Multi-Hued America: The Case for the Civil Rights Movement’s Embrace of Multiethnic Identity

Multi-Hued America: The Case for the Civil Rights Movement’s Embrace of Multiethnic Identity

The Modern American
American University
Volume 4, Issue 1 (Spring 2008)
8 pages

Kamaria A. Kruckenberg
Harvard Law School

My little girl in her multi-hued skin
When asked what she is, replies with a grin
I am a sweet cuddlebums,
A honey and a snugglebums:
Far truer labels than those which are in.

The above poem resonates deeply with me, and it should: my mother wrote it about me. She recited its lines to me during my childhood more times than I can count. It was a reminder that I, daughter of a woman whom the world saw as white and a man whom the world called black, could not be summed up into any neat ethnic category. The poem told me that, though my skin reflected the tones of a variety of cultures, I was more than the sum of my multiple ethnic identities. Over my lifetime, I have recalled this message each time someone asked, “What are you?” and every time I checked “other” in response to the familiar form demand that I mark one box to describe my race.

The classification of multiethnic individuals like myself recently has been the focus of many heated debates. The Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) sets the racial categories used on numerous forms, including the census. In 1997, the OMB revised Statistical Policy Directive 15, its rule for racial data classification, requiring all federal agencies to allow individuals to mark multiple races on all federal forms.  Because the implications of the classification of multiethnic individuals in federal racial data collection are potentially far reaching, this change has been surrounded by controversy. The census tracks the numbers and races of Americans for legislative and administrative purposes.  This information is particularly important for this country’s enforcement of civil rights laws.

Numerous authors argue that the recognition of multiethnic identity will hamper traditional civil rights efforts. They claim that policies that maintain civil rights must win out over the individual caprice of those who advocate for multiethnic recognition.  On the other hand, many argue that the recognition of the personal meaning of multiethnic identity is important and does not hamper the traditional goals of civil rights groups.

In this article I explore the context of this debate by examining both the history of race and the census. I then examine both sides of the multiethnic characterization argument. Finally, I end the article with a proffered solution to the controversy…

Read the entire article here.

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