'Multiracial' identity gains acceptance
California considers expanding data on its state forms to allow for multiple answers under race.
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Beyond the personal, expanding racial classification could have policy implications – social programs for minorities, for example.Skip to next paragraph
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There is also the issue of eliciting more accurate racial information in order to help find donors in medical situations. A bill on helping to build a national databank for umbilical cord blood backed by Project RACE, for example, is currently working its way through the California Legislature.
"By knowing who is multiracial, we will enlarge these donor pools and save more people," says Project RACE's Graham. "This is a very critical issue."
"Information is needed to allocate resources and do society's business, so having accurate information is simply consistent with what benefits everyone," adds Mr. Portantino.
About 42 percent of those who have checked more than one race on US census forms are under age 18. And it is the young, polls and studies show, who are most open to embracing multiracialism and the multiracial label.
"The least inclusive generation is the one today that is 65 and older, and the most inclusive are those under 30," says Leonard Steinhorn, professor at American University's School of Communication and author of two books on race and social change.
"These are fundamentally different worldviews. One is moving offstage and the other is moving onstage, and these new demographic figures reflect that."
Social scientists point to an array of other reasons for the shift-ing view of multiracialism – from cultural change and social progress since the civil rights era to the aging of the baby boomers to, even, the rise of hip-hop.
"Jazz was unable to do it, nor could blues or rock and roll, but hip-hop came along and now we have Eminem and Asher [Roth] – both white men who have released excellent rap albums in the same year," says James Peterson, assistant professor of English and African Studies at Bucknell University.
In a lighter moment last year, Mr. Obama – whose father is Kenyan and whose mother is a white American – surprised reporters by referring to himself as a "mutt."
And in 1997, golfer Tiger Woods startled many Americans when he objected to being called African-American, and instead referred to himself as "Cablinasian," to reflect his blend of Caucasian, black, Indian, and Thai blood.
It's important for multiracial kids to have positive role models, says Wayans, who is herself one-half of an interracial couple. Her husband, Kevin Knotts, is coauthor of the Amy Hodgepodge series.
Of her nephews and nieces, she says, "They know who they are and are proud of it."
She adds, "Hopefully, we are just on a transition to where the distinction is wiped out and we just eventually say, 'human race.' "
[Editor's note: The original version's summary misidentified the types of census and education forms to be changed.]