Multi-Racial vs. Multi-Culti

Lately it seems to me that people continue to confuse the term “multi-racial” and use it interchangeably with the terms “multi-cultural” or “multi-ethnic”.  I just want to open a discussion of these terms and place them alongside a discussion of transracial/ international adoption. Because this is a blog entry, I’m going to try to be brief, but I’d love it if ya’ll chimed in with other theoretical texts and novels that display elements of these discussions that I may miss. Finally, this entry is the beginning of a longer piece I am doing on blackness and trans-racial adoption.

When I say “race” or “multi-racial”, usually I’m making a reference to blood, genetics, etc. Example:she is multi-racial, African and Japanese, but it does not follow that because she is half black and half Japanese that she identifies with her blackness AND her asian-ness. Which culture was most prevalent in her life? How do people see her when she walks down the street?

Being “racialized” – is something different than a discussion of ‘race’ as blood lines. The process of being ‘raced’ or ‘racialized’ is a very specific and historical process. For example, the rationalizations of the capture and enslavement of African bodies were made possible by the process of ‘racing’ these African bodies in a particular way that distanced them from the European body. In the eighteenth century, scientists dissected and named the black body in a particular way that first, made direct links between biology and mental capacity, cultural production and of course social/civic mobility. (3/5 of a man)

What that means is that because a black body is ‘different’ or an ‘other’ from a white body supposedly there are specific characteristics that ‘belong’ to black bodies. The difficulty is that these characteristics get confused and ‘essentialized’ or naturalized and then become part of an internal and external dynamic that began in slavery, but continues today.  Specifically, these characteristics have become equated directly to any black body. (eg. “all black people are poor, so all black people have to steal or be on welfare to feed their children.” or “black men are scary and large black men are violent” or “black women are promiscuous and have lots of children, so they live on welfare” or “all black folks live in the ghetto, so if I want to find black mentors for my child, or make my community multi-cultural, I have to live in the hood)

see: The Life and Times of Sara Baartman

online reference: Baartman

see: Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films

Culture – reference to cultural influences. When I talk about culture I talk about it in both a broad sense of culture and a racialized sense of culture ( i.e. cultural production, traditional culture, etc.) In other words culture doesn’t have to just be “African culture” or “African-american culture” or “american culture”. Cultures of technology, visual culture, theatre culture – etc.

When we say multi-cultural what do we mean? I mean that I have been impacted deeply by multiple cultures. I have been impacted by “white” culture – my Afamily’s culture. I grew up in a white community, went to private, all white schools, was surrounded by all white people. I have a particular understanding of both a white, European descent cultural practices (foods, dances, communication patterns, judeo-christian attitudes and values) and a racialized sense of whiteness that functions in concert with how white bodies are positioned in relationship to black and brown bodies. (Ji-in also comments on this)

I have been impacted by Mexican/Chicano culture,having lived in Southern Cali for so long, having spent time in Mexico and coming to understand the deep cultural traditions of Mexican and Chicano familias that are directly intertwined with a history of colonization and slavery of black bodies. I’m impacted heavily by the multi-cultural, hybridity of Caribbean culture and of course, Im heavily influenced by African-American culture. I cook foods that are traditionally African American foods, I listen to music that is specifically African American or stolen from black cultures. All of these cultural influences create for me what I consider to be a particularly ‘diasporic’ cultural black identity.

Why do I attempt to distinguish between “African-American-ness” and “blackness”? Primarily because I think that thinking about the distinctions assists us in thinking about how our multiple identities function. African American culture is a particular cultural identity (that yes, is racialized) and a smaller part of a racialized political identity that I have come to identify as ‘diasporic blackness’. Blackness (in the global sense) is a racialized and political identity that understands the way race functions on a worldwide scale (a global Anti-black sentiment/ Anti-African sentiment) and has particular material effects on the local scale, on ME and how I am percieved, treated or identified by other people as I walk down the street in the U.S. as “black woman”(vs. why an Indian woman in Britian is considered ‘black’). Those material effects are the key to how we need to think about how race and racialized ideologies function differently than culture. These material effects are also are the things that shapes my poltical identity as a black body living in the U.S.

In other words – why are there so many black kids “languishing in orphanages”? Mother’s categorized as ‘unfit’? Mixed-race children hidden because they are part of a race that is undesirable? All those black women drug addicts? Can it really be that simple?

These kinds of distinctions are one way I think to provide a gaze on to the relationship between international and domestic adoptions. How racialized images of ‘foreigners’ or of ‘impoverished African Americans’ both contribute to the ways in which, say for example, The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, utilize white privilege and class to push for the opening up of the doors of adoption to let those who have the privilege and the money to basically get whatever the hell they want. (but that’s another entry . . . right?)

One final note, this isnt the end all, be all conversation around race vs culture. I definitely at times say something like ‘thats a part of black culture’ when I am talking about whatever diasporic cultural thing – like ‘call and response’ or playing the dozens, (these are diasporic cultural practices, descended from Africa and reshaped in the new world) but again I really think that the idea of an “African American” culture really means just that – a way to describe the particular way that blackness functions in the U.S. – not how blackness functions for example in Britain or Canada. But the common theme here is that blackness (racial/political) runs through all of these conceptions.


22 thoughts on “Multi-Racial vs. Multi-Culti

  1. I also think, in the context of adoption, it’s important to note that nearly every adoption is transcultural — some more obviously than others — and that a transracial adoption is also a transcultural adoption.

    I mention this because I think that people are apt to dismiss a child’s birth culture if the child “passes” as a bio child or focus so intently on “race” that they miss the importance of culture.

  2. I am not sure I get what you are trying to say here… I guess my brain is fuzzy from lack of sleep. So I hope I am not going off topic… but I am wondering about what you said about white privilege and class letting white people adopt black and mixed-race kids. What I am puzzling over is why I hear about (mostly white) adoption agencies having a hard time finding AA families for kids waiting to be adopted, when I also hear about black families adopting at a higher percentage rate than white, and informal adoptions being common in black communities historically. Why can’t the adoption agencies connect with the black families? What are they doing wrong? Is it failure to communicate, cultural differences, power imbalances, mistrust of the man, and just plain poor outreach practices? Or is there something more; like racism and white privilege that wants to keep the money and the decision making with white adoptive parents and social workers?

    I think there might be a possibility for people like yourself, who have multiple cultural influences and are bilingual in a cultural sense to be able to shed light on this. Any thoughts?

  3. Whoaaa….too much coffee. Will re-read.

    Interesting comment on one point early on in your post though…someone sought to ostracize me for my use of language, and dismiss my comments for their obvious (to him) genesis as coming from someone so steeped in “Whte” culture, as to have no cache as it applies to a political bent related to Black communities.

    I let this person know that speed car racing and dance entail a language that its adherents learn to use and appreciate, and thereby form a “culture” unto themselves, one which affirms and reaffirms said adherents’ place within the conversation and practice.

    I swear that he wanted to say to me, “I don’t think of you as Black at all.”

    Great post, though I did not process it all. Will re-read.

  4. De-lurking to ask what may sound like a silly question, but I would be interested in your perspective.

    You mention that have been impacted by Mexican/Chicano because of where you have lived. Do you believe it is possible for white people to be influenced by the cultures that surround them in the same way? Or does a white person’s historical position of power render them unable to be influenced in the same way a non-white person can be?

    If this makes any sense to you, I’d be interested in your thoughts. Thanks in advance!

  5. Cloudscome, you hit the nail on the head when it comes to why “white agencies have a hard time finding AA families.”

    Research has shown that African American specific agencies do targeted marketing in African American communities. They also try to bring people in, rather than weed them out. A lot of agencies do not have diverse homestudy workers, who are willing to go out into the community and connect with people. For example, many adoption agency advertisements show cute pictures of kids of color, and many show kids of color with white parents. How many adoption agency advertisements have you seen that show an African American couple with African American kids? Are agencies willing to work on weekends to present at a church congregation, or talk to business owners in those communities? Do they expect African American families to go to them, or do they go to the African American families?

    Do these agency workers understand that many African Americans have a real and understandable mistrust of “agencies” or institutions, which have historically spent more time taking children away from them, rather than formally recruiting them for adoption. How are they going to address this unspoken fear?

    This should be a post for my own blog, sorry Lisa Marie for taking over! This is such a good question that I don’t think has been addressed.

  6. Honey, I re-read, and re-read, and can only say…’nuff said.

    The material effects of a global view and racialized view of blackness/Africanness, as expressed and experienced on the personal, local level by African-Americans….

    There is so much you’ve covered, so much that, consequently, is opened for questioning.

    I find this to be a most powerful, enlightening, and disturbing post. As well it should be.

  7. sorry its taken me a min. to respond – got a crazy semester friends!

    I want to say – 1st – that I recognize this post is a bit more ‘academic’ than my usual musings on ABP and your comments have made that clear. Too much dmn schoolin’! 🙂

    So to touch upon a few things – Clouds – you asked ” Why can’t the adoption agencies connect with the black families? What are they doing wrong? Is it failure to communicate, cultural differences, power imbalances, mistrust of the man, and just plain poor outreach practices? Or is there something more; like racism and white privilege that wants to keep the money and the decision making with white adoptive parents and social workers?” and i want to say – ALL that and more. and I want to thank JaeRan for taking it up because it really is about institutional policy and attitudes that function simultaneously with the history of the troubled relationship of the black community and social welfare institutions. I want to also point out the very real cultural distance that JaeRan also pointed to between the workers at these agencies and the communities they supposedly cant make connections to. What are their methods of connection? how are they different from the ways black folks create connection?

    Kim – I think your first comment is important in that its directly related to the ways in which race and culture get confused – just because my skin is black – i have to speak in a particular way? Why cant blackness grow and change and be diverse? I’m not saying that there are not particular practices or art forms or whatever that arent black, what i’m saying is lets push past these simple ideas about race and discuss how culture impacts them. Language is just one place where this emerges.

    Margie – this is a great question. really. and i would be interested in other voices on this one too. But what i would say is – I totally believe that anyone can be influenced by any culture and impacted in ways that can change them – and hopefully for the more critical. HOWEVER – the caution is all about appropriation and ownership – yes? I’m currently working on a blog entry about ‘white race police’ or those white folks who suddenly ‘get it’ and then start to take on the role of telling everyone when they can identify racisms. The diffuculty is that people of color – we’ve been doing this shit for years and one white person’s sudden enlightenment isnt anything new. Secondly, also connected to the appropriation concern – is those white bodies who ‘go native’ or attempt to color or mask their own whiteness by participating in everything of the culture they are impacted by – like white AP’s saying that their families are ‘families of color’ or “we are a Korean-American family”. NO! hell no. They are an inter-racial family – but the only person of color is that one kid! Further – caution is the “I know your people better than you know yourselves” attitude that is all about privledge and power. So – what I’m saying is yes – I believe that being impacted by communities of color is possible, is happening, is needed is extraordinarily important for white folks, if only so we can find ways to become allies in the larger global struggles – but i clearly have issues with what happens when that impact emerges. does that make sense?

    whew! I need another entry for this one! 🙂 thanks for the comments guys!!!!

  8. I’d like to add to the discussion that at least where I live (Atlanta) there are several agencies that have had great success in reaching out to African-American adoptive and foster parents. One is Roots ( My husband is white and I am Asian. We went to an orientation at Roots and learned a lot. We decided not to stay with them because of a combo of factors 1) we were the only non-African-American couple 2) it was quite far to drive for the classes. I felt like we were definitely welcomed to stay, but I decided that we would fit better in a setting that included more transracial adoption as will as intraracial adoption, since any adoption I did from the foster care system in Georgia would by default be transracial… we ended up with another agency that was around 70% African-American instead of 100%.

    In these agencies I am talking about the directors and almost all social workers are African-American, so there are not racial barriers to communication. There are still many cultural differences of course. African-Americans who move to Atlanta from California and the NE are often middle or upperclass. They have a different perspective from the many longer-term residents, such as the urban lower-class self-named “Grady babies”. And then there’s a growing black immigrant population.

  9. Lisa Marie – thanks for addressing my question, even though it was off topic. I am going to try to remember the things you said about white agencies attracting African American PAP, as well as what atlasien and Jae Ran said. At the agency I worked with on the East Coast I have often heard SWs saying they don’t know how to find more African American families to adopt and they need them. I want to have some questions and suggestions the next time I get in that conversation. They do have some contacts with black churches and they do place kids with black families sometimes. One of the home study social workers who worked with me is a black single mom who adopted through the same agencies.

    My ears are perking up around another topic mentioned here and recently on other blogs. You said “the caution is all about appropriation and ownership – yes? I’m currently working on a blog entry about ‘white race police’ or those white folks who suddenly ‘get it’ and then start to take on the role of telling everyone when they can identify racisms. The difficulty is that people of color – we’ve been doing this shit for years and one white person’s sudden enlightenment isn’t anything new…. – those white bodies who ‘go native’ or attempt to color or mask their own whiteness by participating in everything of the culture they are impacted by”

    I am sensitive to these ideas because I am wondering what it means when people talk about cultural appropriation. With my intense interest in black history, books by and about blacks, black gospel music, etc. am I doing that? If I am gathering blackness around my family for my sons and because I enjoy so many elements of the culture and admire the strength, wisdom, humor, and beauty I see in black people am I going over the line and co-opting something I just can’t take part in because of my whiteness (privilege… etc.)? Am I starting to look like a wannabe? Can a white girl be totally into black stuff in a respectful, genuine appreciation that is healthy and positive? I am not saying I denounce my own whiteness – I have the English-German, Scotch-Irish, New England, Mayflower yadda-yadda family and I like my own roots. I just love exploring, admiring, supporting and participating in other people’s roots too. Is that part of my white privilege showing?

  10. Wow. I am very interested in learning more about this, Lisa Marie. There is so much I am learning about adoption in all respects. Your focus on race and culture here is very important. Keep us all abreast as you continue to discover the answers you are seeking.

  11. Lisa Marie,
    Thank you for raising the topic of racialized bodies and spaces both at Pact camp and again on your blog! I smiled when I read “one white person’s sudden enlightenment.” I can tell I have the enthusiasm of a new convert. Right now, I’m all abuzz about Tim Wise’s book “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.” I heard him speak at DeAnza College last Friday.

    One of the things I liked about Mr. Wise’s presentation is the way he pointed out that there is nothing that he says that hasn’t been said better before by numerous POC. Then, Mr. Wise proceeded to break down how white privilege has operated in his various aspects of his life — housing, loans, education, jobs, etc. Now, I can more specifically identify many ways in which white privilege operates in my life, including my journey to parenthood. I was prepared/raised to walk in my white body with an expectation of how I will be treated based upon my white appearance. In contrast, I think about what you said, Lisa Marie, at Pact’s camp about growing up and being completely unprepared for moving in the world as a black body.

    I’ve been thinking about the six themes from White Like Me.
    1. To be white is to be “born to belonging.”
    2. To be white not only means that one will typically inherit certain advantages from the past but also means that one will continue to reap the benefits of ongoing racial privilege, which itself is the flipside of discrimination against persons of color.
    3. Whites can choose to resist a system of racism and unjust privilege, but doing so is never easy.
    4. Oftentimes even in our resistance, we inadvertently collaborate with racism and reinforce racial domination and subordination — in other words, we must always be on guard against our own screw-ups.
    5. Whites pay enormous costs in order to access the privileges that come from a system of racism; costs that are intensely personal and collective, and which should inspire us to fight racism for our own sake.
    6. In struggle against injustice, against racism, there is the possiblity of redemption.

  12. Do you know of a black family that has adopted a white child? Ive been searching and cant find anything of the sort. …kind of odd..

  13. I am currently working on my thesis and my journey has taken me in three directions which I hope will take me to path of enlightenment and understanding. The first is exploring my role as non-white female in a position of power over while still being in a position having power over me by white dominate members (male and female). The second is exploring and trying to understand my cultural and ethnic identity from a father is American of Puerto Rican/Italian descent and mother who is Amercian who families genological history indicates that family immigrated from Spain to New Spain (Mexico) to souther Texas in the 1700’s. I too was raised in a predominate white neighborhood, and never experienced or maybe I should say I was never aware that I was discriminated against for being a person of color (brown). I did not become aware of “white privilage until I started attending graduate school. I never had problems finding employment and any problems with finances I would have to blame myself for not handling my finances better. My 3rd journey is exploring assimilation into the US from 1st and 2nd generation families from Mexico. This is a result of me discovering that although I am of Mexican descent I found that there was much I did not and at time still do not understand of this culture. I usually identify myself as Heinz 57 and other times as Mexican American. My question or confusion lies as to what ethnicity I belong to. Yes I speak some spanish, cook some of the mexican foods such as taco, rice and beans, yet didn’t know what pozole or menudo or that the Catholic faith was strongly meshed into the Mexican cullture until I started working with migrant families. Is identifying myself Mexican American correct, when my father is Puerto Rican/Italian. Have I given up something of myself for failing to recognize this part of me because I never was given the opportunity to explore or experience because he walked out of my life when I was 1 yrs old? What are your thoughts on this?

  14. Hi Diana, in case your question is directed to a general audience and not solely to Lisa Marie… I empathize with many of your questions, as a multiracial and multicultural person.

    I strongly believe that people like us should not have to feel guilty for choosing one ethnicity to emphasize or identity more strongly with. Rhetorical question: are you making a decision out of bad faith, seeking to be viewed as better than some other group? If not, if your intentions are honest, then you have no reason to feel guilty! None! Try not to feel there are people out there with a scorecard adding up your authentic ethnicity points. Just do what feels right to you, and learn more about the culture that you most enjoy learning about. Focus on the process, not the goal of becoming a “finished” person. Those are my thoughts.

  15. I like those thoughts, atlasien. I would second them. Enjoy all the wonderful facets of being you, Diana, and remember that any change you introduce into your personal dynamics with others is going to throw them off a bit, and some may express resentment or disapproval of your explorations. But, this is your life.


    I know of one family where a Black woman adopted and raised a young, White child. Also, here in San Diego, there is a commercial spot for …probably the local government-run foster care system, wherein a Black heterosexual couple is shown in a park, and in their daily lives, with their White adopted child. In the spot, the adoptive mother speaks of not being overly concerned or preoccupied with the race of the child, and the resultant look of their new family unit, but how she was focused on giving love to a great kid.

    LisaMarie…I entered in the wrong address for you today, and found your old blogspot site, and looked at the school photos and the accompanying poetry, and thought…what the heck is up with that? Did the gender line-up thing ever change before twelfth grade?

  16. You mentioned in passing that there’s a myth that black women are promiscuous. There’s no such myth. Everytime you make a statement like that, you breathe life into a lie that has NEVER been supported by facts.

    Here are only SOME the facts of which I speak: I have lived on 3 CONTINENTS in several countries, some black, some white and some a mixture of both ethnicities. It is absolutely impossible ignore the screaming looseness, unbridled and usually indiscriminate sexual nature of the white women in ALL these countries.

    It is an incontestible fact and in fact, a clear observation of males of seeking an easy lay, that compared to other ethnicities, a white woman is highly likely to get drunk, more likely to kiss a male within minutes of getting acqainted, and much more likely to have sex with him on the first date.

    We haven’t even included “girls gone wild” and the many other reality takes on ordinary lives, which showcase both black and white american men & women but more often get ‘sexual drama’ much sooner from the whites. Again, these girls-gone-wild girls are not getting paid for a music video with the promise of possible fame, unlike some other victimised women. With the white girls, there’s hardly an incentive in most cases, just living out what some people would say is their nature.

    There are many bare-faced, lies shamelessly peddled by the white majority in this country who, by the way, continue to shock me with their thought pattern which often does not align with natural logic. The best response is to NEVER ever repeat the rubbish that tumbles out of the mouth of someone who for absolutely no logical reason, has chosen you as an object of his/her never-ending hatred. Rather, shed light on the truth, and they’re almost always the culprits committing worse, yet ignored crimes.

  17. “You mentioned in passing that there’s a MYTH that black women are promiscuous.” [emphasis added]

    Moving on:

    “It is an incontestible fact and in fact, a clear observation of males of seeking an easy lay, that compared to other ethnicities, a white woman is highly likely to get drunk, more likely to kiss a male within minutes of getting acqainted, and much more likely to have sex with him on the first date.”


    That such is the observable behavior of white women in no way places upon them the taint of same when it comes to the contrasted image of the Black woman.

    The comparative is not what the myth is about, the observable is not what the myth is about. The myth is about furthering the dehumanizing and racist misogynistic philosophies and practices of the racist who would do so.

    When one reads the national statistics of children born into female headed households, you will not find that the use of such statistics supports the idea of a woman who was monogamous and abandoned by her (however infrequent) lover, or that she was committed and in long-term, unwedded relationships. It is HOW the myth is perpetuated, not how it is found to have a limited basis, or found to rest in altogether different circumstances than the “quick, drunk” lay, that is at the heart of the MYTH.

    One must ask how and why the myth is perpetuated, such that a Black lover for one who is not Black, is smirked and whispered about, as though she possessed the secret to joy, a joy to be found in only dark, steamy places, secreted away from polite company.

    The myth involves all the attendant and tangential untruths and backhanded, equally false, ideas of her sexual behaviors and skills, and further embed into the minds of those not Black, that she is possessed of “that hot, that sweet, that funky stuff.” And men, across the board, fall prey to the lie, the lore, the lurid aspects of the images in their own minds.

  18. This is a great post! I think you very effectively tease out the primary reason why I am unable to bridge the cultural divide. Although my birth father is African American, I was not raised within the American cultural nexus and racial legacies, thereby find it problematic to relate to what it means to be African American or even black American for that matter.

    The dislocation is equally present among Black Germans who were born in Germany but adopted into families throughout the United States. Many within this population did not learn of their bi cultural heritage until much later in life (if they are made aware of it at all).

  19. Hi Lisa Marie,

    I’m enjoying exploring your blog, even if I am “late to the party.” This post is interesting on so many levels for me, in particular the idea of race/bloodlines vs. becoming racialized. I’ve got European and American Indian blood, and have long suspected that my great grandparents and grandparents sought to actively conceal the true amount of Indian blood in the family in order to “pass” as white. The world sees me as white, but I see myself as white/Indian but lacking a way of experiencing my Indian-ness, if you get what I’m saying.

    As an adult I’ve attended pow wows etc but the sense of loss I feel at not truly “belonging” when I so want to is huge. As the adoptive mother of African and Asian children, I try to keep my own loss in mind so that I take the steps needed to minimize that experience of loss for my kids. I want them to be racialized as I was not.

    • “Belonging” is such a powerful need isn’t it? Finding who we are and where we belong. Its so important that you are conscious of how your own experience informs the love you have for your children and your place as an ally against racism for them. Sharon – thank you so much for coming by the blog!!

  20. I was born in the German Democratic Republic to my German mother and my Cuban father. My Cuban father is black. However, my father returned to Cuba when I was a baby, and I only met him for the first time when I was in my 20s. I grew up multi-racial (White German/Black Cuban), but I didn’t grow up multi-cultural. I never learnt Spanish, never grew up with Cuban food, Cuban musik, or anything Cuban. I had been raised only speaking German, eating German food, German music, culture, etc. Then I went to the United States to study and work. So I adopted a new culture because I had to in order to assimilate to the USA. In America many people incorrectly refer to my background as multi-cultural. They confuse multi-racial (more than one racial background) with multi-cultural (more than one culture). My background is multi-racial, not multi-cultural. To be multi-cultaral, I would need to know my father’s Cuban culture, which I don’t.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s