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

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  by Tyrone Nagai  


Key Citations




Introduction: What is Multiracial Identity?


Back on April 23, 1997, 21-year-old golfer Tiger Woods made headlines on the Oprah Winfrey Show when he described his racial background as "Cablinasian," an abbreviation representing his "Caucasian," "Black," "American Indian," and "Asian" heritage. Woods explained that he felt uncomfortable being labeled "African American," and he was reluctant to check only one box for his racial background on school forms. His father is half African American, a quarter Chinese, and a quarter Native American while his mother is half Thai, a quarter Chinese, and a quarter Dutch.

Woods' declaration of a multiracial identity on national television challenged the centuries old belief that racial categories are mutually exclusive and homogeneous. Just days before Woods' interview on Oprah, he earned a historic victory at the Masters' by becoming the first non-white golfer to win the tournament in its 63 year history. The victory was in part marred by white golfer Fuzzy Zoeller referring to Woods as "that little boy" and urging him not to order "fried chicken" or "collard greens" for the Champions Dinner at next year's Masters'.

Tiger Woods swinging club
Tiger Woods

Zoeller later apologized to Woods, but several sponsors cut ties to Zoeller because of the derogatory nature of his remarks. What is significant is that Zoeller derided Woods as an African American, even though Woods identifies himself as multiracial. This dilemma represents one of the fundamental complexities of multiraciality in the U.S. While multiethnic and multiracial people have been a part of U.S. society since the nation's founding, why is it that multiracial identities challenge, complicate, and disrupt our most basic assumptions about race? One of the direct ways to answer this question is to examine the ways in which the U.S. Census has recorded multiracial identities over its 220-year history.

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