The Shifting Definition of Mixed-Race in America
Radical changes in U.S. demographics are reinventing what it means to be multiracial
“Raise your hand if you would see me on the street and think I’m Black?”
Several hands went up in an auditorium full of college students.
“Okay. What about biracial?”
“Hmm… And what if I wore my hair in an Afro?”
Still more hands flew into the air.
What are you?
Multiracial people field that question daily.
Not long ago — before, during, and just after the civil rights era — there was often an unspoken understanding that those of us who are biracial should answer to only one race. One reality. One allegiance. Even today, a majority of adults who are multiracial choose not to identify that way.
But others are beginning to question that arrangement.
#Blackipino #Blaxican #Hapa #Blasian
“It’s very much the norm for young people to see themselves as multiracial today,” says Reginald Daniel, a professor of sociology at the University of California Santa Barbara and editor of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies. “That was not the case 30 years ago. There is less contestation now. The conversation is different.”
Official estimates put the multiracial population in this country somewhere between 2% and 7%. However, most experts agree that this number lags well behind the reality.
In 1997, Tiger Woods became a laughingstock among Black folk for referring to himself as “Cablinasian” (Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Asian). But today, that kind of insistence on embracing all aspects of one’s heritage is common. More and more multiracial youth are insisting that who they are inside, who they feel themselves to be, is what matters most, whether or not this identity “matches” the way they look, or fits into societal expectations.
The number of multiracial young people in the United States has skyrocketed. Fourteen percent of infants born in 2015 were mixed-race, a figure that has nearly tripled since 1980. The number of multiracial youth is growing three times as fast as the population as a whole. More than 17% of all newlyweds are in interracial marriages.
Official estimates put the multiracial population in the United States somewhere between 2% and 7%. However, most experts agree that this number lags well behind the reality. In 2015, a groundbreaking report by the Pew Research Center outlined some of the reasons why.
To start, the U.S. Census doesn’t count Hispanics as a race at all, despite the fact that 34% of Latinos consider themselves multiracial. Second, Middle Easterners, Arabs, and North Africans are all counted, strangely, as White.
Our series takes all of the various possible combinations into account, from Samoan and Pakistani, to Vietnamese and Salvadoran — even including transracial adoptees. We go beyond typical Black-White binary narratives to explore bigger, wider understandings of what it means to be multiracial in America today.
This is a revolution, but it’s one whose reach is not yet fully documented.
What will these shifting demographics mean for us as a country? How will they impact us, individually and collectively? Will they make a difference in the 2020 presidential election?
More and more multiracial youth are insisting that who they are inside, who they feel themselves to be, is what matters most, whether or not this identity “matches” the way they look, or fits into societal expectations.
The Pew Research Center found that multiracial people tend to see the world through a different political lens than those who identify with only one race. More than half of mixed-race adults between the ages of 18 and 29 identify with neither Republicans nor Democrats. Instead, 29% of this group call themselves independent while another 23% identify simply as “something else.”
Research shows that identity is more fluid for multiracial people. As Kamala Harris writes in The Truths We Hold, okra can be either soul food or Indian food depending on the context. When her mother added shrimp and sausage, it was gumbo. Fried with turmeric and mustard seeds, it suddenly became Indian.
But make no mistake about it: Blackness is still the impenetrable divide in this country; the last frontier.
“It’s still really hard to think of someone as being part-Black,” says Daniel. “Mixed-race people automatically get ‘reconstructed’ by whoever is doing the looking. That doesn’t happen with other combinations. You say you’re part Asian and it’s, ‘Oh, okay.’ But throw Blackness in there and the conversation stops. Hold on. Wait a minute.”
Multiracial youth will not somehow magically transform our society, as some have suggested. They will not serve as a “vaccine” against racism. We are not blind to color, and race still matters. But, by their very existence, multiracial youth have the potential to infuse a spirit of possibility in us all by reminding us that we have the power to see, and comprehend, what lies beyond the human eye.