By Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl, Guest Blogger
As the holiday season is upon us, so is the deluge of commercials that tempt us to buy the best gifts for our loved ones. Commercials, however, don’t sell only the products for which they are made—they need to sell a feeling, an emotional connection to the product, and appeal to the consumer’s values. That expression made apparent in many of today’s holiday commercials is that of racial progress. The U.S. is becoming more racially diverse, and intermarriages and multiracial families are increasing; yet at the same time there is a backlash to these changes as seen in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim (proposed) policies and disagreements over the Black Lives Matter movement. Thus, commercials that explicitly choose to have a racially diverse cast send a message to their consumers on ‘the race issue.’ Specifically, commercials that opt for interracial relationships and multiracial children reflect ideas about racial reconciliation, racial harmony, and moving forward toward racial progress.
A “Lexus December to Remember” commercial features a racially ambiguous daughter and father and a (seemingly) White mother; Timberland’s postcard ad features a Black man carrying gifts alongside his White girlfriend, and a TJ Maxx/Marshalls/HomeGoods commercial features a white grandmother with Black/Biracial children and an interracial couple. Commercials that feature multiracial families often focus on Black/White multiracials. For example, the new commercial by LightUp (a toy that teaches children how to build circuits and codes) features three children, two of whom appear to be biracial, a Black mother, and a White father. The commercial focuses on the two young multiracial daughters who use the toy to create various circuit maps and simple tools. Arguably this commercial sends a message about not only gender progress but about racial progress.
Such commercials reflect contemporary conversations regarding multiracialism, largely the idea that multiracials represent racial reconciliation and the move toward the end of racism. The Black-White divide has been the strongest one in the U.S. due to the country’s historical foundation in plantation slavery, which was then followed by strict Jim Crow laws. Thus, Black/White interracial couples send a direct challenge to this racial divide, and their multiracial children are often seen as embodying the idea of racial progress. Some even go so far as to argue that multiracial children can lead to the decline of racism because the more “mixed” the races are, the more difficult it will be to identify and target different races.
Multiracialism and Its Discontents addresses this specific argument through a qualitative study with Asian-White and Black-White mixed race adults and their experiences of racism. Contrary to popular belief or hope, multiracials, though they have a strong identification with Multiracial as a racial identity, do not escape racism due to their ambiguous racial look or status. Furthermore, analysis reveals that Asian-Whites perceive and experience racism to a much smaller degree than Black-White multiracials, a finding that points to the continuing significance of the racial hierarchy wherein Blacks occupy the bottom strata. Consequently, this book ultimately exposes a broader statement about race in the U.S. today: that there is no post-racial state and any identity or movement that attempts to address racial inequality must first contend with that reality.
Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl is assistant professor at Manhattanville College.