Discovery Guides Areas


Multiracial Identity and the U.S. Census
(Released January 2010)

  by Tyrone Nagai  


Key Citations





Affirmative action: programs designed to alleviate past and present forms of discrimination by creating equal opportunities for women and racial minorities to compete for government contracts, education, and employment. Affirmative action resulted from sweeping social changes created by the civil rights movement.

Biracial: an identity inclusive of two different races.

Black Dutch: an archaic term referring to people residing in the U.S. born to free persons, often of a dark-skinned immigrant group.

Color blind: the practice of avoiding or omitting race from conversations, thoughts, or actions in order to present an impression of racial neutrality or objectivity. Often attempts at being color blind intentionally or accidentally reinforce existing forms of prejudice, discrimination, and racism.

Disenfranchisement: denial or deprivation of the right to vote.

Dominant ideologies: the set of common values and beliefs shared by most people in a given society.

Eugenics: the study, belief, and practice of using selective breeding to improve the human race, which was especially popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Free Coloreds: Free blacks or African Americans living in the United States while slavery was still legal.

Homogenous: possessing similar qualities or traits

Hypodescent: the belief or practice of assigning mixed-race people to the race that is considered most subordinate or inferior.

Jim Crow laws: state and local laws enacted in the 1870s and lasting until the 1960s that mandated racial segregation in public places. These laws led to great inequalities and discrimination suffered by African Americans and concomitant privileges and benefits for whites.

Mulatto: a person mixed with both black and white ancestry.

Multiculturalism: belief in the idea that all cultures and cultural groups are equal and that one culture should not be promoted over another.

Multiracial identity: a person whose identity includes more than one racial group. Multiracial identities can be created by having parents from two different races or through transracial adoptions and other social and cultural processes.

Multiethnic identity: an identity that includes more than one ethnicity. It is possible for an individual to be multiethnic but not multiracial, and it is also possible to be both multiethnic and multiracial. Ethnic groups tend to be defined as subdivisions within racial groups in U.S. society.

Mutually exclusive: In the case of race, this term is used to explain the belief that racial identities are all encompassing and absolute in the sense that a person cannot claim more than one racial identity, even if their heritage is composed of multiple races. For example, one cannot be both white and black. A single racial identity must be assigned or chosen.

One-drop rule: see Hypodescent

Passing: the practice of light-skinned African Americans secretly living as though they were white in order to claim the benefits and privileges that whiteness entails and avoid the disadvantages of blackness, such as discrimination.

Race: any distinct group of people often defined by skin color, hair color, language, nationality, ancestry, etc.

Social Construction of Race: the idea that race is not defined by biology but constantly created by social, cultural, and political beliefs.

Three-fifths clause: Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution states: "Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct."

U.S. Census: a decennial survey conducted to count the population of the United States as mandated by the constitution.