Visiting Scholars Discuss the Changing Nature of Racial Identity in the U.S.

June 26, 2015

Several RSF Visiting Scholars recently appeared in the news to discuss the evolution of racial identity in the U.S. In a June op-ed for the New York Times, Visiting Scholar Richard Alba (CUNY Graduate Center) discussed a new report from the Pew Research Center that highlighted the rapid increase of the number of Americans who identify as multiracial. As racial and ethnic diversity has continued to grow due to increased immigration and interracial unions, many have assumed that the U.S. is becoming a “post-racial” society. Yet, Alba cautioned, “We will seem like a majority-white society for much longer than is believed.”

As he explained, while the number of multiracial Americans has indeed grown over the last several decades, race continues to socially constrain many groups. Citing The Diversity Paradox by Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean, Alba noted that while mixed-race individuals of white-Latino or white-Asian backgrounds generally enjoyed freedom in choosing their identities, this was not the case for multiracial individuals with a black parent. As Alba noted, “They experienced racial barriers, showing that visible African ancestry is still the great exception when it comes to the mainstream.”

Visiting Scholar Aliya Saperstein (Stanford) echoed some of these sentiments in an interview with the Washington Post on the new Pew study, for which she was consulted. Though the multiracial population in the U.S. is projected to triple by 2060, Saperstein stated of the latest Pew report, “I don’t think that I would describe the report as saying that we’ve reached a tipping point in seeing ourselves as a nation of multiracial people.”

Visiting Scholar Ann Morning (NYU) also recently appeared in the press to discuss the changing nature of race in America. In the wake of the controversy surrounding Rachel Dolezal—the former president of the Spokane NAACP chapter who stepped down after allegations that she lied about being African American surfaced—Morning appeared on several news shows, including Good Morning America, MSNBC’s Politics Nation, CBS News, Air Talk, and Arise TV. Despite the firestorm surrounding Dolezal’s racial self-identification, Morning argued that racial identity is becoming more and more fluid in the U.S. As she told CBS, “We're getting more used to the idea that people's racial affiliations and identities can change.”


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