When talking diversity at colleges and universities, the numbers count. Still, when it comes to mixed-race students, too often they do not count at all. This is a missed opportunity. University leaders rely upon statistics for a measure of where students of color stand on campus. Data on those who self-identify as Black, Latino and Native American are said to reflect how well diversity goals are being met. What about those who check more than one box? Their numbers and their contributions to campus diversity are largely overlooked.
On my campus, the University of Michigan, numbers matter. This past fall, student activists set off a debate. Their movement began with a Twitter speak-out known by its hashtag #BBUM, Being Black at the University of Michigan. The declining number of Black students has been much discussed, and with good reason. Black students were 7.8 percent of the student body in 2004. Ten years later, their number has dropped to 4.8 percent. As we respond to this challenge, administrators, faculty, staff and students all recognize that the numbers reflect a diminishment in campus diversity. And as student testimony makes plain, there is a correlation between dropping enrollments and the increasing marginalization of Black students.
At Michigan, we also count mixed-race students. Since 2010, students have had the opportunity to check more than one box when reporting their race. The numbers have remained steady. 3.3 percent of the university’s 37,000 students report that they are mixed-race. This new demographic parallels what we know from the United States census. There, in the year 2000, respondents were given the option of checking more than one box for the first time. By 2010, over 9 million people self-identified as more than one race, nearly three percent of the population. By these numbers mixed-race people have become visible.
These new numbers open up a 21st-century window on diversity. The 3.3 percent at Michigan turns out significant. Mixed-race students rank just behind Black and Latino students, at 4.8 percent and 5.0 percent respectively. They are more numerous than are Native American and Hawaiian students, who make up .2 percent and .1 percent of the student body. A closer look reveals a correlation between the drop-off in Black enrollment and the emergence of the mixed-race category. In 2010, when students were given the option of self-identifying as more than one race, Black enrollment dropped from 6.1 to 4.8 percent, while the number of mixed-race students went from 0 to 3.4 percent. Is it possible that some students who would have previously self-identified as Black chose the “more than one race?” The census data suggests yes. In 2010, over 30 percent of mixed-race census respondents indicated that they were in part Black. The shift to checking more than one box has been accompanied by a lowering of the number of people who once self-reported as only Black.
Still, counting is not enough. We must also listen. And when we do, mixed-race students reveal another chapter in the story of race in the United States. They speak of lives spent moving between cultures. There are tales of trying to synthesize a complex family history. Students tell of confronting a world perplexed by their racially ambiguous appearance. And they have developed poignant answers to the “What exactly are you?” question. Mixed-race students navigate a world that is often still organized around boxes of racial certitude. On campus they are members of clubs, living communities and classrooms where they experience the joy, pain, wonderment and confusion of racial identity. Their perspectives are unique. Everyone’s ideas about race change when we hear from those who reject being contained by one box on a form and insist that identity cannot be reduced to either/or.
Still, the numbers do not lie. Vigilance is required in the quest for a campus that reflects the diversity of the nation and of the world. In no instance do the numbers of Black, Latino, Native American or Hawaiian students at the University of Michigan approach their percentages in the population overall. Notably, only mixed-race students outpace their percentage in the general population. These numbers and the stories behind them demand more nuanced thinking about race on campus.
Mixed-race students have signaled their presence. Still, numbers alone cannot convey the nuances of campus climate. Nor can percentages transform a university’s institutional culture. Beyond the data, the new mixed-race “3 percent” has lessons to teach about diversity. It is time to listen.
The handwriting is on the wall. By 2043, fewer than half of all people living in the United States will be non-Hispanic white. That’s been a reality for children through age 1 since 2011. This tipping point was expected to stretch through age 5 by 2014 and through age 18 by 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
There’s more. In August of 2014, Education Week reported that “Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public K-12 classrooms were expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic whites.” Source of that information? The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
One thing is crystal clear, the traditional majority/minority society is fast becoming a minority/minority society. No single racial or ethnic group will make up more than 50 percent of the population. Nothing new for states and equivalents such as Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, and Texas as well as many cities and communities across the nation which tipped during the past several years.
How does a country get so diverse? The short answer is immigration and birth rates. In the 1920s, immigrants came to the U.S. largely from northern and southern Europe as well as from Canada and Mexico. In 2010, top immigrant-sending countries were: Mexico, China/Hong Kong/Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, El Salvador, Cuba, Korea, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Immigrants are often younger and more likely than the general population to be in their child-bearing years. The face of the nation continues to change. However, our motto remains the same, E Pluribus Unum (Of the Many…One).
During what can easily be called another age of mass migration, people are moving in droves from one part of the world to another, generally seeking opportunity. That means receiving countries, wherever they are, face education challenges ranging from working with a diversity of languages and cultures to improving achievement for all students, whatever their backgrounds.
Social cohesion depends on maintaining an inclusive country or community. To form that glue that holds us all together, we need to start with a basic premise or belief: If we manage our diversity well, it will enrich us. If we don’t manage our diversity well, it will divide us. Every diverse nation or community, to secure its future, simply must be flexible and inclusive enough to constantly reframe its identity in a fast-changing world. Of course, that raises a basic question: “Are we inclusive or exclusive?”
Let’s remember that the whole idea of diversity is constantly being redefined. It’s no longer simply black and white. In fact, the definition keeps growing and now includes: social and economic factors, race, ethnicity, national origin, color, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disabilities, political and religious affiliation, language and linguistics, physical and cognitive abilities and qualities, political beliefs, educational background, geographical location, marital status, parental status, and life experiences. Considering learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and emotional and behavioral concerns, we can add neurodiversity (Armstrong, Thomas, Neurodiversity in the Classroom, ASCD, Alexandria, VA., 2012). Feel free to expand on this list.
Implications of diversity? There are hundreds. A constant challenge is maintaining that critical balance between what divides us and what unites us. Depending on whether people feel their voices have been heard, they will very likely conclude that they are either in power or out of power. We should never stop searching for our common denominators. Of course, effective communication is bottom line, at the very heart of understanding.
Our steadfast pursuit of equal opportunity should be aimed at lifting all boats. Educators should insist on high expectations for all students across all diversities. A fast-changing, interconnected world demands an understanding of languages and cultures and a commitment to celebrating our differences.
The world is rife with conflict, often built on a firm foundation of misunderstandings. How can we build bridges and find common ground? How can we get future generations ready for life in a highly diverse world? Those are questions we need to answer, not just once but every day across all political boundaries and in every family, school, and community. Think of it this way: Our children, our need for education and learning, and our future as viable communities and as a planet are among things we all have in common.
Emoji Update Promises Racial Diversity, but No Multiracial Couples
Emoji will become more racially diverse in 2015. On Monday the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit in charge of setting and developing internet coding languages, released a proposed draft for the forthcoming Unicode 8.0 update, which would allow users to choose between five possible skin tones when selecting one of the 151 humanoid emoji pictograms. Currently, virtually all of these emoji characters have pale skin.
“People all over the world want to have emoji that reflect more human diversity, especially for skin tone,” Google’s Mark Davis and Apple’s Peter Edberg write in their draft. “Five symbol modifier characters that provide for a range of skin tones for human emoji are planned for Unicode Version 8.0 … These characters are based on the six tones of the Fitzpatrick scale, a recognized standard for dermatology.”
The Fitzpatrick scale, developed by Harvard University dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick in 1975, classifies all human skin colors according to five types, from pale white to dark brown and black. Accordingly, the five proposed emoji modifiers would allow users to give their character pictorials a variety of skin tones.
This isn’t the first time emoji have been modified to make the icons more inclusive. In 2012, same-sex couple emoji were introduced, and earlier this year Oju Africa, a division of the Mauritius-based cell phone manufacturer Mi-Phone, launched an emoticon app of its own featuring characters with darker skin tones. It was pop star Miley Cyrus, of all people, who brought widespread attention to the lack of diversity among emoji in a December 2012 tweet that marked the debut of the “#emojiethnicityupdate” hashtag.
Even with the new skin tone swatches, there’s still room to further diversify the cast of emoji characters. The proposed Unicode 8.0 update will not allow for the depiction of multiracial couples, as the symbol modifiers can only be applied to emojis one at a time.
“Real multi-person groupings include many in which various members have different skin tones,” Davis and Edberg write. “For representing such groupings, users can employ techniques already found in current emoji practice, in which a sequence of emoji is intended to be read together as a unit, with each emoji in the sequence contributing some piece of information about the unit as a whole. Users can simply enter separate emoji characters for each member of the group, each with their own skin tone.”
We predict that the release of the Unicode 8.0 update will also have an immediate and profound impact on the diversity of emoji art history.
Bullying is a form of aggression used to gain power and targeting peers. When it’s based on ethnic differences it is another misuse of power. Biracial and multiracial youth are more likely to be bullied than youth who identify with a single race, according to the National Voices for Equality Education and Enlightenment. Twice as many ethnic minority youth in elementary school report being bullied because of their ethnicity.
There are three main types of bullying according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
1. Physical (e.g. hitting, kicking, tripping/pushing, spitting, taking/breaking belongings, making rude or mean hand gestures)
2. Verbal (e.g. name-calling, teasing, taunting, inappropriate sexual comments, threatening to cause harm)
3. Social/Relational (e.g. spreading rumors, embarrassing someone in public, purposeful exclusion, telling others not to be friends with someone)
So what can parents do?
It is important for parents to discuss the challenges that biracial and multiracial children may experience at school. Give them positive answers to the questions they may be asked; “What are you?” or “Why is your skin different from mine?”
Talk to the principals, teachers, and school counselors about ways to prevent and intervene with racially prejudiced bullying in classrooms by peers. Does your child’s school celebrate cultural diversity? Does the pre-school or kindergarten class have toys and books that represent all ethnic groups?
Research indicates that biracial and multiracial kids that are allowed to embrace and celebrate all aspects of their heritage instead of being forced to choose a single-race identity “have the best chance of success.” Talk to your children about successful Americans of mixed races: President Obama; actors like Halle Berry and Keanu Reeves; the athletes Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter; and news anchors Soledad O-Brien and Ann Curry. Read with them books like “Mixed Me: A Tale of a Girl who is both Black and White” by Tiffany Catledge, and “Big Hair, Don’t Care” by Crystal Swain-Bates.
The Cheerios commercial that featured a Caucasian mom, an African-American dad, and their biracial daughter generated strong racist reactions on YouTube last year (the comment section actually had to be closed). How do we teach adults to stop ethnic bullying and racial discrimination?
PBS’s cartoon “Sid the Science Kid” stars a bi-racial kid whose father seems to be Caucasian and his mother seems to be African-American. Talk to your kids about the positive message this show sends.
Listen to a 2012 episode of Mixed Race Radio with a discussion on biracial bullying and when children are bullied due to skin color, hair texture, eye color or “the accent heard when they speak.” Visit www.blogtalkradio.com/mixed-race-radio/2012/04/04/biracial-bullying.
“Is that Your Child?: Mothers Talk about Rearing Biracial Children” is a book by Marion Kilson, Ph.D. and Florence Ladd, Ph.D. who are also parents of biracial children.
Nation to Become a Plurality, but Some Areas Already Are
When people discuss our nation’s increasing diversity, they often think about the point at which the non-Hispanic White alone population will comprise less than 50 percent of the nation’s total population. This transition has been described as the point at which we become a “majority-minority” nation. Here, minority is defined as any group other than non-Hispanic White alone. At this point, the non-Hispanic White alone population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority and the United States would become a “plurality” of racial and ethnic groups.
While the nation is projected to become both a “majority-minority” and a “plurality” nation by 2043, some states and many counties have already crossed these thresholds. California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, and the District of Columbia have populations that are already “majority-minority.” Nearly one-third of Americans already live in a “majority-minority” county. According to new Census Bureau estimates released today, this was the case in 355 (11 percent) of the nation’s 3,143 counties in 2013.
The term “plurality” considers the diversity of the aggregate minority population. The populations in the “majority-minority” states are also considered “pluralities,” because no race (alone) or ethnic group has greater than a 50 percent share of the state’s population.
In 2013, of the 355 counties where the combined minority populations make up more than 50 percent of the population, 143 counties are “pluralities,” where no race or ethnic group has greater than a 50 percent share of their county’s total population. In the remaining 212 counties, a race or ethnic group other than non-Hispanic White alone (e.g., Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black alone, non-Hispanic Asian alone, etc.) makes up greater than 50 percent of the county’s total population.
The figure below shows examples for the race and Hispanic origin distribution of 10 “plurality” counties (of those with populations greater than 25,000 in 2013), where no one group accounts for more than 40 percent of the total population. Three of these counties are in Hawaii, two each are in New York and California, and the remaining three counties are in North Carolina, New Mexico and Texas.
I’m mad and I’m wondering why you aren’t. If you’re reading this, you are probably an advocate for the multiracial population. If you’re not, you may be against us or just curious, and that’s fine.
I came across a publication today called Diverse. They cover diversity issues in higher education. They have designated sections for Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian groups. They do not include a group called “Multiracial” or anything close to it. Can this really be a magazine (print and digital) that calls itself “Diverse” and yet excludes the rapidly growing multiracial population?!
I put “multiracial” into their search box, and a few articles did come up, but we shouldn’t have to search them out.
It’s starting to remind me of Education Week, that good old publication about anything and everything related to education. Oh, except for multiracial students. They do have data that include “other” for administrators, researchers, media, etc. We do not consider “other” to be multiracial and we don’t appreciate when we aren’t included. Education Week has been around for a long time. They use statistics from the National Center for Education and Statistics, U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which also does not include a multiracial count (see earlier opinion pieces).
Education Week and Diverse could raise the issue of inclusion of multiracial people with the DOE. They could put pressure on other media and the Washington bureaucracy to provide multiracial data. They could, but they don’t and it makes me mad. You?
As the nation becomes more multiracial, some question whether the survey can accurately reflect the country’s true diversity
Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Skin colour The first census was taken in 1790, and by the close of that century would attempt to categorise Americans based on five colour divisions: white, black, red, yellow and brown
In 30 years, America will look very different than it does now. According to analysis of census data, by 2043 white Americans will no longer be a majority. But an equally significant population milestone will arrive in 2020. That is the year in which the next census takes place, and it will be the first one tasked with successfully chronicling the most racially and culturally mixed population in American history.
Governing the nation at the very time the census is grappling with this issue is the country’s first biracial president. Though President Barack Obama has said he identifies as black on the census, there is a growing population of people who may share a similar background but do not wish to identify as he has chosen to. Helping to ensure that these Americans are adequately and accurately counted through his administration’s efforts to perfect a modern census could end up being a significant part of the Obama legacy.
Multiracial Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in the country, yet the United States Census Bureau has struggled with how to effectively capture the changing racial make-up of America. In his new book “What Is Your Race: The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans”, Kenneth Prewitt takes the census to task for its many shortcomings when it comes to painting an accurate portrait of America’s racial and cultural landscape. Prewitt, though, is not just any run-of-the-mill critic. He is a former director of the US Census Bureau, where he served from 1998 to 2001.
Prewitt says that America is unique in its racial categorisation and its reasons for categorising. “We decided why we wanted racial statistics and the purpose of them, and then designed statistics to accomplish those purposes.”
So, for instance, when a compromise was needed to appease Southerners to get the House of Representatives up and running in the late 18th century, black slaves were counted as three fifths of a person. Then by the mid-20th century, as the civil rights movement became enshrined in legislative policies such as affirmative action, collecting accurate racial data became a key tool in the quest for social justice.
There is a passionate debate raging over whether a wealthy, first-generation African immigrant is the intended beneficiary of American affirmative-action programmes. This kind of debate is the crux of Prewitt’s argument.
In 1790, the first census was taken, and by the close of that century would attempt to categorise Americans based on five colour divisions: white, black, red, yellow and brown. Those categories form the foundation for what are still the primary census racial classifications of white, black/African-American, American Indian and Asian, with categories such as Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian being relatively recent additions.
The 2000 Census would mark the first time individuals were permitted to check more than one racial classification. (Fascinatingly, according to Prewitt’s book, conservative Republican Newt Gingrich pushed the issue, inspired by the parent of a biracial child in his district.) But Prewitt makes a compelling case that it is still falling short.
“Nobody else uses these five categories as their management system for race and ethnicity.” When asked if that is because other places have less diversity or are simply better at categorisation, he replied, “I think it’s because they are not as deeply racist as we are. I’m serious. This racial categorisation and conversation got a hold of us back in the slavery days, and we have repeated it and repeated it.”
He went on to explain that today there are essentially three reasons racial statistics are collected. “One is the continuing legacy of discrimination,” which can be addressed through a “racial-justice agenda” (such as affirmative action), he said. “We are not going to be a colour-blind society,” so statistics are necessary to prove who is and who is not discriminating.
The second reason is the “melting-pot challenge”, the ability to track how many immigrants we have and how they are adjusting to American life, and third, identity politics. A lot of people of colour want to be able to strongly identify with their communities, which is tough to do on a national level without accurate data identifying where these communities are and who comprises them.
According to Prewitt, at the moment the census “is moderately good at the racial-justice agenda, is woefully inadequate on the immigration-assimilation issue and has kind of mixed up the whole identity stuff. All kinds of subgroups don’t find themselves.”
But not only do subgroups not find themselves, as Prewitt’s book argues, today determining what box someone fits into tells you very little about their experience as Americans.
Asked if he considers the race questions now on the census inherently racist, he replied, “Yes. I think they really are. The very fact that we use them this way.”
He then attempted to illustrate his point via a controversial anecdote. “If you walk some of the city streets at night in New York, you worry if you see four or five black teenagers with hoods on. Now, is that stereotyping? I don’t think that’s stereotyping if you’re in a high-crime neighbourhood. But that [worry] is not because they’re black — I don’t think. It’s because they live a certain kind of impoverished [life], lack of education, lack of access, lack of mobility, and I want to attack that problem.”
Prewitt’s book explores this very issue by pondering whether asking questions about education and health status would tell us more about a population than traits such as skin colour lumped under one racial category. From Prewitt’s vantage point, a census that only tells you generally about those teens’ skin colour won’t really help in attacking the core problems. If one of the functions of census data is to use population information to effectively craft policy to address issues affecting specific communities, then it is failing.
To its credit, the Census Bureau has already begun exploring ways to improve its present form. In 2010, there were experimental questions included on the document that allowed people to elaborate on their ethnic origin. For instance, instead of simply identifying as “Asian” there was the option of selecting “Japanese”, “Korean” and other specific subgroups.
In 2012, former Census Bureau director Robert Groves said of the experimental questions, “As new immigrant groups came to this country decade after decade, how we measure ethnicity changed to reflect the changing composition of the country. Since that change is never-ending, and America gets more and more diverse, how we understand and tabulate the information has to be continually open to change. It’s critical that race and ethnicity reflect how people identify themselves.”
To Groves’s point, it was not until this year that the census decided to drop the word “Negro”, which has not been widely used in American society for decades.
In a statement regarding Prewitt’s general criticism that the present census is falling short, Nicholas Jones, chief of the US Census Bureau’s Racial Statistics Branch in the Population Division, said, “The US Census Bureau remains committed to improving the accuracy and reliability of all census data by expanding our understanding of how people identify themselves and by eliciting detailed responses on race and ethnicity.
“For decades, the Census Bureau has provided research data on how Americans identify their race and ethnicity, and research from its 2010 Census Alternative Questionnaire Experiment (AQE) is informing the decision-making on this issue. As the Census Bureau prepares for the 2020 Census, we will explore how the successful strategies from the 2010 AQE may be further tested to provide accurate and relevant data about our changing and diversifying nation.”
When asked how he would like to see the census changed, Prewitt mentioned a colleague’s suggestion to ask, “Are you discriminated against, and if so, on what basis?” but he quickly added, “That’s not going to happen.” He then offered, “I just wish the question were ‘What population group do you belong to?’ instead of ‘What race do you belong to?’ Then I’d list African-American, Hispanic, European, American Indian. I’d just list them, and you can be more than one, two or three of those things. Media will still call it race. I just don’t want the government to be in the game of acting as if these race categories are real.”
He said he is not sure how much of an immediate impact such a language change would make, but that it would “turn the temperature down a little bit”, in how we discuss race and racial identity in a country with a troubled history of racism.
He also explained that ultimately the culture will force the long-term change that people such as him would like to see. In 30 years or so a population of multiracial, multi-ethnic Americans will completely alter how we talk about and think about race, meaning the census will have no choice but to shift.
A changing population will help shed more light on America’s multiracial past.
(The Root)—This is part 3 of a three-part series. To see the previous stories, click here and here.
Time was, the social construct of the one-drop rule made United States history either black or white. The rule emerged from the South as a way to facilitate slavery and implement Jim Crow segregation. But while the courts and the civil rights movement have dismantled legal segregation, vestiges of the one-drop rule still linger.
But now, 7 million Americans self-identify as multiracial, quickly changing the meaning of who is black, white, Asian, Hispanic or other. For some, it raises questions about how history is perceived by future generations, black history specifically. Will there still be a need for Black History Month?
“We’ve been biracial or a multiracial country since the 17th century,” Bernard W. Kinsey told The Root. He and his wife, Shirley, are touring their Kinsey Collection, a national museum exhibit of African-American art and history dating back to the 1600s.
“America is the only country in the world where having one drop of black blood still makes you black,” Kinsey continued. “We operate on this notion of color as a basis of identity in America. I’ve been to 94 countries, and no other country operates quite like America does with this notion of color.”
Douglas A. Blackmon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II, told The Root that a multiracial America will only bring to the surface what has been hidden for centuries.
“All American history has always been multiracial, at least certainly since the early 1600s,” Blackmon told The Root. “It’s not a question of whether there has been a multiracial history, but whether it’s been acknowledged or specifically understood.
“It’s even something today that people tend to be confused about,” Blackmon continued. “At family reunions, there would be white people who are descended from a particular plantation or farm with the same last name as a lot of the African Americans there. I frequently will say that it may be a bit of a mystery today exactly who is related, but back in 1865 everybody knew who was related to whom. The multiracial history was suppressed, especially during the segregation era. Now we have this openness to current multiracial ethnicity that allows for a more honest reckoning of long-standing multiracial issues.”
John Hanc recently wrote in the New York Times about just that. Rock Hall, a Georgian mansion in suburban Lawrence, N.Y., was the former home of Josiah Martin, a sugar planter who built it in 1767. He moved to the American colonies from Antigua after living through a slave uprising. The historic house museum, Hanc says, has a new story, including tales about the lives of slaves and domestic workers who have previously existed in the shadows.
“Their part of the story is now coming into clearer view—and it appears to have been a more complex role than one might have imagined,” Hanc writes. “Evidence collected by Chris Matthews, a professor of anthropology at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and Ross Rava, an independent scholar, suggests both a greater interconnectedness between family and slaves and at the same time, a limited autonomy for the Africans. The result of their nearly decade-long digging was published this month in the Long Island History Journal, a scholarly publication, and it depicts Rock Hall as what professor Matthews calls an ‘Afro-European creation.’ ”