Stop Fetishizing Mixed Race: Next Steps in a Battle For Legitimacy

By Sophia Yu

Upon searching “mixed babies” on Instagram, a surplus of accounts devoted to showcasing multiracial children will surface. These accounts are very popular; some, such as @prettymixedkids, @beautifulmixedkids, or @mixedbabiesig, reach over one hundred thousand followers. In contrast, upon searching for monoracial babies of any race, maybe one or two accounts with a few thousand followers will arise. None will come close to challenging the mixed babies Instagram empire. Strange, right?

The fetishism of mixed-races occurs when multiracial individuals are sexually objectified because of their racial identity. This stereotype that multiracial people are “exotic” is normalized by a lack of government and peer recognition of mixed-race identity. For many mixed individuals, validation of their racial identity is a matter of being seen. When mixed identities are not recognized, multiracial people become invisible and the respect normally connected to racial identification is no longer intuitive. The mixed babies Instagram empire is an example of the public fetishizing multiracial children because their racial identity is mysterious and foreign. In young adults, a similar attitude towards mixed-race appears in sexually-charged microaggressions, which many hardly recognize at all. Comments like “Blasians are freaks,” “You two would have such cute mixed babies,” or “Happa girls are hotter than Asian girls” can even be twisted into compliments. In reality, these comments dehumanize and isolate mixed individuals as a direct result of their racial identity.

In the 80s and 90s, organizations like the Association of Multiethnic Americans (AMEA) and a handful of academic and political scholars founded the Mixed Race Identity Movement (MRIM) to increase multiracial representation. Their movement focused on mixed representation in racial collection data such as the United States census. Leaders Maria P.P Root, Romana Douglass of AMEA, and Susan Graham of Project RACE established mixed identification as a matter of “power and existence” to mixed Americans and multiracial families. Meanwhile, scholars like Charles Taylor revealed the connection between identity and recognition throughout the history of multiculturalism. In 2000, the Census Bureau began allowing participants to select more than one race in direct response to the MRIM, making it a success. Unfortunately, checking off multiple boxes on a census every decade did little to address the racism, microaggressions, and fetishism multiracial Americans face daily. As it stands, the outcome of the Mixed Race Identity Movement does not seriously benefit the rising multiracial demographic of our generation.

The population growth of mixed-races and existing mixed-race fetishism warrant a modernized MRIM. From 2000 to 2010, the multiracial population grew at three times the rate of the overall population while interracial marriage grew twenty-eight percent. Both these statistics are on the rise, making the persistence of multiracial-targeted fetishism especially scary. In 2010, a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence study found about one-third of mixed-race women experienced rape, physical abuse, and stalking by an intimate partner, a rate second only to American Indian/Alaska Natives by four percent. Considering American Indian/Alaska Native is the most mixed ethnic group in America, there is clearly a dangerous correlation between racial ambiguity and sexual violence. This connection is a direct consequence of mixed race fetishism. Because the objectification of mixed women is so normalized, sexually assaulting mixed women seems more justifiable to predators. Although representation on the census was a milestone for mixed race, clearly we need solutions for multiracial-targeted fetishism.

To tackle the issue of fetishism, mixed-race activists should focus on promoting multiracial acceptance among communities rather than in the government. Research suggests this objective should be focused on universities. In their review article, “Reconceptualizing Research on Student Peer Culture,” professors Kristen A. Renn and Karen D. Arnold discuss how for mixed students specifically, college can create the first spaces where their racial identity and sense of belonging are directly challenged. In 2000, Renn conducted a study with 24 multiracial students that further explored the importance of peer culture in developing racial identity. She found multiracial students are frequently rejected from monoracial groups on the basis of their appearance, cultural knowledge, and experience with cultural traditions. Peer rejection significantly affected how multiracial students viewed their own identity, suggesting it is also a factor in the invalidation and ultimate learn to understand racial dynamics, therefore prevents fetishism from attaching to mixed-race identity. 

For universities, mixed-race acceptance means using multiracial-inclusive models in academia and encouraging mixed-race spaces on campus. The Integrative Model of Multiraciality (IMM), as explored in Dr. Chelsea Guillermo Wann’s dissertation “(Mixed) Race Matters: Racial Theory, Classification, and Campus Climate,” is one example of an effective multiracial-inclusive model. While other racial models fail to define racism within a multiracial community, the IMM distinguishes monoracism, a term for discrimination against multiracial people, from traditional racism. This makes the IMM useful in displaying campus racial dynamics for research and higher education. For instance, the IMM is able to predict how limited mixed-race spaces on campus lessens the quality of education for multiracial students. The need for social, physical, and psychological space for multiracial identity development was important for the students in Renn’s 2000 study; many would transfer out of colleges that lacked it. For an example of a campus-friendly mixed space, universities should look to UC Berkeley’s Mixed@Berkeley Recruitment and Retention Center. Mixed@Berkeley is a large operation, hosting school-wide events, flagship programs, and an annual multiracial conference to promote belonging among multiracial students. The university even provides a distinct physical space in its student union for a Multiracial Community Center. Despite a prevalent mixed population, UCLA still fails to offer such a support system for multiracial students. 

For students, mixed-race acceptance means accountability. It means including mixed students in cultural organizations without questioning their right to participate. It means validating mixed identities without “proof.” It means being interested in understanding multiracial backgrounds, but not using them as a pick-up line or a defining characteristic. It means befriending those who do not fit within your racial demographic and learning from them. It means acknowledging that the exotic portrayal of mixed bodies in the media dehumanizes mixed race and rejecting fetishizing platforms like the mixed babies Instagram empire. It means openness; it is accepting that mixed races, like all minority identities, are legitimate, equal, and more than worthy of inclusion. 

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