How might social policies change as more Americans identify themselves as “multiracial”?

How might social policies change as more Americans identify themselves as “multiracial”?

The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University
Good Question: An Exploration in Ethics series

William Darity, Jr., Arts & Sciences Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics
Duke University

QUESTION: How might social policies change as more Americans identify themselves as “multiracial”?

ANSWER: Are more Americans, in fact, identifying themselves as “multiracial”? Census 2000 provided respondents with the first opportunity to select more than one racial category. At the time, 2.4 percent of all respondents—or about 6.8 million people—actually selected two categories or more for their racial self-classification. While preliminary reports from Census 2010 indicate that the number of persons checking “two or more” racial categories has risen 35% since Census 2000, the overall proportion remains at less than 3% of all Census respondents.

The best evidence suggests there has yet to be a sea change in the proportion of Americans selecting a multiracial identity. Furthermore, practices of racial self-classification are much less likely to have any significant implications for the direction of social policies than practices of social classification—how people are perceived and categorized racially and ethnically by others. A person’s life chances are far more greatly influenced by how others see and situate them than by the individual’s personal selection of a racial classification. Indeed, an individual’s physical attributes and their interpretation by others often are the critical factors dictating how he or she is treated by others….

…With regard to the connection between racial classification and social policies, there has been substantial political pressure to move away from race-targeted policies that were designed to address economic disparities in the U.S. But that pressure is not attributable to the rise in persons choosing a multiracial identity. It is due, instead, to what I believe are strong anti-black sentiments. Black Americans continuously are portrayed as undeserving of social policy initiatives uniquely designed to address their condition, particularly via popular narratives that frame blacks’ subordinate economic condition as due to their own personal irresponsibility and bad behavior…

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