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CERS hosts Critical Mixed Race Studies postgraduate symposium


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[tab:{Conference report}=Mixing Matters: Critical Intersectionalities]

The Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS) held its first interdisciplinary, international postgraduate symposium on the 18th May 2013 entitled ‘Mixing Matters: Critical Intersectionalities.’ This symposium aimed at engaging with ideas from the field of Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) was the first of its kind in the UK and enabled national, international and Leeds based postgraduate students to present their research in this dynamic field. The debates within CMRS have been circulating for some time within various disciplines but which simultaneously have remained marginal within broader studies on ethnicity and ‘race’. Furthermore, the debates have largely been centred on the United States context and not taking into account the globality of mixed-race identity which varies across time and space, an idea which the keynote speaker (Rebecca King O`Riain) discusses in her book Global Mixed Race. This symposium was developed in response to this marginalisation focusing on describing and analysing mixed-race identities in both the UK and international contexts.

It was well attended and received by staff and students from within the faculty and beyond. There were a significant number of non-academic participants who travelled from far afield to engage with the day’s presentations and debates. Dr Rebecca King O’Riain (National University of Ireland, Maynooth) gave a keynote addressing the importance of expanding mixed-race studies beyond US borders and explored the dynamics of mixing in Zambia, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Japan, among other locations.  Dr Shirley Tate (University of Leeds) who conceived of the idea of the symposium gave a second keynote on the mixed race question in regards to Black beauty.

The symposium was also comprised of two panels with papers on a variety of topics which reflect the diversity of research interests in the field:

  • Theory, experience and activism in CMRS
  • Mixed race male experiences in UK education
  • Chicano epistemology
  • Mixed-heritage in fostering and adoption policy
  • Bio-power and the politicisation of mixed-race in East Africa
  • Dougla identities in Trinidad
  • The influence of hip hop on mixed-race identity

The symposium was an extremely valuable opportunity for people with an interest in this dynamic and rapidly growing field and/or who are themselves ‘mixed race’ to come together and discuss emerging social, political, cultural, affective, historical and aesthetic issues in a challenging but supportive environment. Superbly chaired by Richard Tavernier (CMRS Coordinator, CERS), the day concluded with two inspiring and evocative performances by two wonderful artists.

Writer and artist Norradean Amorro played a short video from his CanvasPieces and gave an honest and vivid perspective of race, sexuality, love and London life which was empathised with by the audience. The award-winning poet Dean Atta read from his recently published collection of poetry I Am Nobody’s Nigger (2013) related to the symposium theme and masterfully drew into focus issues around racism, sexual promiscuity, fatherhood, mixed heritage among many others. The readings were followed by lively questions, debates and discussions and enabled a broader audience to engage with the themes and issues which emerged during the symposium. These performances were a formidable addition to academic forms of engagement with CMRS and tremendously lauded by the audience.

This symposium was funded/sponsored through the BSA (British Sociological Association) Race and Ethnicity Study Group, LEAP Hub (University of Leeds) and the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS). It is hoped that this will become a fixed annual department highlight.  Further work in this area through a range of working papers is already in progress.


Emma Dabiri

Emma Dabiri is a Visual Sociology Ph.D. researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London and teaching fellow in the Africa Department at SOAS. Her doctoral research focuses on ‘mixedness’ in digital spaces, and on the ways in which identification as ‘mixed-race’ is influenced by gender, sexuality, and generational remove for those of African descent. Her major research interests are critical race studies and African Diasporian performative cultures and literatures.

Remi Salisbury

Remi Salisbury is a postgraduate student at the University of Leeds based in the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS) and teaching in the School of Sociology and Social Policy. Remi is currently conducting research considering the experiences of ‘mixed’ (White and Black African-Caribbean) males in UK education.
Remi’s research interests include, but are not limited to, issues around identity, ethnicity and race(ism). Specifically, groups defined as ‘mixed’ and the intersections of class and gender for these groups. Using the work of Erving Goffman as a lens Remi is currently interested in the presentation of the ‘mixed’ self in everyday life.

Veronica Cano

Veronica is a post graduate research student at the University of Sheffield, School of Law. She is conducting her doctoral research on culture and delinquency among Latina youth in the United States and the United Kingdom. Specifically she is examining the protective effects of the Latino culture on adolescent females and exploring whether cultural influences are enhanced or diluted with each generation of Latinas.

Her interests centre on intersectionality and the complex relationship between culture, gender and delinquency. Specifically, examining the process of culture change, acculturation, and the impact it has on Latina youths’ ethnic identity and youth crime involvement. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the University of Arizona and her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State University.

Julia Koniuch-Enneoka

Julia is a doctorate researcher at the University of Manchester, as well as a practising social worker. Currently she is a part of a Local Authority fostering team and work with kinship foster carers. Julia obtained her first MA in Care Pedagogy and Social Work in 2003, for which she conducted an empirical gerontological study. She completed her second MA in Social Work at the University of Manchester in 2009. Her dissertation focused on a critical analysis of racial and ethnic identity of mixed-parentage children and young people in fostering and adoption placements’ matching in the UK.

Mixing and mixedness has for long been a part of her life. Over the years of her academic and practical involvement with social work she has developed a particular interest in exploring the perceived identity and self-identification of mixed-heritage children whilst contributing to the anti-oppressive and child-focused social work practice across racial and ethnic boundaries.

Her current research project is an in-depth qualitative exploration of social workers’ understanding of racial and ethnic identity of mixed-heritage children in relation to decision-making on suitable substitute family placements. She is particularly interested in exploring the social workers’ attitudes to and the consideration of the children’s mixed heritage in placement matching in the light of the new care system and adoption reform.

Angelica Pesarini

Angelica Pesarini is currently a PhD candidate enrolled at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at the University of Leeds. She received a Master degree in Ethno-Anthropological Disciplines at the University of Rome La Sapienza and an Msc in Gender, Development and Globalisation at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

She is interested in the debates exploring the intersections of ‘race’, gender and class, with particular regards to colonial and postcolonial contexts. The author conducted research on gender, identity and the development of economic activities with regards to Roma women in Italy and has analysed strategies of survival, risks and opportunities associated with male prostitution. She is currently investigating the construction of ‘mixed race’ identities in colonial and post-colonial Italy.

Kav Raghunandan

Kav Raghunandan is currently working towards her PhD in Sociology at the University of Leeds. Based at the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS), her research explores the production and performance of Indian identification and identities in the postcolonial island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. She is interested in race performativity as a theoretical framework through which to explore the intersections of raced and gendered bodies in addition to processes of mixing and multiculturalism. She has an interdisciplinary background ranging from pedagogy, adult education and humanities to critical sociology.

Her research engages with post-colonial theory and ciritcal race studies and her research interests also extend to Caribbean studies; South Asian studies; global beauty and aesthetics; mixed race identities. Recently, she co-organised the 1st Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Symposium on Critical Mixed Race Studies (CMRS) entitled Mixing Matters.

Jenn Sims

Jenn Sims is a post-graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA. She has a Bachelors in Sociology, with a minor in Spanish, from Hampton University; and a Masters in Sociology, with additional course work in Gender Studies, from Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include race/ethnicity and social psychology with an empirical focus on mixed race identity and experience. Her master’s thesis, “Beautiful Stereotypes: The Relationship between Physical Attractiveness and Mixed Race Identity,” was published in April 2012 in the inaugural re-launching issue of the journal Identities.

Jenn enjoys sushi, country music, the color pink and Harry Potter. This final interest led her to assemble an international team of scholars to compose the first book length sociological analysis of Harry Potter, "The Sociology of Harry Potter: 22 Enchanting Essays on the Wizarding World" (Zossima Press 2012). Jenn is currently working on her doctoral thesis, a qualitative study that explores the role that ambiguous physical appearance plays in American and British mixed race individuals' lives with regard to body work and racial identity. She anticipates completing her doctoral program in May 2014.


Racial Laws and the Bio-power regime. The politicisation of life in Fascist East- Africa.

Angelica Pesarini

Italy has gone today from a country of emigration to a host nation, however, it is perceived as separated from its colonial history. The term ‘postcolonial’ seems to be particularly problematic given a lack of debate on the colonial past and the crimes perpetrated in East Africa. Furthermore this lack of discussion had important consequences on the construction of post-war Italian identity which still seems to be based upon biological criteria, excluding those who do not visually fit the ‘Italian’ type, such as ‘mixed race’ and non- white individuals.

Given the strict interdependence between the colonial past, the ‘mixed race’ category and the construction of ‘Italian’ identity, the aim of this paper is to analyse how the idea of ‘Italianess’ was conceived and shaped by the Fascist regime, specifically in East Africa, through the marker of ‘race’. To do so, I will illustrate the reasons why racial laws were conceived to defend the purity of the Italian ‘race’, and what consequences such laws had for ‘mixed race’ individuals in the Italian colonies. Furthermore the paper will seek to show how ‘mixed race’ identities may challenge a monolithic idea of Italian identity where ‘race’ and biology still play a crucial role.

‘Keeping it real?’ – Addressing the disconnect between theory, experience and activism in CMRS.

Emma Dabiri

At present there appears a serious disconnect between individual experience, theorizing and activism within discussions of mixedness in the UK. Theorizing seems divorced from experience, while all three are characterized by their own particular, outdated, and frequently conflicting mythologies. The media and social studies join forces to perpetuate an a-historical construction of ‘mixed-race’ that is meaningless once you graduate from glib sound bites and abstract theorization to attempt application in real world settings.

A lack of consistency in terms of who is defined as black , combined with little differentiation of the ‘mixed-race’ population, further complicates British discourses of ‘mixedness’. It allows for researchers to theorize about ‘black-mixedness ’ based on the experiences of non-‘black mixed’ peoples (Ali, 2003). This issue is rarely addressed in UK based CMRS, despite current research highlighting the vastly differing experiences of ‘black-mixed’ individuals when compared to non-‘black mixed’ people (Song and Aspinall 2012).

My paper will make suggestions as to how to avoid misrepresentation of the experiences of ‘black-mixed’ individuals –often racialised by society as black rather than ‘mixed’ - while suggesting that equally we need to learn more about the lives of non-‘black mixed’ people. We will investigate ways in which we might reveal and address the kryiarchy informing studies of ‘mixedness’ in the UK, and attempt to outline methods that facilitate a more progressive, insightful, and reflexive analysis.

“I love a bit of Snoop as much as the next man:” Exploring the Influence of Hip Hop on Mixed Race Racial Identity

Jenn Sims

Developed from Cooley’s Looking Glass Self, the theory of reflected appraisals refers to the process of internalizing the perceptions that one thinks other people hold of him/her. Khanna (2010, 2004) applied this concept to mixed race individuals, theorizing that their chosen racial identification is the race that they believe that others perceive them as. Herman (2010) has shown, however, that observers are not very consistent at identifying mixed race people racially. Consequently, many are often asked “what are you?” or “where are you from?” and are perceived to be a multitude of different races by various others.

In order to explore the effect of these inconsistent reflected appraisals on racial identity, I interviewed 30 mixed race adults in the United Kingdom and United States about their experiences having a racially ambiguous physical appearance and its effects on their racial identity. My proposed presentation would highlight the results pertaining to the influence of hip hop on the racial identity of mixed race individuals in the two countries. I would explore how the genre and artists are not only a source of style inspiration but, more deeply, sometimes serve as an important source of validation for one’s physical appearance and personal experiences.

Mixed-heritage and racial/ethnic identity in foster and adoption placement matching – social work views, policy and practice

Julia Koniuch-Enneoka

Julia's research project focuses on the in-depth qualitative exploration of how the racial/ethnic identities of mixed-heritage children are managed by social workers in fostering and adoption placement matching. This topic has never been adequately researched. With the implementation of the new adoption and fostering policy, it urgently requires up-to-date empirical data. Finding appropriate families for children of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds has always been a subject of controversy and a professional dilemma.

At the centre of the debates has been social workers’ preoccupation with the ‘perfect’ racial/ethnic match. The recent political debates concerned with reducing adoption delays instigated changes in the legislation and removing the consideration of race and ethnicity in placing children. This raises many questions. The recent statistics suggest that mixed population in the UK is fast expanding and an increase of mixed-heritage children in the care system is a probability. Whilst the adoption matching has taken the central stage, what about matching the vast number of children who grew up in foster care? How the policy changes implicate placement matching decision making? How social workers balance the children’s racial/ethnic identity with other needs? Is adoption and fostering practice reverting to colour-blindness? Using a triangulation of semi-structured interviews with social workers, documentary analysis and observations, I aim to provide answers to these questions.

“Cuénteme Su Historia”: Relocating Latinas Lived Experiences in Research

Veronica Cano

Epistemological concerns of culture and race research give rise to the need for the development of a distinct cultural approach to research. Chicano epistemology must be concerned with the knowledge of Latinos—who generates the understanding of their experiences and whether the knowledge is legitimized or not. It puts into question the need for having an underlying understanding of the culture in order to develop culturally appropriate research methodologies. This implicit knowledge helps the researcher understand and interpret events, actions and words that often may not align with the norms of the dominant culture. Latinos in the United States have historically been marginalised in society; anywhere from immigration reform policies, crime prevention policies to political rhetoric. Possessing an underlying understanding of the culture can not only assist the researcher in circumventing issues with recruitment and engagement, data collection and data analysis, but may also alleviate some of the healthy paranoia that Latinos now exhibit towards governmental institutions.

Chicana epistemology is concerned with concepts such as “cultural intuition” and “otherization” in culture and race research. These concepts were explored for their efficacy and applicability when conducting research with Latino parents and their daughters in a city in the Southwest of the United States. In this paper I will discuss some of the findings from the implementation of these perspectives and explore their adaptability to Latina youth and their parents in the United Kingdom. This paper is based on my doctoral research examining culture as a protective factor against delinquency among Latina youth in the United States and the United Kingdom.

‘It’s all so black and white yet such mixed experiences!’ A critical consideration of ‘mixed-race’ male experiences in UK Education

Remi Salisbury

This research looks to explore the complexities of the experiences of a particular group in the UK education system. Focusing on males of Mixed White/Black African Caribbean parentage the research hopes to simultaneously illuminate the commonalities and the vast diversity in experiences.
At a time when the mixed population is widely recognised as one of the most rapidly growing ethnic groups in the UK (a 93% growth is predicted between 2001 and 2020 (Smith, 2011)) it’s imperative that academic analysis responds.

Through the use of semi-structured interviews the research looks to consider first-hand accounts and thus not only aims to build upon Critical Mixed Race literature, but also hopes to offer a specific and timely response to the startling absence of literature considering mixed male educational experiences. It is hoped that the research will build upon the sole substantive research produced by The Department for Education and Services (2004) offering a necessarily contemporary analysis amidst a rapidly changing demographic.

The research will also draw upon Williams’ (2011) literature and hope to offer a progressive theoretical framework within which sociological analyses can take place. Drawing on Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgical metaphor I will look to consider the extent to which a mixed individual can ‘switch masks’ before placing the mixed individual under the lens of Bauman’s (2004) concepts of freedom and security.