Multiracial? Or Multicultural?

imagesCASDTSYLA few months back, I wrote a post called A Daughter by Any Color, about the experience of parenting a child who looks like me, after being raised by a mother who doesn’t.   Today, I wrote another post for the Montclair Patch, our local online paper, that addresses this issue from a somewhat different perspective.  You can read it here.

So far I have one comment from a reader who objected to my use of the word “Multiracial,” suggesting (very respectfully), that I use “Multicultural” instead.   As it got me thinking a lot, I responded (equally respectfully, I hope).  I would love to hear what followers of this blog think of the discussion.  Comment here on this blog to weigh in.

Thanks, as always, for reading!


18 responses to “Multiracial? Or Multicultural?

  1. Multi-racial and multi-cultural are two very different concepts: one is visual, the other is an invisible trait, only observable from behavior and customs. Importantly, you can be one without the other. I think the fact that people confuse or conflate the two is one reason the issue has become such a hot button in everyday American discourse. This was not such a widespread issue in previous generations when mixed-race marriages were less common, and geographic mobility was lower. Having raised my three multi-racial, multi-cultural children — who all have different skin shades, different hair types and different eye colours, all three different from me and my husband — in three different countries, we’ve run into a lot of misconceptions. This happens mainly in the U.S. though, not in other countries where people seem to be less quick to judge from appearance or from spoken accent. In a way, the children have bonded over their shared experience of being frequently misjudged, and can giggle over it. When they get together they fool around with comic accents, and make ethnic jokes – very un-P.C., but I suppose it is a way of letting off steam. As this generation of multi-racial, multi-cultural kids grows up and starts running things, we will hopefully see a deeper level of tolerance and understanding throughout society, that goes beyond superficial political correctness, and that contributes to the resolution of some of the more painful global conflicts between ethnic groups.

    • Thanks, Carla. I think the fact that your kids have inside jokes about this just shows how comfortable they are in their own skins, no matter how they differ from one another. A very good thing I think!

  2. Your friend over on the other site appears to want to be right, rather than accepting your very well considered response.

    Race is and continues to be a reality. Whether we like the designation or even agree with the designation, it remains a true designation and one that can be traced through DNA hundreds of generations. This is not being ugly or confrontational, it is simple science. Ethnicity (Race) is the make-up of our biology, whether we look it or not.

    On the other hand, culture is something entirely different. Where we grow up, how we grow up the cultural standards, guidelines and definitions these are not something that can be traced through our DNA.

    I think your article and your response were reasoned and correct.

  3. Interesting. I’m not sure I can chime in here since I never really thought about the difference between these two words. I’m very interested to see what others have to say though.

  4. Valentine, ‘race’ is arguably not biological. At least, not as we understand the term in the 21st Century. Most scientists agree race is actually social and legal, and our current conceptions of race largely still date back to the 17th-19th Centuries, when they were used as a tool for imperialism.

    ‘Black’ is a race. ‘White’ is a race. But two black people can be massively different at a genetic level–e.g., African Bushmen from Igo Nigerians. There is more genetic diversity in those Bushmen descended from the San, for example, than there is in most other African ethnic groups. The Bushmen and Igbo cannot really be considered one ‘race’, since they are so different genetically. Skin colour comes from rather superficial similarities and differences and so isn’t an indication of genetic proximity.

    But race is still an important issue for the reasons you give–it still impacts on people’s everyday lives, precisely because it’s a social construct. It’s a label and identity politic that is used either voluntarily or not to define us every day, so it is relevant. It’s ‘real’ in the sense of our consciousness of it, and its semiotic existence, even if not in a biological/scientific sense.

  5. Lisa, I think cultural background has a lot to do with it. The USA has long used the terms interracial and biracial where other countries have not. Your parents grew up in an era when those terms were normal and they would naturally have described themselves thus, yet I was over 40 before I heard those words.

    I still find them strange words and I personally avoid using them unless speaking/writing to an American audience where I know the use is common.

    I definitely prefer multicultural as there is only one human race. I believe it is a less divisive term.

    Bottom line: diversity is a wonderful thing!! 🙂

  6. Race is a reality…multicultural means to me: Chinese-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian, Chinese-Caribbean (I think their patois is cool. :)), etc. Then all this is different from Chinese in mainland China, Chinese in Taiwan.

    Multi-racial is my some of nieces & nephews who are half Chinese-white.

    In your article, Lisa I liked your advice ” Model confidence without being confrontational”. So important for others and for younger generation!

  7. Technically, you are talking about multiracial families and presumably each individual family has its traditions and culture. In one of the scenarios where the daughter is of Asian descent but is adopted, its possible she’s not being raised in the culture of her ancestors, but of her adopted family. So multicultural might not apply. However, multiracial definitely does.

    • As I said, I never heard the words until late in life – we just don’t use them. They MAY be creeping into our lexicon due to the Americanisation of our society, but we are one of the most “mixed” countries in the world and it wasn’t normal.

      I am interested: do you believe that scientifically there is more than one race?

      • Scientifically-speaking, of course there isn’t more than one ‘race’. But speaking sociologically, ‘race’ is a real idea, and has cultural value because of the effects and consequences of what is perceived as ‘race’. Race, then, is something virtual (and all in the mind), but a thing that affects us despite that.

    • Thank you, Monica. I appreciate your take on this.

  8. To all: Thank you for your thoughtful opinions on this!


  9. Lisa, this is shameless self promotion, but your thoughtful take on the issue of parenting multiracial children made me want to share my new greeting cards publishing co. with you – Cards in Color (,, a greeting cards co. dedicated to celebrated multiracial families.

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