There’s an interesting piece in today’s New York Times by Mireya Navarro that takes the multiracial identity that Barack Obama claims as a jumping off point to assess the rising trend of people who identify as multiracial within the U.S. The article quotes Jenifer Bratter, assistant professor in sociology at Rice University, describing the pressures of trying to fit into one “authentic” racial identity:
“There’s this notion that there’s an authentic race and you must fit it. We’re confronted with the lack of fit.”
The article goes on to mention the last census data which reveal a steady rise in the number of interracial marriages.
The 2000 Census counted 3.1 million interracial couples, or about 6 percent of married couples. For the first time, the Census that year allowed respondents to identify themselves as being two or more races, a category that now includes 7.3 million Americans, or about 3 percent of the population.
James McBride, author of the compelling memoir, The Color of Water, about growing up in a Brooklyn housing project with his white mother says:
“When you’re mixed, you see how absurd this business of race is.”
Absurd indeed, yet a tenaciously powerful frame. My personal perspective and experience is shaped by the fact that my family includes multiracial kids who are beloved nieces and their equally beloved black dad and white mom. I hope that an increasingly multiracial America means a better place for my nieces to grow up.
Yet, lots of people still oppose interracial unions, and by extension, the multiracial people created from them. Opposition comes from a range of constituencies, such as the sort of white supremacists I study who are vehemently opposed to such “race mixing” and see this as the “mongrelization” to black nationalists who see this as genocide. Anti-miscegenation laws have been eliminated, but effectively controlling informal sanctions against interracial relationships remain entrenched in the culture.
I wonder, then, if a “multiracial America” is a sign of progress in 2008 as we come upon the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. What do you think? Drop a comment before you go.