Talking about Critical Mixed Race Studies in the Wake of Ferguson

In this guest post, Laura Kina, coeditor of War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art, discusses the emerging discipline of mixed race studies and what it can contribute to ongoing dialogues surrounding race, police brutality, and social justice in the wake of Ferguson.

Since the deaths this past summer of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York by white police officers, our nation has been embroiled in discussions of police brutality and racial profiling. The social unrest and racial tensions of our current moment are a stark contrast to the congratulatory “post-racial” moment in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama–the first black “biracial” president. Recent racial tensions also present stark contrast to the celebration of the multiracial “melting pot” that America celebrated following the 2000 US Census, which allowed individuals to self-identify as more than one race for the first time.

Those earlier, problematic readings of race—as something to either get beyond or as something new and worthy of celebration—coupled with the dearth of history and representations of mixed race Asian American lives inspired my coauthor Wei Ming Dariotis and I to publish War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art (University of Washington Press, 2013). Along with my DePaul colleague Camilla Fojas, we also set out to challenge these myths and establish a scholarly field of Critical Mixed Race Studies.

In November 2014, DePaul University hosted an international conference—“Global Mixed Race,” the 3rd biennial Critical Mixed Race Studies conference in Chicago. More than 600 people attended, including scholars, artists, performers, filmmakers, activists, and students from across the United States as well as Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia. The conference featured two keynote speakers from Ireland: Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, author of Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants and coeditor of Global Mixed Race; and Zélie Asava, author of Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed Race Identities in Irish Film and TV. Through our partnership with the nonprofit organization Mixed Roots Stories we presented live performances and film screenings across the conference. This central inclusion of the arts prioritizes the importance of storytelling, the rootedness in the texture and affect of lived experiences, the world of imagination, and visions of alternative realities.

Closing remarks at Mixed Roots Stories Live Performance at the November 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies conference. Photo by Ken Tanabe.

Closing remarks at Mixed Roots Stories Live Performance at the November 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies conference. Photo by Ken Tanabe.

Critical Mixed Race Studies is about recognizing the totality of one’s heritage—seeing race and systems of racism in the particular context of mixed race and talking about what this means for our lives and communities today, what it has meant historically, and what we might envision our futures to be like, and what we can do now to help in anti-racist struggles across many different communities. It reflects a turn to comparative racialization that challenges discrete categories of race and it is inherently tied to colonial and imperial histories, giving it a transnational and global focus that displaces the United States from the center of critical analysis.

The mixing of races is the result of various kinds of migration, both forced and at will, and it is the outcome of imperial expansion throughout the ages. Moreover, the idea of mixed race is not based on discrete racial categories or some cultural or ethnic similarities—e.g., food, customs, or language—or geographical location. Rather mixed race is a way of seeing that enables an examination of the comparative processes of racialization without resorting to any single defined group identity or place.

Our 2014 theme, “Global Mixed Race,” recognized this widening scope of critical mixed race studies in its comparative, transnational, and global dimensions. We are attentive to the persistence of racialized violence and the troubled history of racism in the US and the world as we explore issues of multiracial and mixed intimacies and contact along with the possibilities of global anti-racist political alliances among multiracial communities and their allies.

As the urgency of how much black lives matter fades from the headlines, it’s important for us to keep an intersectional focus on these issues. As Critical Mixed Race Studies and Mixed Roots Stories and many other multiracial community organizations collectively stated in November 2014 in support of the family of Michael Brown Jr.: “We are connected to these events and stand in solidarity with the many individuals and communities that have been harmed by the legacies of white supremacy, privilege, and racism. As community organizers, scholars, activists, writers, and artists, we remain resolute in dismantling racism through our work and actions.”

Laura Kina is an artist and Vincent de Paul professor of Art, Media, & Design at DePaul University. She is the coeditor, along with Wei Ming Dariotis, of War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art. Her solo exhibition, “Blue Hawaiʻi,” is on view from January 27 through March 3, 2015 at the Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University. Visit Kina’s website for more information.

Watch Critical Mixed Race Studies and Mixed Roots Stories videos from the November 2014 conference:

Critical Mixed Race Studies keynote address: Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, “Mixed Race, Transconnectivity, and the Global Imagination”

Mixed Roots Stories keynote address : Zélie Asava, “The Black Irish Onscreen”

Mixed Roots Stories live performances

Recommended Reading

The University of Washington Press is the publisher of a number of recent and forthcoming titles that contribute to mixed race studies as well as ongoing dialogues about race, artistic expression, state violence, and black history:

Rising Tide of Color: Race, State Violence, and Radical Movements Across the Pacific
Edited by Moon-Ho Jung

Radical Theatrics: Put-Ons, Politics, and the Sixties
By Craig J. Peariso

Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora
Edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen

Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement
By Emilie Raymond

Forthcoming Fall 2015:

Portland’s Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City
By Lucas N. Burke and Judson Jeffries

Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime
By Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

One thought on “Talking about Critical Mixed Race Studies in the Wake of Ferguson

  1. Pingback: Beyond “I Have a Dream”: Reading for MLK Week | University of Washington Press Blog

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