Tuesday, July 9, 2013
IN LIGHT OF THE FISHER DECISION: WHY THE ADMISSIONS PROSPECTS OF BLACK MULTIRACIALS MUST BE ADDRESSED
Last week I discussed the changing racial and ethnic ancestry of blacks on affirmative action. In that piece, I noted how quickly Black Multiracials (those individuals with one non-black and one black parent, as defined by the one-drop rule) and Black Immigrants will soon constitute the
overwhelming majority of black students at many (most?) selective higher education programs, if they don’t already. I suggested that in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher, now is the time to turn our attention to this issue. In this blog, I want to discuss how conditions have changed with regard to the admissions process of Black Multiracials that makes it imperative to have such a
discussion, regardless of how the ultimate treatment should be worked out.
Race is a socially constructed concept. Nowhere is this more obvious than when dealing with the historical issue of the treatment of mixed-race individuals with some African ancestry in the United States. The current recognition of Black Multiracials as distinct from other blacks is an emerging and relatively recent phenomenon. For virtually the entire 20th century, the one-drop rule determined who was black. As late as the 1960 census, there was no separate category for Latinos. They were classified based on their race, not their ethnicity. Thus, at the time that affirmative action policies were being formulated, 99.4% of Americans were considered either black or white. The one drop rule allowed everyone in American society to know virtually any person’s
race based on their physical appearance. As a result, race was a socially ascribed trait, not a characteristic that resulted from self-identification. As long as American society socially constructed race in this way, regardless of the feelings of mixed-race blacks, simply put, there were no Black Multiracials.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a multiracial movement developed that sought to add a separate “multiracial” category to all state and federal forms. According to Kim Williams who
studied this movement, most of the leaders were white women married to black men who did not feel that it was right to identify their children as black. In response to these complaints, in 1997, the federal government adopted new regulations for the collection and reporting of racial and ethnic data (1997 Standards). The 1997 Standards specified that self-identification is the preferred method to determine a person’s race. While the government rejected the inclusion of a “multiracial” category, it did requires that those collecting racial and ethnic data use forms that provide individuals with the opportunity to answer whether they are Hispanic/Latino and then to designate all of the racial categories that apply to them from a list that must include American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian American; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White. The 2000 and 2010 censuses were conducted consistent with these requirements.
The 1997 Standards also require that other federal agencies adopt new regulations for collecting and reporting racial/ethnic data that comply with it. The Department of Education (DOE) corresponding regulations went into effect in the fall of 2010 (the Guidance). Under the Guidance, individuals who indicate that they are Hispanic/Latino are reported to the DOE as such, regardless of which racial categories they check. Non-Hispanic/Latinos who indicate black and at least one other racial category are included in a new “Two or More Races” category, along with other multiracials. In other words, self-identified Black Multiracials are no longer counted by educational institutions as black. The federal government has abandoned the one-drop rule and forced public and private educational institutions to do so as well.
The 1997 Standards and the Guidance reject the notion that race is a socially ascribed characteristic. Rather they make self-identification the preferred means in which to determine a
person’s race. This change alone may not have been enough to allow individuals with some black ancestry to truly self-identify their race. However, the substantial influx of immigrants of color from Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, over the past 50 years altered the complexion and the facial features of American society. In 1960, those who were neither black nor white made up less than 1 percent of the American population. In 2010, they made up almost 24 percent, almost double the percentage of black population. As a result of this new wave of immigrants, the application of the one-drop rule no longer provides a reliable approach to
determine the race of a large number of those who used to be socially ascribed as black. With respect to racial identity, as the 21st century unfolds blacks with lighter skin complexions and racially ambiguous features increasingly encounter the question from others, “what are you?” Thus, the massive new immigration of people of color from the rest of the world helped to
enhance the ability of Black Multiracials to self-identify as multiracial as opposed to black..
As we move beyond the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher, for purposes of affirmative action it is not whether Black Multiracials self-identify as black or with all of their racial categories that
is significant. What is important is the demise of the one-drop rule, coupled with the ability of individuals to self-identify their race. These developments have created the social reality that Black Multiracials can now choose a racial identity other than “Black or African American.” Because Black Multiracials can choose their racial identity, admissions policies and procedures based on their inability to do so, like affirmative action, need to be adjusted to take into account this new reality.