The New Colored People: The Mixed Race Movement in America (Book Review)

The New Colored People: The Mixed Race Movement in America by Jon Michael Spencer (1997) makes the argument that the US multi-cultural movement, like other movements in the past, is something that we need to pay attention for two reasons. Spencer cites the first reason to pay attention is due to the increasing numbers of people who are born with or have become more comfortable expressing their “mixed-race”heritage. The second reason Spencer gives is his assertion that our society as whole is not particularly ready to deal with the potential social, legal, and cultural consequences that could happen as a result. In other words, the multi-racial movement is more than just the right to check multiple ethnicities or the “Other” section for race on an application. Spencer’s interest in the growing multicultural movement of the US is not for its own sake (though he believes it worth studying) , but to compare this movement with similar movements in South Africa and use that comparison to predict the impact of the multicultural movement in the future. Spencer conducts a comprehensive analysis on the subject; however his primary audience and the target of his study is the impact of the mixed-race movement on the African-American community.

With provocative chapter titles like “The Rainbow People of God” and “The Blessings of the One-Drop Rule”, Spencer hopes to open the discussion about some of the questions raised by the multicultural movement like:

  • Is it wrong for a society for a person of mixed-race heritage (Black and White for example) to only “claim” membership in one race?
  • Does the “multi-racial” category pose a threat to African-American interests?
  • Are there psychological and social consequences for claiming membership in the “mixed race” or “multi-racial” category?
  • Given that it has been proven that race has no scientific basis, how and when should the conversation end?

Spencer analyzes these questions from all sides, with a particular emphasis on how they would impact the African-American, but also the community at large. Using the South African “colored” (mixed-race) movement occurred as his point of argument, Spencer demonstrates how he felt this movement was co-opted by the white South Africans for political gain and mistreated by the black South Africans which ultimately left “coloreds” a marginalized group of permanent “in betweens”. He contends that this pattern, which he acknowledges happens in America, could cause serious social upheaval, especially if the trend in interracial marriage and multi-racial identity expression continues. Spencer ends the book by asserting the best solution for the “multiracial movement” is the broadening and acceptance of the multi-racial category until we get to the point where we no longer need to use the “race” category at all.

Overall, the book is an incredibly interesting look at the multi-racial movement from a unique point of view. Although it definitely cannot be considered “light” reading, it is not something that it is inaccessible to casual and lay readers. The author raises some really intriguing questions and provides a wealth of information, personal experience and observation to draw on in making a well-informed and intriguing argument that seeks to take on the nuanced question of how our society should deal with people of “mixed-race” descent

Pages: 164 [Excluding extra chapter material and index]

Stars: 4.5/5.0


  • Intriguing and unique perspective
  • Intriguing anecdotes and examples
  • Well-researched arguments


  • Some sections in the chapter are quite long
  • Does not include enough about the history of the multi-cultural movement in the US
  • Author goes on personal attack in some parts of argument on multi-racial identity



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