Published in The Oxford Handbook of Law and Humanities
Edited by Simon Stern, Maksymilian Del Mar, and Bernadette Meyler

This chapter explores contemporary accounts of racialization, arguing that Americans are currently experiencing a period of “racial ambiguity blues.” The chapter explains that contemporary racial politics have been powerfully shaped by the emergence of a group of racially ambiguous characters offering controversial racial claims. The controversies triggered by these stories of racial ambiguity lay bare the fact that there currently are competing rules for determining an individual’s race in American society and no single model or account of racialization controls. The chapter briefly lays out the three contemporary racialization models: “so-called” biological race, physical race, and performative race. It then identifies the material and political implications of each racialization model. After noting the challenges the competing racialization models pose for sociology, the chapter highlights ways aspects of the various racialization models can be integrated, offering as an example the author’s account of “elective race.” Additionally, the chapter points to the ways in which analytic approaches from the humanities can help social science scholars craft new analyses that better account for racial ambiguity and racial fluidity. The chapter closes by identifying four new challenges on the horizon for all scholars of racialization across field.