March 4, 2019
“It was quite a bit more inclusive than the first census in 1790, when the choices were free white males, free white females, all other free people, and slaves,” said Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center.
That 1790 census didn’t fully capture the diversity of our nascent nation—Native Americans were notably absent—but neither did the census taken two centuries later in 1990, even with the inclusion of “other.” Another decade would pass before the government changed its categories to reflect a more diverse populace. And in 2000, the census went further, offering mixed-race Americans a way to check more than one box to better capture their heritage.
By 2010, about 9 million Americans said they were of mixed race, and today the share of multiracial Americans is growing at a rate three times that of the overall population.
History helps explain this change: In 1967, the Supreme Court struck down state laws in the country banning interracial marriage. That explains in part why the median age of multiracial Americans is 19—much younger than the median age of single-race Americans.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, as many as 7 percent of adults in America were estimated to be multiracial in 2015—meaning adults who identify as mixed race or who have parents or grandparents of different races. Demographers anticipate even more family diversity in the decades to come as Americans increasingly choose partners from a different race or ethnicity.
“In the past I feel like, in the United States in particular, perhaps that it was sort of looked down upon to be mixed race, that there was more value to being sort of just white or just black or just Asian or just Latino,” said Mycal, a black and white man.
Indeed, the Pew research shows that a majority of multiracial adults say they have been subjected to racial slurs or jokes, and about one-in-four have felt annoyed because people have made assumptions about their racial background.
Others see perspectives changing. “I think as we see more and more people of different racial backgrounds getting married, then you’re only likely to see this become more common,” said David, an Asian and white man. “As each milestone gets crossed off and doors open, I think it’s going to be easier.”
According to the 2015 survey, most people with a white and black background say they have more in common with blacks than whites and are more likely to feel accepted by blacks. The majority of Americans with a white and Asian background report feeling they have more in common with whites and are more likely to say they feel accepted by whites than by Asians. Biracial American Indians—whether white or black—often say they have stronger ties to the white or black community than they do to American Indians. Only about one-in-three of the multiracial Americans surveyed said they felt a great deal in common with other adults who share their racial mix. Although about 60 percent felt pride in their multiracial identity, about the same percentage said they didn’t see themselves as “mixed race or multiracial.”
About 21 percent of mixed-race adults said they felt pressured—by family, friends or “society in general”—to identify as a single race.
“Sometimes I identify as white because it’s easy,” said Amy, who is American Indian and white. “Sometimes I just get tired of explaining, like, who I am—and, like, sometimes I just don’t care to.”
For more information, read the 2015 Pew Research Center report, “Multiracial in America."
This is an abridged version of an article in Trust magazine written by Ashley Halsey III.
Learn more about Americans today: Demographics