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Multiracial Americans, US residents who identify themselves as of "two or more races", numbered 6.8 million in 2000, or 2.4% of the population.

Since the 1967 Supreme Court decision that deemed anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, there has been a considerable increase in the number of interracial couples and mixed-race children. Until 1989, children continued to be classified as belonging to the race of the non-white parent, reflecting historical hypodescent laws. Since the 1980s, the United States has had a growing multiracial identity movement, culminating in the 2000 census which for the first time presented the opportunity to so self-identify as multiracial, and the election of Barack Obama as the first President of the United States with a multiracial background in November 2008.


The American people are mostly multi-ethnic descendants of various culturally distinct immigrant nationalities. Assimilation and integration began to take place in the second half of the 20th century, notably as the result of the African-American Civil Rights Movement , but the multiracial identity remains marginal, embraced by well below 5% of the population, in the 2000s.

Interracial marriage in the United States, most notably between whites and blacks, was deemed illegal by anti-miscegenation laws in most states in parts of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Californiamarker and the western US had similar laws to prohibit White-Asian American marriages until the 1950s.

Early United States history

In spite of social stigma and legal persecution, interracial and multiracial relationships have a long history in the United States, that started with the intermixing of the native population and European settlers. Researchers have discovered most of the African Americans free in colonial Virginia were descended not from unions between white planters and enslaved women, but from marriages and relationships between white women, servant or free, and African or African American men, servant, free or slave. Some Africans were freed as early as the 17th century. Many of those free "people of color" migrated to the frontiers of Virginia and North Carolina, together with other settlers.

In 1789 Olaudah Equiano, a former slave turned abolitionist, published his autobiography, which advocated interracial marriage between whites and blacks. One of the most famous and controversial was the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who was said to have borne several multiracial children by him.

In 1790, the first population census enumerators were asked to classify free residents as white or "other." Slaves were counted separately.

20th century

Although by the late 20th century, multi-racialism was becoming more acknowledged in the U.S., it was not until 1967 that miscegenation laws were ruled unconstitutional, most famously in the Supreme Courtmarker case, Loving v. Virginia.

"Until a change in policy in 1989, biracial babies with a white parents were assigned the racial status of the nonwhite parent... Before 1989 biracial children faced hypodescent laws that positioned them in the non-white racial group, thus barring their entrance into the white race, though they may not necessarily have been welcomed within the other racial/ethnic group with open arms."

"The National Association of Black Social Workers has influenced the American court system by arguing that biracial children should be treated as completely black.Consistent with this view, courts and adoption agencies usually categorize biracial children as black when considering placement. The primary justification for this treatment is that, in the eyes of American society, a biracial child is black and, therefore, must identify positively with being black and must be able to cope with discrimination toward her as a black person .. As a result, the NABSW concludes that when an adoption or custody proceeding concerns a biracial child, a court or adoption agency should favor placing the child with Black parents."

By 1990, there were more than a dozen more ethnic/racial categories on the census, reflecting not only changing social ideas about ethnicity, but the expanded regions of the world from which immigrants were arriving after changes to immigration laws in the 1960s. In a United States in which racial mixing has been increasingly acknowledged and society is becoming more diverse, identifying oneself by just one category has been difficult. The Census Bureau changed its data collection by allowing people to check off more than one classification when identifying their ancestry.

The proportion of multiracial children in the United States is growing. Interracial partnerships are on the rise, as are transracial adoptions. In 1990, about 14% of 18- to 19-year-olds, 12% of 20- to 21-year-olds and 7% of 34- to 35-year-olds were involved in interracial relationships (Joyner and Kao, 2005).


"To many mainline civil rights groups, the new census is part of a multiracial nightmare. After decades of framing racial issues in stark black and white terms, they fear that the multiracial movement will break down longstanding alliances, weakening people of color by splintering them into new subgroups.".

Some multiracial individuals feel marginalized by U.S. society. For example, when applying to schools or for a job, or when taking standardized tests, Americans are sometimes asked to check boxes corresponding to race or ethnicity. Typically, about five race choices are given with the instruction to "check only one." Many other such surveys include an additional "other" box, but this unfortunately groups together individuals of many different multiracial types (ex: European Americans/African-Americans are grouped with Asian/Native American Indians).

The 2000 U.S. Census in the write-in response category has a code listing which standardizes the placement of various write-in responses for automatic placement within the framework of the U.S. Census's enumerated races. Whereas most responses can be distinguished as falling into one of the five enumerated races, there remains some write-in responses which fall into the "Mixture" heading which can't be racially categorized. These include, "Bi Racial, Combination, Everything, Many, Mixed, Multi National, Multiple, Several and Various".

In 1997, Greg Mayeda, a Board of Directors person for the Hapa Issues Forum, attended a meeting regarding the new racial classifications for the 2000 U.S. Census. He was arguing against a multiracial category and for multiracial people being counted as all of their races. He argued that a "separate Multiracial Box does not allow a person who identifies as mixed race the opportunity to be counted accurately. After all, we are not just mixed race. We are representatives of all racial groups and should be counted as such. A stand alone Multiracial Box reveals very little about the person checking it.".

There remain many circumstances in which biracial individuals are left with no real response when asked for demographic data. But multiracial people won a victory of sorts after years of effort when in 1997, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) changed the federal regulation of racial categories to permit multiple responses, resulting in a new format for the 2000 United States Census, which allowed participants to select more than one of the six available categories, which were, in brief: "White," "Black or African American," "Asian," "American Indian or Alaskan Native," "Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander," and "Other." Further details are given in the article: Race . The OMB made its directive mandatory for all government forms by 2003.


Given the variety of the familial and general social environments in which multiracial children are raised, along with the diversity of their appearance (vis-a-vis their component races and their family members), it can be difficult to make generalizations about multiracial children's challenges or opportunities.

The racial social identity of children and that of their parents in the same multiracial family may vary or be the same. Some multiracial children feel pressure from various sources to "choose" or to assimilate into a single racial identity, while others whose identity or lifestyle is perceived to be closer to some of their component races than others may feel pressure not to abandon one or more of their ethnicities. Many other have chosen to create a whole new type of racial category as in the case of Tiger Woods, who has claimed this he is not just an African American but Cablinasian, a mixture of Caucasian, African American, Native American, and Asian.

Still other children grow up without race being a significant issue in their lives. "[B]eing multiracial can still be problematic. Most constructions of race in America revolve around a peculiar institution known as the 'one-drop rule' ... The one-drop conceit shapes both racism—creating an arbitrary 'caste'—and the collective response against it. To identify as multiracial is to challenge this logic, and consequently, to fall outside both camps." "[M]any monoracials do view a multiracial identity as a choice that denies loyalty to the oppressed racial group. We can see this issue enacted currently over the debate of the U.S. census to include a multiracial category- some oppressed monoracial groups believe this category would decrease their numbers and 'benefits.'"

"Many students who called themselves 'half-Asian/Black/etc.' came to college in search of cultural knowledge but found themselves unwelcome in groups of peers that were 'whole' ethnicities.' (Renn, 1998) She found that as a result of this exclusion on campuses designed to accommodate monoracial individuals, many multiracial students expressed the need to create and maintain a self-identified multiracial community on campus. This is due in part to the fact that multiracial people may identify more with each other, because "they share the experience of navigating campus life as multiracial people," (Renn, 1998) than with their own ethnic groups. This is true in spite of the fact that these multiracial individuals may all have completely different heritages."

African Americans

Americans with Sub-Saharan African ancestry for historical reasons (one-drop rule, one-eighth law) tend to self-identify as African American even if they have significant European American or Native American ancestry.For African Americans, the one-drop system of pigmentocracy was a significant factor in ethnic solidarity. African Americans generally shared a common lot in society and, therefore, common cause—regardless of their multiracial admixture or social and economic stratification. Another factor adding to the difficulty of people of African American descent learning about their Native American heritage is elder family members withholding pertinent genealogical information. Tracing the genealogy of African Americans is a very difficult process especially those descendents of Native Americans; due to the fact that African Americans who were slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write, and a majority of Native Americans didn't speak English, nor read or wrote it.In the 1980s, parents of mixed-race children began to organize and lobby for the addition of a more inclusive term of racial designation that would reflect the heritage of their children. When the U.S. government proposed the addition of the category of "bi-racial" or "multiracial" in 1988, the response from the public was mostly negative. Some African American organizations, and African American leaders such as Senator Diane Watson and Representative Augustus Hawkins, were particularly vocal in their rejection of the category, fearing massive defection from the African American self-designation.During the 1990s and 2000s, the terms mixed-race, biracial, and multiracial were used increasingly, although it still remains common for those who possess any visible traits of black heritage to identify or be identified solely as blacks or African Americans.Thus, Barack Obama, who is of East African and White American ancestry to equal parts (excepting that, according to his memoir, his mother may have had Cherokee as well as White ancestry) self-identifies as African American, and a majority of African Americans consider Obama black, while a majority of White and Latin Americans classify him as biracial.

A 2003 study found an average of 18.6% (±1.5%) European admixture in a population sample of 416 African Americans from Washington, DC.African Americans can be classed into two types for genetic purposes, based on ancestry: those who are "mostly African" (less than 25% European) and those who are "mostly mixed" ("over 25% European"); according a 2006 study, African Americans fall primarily into the first group with 80% of the population being "mostly African".20% has more than 25% European ancestry, reflecting long history of both groups in the U.S. The "mostly African" group is substantially African, as 70% of African Americans in this group have less than 15% European ancestry.The 20% African Americans in the "mostly mixed" group (2.7% of US population) are almost entirely between 25% and 50% European.If the "mostly mixed" African Americans are included in the count, the demographic segment of US residents of mixed-race ancestry would rise to some 15 million, or 5% of population. In addition, more recent studies agreed by some historians estimate that most African Americans have significant Native American heritage due to many different circumstances in different families. African Americans with Native American descent have either been accused of not having Native American ancestry or possess little native ancestry. One reason being, the genetic tests done to test for how much Indian Blood a person has does not present a complete picture, as argued by numerous geneticists, because tests trace direct male or female bloodlines and thus exclude most ancestors.

For example, the short series African American Lives was greatly criticized because the program did not acknowledge nor inform those that were tested that not all ancestry may show up in the tests, especially for those who claimed having Native American descent. The genetic tests done only research a few ancestors, resulting in false negatives being given to the test taker. It is possible that while some Native American groups sampled did not share the pattern of markers being searched for, others might since these genetic markers do not exclusively belong to any one group of our existing racial, ethnic, linguistic, or tribal typologies. In addition, not all Native Americans have been tested, so they do not know for sure that Native Americans only have the genetic markers they have identified, even when their maternal or paternal bloodline does not include a non-Native American.

Partly Native American

Interracial relations between Native Americans and African Americans has been a part of American history that has been neglected. The earliest record of African and Native American relations occurred in April 1502, when the first Africans kidnapped were brought to Hispanolamarker to serve as slaves. Some escaped and somewhere inland on Santo Domingo the first circle of Black Indians was born. In addition, an example of African slaves' escaping from European colonists and being absorbed by Native Americans occurred as far back as 1526. In June of that year, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon established a Spanish colony near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in what is now eastern South Carolinamarker. The Spanish settlement was named San Miquel de Guadalupe. Amongst the settlement were 100 enslaved Africans. In 1526, the first African slaves fled the colony and took refuge with local Native Americans.

European colonists created treaties with Native American tribes requesting the return of any runaway slaves. For example, in 1726, the British governor of New York exacted a promise from the Iroquois to return all runaway slaves who had joined them. This same promise was extracted from the Huron Natives in 1764 and from the Delaware Natives in 1765 there is no record of slaves ever being returned. Numerous advertisements requested the return of African Americans who had married Native Americans or who spoke a Native American language. The primary exposure that Africans and Native Americans had to each other came through the institution of slavery. Native Americans learned that Africans had what Native Americans considered 'Great Medicine' in their bodies because Africans were virtually immune to European diseases that decimated most native populations. Because of this many tribes encouraged marriage between the two groups, to create stronger, healthier children from the unions.

Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned slaves, bondage created destructive cleavages in their villages and promoted a class hierarchy based on "white blood." Native Americans of mixed white blood stood at the top, "pure" Native Americans next, and people mixed with of African descent were at the bottom. Now some historians believe that most African Americans have significant Native American heritage due to many different circumstances in families.

Interracial relations among Native American and Europeans did occur, beginning with the French and Spanish explorers and trappers. Even though Europeans considered both races inferior and made efforts to make both Africans and Native Americans enemies; European impact was immediate, widespread, and profound—more than any other race that had contact with Native Americans during the early years of colonization and nationhood."

Europeans living among Native Americans were often called "white indians". They "lived in native communities for years, learned native languages fluently, attended native councils, and often fought alongside their native companions."

A few early male settlers often married Native American women. Early contact was often charged with tension and emotion, but also had moments of friendship, cooperation, and intimacy.

Marriages took place in both English and French colonies between European men and Native women. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas married Englishman John Rolfe, and they had a child called Thomas Rolfe.

In the early 19th century, the Native American woman Sacagawea, who would help translate for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was married to French trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. A Native American man had to get consent of the European parents as long as "he can prove to support her as a white woman in a good home".
 In the late 19th century, three European-American middle-class female staff married Native American men met during the years when Hampton Institute ran its Indian program.
 Charles Eastman married his European-American wife Elaine Goodale whom he had met in Dakota Territory when Goodale was social worker and the superintendent of Indian education for the reservations.

Eurasian Americans

According to the United States Census Bureau, concerning multi-racial families in 1990:
In the United Statesmarker, census data indicate that the number of children in interracial families grew from less than one half million in 1970 to about two million in 1990.
In 1990, for interracial families with one white American partner, the other parent...was Asian American for 45 percent...

According to James P. Allen and Eugene Turner from California State University, Northridge, by some calculations the largest part white bi-racial population is white/American Indian and Alaskan Native, at 7,015,017, followed by white/black at 737,492, then white/Asian at 727,197, and finally white/Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander at 125,628.

The US Census categorizes Eurasian responses in the "Some other race" section as part of the Asian race. The Eurasian responses the US Census officially recognizes are Indo-European, Amerasian, and Eurasian.

Afro-Asian Americans

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed and Chinese workers who chose to stay in the U.S. could no longer be with their wives who stayed behind in Chinamarker. Because White Americans looked at Chinese labor workers as stealing employment, they were harassed and discriminated against. Many Chinese men settled in black communities and in turn married black women.

Tiger Woods, a famous golf player, is of white, Chinese, Native American, Thai, and black descent; his father being half African American heritage and half Asian while his mother is of mostly Asian heritage. R&B singer Amerie is another famous Afro-Asian American, with her father being black and her mother Koreanmarker. Hines Ward, an NFL football player, is also an Afro-Asian. He currently plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As of the census of 2000, there were 106,782 Afro-Asian individuals in the United States.


In its original meaning, an Amerasian is a person born in Asia, to a U.S. military father and an Asian mother. Colloquially, the term has sometimes been considered synonymous with Asian American, to describe any person of mixed Asian and Americanmarker parentage, regardless of the circumstances.


"Passing" is a term for person whose ancestry is in part that of the dominant group with some ancestry of a subordinate group, but who is seen as only being part of the majority group.
"...[P]assing as white" is difficult to explain in other countries or to foreign students.
Typical questions are: "Shouldn't Americans say that a person who is passing as white is white, or nearly all white, and has previously been passing as black?" or "To be consistent, shouldn't you say that someone who is one-eighth white is passing as black?...
A person who is one-fourth or less American Indian or Korean or Filipino is not regarded as passing if he or she intermarries and joins fully the life of the dominant community, so the minority ancestry need not be hidden...
It is often suggested that the key reason for this is that the physical differences between these other groups and whites are less pronounced than the physical differences between African blacks and whites, and therefore are less threatening to whites... when ancestry in one of these racial minority groups does not exceed one-fourth, a person is not defined solely as a member of that group."

Multiracial families

A 2004 California wedding between a Filipina bride and a Nigerian groom.
In an article about mixed-race children having identity problems, Charlotte Nitary states:
"Wardle (1989) says that today, parents assume one of three positions as to the identity of their interracial children.
Some insist that their child is 'human above all else' and that race or ethnicity is irrelevant, while others choose to raise their children with the identity of the parent of color.
Another growing group of parents is insisting that the child have the ethnic, racial, cultural and genetic heritage of both parents."

"Women with children, especially biracial children, have fewer chances for remarriage than childless women. And because the children of a divorce tend to remain with the mothers, becoming incorporated into new families as the mother remarry, interracial children are more threatening markers of race and racial authenticity for families in which race matters.".

In 2009, Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Robert, Louisianamarker, refused to officiate a wedding for an interracial couple and was summarily sued in federal court. See refusal of interracial marriage in Louisiana.

In fiction

Charles W. Chesnutt was one of the authors who explored the stereotypes in the depiction of multiracial characters as portrayed in fiction and early movies.

"Multiracial characters have often been depicted as 'Wild Half-Castes', sexually destructive antagonists explicitly or implicitly perceived as unable to control the instinctive urges of their non-white heritage." Shows portray multiracials as the "half-breed' predator... [and] 'halfbreed' temptress [these] perpetuates the association of multiraciality with sexual aberration and violence. Another recurring stereotype is the 'Tragic Mulatto', a typically female character who tries to pass for white but finds disaster when her non-white heritage is revealed... [T]he 'Half Breed Hero' provides a more 'empowering' stereotype... the 'Half Breed Hero' seemingly inspires identification as he actively resists white racism."

See also


  1. ; has 6.1 million (2.0%)
  2. Root, Multiracial Experience pp. xv-xviii
  3. Obama raises profile of mixed-race Americans San Francisco Chronicle 21 July 2008.
  4. at p. 26
  5. Daniel (2002) p. 128f.
  6. in Dreams from My Father writing that he had resolved to “never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.” (cited after
  7. 61% of Hispanics and 55% of White Americans classify Obama as biracial when they are told that he has a white mother, while 66% of African Americans consider him black. ( ) Obama describes himself as "black" or "African American", using both terms interchangeably ( )
  8. Shriver, Mark D. et al. "Skin pigmentation, biogeographical ancestry and admixture mapping." Human Genetics (2003) 112: 387–399.
  9. Muslims in American History : A Forgotten Legacy by Dr. Jerald F. Dirks. ISBN 1-59008-044-0 Page 204.
  10. Katz WL 1997 p103
  11. U.S. Census Bureau, 2000
  13. University of Michigan. Census 1990: Ancestry Codes. August 27, 2007
  14. at p. 138.


  • G. Reginald Daniel, More Than Black?: Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order, Temple University Press (2002) ISBN 9781566399098.
  • Teja Arboleda, In the Shadow of Race: Growing Up As a Multiethnic, Multicultural, and Multiracial American (1998) ISBN 9780585114774.
  • Yo Jackson, Yolanda Kaye Jackson, Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology (2006), ISBN 9781412909488.
  • Joel Perlmann, Mary C. Waters, The New Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Individuals (2005), ISBN 9780871546586.

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