In an increasingly mixed-race America, who decides what we call ourselves?

In an increasingly mixed-race America, who decides what we call ourselves?

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Valerie Russ, Staff Writer

(Andy Stenning/Pool Photo via AP)
Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle speak with teachers at the Nottingham Academy Dec. 1.

Last week, the Meghan Markle controversy was her anticipated visit with Prince Harry to Queen Elizabeth’s estate at Sandringham for Christmas, an unprecedented invitation for an unmarried couple.

Before that, the debate was about Markle’s mixed-race identity: Do her African American mother and white father make her white, black, or biracial? After her engagement to Harry, some women celebrated the notion of a “black princess” — although she’ll actually be a duchess — while others argued she should be described as biracial, not black.

How to define, describe, and label mixed-race identity has been a brewing controversy in recent decades as the country becomes more racially diverse. Since the 2000 census, when Americans were first able to choose more than one race, the Census Bureau reported that people of color will be the majority in the nation by the 2040s and that more than half of American children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group by 2020. In fact, as of last year, the census said minority or ethnic-group children under the age of 1 are already in the majority.

The sociologist Herbert Gans blamed Census Bureau data for the increase in white nationalism and alt-right fear “that they are being threatened and overwhelmed by a growing tide of darker-skinned people.” He predicted that mixed-race Latinos and Asians will eventually identify themselves as white.

Camille Z. Charles, the director of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is the daughter of an African American mother and a white father. Charles identifies as black. She is working on a book exploring the intra-racial diversity among black Americans who identify either as African American, mixed-race/biracial, or black immigrant, tentatively titled The New Black: Race-Conscious or Post-Racial?

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