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Friday, September 22, 2023


Blurring the lines

The attractiveness of mixed-race people and their identity were the central aspects of the lecture given Thursday afternoon by the Anthropology forum.

The lecture was given by guest speaker Rachel Quinn, who has a Ph.D. in American Culture at the Roy G. Cullen Building. She is in the first year of a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies program at UH.

During the lecture, Quinn presented a piece of her work which theorized mixed race and what people make of racially mixed bodies. She used an essay by Danzy Senna called “Mulatto Millennium” and Nella Larsen’s novel, “Passing,” to illustrate the complexity of racial ambiguity.

“I tried to show how racially ambiguous bodies force us to draw on narratives of race to make sense of bodies that are not easily categorized,” she said.

I question what makes mixed race bodies so attractive to broad audiences worldwide, Quinn said. She used the example of several female celebrities such as Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Shakira and Zoe Saldana to demonstrate what our society finds alluring.

Nikita M’Bouroukounda, who is Gabonese and Norwegian and a fashion major at the Savannah College of Art and Design, says she thinks society tends to find exotic characteristics desirable because they seem mysterious.

“When people can’t put you in a certain ‘race’ camp, I think it intrigues them. Whenever I meet someone new, I always wait for them to ask what my heritage is because that question is always asked. Being half Gabonese, I always have to explain to people where Gabon is, so I think they think it’s even cooler,” M’Bouroukounda said.

“It is important to think about how race is a social construction and how it shapes peoples lives. Images of mixed race women in our popular media send us particular messages about mixed race bodies being desirable and feed into hierarchies of color and new beliefs about race. In the context of the Dominican Republic where I do my primary research, racial ideologies are different, yet very much interconnected,” Quinn said.

UH alumna Mercy Kaul, who is Filipino, shares Quinn’s opinion about the importance of social awareness.

“It’s important to learn about diversity because there is far more to our world than just our small towns and or communities that we may confine ourselves to. The values of tolerance and acceptance should be taught at a very young age,” Kaul said.

“I think it’s really important for people to learn about race and identity. When there is a lack of knowledge of these subjects, people tend to assign others to stereotype groups that they have formulated in their minds. When people do this, it waters down the unique heritage we each have. For example, because I have darker skin, I am often referred to as black. However, the person sitting next to me, with African American heritage is also referred to as black. We are put in the same category; however, our heritage and family history differ from each other. I think it’s important for people to stay open to learning about heritage versus race so we can preserve the reality of our diversity,”M’Bouroukounda said.

Quinn says it’s important for students learn to think about how race works and to ask questions about race and identity.

“They question who has power in a hierarchy of color and in racist systems. They expand their notions of what they might study as scholars and where knowledge can be produced and theories developed. They also have fun thinking about popular culture and reading the images that we see so regularly for race and for gender to understand how social structures work,” Quinn said.

Quinn plans to continue to focus on this subject during the fall when she will be teaching an Introduction to Women’s studies course at UH. She says for any students interested in discussing more on this area that she will be available to meet with them.

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