Race Card: The New York Times Realizes Mixed People Exist

Nadra Kareem Nittle
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Mixed race father and child

Breaking news: the New York Times has discovered mixed people. Did you know that the number of racially mixed families in the US is growing? Or how about that some mixed kids feel pressured to choose one race? And get this—multiracial people find it annoying to be asked, "What are you?"

Yeah, that's about as deep as the Times Jan. 29 piece on multiracial youth got. The paper evidently rolled out the article because the Census Bureau will soon unveil data about racial groups in the U.S., including how many people identified as more than one race—a move the government first allowed on the 2000 census.

I suppose the article could've been eye-opening for those who've never read about race or met any mixed-race people, but for the rest of us, this piece came off like "Mixed People for Dummies" or "Multiracials 101." It even includes a slide show of mixed-race students at the University of Maryland so viewers can get a look at an actual multiracial person. It's as if Keanu Reeves, Salma Hayek, and Halle Berry never graced the cover of a magazine. Suffice it to say that every American has seen a mixed-race person—if not in person, then on the silver screen. An article that posits that multiracial people are a fast-growing demographic, wooing advertisers and launching festivals, operates on the false premise that mixed folks are oddities that the public may not be familiar with.

This article not only bugged me because it rehashed the same ole' things we hear about mixed people all the time—they just want to be accepted, they just want to transcend race—but for reinforcing stereotypes. Why, for example, did the reporter feel the need to point out how all mixed people are not created equal? Susan Saulny notes:

Some sociologists say that grouping all multiracial people together glosses over differences in circumstances between someone who is, say, black and Latino, and someone who is Asian and white. (Among interracial couples, white-Asian pairings tend to be better educated and have higher incomes…).

I'm not saying this stat isn't true. It does, however, perpetuate the idea of blacks and Latinos being the underclass in the US and Asians the model minority on par with whites in achievement. Moreover, the point about black and Latino couples being uneducated is undermined considering that the article features a black-Latino couple enrolled at the University of Maryland.

As required by law after Election Day 2008, all articles about multiracial people must make note of President Obama. And this piece follows suit. Why did Obama just check black on his census form? Isn't he white, too? Should we call him the first black president or the first multiracial president?

Look, the two aren't mutually exclusive. Obama is black and white, meaning that he's the first black president and the first mixed president—that we know of, anyway. The discussion of Obama's racial identity is just one glaring problem with the limitations of this article. The media simply have to complicate the discussion of race. Let's discuss why Obama and other biracial African-Americans choose to identify as black. It's not always because of the one-drop rule or social pressure. Many African-Americans just feel that the black experience in the U.S. includes that of mixed people, mono-racial people and all oppressed people generally.

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12 Comments Have Been Posted

I hate to say this, but there

I hate to say this, but there are a lot of places in the country that are either predominately white, or communities that are still socially segregated. If you live on either coast or in a large city, sure, you see it all that time. If you take a basic Sociology class or a Social Science you hear/read about it. The times article was token, sure, but any attempt to educate people on diversity is a good thing. If done with good faith. It's as naive to think that everyone is as exposed to the same amount of diversity all over the country as it is to be naive to the experience of a mixed race individual.

I Agree, But

One of my points is that even if you live in small-town America, you've seen mixed people--if not in person, on television. I've lived in small towns, and mixed people can be found there, too. Moreover, this is the New York Times. I was thinking about the paper's audience as well. The NY Times' readership isn't exactly made up of red staters from middle America, but college-educated city folks.


Kind of like a "preaching to the choir" thing. I see that.

i couldn't agree more

Thank you Nadra Kareem Nittle. I too was so irritated by this NYT article. I got the distinct feeling that the author was trying to say to me, hey - it's all good. And you old guard mixed racers (I've been black-and-white in America for going on 45 years) will be happy to know that the new guard is PROUD of their heritage. Free at last!

I had the same reaction to Obama's choice to check "black". I would love to hear what went into that choice - no judgement, just intrigued. Post-race America my black-and-white a**. This article just goes to prove that we are having the exact same non-conversation about race/ethnicity that we've always not had.

Lastly, it would be just terrific if we could not return to using the word "mulatto". Thank you.

My bio-dad was black but he

My bio-dad was black but he has been out of the picture for quite some time. The rest of my family is white and my mom got remarried to a white guy, it is both annoying and hilarious to watch people try to figure me out. It tends to take a long time for them to finally just ask if i'm adopted.

And I can't tell you why, but it is really important to me to acknowledge that I am mixed. And that my bio-dad was from the Caribbean, and was not African American. in school they always put me down as African America, and there is generally not a mixed option. When I confronted my teacher about it, he just told me the people of the Caribbean came from Africa anyway, so I shouldn't find it a big deal.

So i'm glad there is mow a public awareness of mixed race, and I hope that article encourages people to think about this subject. But the article itself, I found a bit lacking.

Zoe Danger Awesome


I had a similar situation with a teacher when I was a kid. Mom is Puerto Rican, and is one of those folks who doesn't identify as either black or white (though I think the only option given to brown people is to pick one on the census...? My memory could be wrong there). By US standards, my mother is not white, so imagine my 11 year-old self's confusion and dismay to find that my school had no mixed-race option for my student identification information. I asked the teacher about it, and was told in a distinctly patronizing tone, "You're white, sweetie."

The other angle of the story is that while spending time with my blonde haired, blue-eyed father I would sometimes get the adoption question as well. As I got older, people rudely started to assume he was my sugar daddy or I was some sort of young mistress or something. I feel like anywhere we went there were looks, or awkward vibes, or those unfinished questions: "So she's your...?" Or, "So this is...?" Fun.

As an expecting aunt to a

As an expecting aunt to a mixed "raced" child, (of which I am so incredibly excited, I cant contain) I can honestly say the only thing I am concerned about is that the child will have to identify itself as on or the other. Which to me is bullshit, for a lack of a better term. I would LOVE to be a child of a mixed raced couple, aside from the constant questions of what nationality are you....which as a stereotypical Eastern European featured female, I often get, (which is ironic) I would LOVE to have such diverse roots. My brother is Hungarian and his wife is Phillipino. I am SO excited at the prospect of having a little one that is so lucky to be genetically so diverse.
I can see how in a progressed society more people of different backgrounds, whether it be that dreaded 'race' word, or socioeconomic standing, belief, etc, get together....it plain breeds tolerance........which is what we need more of.....children that are empathetic and intelligent.
Although now it may seem as a disadvantage, and I honestly feel for those kids who have had to grow up with that, I think its a HUGE perk and benefit that someone has such a great diversity. I, in fact, envy them. They have a wonderful mix of customs and backgrounds that they can rely on. I may be romanticizing it, but I often wished I had a more diversed background.

Along with the "what are you"

Along with the "what are you" question, hybrid vigor is also a bane of many mixed peoples existences. As a mixed person I would recommend re-thinking these positive stereotypes that you are talking about, for the sake of your new niece or nephew to be. While it may not seem hurtful, positive stereotypes are damaging too, and these attitudes could cause the baby to be resentful in the future.

In terms of "choosing a side," the child will identify as ze sees fit based on their own experiences, and that really is no one else's business. Saying that if a mixed person chooses to identify as "one race" is bullshit, is totally hurtful and condescending. Please do not speak to an experience that you know nothing about, and check your privilege.

Also, not all mixed people are "bridges" or the answer to solving the world's race problems, there is a huge spectrum of experiences and putting that kind of expectation on any and all mixed people is unfair and just plain incorrect. Just because one's parents are of different races doesn't mean that one is born free of the social constructs of race, or are automatically "emphatic and intelligent" because of their "diverse background," as you say. Again, positive stereotypes. Sure, there are plenty of mixed people who are more attuned to these issues because of their race-based experiences, but you cannot assume that of everyone, especially an unborn child.

Saying things like "I would love to be mixed race" is offensive and fetishizes mixed people. You think that a mixed person "choosing a side" is bullshit, but a white person wishing to be mixed (or presumably, a person of color) isn't problematic at all?

I'm sorry if my response seems blunt, but it's really frustrating to see/hear these ideas being circulated over and over. These are some of the same tired issues that this article was criticizing NYT for. Mixed people have been around for a long time, and people of different races having babies together is not some new phenomenon that will save the world just because mono-racial people decide that being mixed is cool. It's especially alarming to me when a child is involved because I'd really like to hope that society is progressing positively.

*excuse the typo,

*excuse the typo, "empathetic" rather than "emphatic," woops!


QE, I read the line "I can honestly say the only thing I am concerned about is that the child will have to identify itself as on or the other. Which to me is bullshit, for a lack of a better term" as being related to external, societal pressure to define oneself by a single identity, rather than disapproval about a person's personal choice of identity. I think your admonishment to check her privilege is jumping the gun a little.

Great Post!

I couldn't agree more with this assessment.

I grew up just a smidgen to the side of the Rez back home, snuggled in between them, and both my bio father and adopted father were white, and that made growing up difficult. Too white to be properly "Indian" and too red to be white. It got easier as I got older, of course, and tribal politics smoothed out on both sides of the equation, and people realized that being mixed wasn't as odd a circumstance as it seemed.

But then I joined the military, and I will tell you that if anyone doubts that they have ever seen a mixed person they need go no further than this demographic because we are proud and representing here. Mixed marriages, mixed children, and not always the stereotypical couplings that many people think of when they think of military marriages. If the world isn't ready for a demographic they supposedly aren't aware of, they had best get prepared. If a 1% cross-section is any indicator, that demographic is growing. Unfortunately, I see a lot of pressure for children in schools here to "choose one" so I won't pretend that the attitude is more accepting, and if you don't properly "look" like what you claim to be you will have a hard time proving it ("But you have green eyes! You can't be Native American!").

I supposed there are circumstances where a newspaper might need to give a "guess what is happening?" snapshot, but that article felt a little condescending. I guess I am the choir, though.

Deeper Examination

First off, the statistics show that Asians have less discrimination (e.g., look at salary discrepancies among black and Latino college-educated men when compared to whites, whereas Asian educated men have little to no discrepancy); so I don't believe the article was trying to perpetuate a stereotype, but simply stating that the prejudices non-Asian, mixed-race people face are likely to be more extreme than those who "pass" as white.

The article forces the reader to evaluate the definition of race, and question our current taxonomy, which I think is healthy. I live in New York and have for 8 years, and I doubt you will meet many people who will blurt, "race is a cultural construct." And it is newsworthy that our population will be predominantly defined as "mixed" (although it always has been).

I found the article insightful, inspiring, and well-written. Keep in mind, it wasn't an op ed piece.

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