Conference Recap


For the third biennial Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference, hosted at DePaul last month, participants could be heard speaking in British, Finnish, Japanese, Australian and Canadian accents, among others. This medley of voices perfectly encapsulated the theme of this year’s conference, Global Mixed Race. Co-organizers Camilla Fojas, Vincent de Paul professor and director of Latin American and Latino Studies, LGBTQ Studies and Critical Ethnic Studies, and Laura Kina, Vincent de Paul professor of art, media and design, chose this theme in recognition of the widening scope of critical mixed race studies in its comparative, transnational and global dimensions.

The emerging field of critical mixed race studies (CMRS) focuses on the institutionalization of social, cultural and political orders based on dominant conceptions of race. CMRS theorists, who come from many different disciplines, engage with issues of systemic injustice, the mutability of race and racial boundaries, and processes of racialization and social stratification. “We are here to create an inclusive community that honors the dignity of all individuals,” said Sara Furr, director of the Center for Intercultural Programs. “This conference truly embodies DePaul’s commitment to social justice.”

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Read highlights of the three-day conference below.

“Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality—Authors Meet Critics”

In this panel, Minelle Mahtani, associate professor at the University of Toronto in Scarborough, discussed her new book, “Mixed Race Amnesia,” which draws on interviews she conducted in the mid-1990s with mixed-race Canadian women. “My goal was to situate their stories in theoretical frameworks,” she said. To that end, the book examines how the idealization of multiraciality contributes to a “strategic amnesia” about Canada’s complex history of diaspora and colonialism.

Rebecca Chiyoko King O’Riain, senior lecturer at Maynooth University in Ireland and one of the conference’s keynote speakers, praised Mahtani’s book for the way it engaged with geography. “It’s not only a question of ‘what are you,’ but also, ‘where are you from,’” she says. O’Riain urged Mahtani to take this concept even further with a deeper analysis of the local or regional multiracializations and racializations that impact self-perception.

Keynote speaker Rebecca Chiyoko King O'Riain

Keynote speaker Rebecca Chiyoko King O’Riain

Fellow panelist Greg Carter, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, contributed suggestions for further research. “I wonder what the message of this book might be if the interviewees had been lower-class,” he noted. “Would it have produced similar or different kinds of responses?” He was pleased to learn that one of Mahtani’s upcoming projects takes on that complex issue more directly.

“Mixed Roots Stories Short Film Screenings”

The conference’s other keynote speaker, Zélie Asava, lecturer and joint programme director of video and film at Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland, led this dynamic session. Asava’s mixed Irish and Kenyan heritage has informed her studies of mixed-raced characterizations in the American, British and Irish film and television industries. Her book, “The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television,” formed the basis for her discussion of concepts of Irish identity, history and nation. She asserted that Ireland’s recent transformation from a nation of emigration to one of immigration has created social unease and upheaval that visual media have begun to reflect.

Keynote speaker Zelie Asava

Keynote speaker Zélie Asava

For example, she stated that horror films like 2005’s “Isolation,” in which a mixed-race woman, fearing her family’s violence against her lover, an Irish Traveller, ends up on a farm where genetic experimentation is occurring, are ideal “for unpacking questions of plurality, as it is creatively based on the blurring of boundaries and the unsettling of certainties.” In its attitude to travellers, the traditional “other” of Ireland, “Isolation” showcases how the country was never racially homogeneous.

“Mixed Methodology”

“Mixed Methodology,” chaired by Nitasha Tamar Sharma, associate professor at Northwestern University, delved into the past and present impact of multiracial individuals on popular art and media. In the first presentation, students Joseph Graham and Ashley Williams of the University of North Carolina discussed how multiculturalism has influenced the evolution of hip-hop music and therefore our cultural consciousness. “Starting in the 1970s, hip-hop started to report what was happening on the streets,” Graham explained, later adding, “Now hip-hop has become, to a large degree, more about black stereotypes.”

Darlene Nichols, a librarian at the University of Michigan, presented her research on the portrayal of mixed-race people from 1910 to the present, which was partially conducted by looking into how databases and search engines categorize terms related to mixed-race individuals. Stephanie Sparling Williams, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California, then discussed how an artist’s mixed-race identity can affect his or her artwork. She explored some of the more common themes in works produced by Ellen Gallagher, Delphine Diaw Diallo and other artists of mixed-race backgrounds. “There’s an important and often neglected link between a racialized identity formation in multiracial individuals and artistic practice,” she says. “I seek to explore how artists of mixed-race heritage choose to embody and express their identities through a variety of mixed-media toolsets.”

Read about another conference at DePaul.

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