The two largest national news stories right now — the white ex-NAACP leader who adopted an identity as a Black woman, and the June horrific killing of 9 people in the Charleston AME church shooting — are both linked inexorably to problems of race in 21st century America.
Over the last few days, the Pew Research Center has fueled discussion with surveys and studies. The first, a survey of America’s multiracial population. The second, an overview of the fluid state of multiracial identity within this population.
“Multiracial Americans are at the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the U.S.,” the first study begins. “[They are] young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole.”
The Pew survey found that, in the wake of fading taboos about interracial marriage, almost 7 percent of Americans have at least two races in their background. (Note: this extends only to parents and grandparents.)
Moreover, the majority (60 percent) of multiracial adults are proud of their mixed heritage and feel it has made them more tolerant of other cultures. About one in five multiracial adults credited their background as an advantage in life, while the overwhelming percentage (76 percent) said it made no difference whatsoever. Only 4 percent thought of their mixed-race background as a disadvantage.
But there’s a big caveat. A whopping 61 percent of mixed-racial adults — including those with parents of two different races — did not openly identify as “multiracial.”
As a possible explanation, Pew points to evidence of fluid racial identification. In short, about 30 percent of multiracial adults say they have changed the way they describe their race over the years.
But it’s not always as easy as checking a different box on the census.
For Latinos in particular, the bureaucratized guidelines of race and ethnicity have affected how they self-identify. Here’s a key section from the Pew’s findings:
“In addition to painting a portrait of multiracial Americans, the survey findings challenge some traditional ideas about race. The Census Bureau currently recognizes five racial categories: white, black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Hispanic origin is asked about separately as an ethnicity and is not considered a race.
But when Latinos are asked whether they consider being Hispanic to be part of their racial or ethnic background, the survey finds that about two-thirds of Hispanics say it is, at least in part, their race. For the majority of this report, Hispanic origin is treated as an ethnicity, rather than a race, and multiracial Hispanics are those who say they are Hispanic and two separate races (for example, someone who is Hispanic and also chooses black and white as his or her races). This is consistent with how the Census Bureau counts mixed-race Hispanics. However, because Hispanic identity is tied to both race and ethnicity for many Latinos, Chapter 7 of this report explores a broader definition of mixed race.”
Want to hear how multiracial Americans think about their identity? Check out Pew’s video interviews.
The Pew study was conducted from “a nationally representative survey” of 1,555 multiracial Americans ages 18 and older, conducted online from Feb. 6 to April 6, 2015.
Max Marin is a Knight Fellow at AL DÍA News. Previously he has worked as a journalist in the Middle East, covering business, urban development, and human rights issues. His Spanish is pretty limited at the moment, but he says “dame seis meses.”