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Beyond ‘Mixed Race’: How Language Will Dismantle Racism

Beyond 'Mixed Race': How Language Will Dismantle Racism

The Problem of Language in Racism

We all know that language shapes our perception of the world and influences how we interact with each other. Nowadays, there are a wealth of psychological studies available, across a vast array of topics, to confirm the significance of language use for people from a social and emotional perspective. In light of that, one term that has come under scrutiny in recent years is “mixed race.”

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While intended to describe individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds, the somewhat archaic term inherently reinforces the concept of race as a biological reality rather than a social construct. As we struggle towards a long-overdue inclusive and equitable society, it is imperative to reframe our language to facilitate our desired outcome. After all, that is how propaganda works, isn’t it? If words have the power to dehumanize people, then surely they have the power to humanise them too?

That is why I have elected to replace the inherently segregatory term “mixed race” in favour of a more appropriate alternative such as “multi-ethnic” or “cross-cultural,” emphasising that there is only one race—the human race—comprised of a myriad of ethnicities and cultures. These small shifts in terminology are crucial for dismantling the dangerous framework upon which racism is built, and challenging the foundations that perpetuate division and inequality within our global society.

The Misleading Concept of Race

The concept of race has historically been used to categorise and differentiate human beings based on physical characteristics such as skin colour, facial features, and hair texture. These superficial traits have been erroneously attributed to deeper biological differences, leading to the pseudoscientific notion of distinct human races. However, contemporary genetic research unequivocally demonstrates that there is more genetic variation within so-called racial groups than between them. The human genome project and numerous other studies have confirmed that all humans share 99.9% of their DNA, highlighting our fundamental biological unity (Collins, 2004).

The persistence of race as a concept is largely due to its deep entrenchment in social, economic, and political systems. These systems have historically exploited perceived racial differences to justify inequality, discrimination, and oppression. The use of the term “mixed race” inadvertently perpetuates the false notion that human beings can be divided into discrete racial categories. Instead, we must recognize that what we often refer to as race is actually a complex interplay of ethnicity and culture.

The Origin of Mixed-Race

The term “mixed race” has its origins in the colonial and imperial eras, where European powers expanded into Africa, Asia, and the Americas, encountering and often subjugating indigenous populations. The term emerged to describe the offspring of unions between people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, particularly between Europeans and non-Europeans. This period was characterized by the establishment of racial hierarchies and the development of pseudo-scientific theories of race that sought to categorize human beings based on physical characteristics.

While at some point the term was a distinct improvement on alternatives that were used by colonialists with impunity, such as half-caste or mongrel, due to that connection, the term has a complex and often problematic history which is undeniably rooted in colonialism, scientific racism, and legal discrimination. While it has habitually been used to describe the offspring of diverse racial backgrounds, its connotations and implications have evolved over time. Today, there is a growing recognition of the need to use language that more accurately, and respectfully, reflects the rich diversity of human identities, moving away from terms that reinforce outdated and divisive racial categories. Afterall, isn’t mixed-race simply a veneer covering the underling idea of something more sinister.

The Problematic Implications of “Mixed Race”

Part of the problem with accepting and using terms like “mixed race” without careful consideration, it that one unwittingly uses terms that carry connotations that can imply racial contamination or dilution, subtly suggesting that there is a “pure” race being altered or tainted. This notion is deeply rooted in historical contexts where racial purity was emphasised and any deviation was seen as undesirable or inferior. The very idea of “mixing” implies that one of the involved races is a base or default race, and any additional ethnic heritage is an anomaly or something experimental, akin to racial alchemy.

Furthermore, this implication of contamination supports a notion of a hierarchy of races where the so-called “pure” race is considered superior. It fosters a view of racial “mixing” as a deviation from the norm, reinforcing the harmful concept that some races are inherently better than others. By perpetuating this language, we inadvertently uphold a system that values racial purity and views multi-ethnic identities through a lens of deficiency or abnormality.

Beyond 'Mixed Race': How Language Will Dismantle Racism
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Split Identities: The Detrimental Impact of “Mixed Race”

Believe it or not, referring to someone as “mixed race” effectively splits that person down the middle, implying that they are comprised of two halves, each of varying degrees of worth. This notion suggests that a person’s identity is actually the sum of their parts, rather than a whole entity in their own right. Such a perspective undermines the wholeness and individuality of multi-ethnic people, framing their identities as fragmented and incomplete.

This division can be detrimental to personal identity and self-worth and alarmingly starts in childhood. During a formative time on one’s life before we are equipped with the tools, intellectually or emotionally, to combat such detrimental assumptions about ourselves. Instead of celebrating the richness and diversity that come from having multiple ethnic backgrounds, the term “mixed race” can make individuals feel as though they are perpetually divided, never fully belonging to any one group. This internalised division can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a lack of belonging, and have long term impacts on mental and emotional well-being.

In contrast, being multi-ethnic or cross-cultural should be seen as an advantageous and enriching aspect of life. The blending of different cultural backgrounds brings unique perspectives, skills, and strengths that should be revered, not ridiculed. By embracing terms like “multi-ethnic” and “cross-cultural,” we can foster a sense of wholeness and pride in one’s diverse heritage, promoting a more inclusive and positive self-identity.

Check more of Jessie’s Articles on Social Justice here.

The Importance of Ethnicity and Culture

Ethnicity refers to shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set apart one group of people from another. It encompasses elements such as language, religion, customs, traditions, cuisine, artistic expression and historical experiences. This ‘culture’ binds people through the shared ideas, behaviours, and social practices of a particular group. This is in stark contrast to the concept of race, which is rooted in rigid ideas of permanent physical characteristics and biology, ethnicity and culture are dynamic and fluid, shaped by constantly evolving human experience and interaction.

Using terms like “multi-ethnic” or “cross-cultural” instead of “mixed race” acknowledges the rich tapestry of human diversity without reinforcing outdated and scientifically invalid notions of racial difference. It shifts the focus from physical attributes to the cultural and ethnic identities that truly define our individuality and communal bonds.

Deconstructing the Framework of Racism

Racism is fundamentally built on the idea that different races exist and can be hierarchically ranked. By continuing to use terminology that suggests the existence of multiple races, we implicitly support the framework of racial categorisation. To dismantle this framework, we must challenge the language that sustains it.

Adopting terms like “multi-ethnic” and “cross-cultural” is not merely a semantic change; it is a powerful act of resistance against the foundations of racism. These terms emphasise unity and interconnectedness rather than division. They highlight the shared human experience and the rich diversity of cultural and ethnic backgrounds that enrich our global society.

Practical Implications

The transition from “mixed race” to “multi-ethnic” or “cross-cultural” has practical implications for various aspects of society, including education, policy-making, and personal identity. In education, curriculum development can benefit from this shift by fostering a more inclusive understanding of human diversity. Students can be taught to appreciate the complexity and richness of different cultures and ethnicities without the divisive lens of race.

Policy-making can also be influenced by this linguistic shift. By recognizing the limitations of racial categories in demographic data, policies can be more accurately tailored to address the needs of diverse communities. This approach encourages policymakers to consider cultural and ethnic contexts, leading to more effective and equitable outcomes.

On a personal level, individuals who identify as “multi-ethnic” or “cross-cultural” can experience a sense of belonging and pride in their diverse heritage. This terminology validates their complex identities without forcing them into rigid racial categories.

Parting Thoughts on Language Being a Tool of Racism

The journey towards a more inclusive and equitable society begins with the language we use. Abandoning the term “mixed race” in favour of “multi-ethnic” or “cross-cultural” is a crucial step in dismantling the dangerous framework of racism. By recognizing that there is only one race—the human race—we can celebrate the diversity of ethnicities and cultures that enrich our shared human experience. This linguistic shift challenges the very foundations of racism, helping to build a world where unity and diversity coexist harmoniously.

For more on modern racism, I highly recommend: The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World. A word of warning: prepare to be confronted.

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References

Collins, F. S. (2004). The Human Genome Project and the International HapMap Project, Nature, 431 (7011), 931–945.


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