Monday, August 25, 2008

Multiracial Americans and the Future of Race

By Cheryl Staats, Research Assistant at the Kirwan Institute

Recent population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau depicted the changes that statisticians and demographers predict our population will undergo by the year 2050. Most of the trends and projections were relatively unsurprising, such as the expected growth in the Hispanic population or the notion that the aging population of Baby Boomers will put a squeeze on Social Security.

One estimate that stood out to me was the prediction that the number of people who identify as being two or more races is anticipated to triple, thus raising the number from 5.2 million to 16.2 million in 2050. One of the significant hallmarks of the 2000 U.S. Census was the option for people to report more than one race. While approximately only 2% of the U.S. population selected multiple racial categories in 2000, this value is clearly anticipated to rise dramatically.

This projection makes me wonder about the future of race in U.S. society, specifically how our ideas regarding racial categorization may evolve as racial diversity increases. More specifically, will Americans eventually recognize or even embrace the notion of race being a continuum because of the increased number of people identifying as multiracial? Moreover, given the fluidity of how whiteness is conceptualized, what effect will the instability of the “white” category have in the future? (Recall that the Irish were historically not considered ‘white’ but have since received that designation.)

These questions may be best answered with time. As we try to overcome our binary perspective on race (black/white), it will be interesting to see how those that identify as multiracial will influence this transition. Some scholars, such as George Yancey in Who Is White?, assert that a dichotomous perspective on race will prevail, although perhaps in a different form (such as black/non-black) due to the permeability of racial categories. While it is impossible to predict the future, the increase in multiracial Americans will influence the dialogue regarding the evolution of how we conceptualize and categorize race.
Related links:
Press Release by the U.S. Census Bureau. 14 Aug. 2008.
America in 2050: Even Older and More Diverse. MSNBC.
Multiracial in America. MSNBC.

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