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Shape Shifters: journeys across terrains of race and identity

A public lecture by Professor Paul Spickard, University of California, Santa Barbara.

PaulSWe are accustomed to thinking of identities—racial, ethnic, national, gendered, religious—as if they were permanent, essential, unalterable features of individuals and groups. A is Black, B is Jewish, C is Chinese, and so are all of the members of their respective families and kin groups. Over the last couple of decades, however, we have begun to see such identities as at least sometimes fluid, ambiguous, contingent, multiple, and malleable. 

The people whose lives are the subject of this talk are shape shifters. At different times in their lives, or over generations in their families, as they have moved from one social context to another, or as new social contexts have been imposed on them, their identities have changed from one group to another. This is not racial, ethnic, or religious imposture. It is simply the way that people’s lives have unfolded in fluid social circumstances.  

In this public talk, Professor Spickard drew on historical, literary, and interview research into the social, psychological, and political situations of people whose racial identities shifted over the course of their lives.

Professor Paul Spickard teaches History, Black Studies, and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has taught at fifteen universities in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. He is author or editor of nineteen books and seventy-odd articles on race, migration, and related topics, including: Race in Mind (2015); Global Mixed Race (2014); Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race and Colonialism in American History and Identity (2007); Is Lighter Better? Skin-Tone Discrimination among Asian Americans (2007); Race and Nation: Ethnic Systems in the Modern World (2005); Racial Thinking in the United States (2004); Pacific Diaspora (2002); and Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in 20th-Century America (1989).  

Professor Spickard was a 2016 IAS Short Stay Visiting Fellow.