Sociology of Multiracial Identity in the Late 1980s and Early 1990s: The Failure of a Perspective

Reginald Daniel


Sociologists largely failed to comprehend the emergence of multiracial identities in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was due, in part, to hypodescent and the monoracial imperative. These social devices, respectively, categorize offspring of interracial unions between Whites and people of color based exclusively on the background of color, and necessitate single-racial identification. This has prohibited the articulation and recognition of multiracial identities. Hypodescent and the monoracial imperative are so normative that they have been taken for granted by sociologists across the monoracial spectrum, much as the larger society. Sociology’s espoused objectivity blinded sociologists to the standpoint of their own monoracial subjectivity. They provided little critical examination of hypodescent and the monoracial imperative in terms of their impact on multiracial identity formations. Some sociologists challenged theories of marginality, which stressed the psychological dysfunction of multiracials. Yet multiracial identities were considered symptomatic of mainly isolated psychological concerns with personal identity. Sociologists were absent from analyses of collective identity and agency speaking to mixed-race concerns. Consequently, they remained on the periphery of social scientific theorizing of multiracial identities in terms of their wider-ranging implications.


group formation, hypodescent, mixed race, multiracial, sociological theories of race, the one-drop rule.

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