Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mixed Race America asks: What is race?

Head over to Mixed Race America, where Jennifer asks the provocative question, "What is race?"

I was about to dash off an answer to her query, when I realized that I don't have one--at least not an easy one. My first inclination was to say that race is the intersection of skin color (or biology) and culture. But what of the child adopted from China and raised by white parents in a small Nebraska town. Is that child, raised outside of her native culture, no longer Chinese? I've been told too many times that my suburban upbringing is contrary to black culture and I loathe that idea. So, maybe culture has nothing to do with race.

Then I was tempted to say that race is just a social fiction woven around skin color. Barack Obama, though biracial, is black because he "looks black" to Americans (and because he identifies as such). The "whiter" biracial Mariah Carey was viewed differently before she started hanging with the R&B/Hip Hop crowd. But then a commenter, CVT, eloquently pointed out how being biracial defines her, and I realized that being a black woman defines me. I cannot separate my blackness from who I am because it affects the life I live, mostly because of how my blackness affects how people react to me. So, does race = biology + social experience? I'm not sure. Between home and work I'm sure I'll think of a reason that this is wrong, too.

I would love to hear your thoughts on my view of race, but be sure to visit Mixed Race America and share your definition of race with the folks there.


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