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A mixed-race Asian / Caucasian boy
A mixed-race Asian / Caucasian boy

The terms multiracial, biracial, and mixed-race describe people whose ancestors are not of a single race. (Biracial strictly refers to those with ancestors from exactly two races). One example might be a mulatto, a person with a white and a black parent. Another might be the Mestizo who are descended from caucasian and indigenous ancestors. It is sometimes a matter of opinion if people are mixed-race, because races themselves are not clearly defined. This has caused some problems for census-takers.

Multiracial also describes a society or group that is composed of people from more than one racial or ethnic group. See also multicultural and coloured.


Place in society

Societal acceptance of mixed-race marriages and offspring varies widely from person to person and region to region. In Nazi Germany, "racial purity" was considered by the government to be an important goal for society. In the United States, especially the Southeast, marriage between African American and Caucasian people has historically been looked down upon. (As recently as 2003, Taylor County High School in Taylor County, Georgia has held separate Prom celebrations for black and white students; however, some similar phenomena occur equally because of cultural differences and not specific prohibitions on marriage or dating.) However, recent data suggests that multiracial marriages are becoming increasingly common in the United States.

In 2000, The Sunday Times reported that "Britain has the highest rate of interracial relationships in the world". Apparently contradicting this, more recent census data shows the population of England (as a sub-section of the UK) to be 1.3% mixed-race (2001), compared with, for example, 1.4% in the U.S. (2002 estimates; see below). However, as most of the English population is of one race (white)—even more so than in the US—so there are fewer opportunities for interracial relationships in England. In support of the report's conclusions, it can be calculated that 14.4% of English residents not identified as white are mixed-race, compared with 7.5% in the U.S.

Surprisingly, Canada with a Black population of 2%, and a White population of 88%, mixed race relationships with Blacks and Whites are becoming increasingly common. The mixed race population is now the fourth largest group in the country, overwhelming the Filipino population and now stands at 1.2%.

Censuses notwithstanding, any count of numbers of mixed-race people is subject to dispute. People may identify themselves as members of one single racial category despite having (potentially many) ancestors belonging to other categories, for various reasons. For instance, genetic studies of black Caribbean people show an ancestry that is on average 10% European and 90% African1. Also, a considerable portion the U.S. population identified as Black actually have some Native American or Caucasian (European) descent. Much of these categorization phenomena occur due to current or past cultural stereotyping or segregation.

Multiracial individuals may feel the effects of an identity crisis. Some individuals take on the appearance of one of the racial groups, while others do retain characteristics of all groups. For example, a person who is half-Caucasian and half-Asian may have facial features and skin color of a Caucasian person rather than an Asian person, or vice versa.

Categorization and censuses

Some multiracial individuals feel marginalized by US society. For example, when applying to schools, for a job, or taking standardized tests, all Americans are asked to check boxes corresponding to race or ethnicity. Typically, about four or 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: Caucasian/African-Americans are grouped with Asian/Native American Indians), as well as individuals who feel their race or ethnic identity is not included in the standard groups (ex: Jewish, Arab, Asian Indian). Perhaps most acceptable in the "multiple choice" format of race is to both provide an "other" box and to allow selection of multiple boxes, but some individuals will not be satisfied with any box checking.

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 with the 2000 United States Census, which allowed participants to select more than one of the six available categories, which were, in brief: White, Black, Asian, Native American (North, Central or South America), Pacific Islander, Other. Further details are given in the article: Race (US Census).

In contrast, the 2001 United Kingdom census offered specific mixed-race categories: "Mixed White and Black Caribbean", "Mixed White and Black African", "Mixed White and [South] Asian", and "Other Mixed", as well as "Other ethnic group".

Two million mixed-race Americans vanish

The 2000 US census [1] recorded 6.8 million mixed-race people. But population estimates for 2002 [2] reduce this figure to 4.2 million.

Anti-miscegenation laws in the USA not only applied to blacks but also to Asians, and less often to Native Americans. Hispanics of obvious African or Native American descent were also legally forbidden to marry whites in a few states.

See also

External links


  • John Harlow, The Sunday Times (London), 9 April 2000, quoting Professor Richard Berthoud of the Institute for Social and Economic Research
  • 1Motherland: A Genetic Journey, BBC Documentary, 2003. This also stated that 25% of Afro-Caribbean people have a European ancestor in the paternal (Y-chromosome) line of descent.
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