National Geographic recently declared that the face of America is becoming more multiracial, but one photographers followed through with a counter spoken out by detractors of the magazine: It’s actually been that way for quite some time.
CYJO, a Korean-American artist, debuted her newest project “Mixed Blood” to show that the stories of multiracial people have long been overlooked. With an intensely negative racial climate in America, it seems the depiction of American families is either black or white.
But this exhibit which features multiethnic families from New York and Beijing illustrates that many Americans represent multiple ethnic backgrounds, various worldwide cultures, and histories linked to migration movements.
In “Mixed Blood,” each portrait and corresponding interview seeks to unearth a complicated history of multiracial people that has been deliberately ignored and erased, both in government institutions and in everyday life.
It was not too long ago that American laws, such as the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, pushed people of color and their multiethnic counterparts further into the margins, denying a swathe of civil rights if an individual had any black ancestry – also known as the “one drop rule”. Such attitudes persisted throughout the 20th century and, in the process, denied the multiracial Americans the recognition and rights they deserve.
CYJO’s exhibit, however, shows that multiracial people have long been a part of America’s social fabric – despite what recent events would suggest otherwise.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2000 that the U.S. Census even allowed multiracial Americans the option to identify as such, as racial categories expanded beyond the narrow categories previously set.
According to National Geographic’s analysis, 6.8 million people checked off more than race. During the 2010 U.S. Census, that number jumped by 32 percent, making “multiracial one of the fastest growing racial groups in the U.S.
The artist’s exhibit not only amplifies the visibility of multiracial people, but also highlights the loving bonds at the foundation of these families.
Said educator Maya Soetoro-Ng, President Barack Obama’s half-sister, “I feel a strong connection to the portraits and narratives in CYJO’s ‘Mixed Blood’. They highlight the borrowing, plucking, reshaping, and discarding that we do in fixing our identities at any given time, in a particular space, and for a particular purpose.”
The series of photos also apply to the racial climate in China, a place experiencing a rapid increase of urbanization. While China’s view on multiracial families has come a long way, the complications of identity erasure remain. Sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, “Mixed Blood” is first set to travel around China, where the project will allow some of the featured Chinese citizens to bring more awareness to some of the country’s 56 recognized ethnic groups and the difficulties surrounding interracial marriages.
“I noticed in China that being married to people with different ethnic backgrounds from other continents was more unusual than usual especially to those with conservative mindsets,” told CYJO to Mic, who splits her time between New York and Beijing.
Race is truly a social construction, not something a person is biologically given at birth. Racial categories, or “natural varieties,” were actually devised in the late 18th century by German scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. But despite how polarizing and destructive racial categories have become in society today, there’s a gradual shift toward widespread acceptance of difference. However, the victory over these artificial racial divides are often celebrated prematurely, as what happens when people gush about living in a “post-racial” society.
As thoughtfully summarized by Mic, “It’s a conversation and, ultimately, a key lesson that translates across cultures and national contexts.” According to CYJO, that became even more clear based on some of her subjects’ interviews.
“Mixed Blood” of course has multiple meanings and meaning changes depending on cultural generation and social context. An example: with the James family, Mathew’s father – with Irish and German blood – was definitely considered mixed race during his grandfather’s time. But by many today he definitely isn’t considered to be mixed.
All in all, CYJO hopes people walk away from her exhibit with a refreshed perspective of what it means to have more than one racial or ethnic identity.
“If you think about it, people have been mixing for as early as people have been migrating from one place to another and forming families. But this definition of being mixed seems to be defined differently in different social contexts,” she said.
Clearly these profiled families all disrupt the way race orders our lives and interactions – proving again that one cannot judge a book by its cover.
Mixed Blood is a traveling exhibition in China that launched at Today Art Museum in Beijing and is sponsored by the US Embassy in Beijing, China. It us curated by Nik Apostolides and designed by Timothy Archambault.