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PWR 2RW: Not Part but Whole: Writing Mixed Race Identity

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Catalog Number: PWR 2RW

Instructor: Roberta Wolfson

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement


Was Barack Obama the first Black or biracial U.S. president? Is Meghan Markle “too Black” to be accepted by the British royal family or “not Black enough” to claim racial harm? Who is “more” Asian American – Kamala Harris or Enrique Iglesias? Does Elizabeth Warren even “count” as Native American? In this course, we will explore such public debates about mixed race identity, paying particular attention to a central question: what does it mean to be mixed race and how do our words, stories, and discourses construct this identity?

Mixed race identity did not formally exist as a category in the United States until 2000, when the census first allowed respondents to select more than one racial group. Yet discourses about multiraciality have a long history in the racially stratified United States, finding expression in public denunciations of miscegenation, legal definitions of race based on the “one-drop rule,” and Supreme Court rulings that reinforced separate-but-equal policies (Plessy v. Ferguson) or legalized interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia). Together we will look at the ongoing rhetoric surrounding multiraciality, in which mixed race people are always and already politicized, represented as figures of shame (“mixing just isn’t natural”), exoticism (“mixed babies are so beautiful”), tragedy (“that poor child will never belong”), or post-racial utopia (“soon we’ll all be beige so race won’t matter anymore”).

Throughout the course, students will pursue individual research projects that consider some critical aspect of mixed race identity. For example, you might explore how public discourses about multiraciality indirectly center the monoracial experience or how mixed race writers, orators, and artists rhetorically resist harmful misrepresentations of their identities. Or you could examine the history and legacy of anti-miscegenation laws, the transformation of legal definitions of multiraciality over time, social debates about colorism, the politics of racial passing, the psychology of racial imposter syndrome, and more. Ultimately, you will walk away from this course with sharpened research and communication skills, as well as a critical framework for understanding how written and oral expression can offer a transformative platform for reimagining the mixed self.

Research Proposal (5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words, 3-4 pages): You will begin the quarter by proposing an original research project that explores some critical aspect of mixed race identity.

Written Research-Based Argument (3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages): Further honing the research and writing skills introduced in PWR 1, you will craft an argumentative essay that advances an original answer to your research question about mixed race identity, incorporating critical reflection on secondary scholarship alongside primary source analysis.

Delivery of Research (10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support): Next you will practice public speaking skills by delivering your central argument about multiraciality in an oral presentation using multimedia technologies.

Genre/Modes Assignment (500-800 words; about 2 pages): In this final project, you will select an audience that would be invested in hearing your argument about mixed race identity. Then you will translate your argument into a different genre that is designed to reach this target audience, such as an advertisement, video, press release, story, blog post, song, etc.