A lot of people are eagerly waiting results of the 2010 census information that details how Americans identify themselves racially. The data will be released, state by state, this month and are expected to show a significant growth in the numbers of people who identify as multiracial. When the data is made public, it is expected the number of Americans identifying as multiracial will have grown by 35 percent in the last decade.
As interracial marriages become more common, so too has the number of mixed raced people in our society. The 2000 census was the first that allowed these individuals to easily identify all parts of their racial backgrounds if they so chose. Those who support the classification see it as important step to breaking down racial barriers and moving toward an America that is free of prejudice.
However, some believe that the designation will only serve to further undermine the political clout and social significance of racial minorities, particularly African-Americans. This line of thinking isn’t too far-fetched. Often times, many of our positive, Black public figures with one non-Black parent are claimed by the white majority. The accomplishments of these individuals are so significant that America often likes to ignore the one drop rule it instituted and enforced—to keep tabs on and marginalize anyone with ancestry that was not purely White—and tout the White ancestry of those we in the African-American community are rightfully proud of. President Obama, who many tried to hail as the first multiracial President, instead of the first Black President, comes to mind.
Indeed, President Obama’s mother is White. But he has publicly identified as a Black man and even checked that box—and nothing else—on his census form. And isn’t that what the census designation is all about? Giving individuals the right to identify with as many or as few ethnic groups in their background as they choose?
Unlocking the shackles of the one drop rule and allowing individuals to celebrate all of who they are is a positive step toward racial harmony and acceptance in this country. However, the larger society must be careful it does not dilute the voice of groups, like African-Americans, that have fought so hard to be heard, seen and recognized for their achievements.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)