"What Are You?" Multiracial Identity and the Persistence of Racism in a "Post-Racial" Society

Strmic-Pawl, Hephzibah Virginia, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Vickerman, Milton, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Pugh, Allison, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Roksa, Josipa, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Weaver, Vesla

In 2000, and for the first time, the U.S. Census allowed individuals to "mark one or more" races, and now the U.S. Census projects that those who choose two or more races will triple by 2050. The occurrence of the "biracial baby boom," a new post-racial ideology, and the election of the first Black (or biracial depending on one's categorization) U.S. president have led to great hopes for a nation where race no longer matters. On the other hand, there is persistent discrimination including wide disparities in education, wealth, and employment. Thus, does multiracialism signify that society's race relations are improving and that we are deconstructing racial categories and racism? Or, does multiracialism naively overlook the continuing vestiges of race and racism and merely reify "race" in efforts to defend the recognition and experiences of those who are "mixed race?" Through a study of 70 people of mixed-race descent, I seek an answer to this debate. I ask: how does multiracial identity manifest itself and align with and/or contest the current racial hierarchy? I find 67 of the 70 respondents do prefer a multiracial identity, a preference that reveals the coherence of multiracialism and its ability to challenge the racial hierarchy. Yet, much of this dissertation is dedicated to the differences in experiences of Asian-Whites and Black-Whites. The majority of the Asian-Whites have close White friends and networks, have few experiences and perceptions of racism, and have a color-blind approach to racism. By comparison, BlackWhites are more likely to be aligned with Black networks and Blackness, experience and perceive racism to be a significant problem, and expend significant effort navigating their race. iii This project, then, has two main findings: 1) those of mixed-race descent are choosing to identify with both races and 2) the continuing significance of race and racism leads to markedly different narratives for those of Asian and White descent compared to those of Black and White descent. Thus, multiracialism has validity yet is limited in its ability to move the discussion forward on race, for it relies on race in order to defy race. iv Dedication To my parents, for raising me to be aware, to think critically, and to follow my passion v This project is part of a long process and with a long line of people who have helped along the way. I am grateful to so many and for so much that a few of pages of acknowledgements cannot sufficiently cover, but I attempt to do some justice here. To all the community college teachers who encouraged me in the classroom and believed in my potential, I say thank you. And a special thanks to Anya Gordon with whom I shared so many Dunkin Donuts visits on our way to class. A very special thank you to Dr. Alberto Palloni, who taught Population and Development at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I realized that sociology was the paradigm that I had been searching for. Dr. Palloni encouraged me to attend graduate school, gave me my first research position, and had an unshakable faith that I would succeed in graduate school. I cannot thank you enough, Alberto, for your confidence, for your mentorship, and for your friendship. At UW-Madison, I also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Mary McEniry, who took me under her wing and tutored me through quantitative analysis and has become a good friend since then. Thank you, Mary, for your help and your kind spirit. At The University of Chicago, there were many wonderful professors who furthered my interests in race and family, in particular Dr. Dorian Warren, who then became my thesis advisor, and in the years since has become a good friend. Thank you, Dorian, for being consistently supportive, for encouraging me to be both a good researcher and a good teacher, and for being a friend. Thank you to all of my fellow co-workers at United Council (Wisconsin), where I worked after my Master's. David Glisch-Sanchez, Taylour Johnson, Micah Ratner, and Lee Williams - we were a force to be reckoned with. Thank you for teaching me so much vi about fighting inequality, about coalition building, and building solidarity. The lessons I learned from our group have carried over to numerous projects I've worked on at U.Va. and are a part of this dissertation. I entered the University of Virginia in 2006, and so much has happened in these six years. A big thank you to all of the Sociology Department professors who helped develop my sociological mind. And a particular thank you to Dr. Wende Marshall in the Anthropology Department; your class had a significant impact on my studies, and your friendship is deeply valued. And a special remembrance to Dr. Steve Nock, who taught my Sociology of the Family course and who always entertained a good debate on the issues. Steve, thank you for fostering my critical thinking. Thank you also to my colleagues and office mates who, throughout the years, have traversed these waters with me. In addition, I must thank Joan Snapp and Katherine Shiflett who greatly helped in my navigation of graduate school and always listened to my joys and my woes. In the six years at U.Va., I have taught many classes, and I extend a sincere thank you to all of my students and special thanks to those who took Queer Issues and Civic Engagement, Race and Ethnic Relations, Systems of Inequality, and African American Communities. My students have kept me inspired, enthusiastic, and passionate about the topics I care about so much. They have helped me to become a better researcher, reader, listener, and teacher. Thank you to all of my students for helping to sustain my spirit. And special thanks to all those "repeat students" and the students who recommended others to my classes - you know who you are. There have also been so many students who weren't in my classes but whom I've met through various organizations and events. The organizing spirit at U.Va. has been vii just as much of an experience for me as the classroom. From sexual assault educational trainings and Take Back the Night to marriage amendment campaigns and queer advocacy organizing conferences to rallies for justice at the Rotunda to Ella Baker Day, I thank all the students who participate in making U.Va. and our communities a better place. You have also greatly helped to sustain my spirit - there are too many to thank in name, but know that I appreciate all your work and care. I also must thank the University of Virginia Women's Center, where I have worked for the past two years. The Center has been another community for me and another group of cheerleaders on my behalf! A few special thank you's here: thank you to my interns who worked tirelessly with me on so many events; thank you to Dr. Claire Kaplan who first introduced and welcomed me to the Women's Center, thank you to Mary Beth Lineberry, who has been such an amazing, enthusiastic supporter, and to Dr. Jennifer Merritt for her great kindness, support, and care. Of course, this project would not have come to fruition if it had not been for the professors who advised me along the way and my dissertation committee. At the University of Illinois-Chicago, I was helped by several professors during my year of data collection. A special thank you to Dr. Michelle Boyd, Dr. David Stovall, and particularly to Dr. Pamela Quiroz. And thank you to the five members of my dissertation committee. Thank you to Dr. Vesla Weaver who shares my passion for multiracial studies and for believing in the potential of this project. Thank you to Dr. Allison Pugh for teaching me Qualitative Methods, for chairing my family comprehensive exam, and for supporting this dissertation research. Thank you to Dr. Josipa Roksa for teaching me Stratification, for mentoring a qualitative project, and for the amazing advice and support throughoutviii the years. Thank you to Dr. David Brunsma for graciously becoming a mentor after meeting me at ASA in 2008 and for being an unwavering supporter. And thank you to Dr. Milton Vickerman, who taught Race and Ethnic Relations, who chaired my race comprehensive exam, who is the Chair of this dissertation committee, and who has guided me with much care and success through my graduate studies. A huge thank you to my Committee! There have also been so many amazing friends who have been some of my biggest supporters. I certainly have to include among these five Charlottesville establishments/institutions that have helped me, both with physical and emotional sustenance. At Café Europa, many thanks go to Fotis Vavelidis for his care, concern, and the many hugs with food in hand. At Bodo's on The Corner, I thank Matthew Datesman who always asks about my day and knows my stress level by how many times I come in a week. At The Corner Cup I thank Chris Grant, with a special shout out to Alex (Malachi) Grant who has listened to me day in and day out and provides my daily caffeine fix. And at The Blue Moon Diner, thank you to Laura Galgano who has the best smile, best breakfast, and always also a welcome place for me at the end of the day. And, last but certainly not least, to my second family at Paragon who always takes me in with hugs, who listens to me all the time, and in particular to Aunt Lucy whose emotional support has gotten me through many a rough day. At the University of Virginia, I cannot thank enough Dave Morris, Dr. Daisy Lovelace, Dr. Todné Thomas Chipumuro, Dr. Wendy Hsu, Dr. Carey Sargent, Christina Simko, and Ben Snyder. To Dave, thank you for your sincere encouragement, and especially thank you for being my writing partner in this last year! To Daisy, thank you for keeping me going this last year and the many, many late ix night writing sessions. Todné, thank you for all the writing sessions, the coffee sessions, the talks of encouragement and perseverance, and your friendship; "go Quest!" To Wendy and Carey, thank you for the music, the laughs, the dinners, and for the passionate conversations. To Christina, thank you for being my office mate, for our walks, and for being such an amazing, reliable friend. And to Ben, for being my person in the department since day one, there are no words, except maybe, "what time is it?" And to my many, many friends who have been there for me. Thank you to Chris Moy, who always believed I would make it. Thank you to Troy Goldschmidt, who helped me with applications to grad school, who came with me to first my campus visit, and for being so enthusiastic about my progress. Thank you to Dr. Ben Carrington, who has been an amazing friend and a vital supporter for the last year. To Kevin Roth with whom I took my first sociology course, thank you for standing by me ever since we met. Thank you to Stephanie Brown, without whom graduate school would have been much more difficult - thank you Car-a-mel. Thank you to Maximilian DeArmon, for traveling this distance with me and the years of good conversation, from hip hop to sociology. To Cynthia Woodring, my yoga teacher and friend, who has been a slice of sanity and calm every week, you have been more of a friend and a help than you know. To Dr. Manouchehr Mohajeri, for treating me like one of his own and for helping me keep my inner light bright. Thank you to Clay Clark, who has been a loyal friend since high school. Thank you to Alicia Escott, who has seen the entire process; from community college to dissertation, you've been there every year to encourage me to take the next step and helped me be graceful in the process. Thank you to Laura Coleman, my pigeon sister, who will be with me till the cows come home. To Louise Rasmussen who, for x reasons I don't totally understand, decided long ago to be my friend for life. Thank you Louise for everything: for the talks, for the cards, for the faith in me, for our trips, and for being there for me. And thank you to Jessi Frazier who has been with me since I was ten and has always believed in me. Having you in Charlottesville has been of the utmost importance, and our friendship is priceless; go team buttercup. And certainly these acknowledgments would not be complete without my family. Thank you to my brother, Matthew Check, for moving me so many times, for supporting me through school, and for going out to the middle of the river to help me get back to the shore. Thank you to my brother, Mark Check, for my early experiences with the University of Virginia, for being my family in town, and for always knowing when to crack a joke and when to give a hug. Thank you to my brother, Gabriel Check, for believing that I was more capable than I thought I was and for telling me to think of my life as a documentary and asking me to think about how I would like that story to go. Thank you to my sister, Gudrun Strmic Brown, for her sweet kindness, her care, for being such an amazing cheerleader, and for always picking up the phone. Thank you to my father, Charles Pawl, for believing that his daughter can do anything she puts her mind to and for always being proud of me. And thank you to my mother, Mildred Strmic, who has helped me through all of my schooling - from learning to read to editing every page of this dissertation. Thank you, Mom, for your much needed technical support, but also for pushing me when I needed it, for believing in me, and for providing a hug when I needed one. Thank you to the most amazing family one could ask for. And thank you to the seventy participants I spoke to for this project. This dissertation would not have been possible without your time and candor. Thank you for xi sharing your lives with me. And a special thank you to those participants who took a special interest in this project and greatly helped me - you know who you are.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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