In February, Toronto Life, a monthly magazine in my hometown published a cover story proposing “The End of White Toronto.” The sub-heading on the web reads: “A new mixed-raced generation is transforming the city: Will Toronto be the world’s first post-racial metropolis?” If you look at the young faces in the images in the article, “mixed-race” is almost always read as young. The next generation. Never quite there but on the verge. It’s a future that’s unfinished.
The Toronto Life article echoed the Atlantic magazine’s January/February 2009 cover story. The author of the piece, Hua Hsu, claimed the “end of White America” because of the transformation of today’s racial minorities into a majority by 2042. The browning of America isn’t simply about color but it’s also about the creation of a “beige” class. “Mixed-race” is race reinvented and race anew, suggesting an identifiable body that is less threatening than Black, less bland than White. This perspective has played itself out in the public imagination over the last few decades and even more vehemently since the election of Barack Obama.
But how is “mixing” considered news and also, new? Hybridity-as-concept made a postcolonial veer in the late 20th century and, generally speaking, hybridity was refashioned from a negatively coded category to a productive, emancipatory and resistant praxis, as Franco-Mauritian Françoise Lionnet contended in Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (1989) through the concept of métissage. In 1994, The Location of Culture, by Homi Bhabha, set the theory of hybridity in motion. For Bhabha, the liminal state of being in between creates a “moment of aesthetic distance that provides the narrative with a double edge, which like the coloured South African subject, represents a hybridity, a difference ‘within,’ a subject that inhabits the rim of an ‘in-between’ reality.” When I first read this, it sounded like a drug I hadn’t ever tried, hadn’t ever dared to try.
According to global studies and sociology professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse in ‘Hybridity, So What? The Anti-Hybridity Backlash and the Riddles of Recognition,’ “hybridity is to culture what deconstruction is to discourse: transcending binary categories.” Bhabha, too, writes that “the emphasis on the disjunctive present of utterance enables the historian to get away from defining subaltern consciousness as binary, as having positive or negative dimensions. It allows the articulation of a subaltern agency to emerge as relocation and reinscription.” Okay, okay, okay, so hybrid racial categories can go beyond set racial categories? At the same time, however, we must keep in mind: what were those same categories designed for?