Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Multiracial is an Important Word

Why Multiracial is an Important Word

Now that the minorities are becoming the majorities in the United States, the academicians and Washington bureaucrats can finally believe what we’ve been telling them all these years: multiracial people are becoming people we know. Some of them are in our families. Even our President is multiracial; how about that!

But some of those same people also want to take us back, way back to a time when people were not in a position to put a respectable name to what they were.

Back in the 1990s, advocates for multiracial people went to Washington. We were told we would never get a category if we didn’t know what to call it. You see, all kinds of terms were being tossed around: multiracial, biracial, interracial, mixed, half-breed, mixed-race, mulatto, and others; literally, “other.” No, we did not go to Washington just to be classified as “other.”

Project RACE was a growing organization by that time and we polled the membership. What terminology did they want? The answer was overwhelmingly “Multiracial.” Biracial was a close runner-up, but did not seem as all-encompassing as multiracial. Our members spoke and we listened. We went to Washington and told them what our majority wanted. When they said it was too ambiguous, we suggested a good compromise, an “Umbrella” category of Multiracial with the top five or ten most utilized combinations, very similar to how the Asian or Hispanic groups look. No, they didn’t want “multiracial” at all. It would become “the M word.”

If we go even further back in time, we can see how one community went from colored to Negro to black to African American. In fact, there was so much of a negative community uproar when the US Census Bureau put “Negro” on the 2010 census forms that we may not see it again.

In the mid-1990s, some of the Hapas—Asian and some other race—tried to talk some of the multiracial groups into using “Hapa” for everyone of more than one race, which obviously did not work. Some of the other groups, weary of it all by then, succumbed to the Census Bureau and NAACP’s “better judgment” of just check two or more boxes.

I admit to some despair at that time. I think we have seen proper terminology work for other groups, including the one advising us to just choose two or more. What harm is there in calling a group what it wants? Well, more than one group that had adopted “multiethnic,” even though race and ethnicity are two different things, another that wanted “interracial” and no one could agree. As far as I know, Project RACE was the only group that polled its membership for their opinion. Even better, we never gave in to other groups, demographers, politicians, or people who work for the government.

The term “multiracial” is a completely respectable term that defines someone of more than one race. It should be embraced by the multiracial community, but that isn’t happening—again.

One of the things we set out to do was to make the term “Multiracial” accepted. So what if that wasn’t what the federal government wanted? When we talk to the media, we use the correct terminology and it seems that they have listened. We advocate for the terminology of “Multiracial” being used on school forms, one reason was that teachers asked for it so that they could be consistent in their classrooms with their multiracial students.

One thing I have noticed is whenever the media refers to the background of our President, they use the respectful term “Multiracial.” No one calls him a “mixie.”

However, “mixies” abound. Personally, I would be happy never to hear that term again. It’s a terrible self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s not nearly as cute as the females who say it think it is—I’ve never heard a male call himself a mixie—and it’s not respectful, it’s derogatory. What is wrong with these mostly female 20 somethings who refer to themselves as “mixies”? It would have been just as bad had the black community referred to itself as “colored peeps.” It’s just not right. I have been told that some of the “mixies” are just trying to get attention and publicity and feel anything goes. But it doesn’t. Not in the long run. A derogatory term is still derogatory no matter how you say it. If we laugh at ourselves, others will be happy to laugh at us, too.

Don’t even get me started on multiracial people who tend to smile in a slightly uneasy way and say, “I’m just a mutt.”

What we call people is important. What we call ourselves or our children or grandchildren is important!

Why is this community trying to sabotage itself?!

Whether it’s called “mixie” on a radio show or “Critical Mixed Studies” by academics, it’s still wrong. I admit that I always felt the term “mixed” leant itself to things like “Mixed Nuts’ and “Mixed up.” I don’t even want to count the media stories over the years that said mixed kids were mixed up. One day I sat down and contemplated what really turned me off to the term “mixed.” I realized that the opposite of “mixed” is “pure.” I don’t want to be part of a culture that separates people by mixed and pure. It reminds me too much of Hitler and the “superior” white race, and I certainly don’t want to go there.

Yes, we advocate for the correct terminology of “Multiracial.”  I recently heard a US Census top level executive refer to multiracial people as “People of more than one category.” Another new one is “people in combination,” which brings to mind ordering a combo meal at a fast food restaurant. One journalist thinks “people of color” is the answer to everything when all it does is separate whites from everyone else and so people would rekindle the days when the terminology was “colored people.” Is that really what you want? Can’t we show a cohesive acceptance of a word that describes us?

I am compelled by the membership of Project RACE to defend what our national membership wants—the term “Multiracial.” It means someone who is of more than one race. It’s a respectful, accurate, preferred term, it’s better than any other terminology to date, and it’s critical to let those in Washington, and in our own backyards, our schools, our hospitals, etc. know that we are cohesive, aware, politically astute, and advocates for multiracial wording on forms and in common usage.  

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