Hybridity is a concept that denotes racial mixture. It has evolved from origins in nineteenth-century racial science (see scientific racism) wherein inter-racial crossings were feared to a more celebrated status within contemporary postcolonial thought and cultural criticism. The term borrows from the Latin ‘hybrida,’ or offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it became associated with the development of the natural sciences (especially biology, zoology, and botany) where hybrid referred to the outcome of the mixture of two separate species of plant or animal, such as the mule. With the development of racial classification, the term soon was expanded to include humans, expressed in such labels as mulatto, cross-breed, and half-breed. Application of the concept to inter-racial sexual union helped focus

debate in the nineteenth century over whether humans were one or several species. This debate between monogenesists and polygenesists turned to a considerable degree on the question of whether or not the offspring of such union, or hybrid, was fertile. Although monogenesis eventually triumphed in the wake of Darwinian theory, and along with it belief in the fecundity of the hybrid, the growing potential for inter-racial union in the context of slavery and colonialism produced much anxiety with regard to racial purity and the survival of the ‘superior race.’ Inter-racial sexuality certainly occurred but was normatively considered socially transgressive and morally repugnant (see miscegenation). The hybrid was characterized as of weak constitution, as at once contaminated and contaminating the purity of the white race. The purported dangers of hybridization in leading to the degeneration of white society and culture fueled strictures against inter-racial marriage and anti-miscegenation campaigns worldwide, as well as being used to justify segregation well into the twentieth century. Despite such negative connotations and problematic origins in colonial

and white supremacist ideologies, a number of postcolonial theorists and cultural critics have sought to reclaim hybridity and reinvest the concept with liberatory potential. It is precisely the transgressive power that made hybridity such a threat in earlier eras that today

motivates its embrace by scholars seeking to upset essentialist doctrines of racial origins and identity. The biologistic metaphors that animated earlier discussions of hybridity have given way to cultural ones that welcome impurity, border-crossings, heterogeneity, and cultural fusion as central to the postmodern condition. The productive recombination of cultural forms that results from cross-cultural and interethnic exchange has been welcomed by cultural critics in realms such as art, music, and literature. Postcolonial theorists, most notably Homi Bhabha (1994), have celebrated hybridity as an antidote to dominant cultural power in colonial settings. Appropriation by the colonized of linguistic and cultural forms of the colonizer need not signal capitulation. On the contrary for Bhabha, such acts of mimicry and replication involve fissure or slippage between the production of colonial discourse and its reception by the colonial subject wherein colonial discourse begins to unravel itself while the colonial subject produces itself anew in hybrid form. Critics have charged that the formation of new cultural hybrid forms and subjects in what Bhabha terms the “third space” need not signal effective subversion of relationships of power and powerlessness between rulers and ruled. Nevertheless, attention to the productive powers of hybridization in the context of colonialism has animated poststructuralist theories of identity that are anti-essentialist and offer the possibility of inclusivemulticultural politics. The concept of hybridity has also found traction in the burgeoning literature on multiracialism. An emergent multiracial movement refuses the stigma that children of mixed race parentage are somehow problematic vis-à-vis coherent racial identity formation. Multiple subjectivity is celebrated instead in a way that refuses the essentialist thinking that renders hybridity problematic in the first place as well as coerced alliance with one or the other side of the binary divide. It is not surprising that debate about the usefulness of the concept

of hybridity has been active, especially given its historical slippage from references to animal and plant reproductive behavior to inter-racial human sexual union and then again to cultural fusion and multiracial identity formation. Some worry that the utility of the concept is weakened because of past association with biological notions of racial hierarchy and that seemingly more neutral versions of cultural hybridity are vulnerable to resonance with unintended essentialist or biological meanings. Others charge that not enough consideration of the material effects of racism is apparent in discussions of the emancipatory potential of hybrid cultural forms, or that such optimism is too much the preserve of a middle-class cosmopolitan elite. One result of such critique is that scholars who employ the concept today are called

upon to better historicize its usage and pay more adequate attention to geopolitical context, social and political determinations, institutional frameworks, and social divisions related to class and gender. Otherwise there is the danger that, for example, aboriginal art could be celebrated as an instance of cultural fusion, without discussion of the current political and economic challenges to the survival of the aboriginal people. For the most part, such critique has been productive in leading to new trends in the study of hybridity, such as attention to the range of ways multiracial identities are negotiated or performed in different contexts and at different times. Another example of a positive trend is the attempt to move beyond the relationship between colonized and colonizer to a focus on hybridity as an increasingly global condition constituted by dynamics between national or other entities not exclusively positioned in relation to the West. A similar trend can be noted with respect to a shift in focus from transgression of the black and white binary to hybridity constituted by inter-racial relationships that do not include white people.