Online Version

(Frames of Reference, and Reality and Value Assumptions)

20 points total


Due Saturday, July 18th, by 11:59 pm EST through, a link for which is provided below the links for this assignment and for the NY Times article on which most of this assignment is based. Late assignments will receive late penalties.


This graded assignment is based primarily on the following debate from the “New York Times” for which a link is provided below:  (I have also copied and pasted most of this debate into another document for which I provide a link in Blackboard Learn.  This second link should be easier to print, if you should want to print out the debate.)

  How Fluid Is Racial Identity?

The chatter over Rachel Dolezal’s identity highlights America’s growing racial ambiguity.

Or, copy and paste this URL into your browser:  


PART I:  Frame of Reference and some reality and value assumptions of Rachel Dolezal:  4 points

Since the debate in the “New York Times” on “How Fluid is Racial Identity?” was sparked, in part, by a controversy revolving around Rachel Dolezal, you should research who Rachel Dolezal is, and what the controversy involved.  In doing this, you should use at least 2 sources, in order to type several paragraphs on the background information on her that comprises her “frame of reference”.  You must include citations for all your sources, and your citations must include the web addresses (URL’s).  If you do not include citations, you will receive no credit for this question.

In addition to her “frame of reference”, you should discuss several of her own reality and value assumptions that seem to be partly informed or influenced by her frame of reference.  You need not include many of her assumptions.

PART II:   Reality and Value Assumptions:  16 points Total (question #1:  12 points; question #2: 4 points)

  • After reading the above debate on whether or not racial identity is fluid,  type an approximately 2 – 3 page essay double-spaced that discusses some of the important value assumptions and reality assumptions of any 3 of the people participating in this debate (out of the 6 participants).  Although you do not need to discuss all of the assumptions of the three people whom you select, you should make sure you include some of the most important assumptions; that you include both reality and value assumptions and label which is which; that you include any important implicit (unstated, implied or hidden) assumptions that each of these people holds; and that you label which of these implicit assumptions are value assumptions and which are reality assumptions.  You are required to include both value and reality assumptions from each of the 3 people you select, although, in some cases, many of the assumptions may be implicit.

You should also discuss which reality and/or value assumptions the 3 participants you have selected share (if any), and which of their reality and value assumptions are the most different from one another.

Your essay may be longer than 3 pages double-spaced, but should not be excessively long.   I will not accept essays that are shorter than 1 full page double-spaced of at least 22 lines.


In your essay, you should make clear which assumptions are value assumptions and why; which are reality assumptions and why; and how you made your decisions.  Although you are permitted to start with direct quotes from the debate, you should not rely only on direct quotes.  Instead, extract the assumptions from the quotes, and from the context in which they were found, in order to also include implied (that is, unstated) assumptions. After all, the most controversial assumptions are sometimes hidden and not explicit. If necessary, rephrase the assumptions in your own words in order to highlight how they are either value or reality assumptions.  Remember that we are not so much analyzing quotations, as trying to find the underlying assumptions each participant holds.


  • (4 points): Then in a separate essay type several paragraphs (double-spaced) on your own response to the above NY Times debate, taking into consideration the situation and controversy revolving around Rachel Dolezal.  In discussing your own response, you are required to include some of your own reality and value assumptions in respect to racial identity.  Your essay should be approximately 1- 1.5  double-spaced pages but may be longer.  Include any assumptions you might have held about race or racial identity before reading the debate and before reading about Rachel Dolezal, and then after reading the debate and after researching the frame of reference of Rachel Dolezal.   In other words, have any of your assumptions changed, and, if so, how or why?  (If there are other reasons that your assumptions may have changed, feel free to include these in your essay.)   Make sure you label which of your own assumptions are value assumptions and which of them are reality assumptions.  In doing so, consider “what do I think should be the case when it comes to racial identity?  What do I think Rachel Dolezal should or should not have done?”  These are your value assumptions.  Then consider, “how do I think the world or this society really works when it comes to race and racial identity?”  “What do I think “race” and “racial identity” are?  These are your reality assumptions.  Remember that I am asking you about your personal assumptions.  If you do not label which are your value assumptions and which are your reality assumptions, you will not receive credit for your answer.




How Fluid Is Racial Identity?


On Tuesday, in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Rachel Dolezal said that although she has white parents, she identifies as black.Stephanie Keith/Reuters

It’s been a busy month for exploring boundaries of identity. Should Emma Stone play an Asian character in the movie “Hawaii?” Is Caitlyn Jenner a “real” woman? Did Rachel Dolezal commit racial fraud? The chatter accompanying these examples underscores a fundamental suspicion of personal ambiguity.

Meanwhile, multiracial couplings and births are at an all time high. People may view themselves as multiracial, monoracial or they change their identity over time. How fluid is racial identity, and where will we be in 50 years?

Identity, Race or Otherwise, Is Your Lived Experience

Heidi W. Durrow is the author of “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky,” a novel.

June 16, 2015

“Are those your eyes?” It’s a question I’m asked almost daily as a brown-skinned woman who has dark curly hair and bright blue eyes.

My father was African-American and my mother is Danish and I’m ethnically ambiguous. I look Dominican to Dominicans, Bangladeshi to Bangladeshis, Puerto Rican to Puerto Ricans, and Greek to Greeks. I’m a reluctant shape-shifter.

I learned that because of the peculiar way that math and race work together in America, I was black. But those facts conflicted with my actual experience.

So I couldn’t help but celebrate when I saw the headlines last week that multiracial Americans are the country’s fastest-growing population. In the future, it’s possible that people who look like me will be the norm.

This past weekend some 700 attendees celebrated stories of mixed-race people and families at the Mixed Remixed Festival — an annual film, book and performance festival in Los Angeles. There was much discussion of the bizarre case of Rachel Dolezal, the now past president of Spokane’s N.A.A.C.P. chapter, who was outed by her family as passing as black.

What is most disturbing about the case is that Dolezal had a fundamental belief that claiming black blood would authenticate her to the black community. But your blood quantum shouldn’t define your identity rather your lived experience should.

I came of age in the 1980s and I learned that I should identify as black. I learned that black identity in America has always meant being mixed because it took just one drop of black blood to make you three-fifths of a man. I learned that because of the peculiar way that math and race work together in America, I was black. But those facts conflicted with my actual experience.

I spoke Danish at home. I ate Danish food. At Christmas we danced around the Christmas tree singing Danish carols. But when I went outside my home, I was black. It wasn’t until I was almost 40 years old that I proudly claimed my Afro-Viking identity.

As future generations are increasingly mixed, I hope we’ll be able to see race differently. I hope that in 50 years when someone sees a brown-skinned girl with dark curly hair and bright blue eyes, they’ll say: “You must have your mother’s eyes.”

Why We Should Embrace the Racial Chaos

Kevin Noble Maillard is a law professor at Syracuse University, the co-editor of “Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex and Marriage” and a contributing editor to Room for Debate. He is on Twitter.

June 16, 2015

Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play, “The Melting Pot,”described America as a place where “all the races of Europe are melting and reforming… Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians.” At last census count, this soaring, Heinz 57 praise of our national diversity would exclude almost half of the population. We have yet to accept a shared identity as a blended, fluid nation of many mixed races, even though change is imminent.

Racial separation is so ingrained in Americans that many multiracial people consider themselves monoracial. Shifting demographics might change that.

Indeed, our demographics are shifting. The United States Census Bureau reports that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority in 2044. A recent Pew Research Center study reports that multiracial births have increased to 10 percent in 2013, from 1 percent in 1970. Almost one-third of the U.S. population will be Hispanic in 2050. On a national level, the racial fulcrum of what it means to be American is shifting, which necessitates a full embrace of blurred lines and permeable boundaries — an actual and not symbolic melting pot.

Racial separation — or even “purity” — is so ingrained in Americans that many multiracial people consider themselves monoracial: over 61 percent, according to a Pew study. Even the most well-known multiracial person in the world, President Barack Obama, checked only one box on his census form. In an age where “check all that apply” exists as an option, most people choose only one.

Color lines, even when embodied by the people best equipped to erode them, persist as salient and meaningful boundaries. These borders impose control on perceived chaos, even when the boundaries are manufactured. They create divisions between “us” and “them.”

It’s foolhardy to suppose that multiracialism ushers in colorblindness and harmony. Even in blended societies like Brazil or Mexico, complexion determines social status, income and access to power. But changing demographics, racial complexities and the conversations they spark push us toward greater understanding of the future of racial identity in the United States. It’s time to return the melting pot and salad bowl to the manufacturer.

Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a professor of law at the University of Iowa College of Law, is the author of “According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family.”

Updated June 17, 2015, 1:40 PM

Race is not biological. It is a social construct. There is no gene or cluster of genes common to all blacks or all whites. Were race “real” in the genetic sense, racial classifications for individuals would remain constant across boundaries. Yet, a person who could be categorized as black in the United States might be considered white in Brazil or colored in South Africa.

Unlike race and racial identity, the social, political and economic meanings of race, or rather belonging to particular racial groups, have not been fluid.

Like race, racial identity can be fluid. How one perceives her racial identity can shift with experience and time, and not simply for those who are multiracial. These shifts in racial identity can end in categories that our society, which insists on the rigidity of race, has not even yet defined.

As I explain in my book “According to Our Hearts,” whites in interracial black-white marriages or relationships frequently experience a shift in how they personally understand their individual racial identity. In a society where being white (regardless of one’s socioeconomic class background or other disadvantages) means living a life with white skin privileges — such as being presumed safe, competent and noncriminal — whites who begin to experience discrimination because of their intimate connection with someone of another race, or who regularly see their loved ones fall prey to racial discrimination, may begin to no longer feel white. After all, their lived reality does not align with the social meaning of their whiteness.

That all said, unlike race and racial identity, the social, political and economic meanings of race, or rather belonging to particular racial groups, have not been fluid. Racial meanings for non-European groups have remained stagnant. For no group has this reality been truer than African-Americans. What many view as the promising results of the Pew Research Center’s data on multiracial Americans, with details of a growing multiracial population and an increasing number of interracial marriages, does not foreshadow as promising a future for individuals of African descent as it does for other groups of color.

Unlike their multiracial peers of Asian and Native American ancestry who tend to view themselves as having more in common with monoracial whites than with Asians or Native Americans, respectively, multiracial adults with a black background — 69 percent of whom say most people would view them as black — experience prejudice and interactions in ways that are much more closely aligned with members of the black community. In fact, the consequences of the social, political and economic meanings of race are so deep that my co-author Mario Barnes and I have argued that whites who find themselves discriminated against based on racial proxies such as name (for example, Lakisha or Jamal), should have actionable race discrimination claims based on such conduct. In sum, the fact that race is a social construct, defined by markers such as skin color, hair texture, eye shape, ancestry, identity performance and even name, does not mean that racial classifications are free of consequence or tangible effects.

More than 50 years ago, Congress enacted the most comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation in history, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Half a century later in 2015, the same gaps in racial inequality remain or have grown deeper. Today, the unemployment rate for African-Americans remains more than double that for whites, public schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1950s and young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white male peers. Even a white fourth-grade teacher in Texas, Karen Fitzgibbons, openly advocated for the racial segregation of the 1950s and 1960s on her Facebook page.

Where will we be 50 years from now? Need I answer that question? It definitely won’t be in a post-racial society.

Racial Fluidity Complicates the Value We Assign to Race

Nancy Leong is an associate professor of law at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. She is on Twitter.

Updated June 17, 2015, 10:43 AM

Our society values some racial identities more than others. Moreover, it values racial identities differently in different circumstances. White racial identity is often of great value — it helps those viewed as white get jobs, find mentors, buy cars and sell items on Ebay.

So long as different racial identities have different values, the racially fluid will have an incentive to present themselves in the way most favorable under the circumstances.

But in certain situations nonwhite racial identity is also valuable. In recent research published in the Harvard Law Review, I examined how white people and predominantly white institutions value nonwhite racial identity. Our society values diversity — or, at least, its appearance — with the result that we often hear white people bragging about their nonwhite friends or see companies and schools going to great lengths to display nonwhite people on their websites. For example, a survey of colleges’ promotional materials found that black and Asian students were overrepresented in photos by about 50 percent.

Racial fluidity complicates the value we assign to race. The recent rise in interracial marriage has led to more people identifying as two or more races. Racial fluidity allows people who identify as “white and something else” to choose how to maximize the value of their identity. When it’s more socially valuable to be white — renting an apartment; interacting with police — they can present themselves as white. In the limited situations when it’s more valuable to be nonwhite — applying for a diversity scholarship — they can present themselves as nonwhite.

Ironically, racial fluidity is often most valuable to people who appear white. One reason is the lingering influence of the “one-drop” rule, under which people who appeared white and whose ancestors were mostly white were still classified as nonwhite. I have written elsewhere about the relationship between the one-drop rule and our reaction to Rachel Dolezal. Her actions were possible because we are familiar with people who appear white, yet who (sometimes) claim nonwhite identity based on ancestry. The racially fluid can present themselves as either white or nonwhite depending on which is more valuable at the time. And so Dolezal’s claim to nonwhite identity is simply a more extreme version of the claims that people with slightly different ancestry make all the time.

Although Dolezal has now resigned, this won’t be the last dispute over a claim to racial identity. So long as different racial identities have different values, the racially fluid will have an incentive to present themselves in the way most favorable under the circumstances.

Hispanic and Latino Identity Is Changing

Mark Hugo Lopez is the director of Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center.

Updated June 17, 2015, 11:23 AM

The U.S. Hispanic community’s views of identity are changing, as they have been for decades. Forty years ago, that term — “Hispanic” — was proposed to group people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and other Latin American ancestry in government statistics. No one had even heard of “Latino” back then.

While some Hispanics consider their background one of race, increasingly they prefer to identify with a nationality (Mexican or Cuban or Dominican).

But today, while both terms are widely used, Pew Research Center surveys show that Hispanics prefer to identify themselves with terms of nationality (Mexican or Cuban or Dominican) rather than pan-ethnic monikers (Hispanic or Latino or even American).

It was not always this way. U.S. social attitudes toward diversity and intermarriage, and big demographic trends, such as the recent wave of Mexican immigration, have affected Hispanics’ sense of identity. For example, today’s young Hispanics hear their parents say “be proud of your Hispanic identity and speak Spanish.” But among Hispanics who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, being American and speaking English were more emphasized.

Today, one-in-four Latino newlyweds marries someone who is not Latino. Only Asians marry out at a higher rate. And among Latino newborns who live with their parents, 27 percent have one non-Latino parent.

These trends could have implications for what Hispanics call themselves in the future — and even whether they consider themselves Hispanic at all. Already two million Americans say they are not Hispanic although they indicate their ancestry includes roots in a Spanish-speaking country. More than likely they are the children or grandchildren of a couple that includes one Hispanic and one non-Hispanic parent.

Other changes are underway too. Immigration is no longer the driving force of the Hispanic community’s growth. Instead, U.S. births are — driving down the share of the community that is foreign born (just 35.5 percent of Hispanics are immigrants). This may affect Hispanic identity, too. Our surveys show that among second- and third-generation Hispanics, smaller shares identify themselves by the names of their ancestors’ home countries. The likelihood of speaking Spanish also fades with each new U.S.-born generation.

Currently the U.S. Census Bureau does not regard Hispanic to be a race, but rather an ethnicity. However, a new Pew Research Center survey shows that two-thirds of Hispanics see their Hispanic background at least in part as a racial one.

We’ve seen Hispanic identity evolve through recent decades. But as the number of interracial and interethnic couples grows and immigration slows, “Hispanic” and “Latino” may be used less in the future.

Being Able to Negotiate Our Racial Identity is Important

Amanda Kay Erekson is the president of the MAVIN.

Updated June 16, 2015, 9:10 PM

“Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these,” I overheard a boy on the playground taunt my sister while pulling at the corners of his eyes. This is my earliest racial memory, as a 7-year-old; I was upset and confused. I wondered why my sister, with whom I was raised practically as a twin with rhyming names and matching outfits, would be targeted in this way when I wasn’t. I thought we were the same; but our classmates didn’t.

The existence of people whose racialization and racial identity are not fixed does not render race irrelevant, but it does provide the opportunity to redefine races in a way that better represents our experiences.

My sister and I are multiracial, Japanese-American and white American but throughout our lives we have been perceived and treated differently from each other because of our coloring. I look white, and she is racially ambiguous. Her experiences are similar to many mixed race people, who are racialized in different ways depending on the context. Seen as Mexican one day, Hawaiian the next and Turkish the next, for example.

This fluidity extends from being racialized by an onlooker to our own racial identity formation. Multiracial individuals may have a racial identity that changes over time or in different settings; we may simultaneously identify with more than one monoracial group and/or with a multiracial identity. It is important for us to negotiate racial identities that reflect our heritage, culture and experience, which includes how we are perceived by others.

The existence of people whose racialization and racial identity are not fixed does not render race irrelevant, as evidenced by many examples of systemic racism including the fact that black Americans are still disproportionately targeted by police violence, and the anticipated increase of multiracial people over the next 50 years won’t either. But it does provide the opportunity to redefine races in a way that better represents the lived experiences of mixed race people.


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