An Inquiry into the History of Being ‘Mixed’

Posted on January 4, 2010 by


As I was reading Mongrel Nation by Clarence Walker in researching for Mestizo Revelations, I wondered about the history of the concept of being labeled, being identified as, and living a “mixed” identity.

Walker suggests that “mixing” or sex between different “races” was not  systematically ignored like it has been in the United States.

When placed in a world context and over centuries, the mixing of peoples of difference colors and features that occurred in America was, of course, but a continuation of a process that is practically as old as the history of mankind… Whites and blacks had been copulating and producing children in Africa, Europe, and Asia long before Columbus bumped into the wrong land mass on his way to the East…Only in the United States did this form of social interaction become a closeted aspect of national history, something to be denied rather than affirmed.  In a society obssessed with whiteness, there could be no derogation of that color. – Clarence Walker

The effect of this systematic ignorance/closeting:  the white male-driven concept of racial purity and a fractions terminology, a concept introduced to me by  Racialicious writer and Mestizo Revelations contributor Thea Lim. Fractions terminology is basically the linguistic game we play today with people who are labeled “mixed.”  We call them “half-Japanese”, or “one-quarter Irish.”

I wonder how long exactly people all have been playing this game if it all.

Clarence Walker implies that they’ve done so since they started conquering people in the New World.

In all of the European colonies of the New World, the classificatory calculus of mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon provided racial markers for establishing a person’s distance from whiteness.  The mathematics of blood involved in the creation of racial types defined as one-half, one-fourth, or one-eighth Negro emerged from a single racist theorem…wherever an admixture of black blood is at issue, one part determines the whole. – literary critic, Lee Edelman

In Mongrel nation, Clarence Walker calls fraction terminology a “classificatory calculus.”  The history, the negative social memory and heritage of a “mixed” individual was reinforced by Europeans deducing these mathematics.  The math helped them classify and manipulate as necessary.

I don’t know that I’d take as bold a tone as Walker implying that all the Europeans did was entirely intentional.  I wonder what factors drove a classificatory scheme.

Posted in: Race, Uncategorized