesses (1999), Choosing Ethnic Identity (2003) and Mixed Race Identities (2013). She has recently finished a book, Multiracial Parents: Mixed Families, Generational Change, and the Future of Race, which is coming out this fall. On September 14th, Dr. Song shared some of her findings from her upcoming book with the ARC fellows and students.
Interracial unions are growing in both the UK and the US. There has been a substantial rise in interest on the multiracial population and “mixing” not only in academia but also in popular culture. Responding to this demographic trend, the British census introduced the “mixed” category as a part of racial identification in 2001. Since its introduction, the “mixed” category has generated many theoretical and methodological questions: what does it capture? How do people report and what can we learn from their reporting?
Despite the growth in size and diversity of multiracial population, existing studies have largely focused on Black and White mixed people and their racial identification. Dr. Song argues that there is a need to broaden the research on the multiracial population since there has been a significant increase in interracial partnering among Asians and Latinos. Also, researchers should develop a generational framework that examines beyond the first-generation of mixed people (who have two monoracially distinct parents). Studying the experiences of later generations is crucial to understanding how identities are passed down through generations and how racial boundaries and meanings shift.
Dr. Song’s research addresses the gaps in the literature by exploring the following questions: how do multiracial parents make decisions about racial identification of their children? Do they identify their children as White, “Mixed” or a Monoracial Minority? What factors come into play during the decision-making process? To find answers to these questions, she conducted interviews with 62 multiracial parents. Her interviewees were mostly first-generation multiracial parents in England aged 25 to 50 years old. She recruited three groups of multiracial parents: Black/White, South Asian/White, and East Asian/White. She supplemented her interviews with online surveys where participants were recruited based on their reported multiracial ancestry.
The majority of her interviewees identified their children on official forms as “Mixed” (40 out of 62), followed by White. None of the parents reported identifying their children as a Monoracial Minority. Many parents expressed ambivalence and uncertainty toward racial identification of their children since there are no clear conventions as to who belongs to the “Mixed” category. The parents, therefore, developed their own criteria and justifications. Some of the factors that emerged during the interviews were: the racial mix of the parents, the physical appearance of the children, the multiracial parent’s own upbringing and identification, their partner’s ethnicity and the generational distance from minority ancestors.
Dr. Song also discovered that the meaning parents gave to the White and “Mixed” categories widely varied. Her finding challenges the assumption that many survey-based studies make, which is that selecting White as a racial category reflects one’s desire to be White. The interviews with the parents revealed that there is no one reason for choosing White. Some parents identified their children as White due to their own personal lack of contact with their minority parent. Some chose white due to the generational distance from their minority ancestor. On the other hand, some parents identified their children as mixed even when they looked white. The meaning of “Mixed” was also complicated. Some viewed it as a way to express their genealogical connections to their children while others thought of it as a way of breaking the boundaries of race.
The key takeaway from Dr. Song’s research is that the choices that multiracial people make on official forms such as the census do not speak for themselves. Therefore, we should be cautious with the assumptions we make about those choices and not take them at face value. In that regard, Dr. Song’s research provides important insights into what the “Mixed” category is capturing through careful examination of the ways in which multiracial parents make sense of their children’s racial identification and pass it down to their children. Her findings indicate that there are no unitary experiences among multiracial populations because they are lumped into the “Mixed” category. Moreover, her findings strongly suggest the need to revisit the traditional notions of assimilation, particularly the meaning of interracial marriage and its implications on racial boundaries.
Dae Shin “Hayden” Ju.