A May 28, 2008 Associated Press story that shows that "multiracial people" are the fastest growing demographic category in the United States is very interesting piece of information, one that probably foreshadows the outlines of America's racial landscape in the coming years.
The black-white binary that has been such a dominant feature of America's racial taxonomy for centuries may now be gradually giving way to the reality of America's racial kaleidoscope.
To be sure, the fact of America's complex racial tapestry is not a new one. It has always been there. Black Americans have always embodied and embraced it. Many of them cherish the thought that they are multi-racial in their genetic composition, although a recent study indicates that only a little over 15 percent of them are indeed multiracial.
However, over the years, the white population has boxed everybody with the wispiest smidgeon of sub-Saharan African blood into a "black" racial category. That's why people like Collin Powell (with over 80 percent European genes), Mariah Carey (with probably over 90 percent European genes), etc are regarded as "black."
Well, now that multiracial people are accepted by the US Census Bureau as constituting a legitimate and distinct racial category and are growing in size and social acceptance, what consequences will this have racial identity politics in America? I suspect that one of two things might happen.
First, we may witness a massive diminution in the numerical strength of the "black" population in America. As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, many, perhaps most, black Americans fancy themselves as multi- or at least bi-racial Americans and seem to feel trapped in their current "black" identity.
It is entirely conceivable that, in subsequent censuses, many African Americans who cherish the illusion that they are descended from Indian ( i.e., Native American) ancestors will check the multi-racial box to self-describe their identity.
Now, when you add the previously-black-but-now-multi-racial crowd to "other" multiracial people who are products of more recent racial alchemies of different races in America, you may be confronted with the certain reality that "multi-racial" will become the new dominant minority.
It could very well outpace the “black” and Hispanic populations.
Perhaps, multiracial people could even become the majority in the distant future given the progressive decline in the population of the currently numerically dominant white population.
A second possibility is that multiracial people could become a buffer between the black and Latino populations on the one hand and the white population on the other hand-- in the manner of the "Coloreds" of South Africa and the Mestizos of Latin America.
Now, this will have real consequences for racial redistributive justice. If "black" people who, for historical reasons, have been beneficiaries of several policies of positive discrimination (such as Affirmative Action, what we call "quota system" or "federal character principle" in Nigeria)are now self-identified "multiracial" people, what would happen to these policies?
And what would happen to the collective memory of what it means to be black in America? And, indeed, what would happen to the black American culture that took centuries to take roots if most "black" people suddenly transmogrify to "multiracial" people?
Let's face it. "Multiracialness" is really actually not, nor can it be, a racial identity category in the sense in which "black," "white" and Hispanic or Latino are. What bonds will bind it together? What common markers will define it? What collective memories will lubricate and sustain it?
In the context of the history of America's racial politics, where there is security in numbers, it is, in reality, a politically disempowering identity. Even President Obama who recently self-deprecatingly described himself as a "mutt" self-identifies as "black."
It is therefore tempting to dismiss the rise in the number of people who identify as multi-racial as a mere flash in the pan, as a fad that will fade in the heat of America's vicious racial politics. But I could be entirely wrong.
It would be interesting, nonetheless, to watch how this chic, new identity evolves in America.
Multiracial people become fastest growing US group
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – Multiracial Americans have become the fastest growing demographic group, wielding an impact on minority growth that challenges traditional notions of race.
The number of multiracial people rose 3.4 percent last year to about 5.2 million, according to the latest census estimates. First given the option in 2000, Americans who check more than one box for race on census surveys have jumped by 33 percent and now make up 5 percent of the minority population — with millions more believed to be uncounted.
Demographers attributed the recent population growth to more social acceptance and slowing immigration. They cited in particular the high public profiles of Tiger Woods and President Barack Obama, a self-described "mutt," who are having an effect on those who might self-identify as multiracial.
Population figures as of July 2008 show that California, Texas, New York and Florida had the most multiracial people, due partly to higher numbers of second- and later-generation immigrants who are more likely to "marry out." Measured by percentages, Hawaii ranked first with nearly 1 in 5 residents who were multiracial, followed by Alaska and Oklahoma, both at roughly 4 percent.
Utah had the highest growth rate of multiracial people in 2008 compared to the previous year, a reflection of loosening social morals in a mostly white state.
"Multiracial unions have been happening for a very long time, but we are only now really coming to terms with saying it's OK," said Carolyn Liebler, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in family, race and ethnicity.
"I don't think we've nearly tapped the potential. Millions are yet to come out," she said.
In Middletown, N.J., Kayci Baldwin, 17, said she remembers how her black father and white mother often worried whether she would fit in with the other kids. While she at first struggled with her identity, Baldwin now actively embraces it, sponsoring support groups and a nationwide multiracial teen club of 1,000 that includes both Democrats and Republicans.
"I went to my high school prom last week with my date who is Ecuadoran-Nigerian, a friend who is Chinese-white and another friend who is part Dominican," she said. "While we are a group that was previously ignored in many ways, we now have an opportunity to fully identify and express ourselves."
The latest demographic change comes amid a debate on the role of race in America, complicating conventional notions of minority rights.
Under new federal rules, many K-12 schools next year will allow students for the first time to indicate if they are "two or more races." The move is expected to cause shifts in how test scores are categorized, potentially altering race disparities and funding for education programs.
Five justices of the Supreme Court have signaled they would like to end racial preferences in voting rights and employment cases — a majority that may not change even if Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed as the first Hispanic justice. Blacks and Hispanics, meanwhile, are touting a growing minority population and past discrimination in pushing for continued legal protections.
Left out of the discussion are multiracial people, who are counted as minorities but can be hard to define politically and socioeconomically. Demographers say that while some multiracial Americans may feel burdened or isolated by their identity, others quickly learn to navigate it and can flourish from their access to more racial networks.
"The significance of race as we know it in today's legal and government categories will be obsolete in less than 20 years," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution.
"The rise of mixed-race voters will dilute the racial identity politics that have become prevalent in past elections," he said.
Liebler noted a potential dilemma where a white student who is one-eighth Cherokee applies to college and seeks an admissions preference based on race and disadvantaged status. Should the college give the multiracial student the boost, if one-eighth of his family suffered a past racial harm but seven-eighths of his family were the perpetrators?
"It's a huge question for our legal system and our policies," she said. "Tomorrow we could have a legal case that challenges whether a multiracial person is a minority."
Census data also show:
_More than half of the multiracial population was younger than 20 years old, a reflection of declining social stigma as interracial marriages became less taboo.
_Interracial marriages increased threefold to 4.3 million since 2000, when Alabama became the last state to lift its unenforceable ban on interracial marriages. (The Supreme Court barred race-based restrictions on marriage in 1967.) About 1 in 13 marriages are mixed race, with the most prevalent being white-Hispanic, white-American Indian and white-Asian.
_Due to declining immigration because of legal restrictions and the lackluster economy, the growth rates of the Hispanic and Asian populations slowed last year to 3.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, compared to multiracial people's 3.4 percent. The black population rose at a rate of about 1 percent; the white population only marginally increased.
Currently, census forms allow U.S. residents to check more than one box for their race. But there is no multiracial category, and survey responses can vary widely depending on whether a person considers Hispanic a race or ethnicity.
"It's all about awareness," said Susan Graham, founder and executive director of California-based Project Race, which advocates for a multiracial classification on government forms. "We want a part of the pie chart."
The 2008 census estimates used local records of births and deaths and tax records of people moving within the U.S. The figures for "white" refer to those whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity. For purposes of defining interracial marriages, Hispanic is counted as a race.