The number of people identifying as both white and black in the U.S. census doubled between 2000 and 2010, to 1.8 million. According to Bill Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies demographics, the rapid change is a sign that historically stark ideas about race are softening.
It wasn’t until the 2000 census that federal statistics even allowed people to identify themselves as multiracial. Today, the fastest growing racial group in the country is those who identify themselves as “two or more” races, says Frey. Those who identify as both black and white are now the largest biracial population in America.
This group looks likely to continue to grow, since census stats show that far more kids than adults have both black and white heritage (or are identified as having it). For every 100 black kids under five, 15 were identified as both white and black, compared with fewer than 1 in 100 African Americans over 40, according to Frey’s book “Diversity Explosion.”
Most significant, according to Frey, is that the growth in this category is highest in the South, where social norms discouraged and penalized biracial identification. In many states in the South (and some in the North), racial identity was determined through a “one-drop rule,” where even those with a single black ancestor could not identify as white.
Only about one-third of 1 percent of Americans now identify as both white and black, but the growth in their numbers in recent years suggests our ideas about race are gradually changing. Says Frey, “these shifts — incremental as they may seem — represent a major breakthrough in the blurring of the nation’s racial boundaries, once indelibly etched in stone by laws, public and private institutions, and even the census.”