Many Biracial Students Game Racial-Classification Systems, Study Suggests

Many Biracial Students Game Racial-Classification Systems, Study Suggests

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Peter Schmidt

A study of biracial people with black and white ancestry has found that many identify themselves solely as black when filling out college applications and financial-aid forms, raising new questions about the accuracy of educational statistics and research based on racial and ethnic data derived from students.

The study of 40 biracial people—all of whom reported having one black parent and one white one—found that 29, or nearly three-fourths, reported concealing their white ancestry in applying for college, scholarships, financial aid, or jobs.

“Frequently unaware that being biracial is often sufficient for affirmative-action purposes, they presented themselves exclusively as black,” says a summary of the study’s findings being published this month in Social Psychology Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Sociological Association…

…The new study suggests that many researchers start out with bad data that conflate information on students with two black parents with information on students with one white parent and one black one, even though those biracial students are less likely, on average, to have grown up with the same disadvantages.

The researcher behind the study—Nikki Khanna, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, and Cathryn Johnson, a professor of sociology at Emory University— recruited their 40 research subjects by distributing fliers in an unnamed Southern urban city, asking “Do you have one black parent and one white parent?” They base their analyses on extensive interviews of the respondents conducted by Ms. Khanna in 2005 and 2006…

…Susan Graham, executive director of Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally), an advocacy group for multiracial Americans, said she believes the article overstates how much people base their racial identification on self-interest. She also argued that, given how much racial-classification systems have changed in recent years, it is inappropriate to draw conclusions based on interviews conducted four or five years ago…

Read or purchase the article here.

Note by Steven F. Riley: See: Lawrence Wright, “One Drop of Blood”, The New Yorker, July 24, 1994…

Those who are charged with enforcing civil-rights laws see the Multiracial box as a wrecking ball aimed at affirmative action, and they hold those in the mixed-race movement responsible. “There’s no concern on any of these people’s part about the effect on policy it’s just a subjective feeling that their identity needs to be stroked,” one government analyst said. “What they don’t understand is that it’s going to cost their own groups”—by losing the advantages that accrue to minorities by way of affirmative-action programs, for instance. [Susan] Graham contends that the object of her movement is not to create another protected category. In any case, she said, multiracial people know “to check the right box to get the goodies.”

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