More Americans than ever say they are multiracial with 33.8 million Americans identifying themselves as being of more than one race in 2020, up from about 9 million in 2010. There was an increase in reporting mixed race data, not necessarily 24 million more mixed race Americans than in 2010. Even so, this group is the fastest growing segment of the population.
A related statistic is that one out of ten married people, about 11 million, are married to someone of a different race. Mixed race marriages have increased five fold since 1967 when it first became legal after the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision.
The most common mixed marriages are between Whites and Asians and Whites and Latinos. “The rarest combination are of two non-white spouses,” said Dr. Justin Gest, the author of six books and an associate professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Gest said only 20 percent of all interracial marriages are between two nonwhite partners.
Gest said that by 2045 the U.S. will no longer be a majority white country. This big demographic shift in the country’s racial make-up is historic. It means whites will become one minority among many in an increasingly pluralistic society.
At the same time the U.S. has seen more mixed-race marriages and more mixed-race children, the country has experienced an increase in hate crimes and mass shootings motivated by racial prejudice. In addition, the killing of unarmed Blacks by police is happening all over the country.
When we talk about pluralism in the U.S. as a good thing we are also talking about something bad in its shadow: how partisan identities conflict with social identities and about the way our politics has become so polarized. It’s like the very scary “Upside Down” world in Stranger Things.
“There’s a lot to be pessimistic about,” Gest said.
“There’s tons of statistics these days—a lot of excellent studies that are actually quite depressing. Americans are less likely to want to date people who have ideological preferences different from them, to be neighbors, to engage in conversation, to go to social events with people who are different from them. Unfortunately, that is no way to actually build bridges across a single nation,” he said.
Contact Theory supposes that when people of different social groups meet and spend time together pursuing a similar goal in a place of equal status, then relationships build and pluralism flourishes and prejudice becomes reduced.
There is some supporting evidence. Dr. Allison Skinner Dorkenoo studies peoples’ perceptions, attitudes, and biases at the University of Georgia. She said that in 1961 only 4 percent of Americans approved of marriage between Blacks and Whites but 94 percent of Americans do now.
In a 2017 Skinner studied how 148 non-Blacks felt about interracial relationships with Black people. The results indicated that while a majority of the White subjects said they would date, live with, marry, and have a child with a Black spouse, very few had actually done any of those things. (See chart)
Three other 2019 studies found bias against Black-White interracial couples among everyone except multiracial residents. Skinner also found that personal experience and close connections with interracial couples were associated with more positive attitudes in general.
Gest said that when people intermarry it disarms the politics of polarization and divison because those politics rely on very clean lines between groups.
“Relationships, married or not, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a member of your church, these relationships transcend those boundaries. They blur those boundaries. They don’t allow politicians and others, fear-mongers, to divide us because people themselves transcend it,” he said.
“In some cases they themselves are on two sides of those boundaries when they are the children of diverse parents.”
Sonia and Richard Kang met in the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital. She is a military brat, born in Puerto Rico. Her father is Black, her mother Mexican. The family was transferred to Oahu and they later moved to Los Angeles.
Richard is a Korean-American. He grew up in a White neighborhood in L.A. but didn’t speak English until he entered elementary school. His family spoke Korean at home.
Sonia’s family had no problem with Richard. But his parents opposed the marriage.Sonia said they didn’t open up their hearts to her until after grandchildren arrived. The couple consciously set up a multicultural home.
“We called it culture proofing our home where we child-proofed to protect them from injury. We culture-proofed to protect their identity. So we made sure we brought in products, books, and movies that looked like our family,” she said.
“The challenge has not been within our home. It’s when they step outside of the home that they face the great challenges—even like filling out forms in school. There is still a very antiquated system of federal forms that are within the guidelines that still have them pick one or choose one. So there’s not necessarily a box that tells them who they are,” Sonia said.
“In dressing my children, I noticed fashion didn’t reflect a rich, multicultural reality that I wanted to see in the world so I decided to create Mixed Up Clothing. I use fashion as my vehicle to tell our multicultural stories,” she said.
“I source fabrics and trims from all over the world, mix and match them, and then sew them into fun, everyday pieces that children are proud to wear.”
The clothing line connects culture and identity in ways that highlight multicultural roots. Macy’s is selling the line, an indication that a mixed heritage has gone mainstream.