Multiracials in the United States Research Paper

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The 2000 U.S. Census provided the first opportunity for persons to self-identify with more than one race. More than 6.8 million Americans, representing 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, marked two or more races in the 2000 Census. Of these self-identified persons of multiple races, 2.2 million reported just two categories: white and “some other race,” representing the largest category, or 32.32 percent of multiple-race combinations; and white and American Indian, 15.86 percent of the multiracial population. The next largest categories reported combinations of white and Asian, or 12.72 percent of the multiracial population, and white and black, or 11.50 percent of the multiracial population. In other words, nearly threequarters of the multiracial population reported two races, combining white with something else (Social Science Data Analysis Network 2000). Hawaii and Alaska are the states with the largest multiracial populations (21.4 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively). In the continental United States, California and Texas have the largest number of counties with multirace populations that exceed 5 percent (Besl 2001).

The 2000 Census method of counting multiracial populations may yield under estimates of the total numbers of persons who identify as multiracial. Analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a panel that includes multiple indicators of race, shows that contextual factors influence responses to the multirace question. For example, whereas 3.6 percent of all (nonHispanic) respondents reported multirace identification when interviewed in a home setting, 6.8 percent reported multirace identification in a self-administered school interview (Harris and Sim 2002).

Alternative methods of counting multiracials would permit persons to identify as multiracial or biracial, a position advocated by multiracial advocacy groups such as Project RACE and the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (Rockquemore and Brunsma 2002), groups that have mobilized various constituencies to identify persons of mixed race as a separate category (Farley 2002; Childs 2004). Some believe that this method of counting multiracials would result in a larger count of multiracials and a lower count of single-race persons, particularly blacks (Farley 2002).

At various points in U.S. history, persons of mixed racial heritage have been documented and counted within single racial categories. In early censuses racial categories included free whites, slaves, free colored (nonwhites), and all other persons, excluding Indians not taxed (see U.S. Census Bureau 1821, p. 14). Persons of multiple races were included as slaves, free colored, or “all other persons.” Rules evolved to assign mixed-race persons to specific single-race categories; a common one in most U.S. states was the “one-drop rule,” whereby persons with even a small amount of black blood were assigned to the Negro category (Hunter 2005). American Indians of mixed heritage were classified by a different rule. In the 1870 census Francis A. Walker, superintendent of the census, reported that “[T]he principle that has governed in the classification of persons of part-Indian blood in the present census has been as follows: Where persons reported as ‘Halfbreeds’ are found residing with whites, adopting their habits and life and methods of industry, such persons are to be treated as belonging to the white population” (U.S. Census Bureau 1871, p. xiii).

In the 1850 census Negroes were designated for the first time as either black or mulatto (Daniel 2002, p. 40). Mulattos accounted for 24.8 percent of the black population in the North and 11.2 percent of the black population overall (Daniel 2002, p. 40). The 1890 census categorized mixed-race Negroes into further groups. Of the 62,622,250 persons counted in the 1890 census, 7,638,366 were reported to be colored, and of those, 7,470,049 were classified as “of Negro descent.” Persons of Negro descent were further classified as Negroes, mulattos (one-half black), quadroons (one-quarter black), and octoroons (one-eighth black). Negroes accounted for 6,337,980 of those classified as persons of Negro descent, and mixed-race persons of Negro descent represented about 15 percent of the black population.

In New Orleans and Charleston, mixed-race persons were middlemen between the black and white communities, justifying a codification that made a distinction between Negroes determined by the one-drop rule and multiracial persons with separate identities, social organizations, and networks (Daniel 2002, pp. 55–60). However, this status was threatened by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which solidified the one-drop rule and denied octoroons rights held by whites (Daniel 2002, p. 79). The allegation that persons of mixed race have social and economic advantages has been challenged in recent research, although lighter skin color seems to confer educational and income advantages to African American women (Hunter 2005, p. 48).

In 1977 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive 15 established four racial classifications for use in federal statistics and administrative reporting: (1) white, (2) black, (3) Asian or Pacific Islander, and (4) American Indian or Alaskan Native. These classifications, along with two ethnicity categories and the category “some other race,” provided the basis for reporting and data collection. After considerable lobbying by multiracial groups and following public hearings and a workshop hosted by the National Academy of Sciences, the OMB issued new regulations in 1997. The revised standards stated that the minimum categories for racial classification would be: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; black or African American; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; and white. Respondents to federal questionnaires or surveys would be able to select one or more races. The 2000 census included a sixth racial category, “some other race” (U.S. Census Bureau 2000), and the OMB provided further clarification on collecting and reporting multiracial data for federal civil rights monitoring and enforcement (Office of Management and Budget 2000).

During the 1990s a vocal group of multirace advocates unsuccessfully lobbied for the inclusion of a specific Census category called multiracial. Although such a category can be inferred from the 1997 OMB standards, it did not achieve the political ends its advocates desired. Kim Williams, a leading analyst of the multirace political movement, concluded that advocates want the multiracial designation to help improve the self-esteem of children of mixed race backgrounds. The multirace political movement is seen as an alternative to traditional civil-rights approaches focusing on single races (Williams 2005; 2006).


  1. Besl, J 2001. Diversity on a Personal Level: A First Look at Multiple Race Population. Indiana Business Review (June).
  2. Campbell, Mary, and Jennifer Eggering-Boeck. What about the Children? The Psychological and Social Well-Being of Multiracial Adolescents. The Sociological Quarterly 47: 147–173.
  3. Childs, Erica Chito. Multiracial Cyberspace. In The Politics of Multiracialism: Challenging Racial Thinking, ed. Heather Dalmage, 143–160. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  4. Daniel, Reginald. 2002. More Than Black? Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  5. Farley, R 2002. Racial Identities in 2000. In The New Race Question, eds. Joel Perlmann and Mary Waters, 33–37. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  6. Harris, David, and Jeremiah S 2002. Who Is Multiracial? Assessing the Complexity of Lived Race. American Sociological Review 67 (4): 614–627.
  7. Hunter, Margar 2005. Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone. New York: Routledge.
  8. Office of Management and B 2000. Guidance on Aggregation and Allocation of Data on Race for Use in Civil Rights Monitoring and Enforcement.
  9. Rockquemore, Kerry Ann, and David Br 2002. Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  10. Snipp, Matthew. 2002. American Indians: Clues to the Future of Other Racial Groups. In The New Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Individuals, eds. Joel Perlmann and Mary Waters, 189–214. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  11. Social Science Data Analysis Networ 2000. U.S. Multiracial Profile. CensusScope Web Site.
  12. S. Census Bureau. 1821. Census for 1820. Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton.
  13. S. Census Bureau. 1871. Report of the Superintendent of the Ninth Census. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  14. S. Census Bureau. 2000. Racial and Ethnic Classifications Used in Census 2000 and Beyond.
  15. Williams, Kim 2005. Multiracialism & The Civil Rights Future. Daedalus 134 (winter): 53–60.
  16. Williams, Kim 2006. Mark One or More: Civil Rights in Multiracial America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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