These “multiracial” Americans who do not fit the boxes

Posted today at 07h00

Born of a black mother and a white father, Charles Fitzsimmons has never had in his family “Choose a side”. Also, when this 30-year-old young man must define himself “racially”, a frequent request during administrative procedures in the United States, he ticks two boxes: in this case “white (or Caucasian)” and “black”, joining a new fringe of America, mixed and rather young, which, slowly but surely, blurs traditional ethnic and cultural lines.

Symbol of these “Americans who do not tick the boxes”, a couple of energetic and brilliant fifties naturally embody this evolution. Kamala Harris, elected to the vice-president of the United States, and her husband, the Californian lawyer Douglas Emhoff, make more visible than ever this population which hardly finds its place in the identity profiles inherited from the history of the country . Of Indian origin through her mother, Jamaican through her father, Kamala Harris also belongs to the restricted circle of black women who have married a man of different color and religion: her husband is white and Jewish. Even more than Barack Obama, the first Métis president married to an African-American, the Harris-Emhoff couple thus embodies the emerging image of couples and families that American terminology defines as “bi- or multiracial”.

More than 17 million in 2015

However, this demographic and sociological evolution was slow to be taken into account as a reality of American society. When Charles Fitzsimmons was born in 1990, his parents had to choose one identity. After family discussion, the light-skinned child was declared black. In administrative documents, crossbreeding did not exist. These Americans “out of the boxes” were not officially included in the statistics until 2000, when they were allowed to tick two or more boxes. Throughout their schooling, Charles, his brother and his sister were therefore considered African-Americans.

“Multiracial” citizens, driven by an increase in “interracial” marriages, constitute a growing proportion and their number is expected to triple by 2050.

“The forms did not authorize anything else”, remembers their mother, Shelley, determined to ensure that her children have a foot in both worlds. “Being forced to choose a side did not allow them to be culturally represented. “ She therefore welcomes the possibility now offered to her children to tick several boxes, like these 9 million Americans who, in 2019, considered themselves bi- or multiracial. They were 6.9 million in 2010. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, in 2015, at least 17 million people would fall into this category, even if they do not appear in official data.

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