Whitening in Intercultural Relations: Accidental or on Purpose?

by Yuta Kobayashi

For the longest time, I had always thought to myself that intercultural marriages were no different from any other form of marriage, for the purpose of establishing a family and to understand the unique aspects of one another’s identity. I never attempted to view children anything other than being the natural outcome of their parent’s love and nurture. Chapter 4 of Shades of Difference introduces a unique perspective to racial mixing, one linked with the aspect of social stratification and a reason to racial mixing in the context of Latin America and the United States.

Blanqueamiento, also known as whitening in racial mixing, has been commonly practiced throughout Latin America and the United States. As suggested by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David R. Dietrich (2009), this concept is not only an ideology, but also “a real economic, political, and personal process” that influences an individual’s hierarchal movement. Bonilla Silva and Dietrich argue that the main reason for this “whitening” other than “neutral mixture” is for the children of these mixed racial families to move up the social strata, being given a more mobile identity and greater opportunities for racial promotion.

If the original purpose of whitening was to raise the social status of their children, can the same be said for other forms of intercultural marriage? Some of my “hafu” friends, who possess a mixed race, tell me that sometimes they do not understand why their parents came together and started a family in the first place, for the reason that time after time they encounter cultural barriers and occasional misunderstandings. Based on my assumption, I believe there is a possibility that some parents come together for their looks with expectations of their children to take on a good medium of mixed characteristics and good looks. In places such as Japan, where I live, good looks are an advantage in society. Although the content is slightly different, the point I would like to raise here is that it is not rare to see parents starting a mixed cultural family as a means to be positively recognized by society.

As suggested by Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich, whitening may come with certain social advantages, but at the same time also come with disadvantages. An important question that we should ask ourselves is, if society is to recognize these mixed racial individuals as a part of the privileged race, what are the consequences to racial mixing? My personal approach to this question is that if more and more people start to treat racial mixing as a social norm, there is a possibility of fewer people conserving the “pure blood” of a specific race. Of course, moving up the social ladder is important in reaching equality, especially for those who are facing discrimination in society. However, if more and more people become over-conscious in seeking equality, to the point where they care for social status over understanding their own identity, it will become difficult for themselves, as well as their children to find where they belong and to understand their own identity. Especially in a country where tradition and culture is to be preserved, racial mixing and other forms of cultural integration may not always be socially accepted as compared to countries such as the United States.

Chapter 4 of Shades of Difference introduces the concept of whitening and the logical reasons to why this is significant in modern society. However, in this section, one important question is left out; that is, the reason to the origins of whitening and other forms of racial mixing. This reading by itself still leaves me hanging with the question of whether the origins of whitening was actually with purpose or possibly accidental.

References

Bonilla-Silva, E. & Dietrich, D.R. (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: A New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Nekita. (August 24, 2013). Rejected from both: Is mixed race “really” better? Retrieved from OrijinCulture.com on October 17, 2013. From http://www.orijinculture.com/community/2011/rejected-mixed-race/

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