Just months after the U.S. government included "mixed race" as a checkbox in the 2000 U.S. Census, two dot-com entrepreneurs are incorporating this newly-acknowledged identity into business plans. Monday, CEO Wendy Marston is launching HalfJew.com, a cross between a magazine and a community site that focuses on the experiences of people whose heritage is -- what else? -- half-Jewish. "I'm sick of hearing from Jews that there's no such thing as a half-Jew," quipped Marston, herself the child of a Jewish father and an Episcopalian mother. "One of the goals of this Web site will be to establish a half-Jewish homeland," says Marston. "As CEO, I've decided it's going to be Governor's Island, off the coast of Manhattan. Nobody is using it, and we can have our mixers there! Mixers for the mixed."
Joining Marston in the struggle to make mixed-race people a target market is 21-year-old Art Harrison, whose Mixedrace.com launched as a beta site in September. Like Marston, Harrison's investment in his Web site is personal as well as financial. A Canadian whose father is African and whose mother is Scottish, Harrison says he's been interested in mixed-race identity since he launched a joke site two years ago called Biracial World Domination. Since that time, he's been invited to speak at Harvard's annual conference on mixed-race issues, and has been studying computer science at Carleton College in Ottawa, Ontario.
Harrison is raising venture capital for Mixedrace.com, hoping to expand it into a comprehensive community site featuring instant messaging, e-mail groups and content subchannels on issues such as interracial dating and culture. Community is the key term for Marston and Harrison, who both decry the lack of cohesiveness among people who come from mixed backgrounds.
The Web, with its focus on interactivity, seemed to offer the perfect solution. They could create the mixed communities they longed for and make some money too. Although the financial future for both sites is still unclear, the CEOs are already dealing with sticky questions about content. Specifically, who counts as a half-Jew or a mixed-race person? "It's a self-identification thing," affirmed Harrison. "Mixedrace represents people without the barriers of race, yet these people exist because of those barriers. You have to have whole race people to have mixed race people." Marston admitted that she's not sure whether to define half-Jewish identity as racial or not. "Judaism is measured genetically, since you are considered Jewish only if your mother is Jewish, thus proving your parentage," she mused. "And that sounds like a racial identity to me. But I'm still not sure if I'd be considered mixed-race."
HalfJew.com and Mixedrace.com will be competing with whole-race sites such as AsianAvenue.com, Black Voices and NetNoir, all of which have been fairly successful in the burgeoning market for ethnic and racial content online. But as the mixed race magazine Mavin pointed out in a recent issue, the numbers of mixed-race people in the U.S. are growing by leaps and bounds. Quoting the U.S. Census Bureau, Mavin reported that by 2050, 30 million U.S. citizens will be of mixed racial backgrounds. "I think it's a good sign if people want to identify as mixed-race," Harrison said decisively. "It means that racial barriers are breaking down." His sentiment might fly with the Census people. But in the dot-com world, all that matters is whether mixed-race people and half-Jews have money to burn online.