Multiraciality Not A New Issue


Leondra Kurger's article on "Multiracial Students: Searching For A Voice" (news story, May 22, 1995) was excellent. It informed me of a facet of undergraduate life here at Harvard College that I was virtually unaware of. I say "virtually unaware" and not "totally unaware" because this term I have tutorials with two students who fall into the biracial category, in addition to the fact that I (like several other African-American faculty members at Harvard) am the parent of biracial students. So I do have a little awareness situations relating to biracial and multiracial students. The two students I've tutored this past school year have been quite intellectually alive around multiracial issues, spending some facet of their academic concerns engaged with what it has meant historically and what it means presently to be a Black person in an American society that has a deep-rooted while supremacist legacy.

Thus both of these students question fathom that "double consciousness" or that "multi-consciousness" that biracial educated persons of Black/White parentage have dealt with since the birth of the African-American intelligentsia in the 19th century. Henry Gates notes in an article on Frederick Douglass in the New York Times Book Review (May 28, 1995) how, in several versions of his attempt at an autobiography, Douglass emphasized the fact that his father was a white slave owner in one autobiographical version while, in another version, he emphasized the importance of his Black mother to his quest for a viable personhood in our white supremacist-riddled American society. From Frederick Douglass, through James Weldon Johnson (head of the NAACP in the 1930s), to Jean Toomer (a major novelist of the New Negro Movement in the 1920s through 1930s), and down to the many many thousands of mixed-heritage African-Americans today, there has been and remains a perpetual juggling of the meanings (self-meanings) stemming from one's biracial realities.

So today's students of Black/white heritage (or Hispanic/Black heritage, Asian/Black heritage, Asian/white heritage, Jewish/gentile heritage, Jewish/Black heritage, etc.) aren't experiencing anything new. Today's cohort of biracial students of Black/white heritage in particular have, I suggest, an obligation to conduct their quest for a viable personhood in a manner that serves not just the career-advancing facet of this personhood. Rather, they should conduct their quest for a viable personhood in a manner that also challenges and seeks to uproot those still surviving white supremacist patterns that pariahize the life-chances of Black folks and Hispanic folks in American society especially. Martin Kilson   Thomson Professor of Government