Multiracial Identity Research

The Racial Elevator Speech: How Multiracial Individuals Respond to Racial Identity Inquiries

Heilman, Monica. 2022. “The Racial Elevator Speech: How Multiracial Individuals Respond to Racial Identity Inquiries.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 8(3):370–85. [Postprint here]

Colleagues, acquaintances, and complete strangers often ask multiracial and “racially ambiguous” individuals to share their racial/ethnic backgrounds through questions such as “what are you?” Through in-depth interviews, my work confirms this pattern and goes on to examine how multiracial individuals respond to these inquiries. I find that participants developed “racial elevator speeches” or scripts that they applied across multiple contexts, rather than tailoring to every new interaction. Multiracial participants chose their racial elevator speeches intentionally, often designing them for convenience and to satisfy social norms. As a result, elevator speeches did not necessary reflect perfectly accurate accounts of racial ancestry or even personal identity. This pattern speaks to the rigidity of monoracial categories in the U.S. and the limitations in how we measure race.

Reminders and References: How Others’ Racial Appraisals Shape Multiracial Identities

Scholars often use the multiracial population to make broader projections about race in the US. Yet these projections obscure the wide variation in how people experience their multiracial identities and race in general. Although past research finds that specific racial ancestries and physical appearance shape multiracial individuals’ experiences with race, my data also highlights contradictions to these patterns. Based on interviews with multiracial young adults, I find that the salience of race for individuals can vary regardless of their ancestry or appearance. Two types of interactions appeared to indicate race salience: racial reminders and racial references. This study contributes to existing research that explains how race is contextual and social, and draws on the experiences of multiracial people to better understand how race functions in the U.S.

Arts-Based Research

A growing number of researchers use the arts in their research. Artwork can act as data, as a tool to analyze data, and as a compelling, accessible way to present research findings. I use drawings and illustrations to better understand and communicate social phenomenon. You can find some of this research and artwork below.

Home is where it happens: a visual essay on pandemic parenting

Monica Heilman and Jessica Calarco. 2022. “Home is where it happens: a visual essay on pandemic parenting.” Visual Studies, [Postprint here]

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many U.S. schools, childcare centers, and non-essential workplaces closed or moved to a virtual, remote format. As a result, many families were forced to combine childcare, schooling, and paid work responsibilities within the home. This shift had unequal consequences, with employed mothers often bearing the brunt of additional childcare and household labor. In this visual essay, we draw from in-depth interviews with mothers of young children (N = 65), conducted in the early stages of the pandemic (April-May 2020) to produce three illustrations. As an analytic tool and form of data representation, these illustrations portray the experiences of employed mothers, situate these experiences within the broader institutional contexts of the pandemic, and use visual elements designed to leave layers of meaning up to audience interpretation.

Viral Racisms: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Respond to COVID-19

Monica Heilman. 2020. “Halmoni” and “Paternal Grandmother.” Journal of Asian American Studies 23(3): 319-21, [Postprint here]