There’s this literary theory called the “mulatto canary in the coal mine.”
It holds that the treatment and depictions of mixed-race people in art and culture is a reflection of the broader state of race relations in America at that moment. The theory has been applied to works throughout American history, from Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, “Passing,” to Danzy Senna’s “Caucasia” in 1999.
These multiracial characters, their very bodies providing evidence of racial lines crossed, are marked by confusion and betrayal, jealousy and cowardice, and most frequently, a tragic ending.
Well, it’s 2017 — 50 years since the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision invalidated anti-miscegenation laws across the country. It’s been legal to cross these racial lines for five decades now, almost two full generations. What does it mean to be mixed race in America today?
I suppose I should tell you a little about myself and why I’m so interested in this topic.
I’m a half-Korean, half-white woman who grew up all over the country. I’ve lived in places where I was the whitest kid in my class, and other places where my dry cleaner asked if I spoke English. I only speak the most elementary Korean, and I haven’t been back to Korea since I was a toddler. I grew up the darkest cousin, going to family reunions full of blond people in Kansas. By the time I was 3, I knew to explain to strangers why I looked the way I did: “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m half Korean.”
When I meet other multiracial people, I get excited. I’ve talked to my mixed friends about this — it’s something familiar you see in each other. You might not know exactly what their mix is, but you can see in their faces that they don’t quite fit in either.
That brief moment of recognition is what I wanted to investigate with this podcast.
I’ve spent the last year talking to people about what it means to them to be mixed race. The answers have been diverse as the people I spoke with.
“Other: Mixed Race in America” is not meant to paint the definitive portrait of mixedness in America. I’m not even sure such a portrait is possible. But I do hope that the stories we tell will inform and enrich the conversation about what it means to live in America today.
Learn more about the other episodes here:
- Race is more than just black and white. This new podcast explores some of that middle ground.
- Why it can be hard to date as a multiracial person
- What happens to your cultural heritage when you marry someone of a different race?
- The long history and legacy of passing in America
- The debate over who counts as ‘American’ is nothing new. Just ask this woman who was put in an internment camp when she was 10.
- Why it’s so powerful to see yourself represented in pop culture
- ‘That’s my story’: Heidi Durrow on why stories about multiracial identity just aren’t niche offerings
- How Ruth Ozeki renamed herself