More people report they're multiracial in Census; in St. Louis, it's still a small group | St. Louis Public Radio

More people report they're multiracial in Census; in St. Louis, it's still a small group

Oct 2, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 2, 2011 -  According to the Census, "People who reported their race as both black and white more than doubled from about 785,000 in 2000 to 1.8 million in 2010."

On Thursday night, Tracy Overton took her two children to see "The Addams Family" at the Fox. While there, she saw something she doesn't often see -- another biracial family.

"It definitely stood out to us," says Overton, who is white. Her children's father -- Overton's ex-husband -- is black. "I was like, yeah, there's somebody else who's biracial here."

And in St. Louis, she thinks, that's still a striking thing.

Nationally, though, it's becoming more common. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released two reports looking at the white and black populations of the country. The most interesting numbers, perhaps, came from those reporting a biracial background.

According to the Census, "People who reported their race as both black and white more than doubled from about 785,000 in 2000 to 1.8 million in 2010."

Adding up all the racial categories that marked "in combination," the multiracial population is 2.9 percent of the total. That's up from 2000, when 2.4 percent marked more than one race; but because of some data errors in 2000, the Census Bureau believes the growth between 2000 and 2010 could be larger, says Nicholas Jones, chief of the Census Bureau's racial statistics branch.

In St. Louis, however, the biracial population as a whole is still a fraction of the overall population.

Overton, who lives in Olivette, says that the school her children attend is diverse, but she thinks they're the only biracial students.

"There's a lot of black students and Asians and Indians, but I don't see a lot of biracial there and I don't know if that's just St. Louis."

Across the country, the white and black in combination category grew by 137 percent, while the white-and-Asian population grew by 87 percent.

In addition, the white population that identified as Hispanic grew by 56 percent.

In Missouri, people marking two or more races grew from 1.5 percent to 2.1, and in Illinois from 1.9 to 2.3 percent of the total population.

In St. Louis County, people who marked two or more races grew from 1.3 percent to 1.9. In St. Louis, it grew from 1.9 to 2.4. In St. Charles County, from 1.1 percent to 1.8.

Todd Swanstrom, a public policy professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis, says that while he's not an expert on those numbers, he does question what they actually reflect.

"We don't know if it's a growth in biracial people," he says, "Or a growth in biracial identity."

And that could depend, he says, on how the question was asked.

2000 was the first year that people could mark more than one race in the racial category on the Census. In 2010, the question was asked in the same way as 2000, offering people choices including white, black, American Indian, Asian Indian, etc., with three different places to write in an answer of their own.

"It's amazing how big the growth is," says Susan Graham, executive director of Project RACE, a nonprofit that advocates for multiracial people. "But I think it's more amazing to the Census Bureau than it is to us."

And that, she thinks, is because groups like hers have made people more aware over the course of the last 10 years that they could check more than one box.

"It's not all of the sudden we have all these new multiracial people," she says. Rather, people are now aware that they don't have to pick just one race. I think it's awareness. Definitely."

Graham says the Census Bureau has come along kicking and screaming toward even offering the option, but if they want to get a true count of the population, it's necessary.

Has the multiracial population in the country grown?

"We don't know the answer yet," says Jones, but he adds that the Census is looking at patterns now, comparing 2000 numbers to 2010. The Census also will be releasing a number of detailed reports in the future on other races, including more on people who chose more than one race.

Still, Graham doesn't like the terms they use, like white in combination, or black in combination, which harken back to the one-drop rule, a leftover from the days of slavery and segregation that classified anyone with any black ancestry as black.

"It should be just multiracial," she says.

Daniel Jamtgaard can't remember what he marked on the census. His dad is white and his mom is Latina.

"It's all sort of invented anyway," he says. "I really struggle. I don't know what to put."

He does see biracial people around St. Louis, but Jamtgaard thinks the overall rise in the Census numbers is because people now feel comfortable checking more than one box.

"They don't feel like it's a taboo to say that they're both black and white."

While the numbers might be up nationally, in St. Louis, Overton says, seeing biracial people is still something that stands out, at least to her. In Kansas City, where she's from, she says it's far more common.

There, people marking more than one race grew from 2.4 in 2000 to 3.1 in 2010, and in Jackson County, from 2.3 percent to 3 percent of the total population.

"Here," she says, "it's still striking."

Census: by the Numbers

Growth of total population: 9.7 percent

Growth of white population: 5.7 percent

Growth of black population: 12.3 percent

Growth of whites who reported as multiracial: 36.9 percent

Growth of white population that identified as Hispanic: 37 percent

Growth of blacks who reported as multiracial: 75.5 percent