Multiracial Subject Headings

What subject headings does the Library of Congress use for “multiracial” groups in the United States? 

In the United States, there exist small pockets of people who are identified by others and/or themselves as being racially or ethnically distinct. The Library of Congress once classed them broadly as “Tri-racial isolates” or “Bi-racial isolates”–headings discontinued in the early 1980s. Those classed as isolates were distinguished from the more general LCSH “Mulattoes,” who were any offspring resulting from the mixing of African-American and Euro-American individuals. The tri and bi-racial isolates were understood to be the mixture of African Americans, Native Americans, and/or Euro-Americans but who as a group had taken on a distinct identity, with their own name, living in their own endogamous settlements. These groups usually had their own origin stories that were different from those imposed upon them. For instance, for the Melungeons of southern Appalachia claims have been made that they are of Portuguese or Turkish descent. It has also been suggested that they are the descendants of the Lost Colony or the 13th Tribe of Israel. In the literature, these groups have been broadly classed under a variety of terms including “marginal men,” “racial islanders,” “spurious people” and other unflattering terms. In 1972, Duke University sociologist Edgar T. Thompson, writing in the American Anthropologist proposed the term “The Little Races” as a broad term to cover these diverse groups. Neither the social science literature nor LC adopted Thompson’s proposal. Today, LCSH uses the heading “Racially mixed people (May Subd Geog)”:

UF       Bi-racial people

            Biracial people

            Mixed race people

            Mulattoes [Former heading]

            Multiracial people

            Peoples of mixed descent

BT       Ethnic groups

RT       Miscegenation

The current LCSH lumps all racially mixed people together on a global basis. But you may subdivide geographically and see what peoples have already been established in the United States. For example:

Racially mixed people–United States:

               Apache Indians-Mixed descent

               Black Seminoles

               Cherokee Indians-Mixed descent

               Cheyenne Indians-Mixed descent

               Creek Indians-Mixed descent

               Kansa Indians-Mixed descent

               Ojibwa Indians-Mixed descent

               Paiute Indians-Mixed descent

               Seminole Indians-Mixed descent

               Teton Indians-Mixed descent

Some of these groups once gathered under tri- or bi-racial isolates can now be found under their own subject headings. For instance, a user can search “Melungeons,” “Melungeons–Appalachian Region, Southern,” Melungeon–Bibliography,” etc.  It is important to recognize that some of these groups, classed as racially mixed, do not see themselves as racially mixed but rather as distinct races.

A.R. Dunlap and C.A. Weslager in “Trends in the Naming of Tri-Racial Mixed-Blood Groups in the Eastern United States” (American Speech, 22:2, April 1947) identified over forty of these groups. Some are now represented in LCSH including the “Wesorts,” “Brass Ankles,” and the “Ramapo Mountain people,” while others are not, including “Sabines,” “Yellow Hammers,” “Guineas,” and “Jackson Whites.” In addition to domestic groups, international groups are currently classed under “Racially mixed people,” including the “Garifuna” of Central America, “Caboclos” of Brazil, and “Colored people (South Africa).” Note that while “Mulattoes” has been deleted, the related Latin American heading, “Mestizos,” has not.

“Mixed descent” can also be used as a subdivision for some ethnic groups (e.g. “African Americans—Mixed Descent”) in addition to serving as a “broader” collocating term.

Anthropologists have recognized for decades that race is a spurious concept but as librarians and social scientists we must deal with the reality that people think in terms of race and races. We have also known that such a thing as racial purity in today’s world does not exist. Despite our knowing that we are racially mixed, the idea of race and the presence of racial prejudice persist in human culture and like many fictions, we cannot afford to ignore the power of these beliefs in human affairs, nor how to classify them for easy retrieval.

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