Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

The New Colored People: The Mixed-Race Movement in America

Jon Michael Spencer
with a Foreword by Richard E. van der Ross
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The New Colored People
    Book Description:

    With a foreword by Richard E. Vander RossIn recent years, dramatic increases in racial intermarriage have given birth to a generation who refuse to be shoehorned into neat, pre-existing racial categories. Energized by a refusal to allow mixed-race people to be rendered invisible, this movement lobbies aggressively to have the category multiracial added to official racial classifications. While applauding the self-awareness and activism at the root of this movement, Jon Michael Spencer questions its ultimate usefulness, deeply concerned that it will unintentionally weaken minority power. Focusing specifically on mixed-race blacks, Spencer argues that the mixed-race movement in the United States would benefit from consideration of how multiracial categories have evolved in South Africa. Americans, he shows us, are deeply uninformed about the tragic consequences of the former white South African government's classification of mixed-race people as Coloured. Spencer maintains that a multiracial category in the U.S. could be equally tragic, not only for blacks but formultiracials themselves. Further, splintering people of color into such classifications of race and mixed race aggravates race relations among society's oppressed. A group that can attain some privilege through a multiracial identity is unlikely to identify with the lesser status group, blacks. It may be that the undoing of racial classification will come not by initiating a new classification, but by our increased recognition that there are millions of people who simply defy easy classification.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7100-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    Over thirty years ago (I believe it was the year 1962), I had the honor of sharing a platform with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the course of my remarks, I told the audience that we, the oppressed in South Africa, were watching the American civil rights movement closely. I stated rather dramatically: If you succeed, we can succeed; if you fail, we will fail. Little did I think that over thirty years later a black American would be saying to the people of South Africa: We in the United States need to learn from you, for we want...

    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    Black people and white people had intermixed in Africa and Europe long before the New World—“America”—was ever “discovered.” Thus, black was never purely black, and white was never purely white, and our uses of these racial designations has been merely relative. While race has some relationship to biological makeup, it is primarily a sociopolitical construct, one that was created and has been maintained and modified by the powerful to sustain their group as a privileged caste. In the United States the powerful have done such a thorough job at sewing the idea of race into the social fabric...

  6. ONE The Rainbow People of God
    (pp. 15-50)

    In 1993 Richard van der Ross, the South African coloured scholar, raised the question of whether or not coloured people exist, and if they do exist, then how that existence can be known. His answer was that they do exist and that this can be known because they can be seen.¹ When I met van der Ross in Cape Town the following year, he said something similar: that whether or not people identify individuals such as himself as coloured, the existence of coloured people cannot be denied. “They are recognizable,” he added, “if not all that definable.” Coloured people are...

  7. TWO The Blessings of the One-Drop Rule
    (pp. 51-90)

    In addition to my initial belief that interracial parents were participating in the multiracial movement because they did not want their biracial children to be black, I, probably like most black people, had taken the “one-drop rule” for granted. I had long presumed that the mixed-race black people I knew, and the others I had seen in passing (with a white parent), were like thirty-four-year-old Pamela Austin. Of black and white parentage, Pamela was raised by black relatives on her father’s side of the family and always considered herself black.¹ Or I presumed that all mixed-race blacks were like twenty-eight-year-old...

  8. THREE The Curses of the Amorphous Middle Status
    (pp. 91-130)

    In the last chapter I presented arguments against the creation of a multiracial classification by the federal government. In this chapter I will tease out the full possibilities—social, political, and economic—of the concerns expressed by the United States Commission on Civil Rights and the National Urban League when their representatives, Arthur Fletcher and Billy Tidwell, testified before the House subcommittee on the census. For instance, there is much that can be said about Fletcher’s worry over the possible development of new “race behavior” among blacks. Fletcher told the census subcommittee that he fears a host of light-skinned blacks...

  9. FOUR Thou Shalt Not Racially Classify
    (pp. 131-164)

    At the turn of the twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois said that the problem of the century would be the problem of the color line. Indeed, that has been true, and it appears likely to remain so as the century comes nearer to a close. This is something that even South Africans notice when they come to this country. For instance, South African writer Mark Mathabane said, “One of the things I quickly learned after arriving in America in 1978 was that this nation—despite its freedom, democracy, and claims of being a melting pot where differences are...

    (pp. 165-170)

    I ended the last chapter saying that it is the responsibility of the United States government to move the nation in the direction of the ideal of Americans being one “indivisible” people. We must admit, however, that the United States has never had a Nelson Mandela for president, a man novelist Susan Sontag says was president even before he was released from prison. Writing several years before Mandela’s release, Sontag declared that Mandela was “de facto head of state, the president of a democratic country that does not yet exist but will exist.”¹ Sontag also said of Mandela, the world’s...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 171-194)
    (pp. 195-208)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 209-214)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)