The number of people who identify as multiracial has increased by the millions in the last decade. Not only are those people often misidentified as white, black or Latino, but they also place more value on being correctly identified than people of a single race, according to new research presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention on Friday.
One study conducted at the University of California, Davis examined how likely participants were to correctly identify a person as multiracial and how long it took them to do so. In another study presented at the APA convention, a researcher from Tufts University surveyed to what degree multiracial people value the accuracy of another person's perception of their race.
In the first study, Davis researcher Jacqueline Chen found that participants, when presented with photographs, were less likely to identify people as multiracial than single-race. The participants also took longer to correctly identify those people compared to single-race people.
The experiments incorporated factors such as time limits and memorization tasks to see if it would affect the participants' accuracy.
"Today, the distinctions among white, black, Latino and Asian people are becoming blurred by the increasing frequency and prominence of multiracial people," Chen said in a written statement. "Still, average Americans have difficulty identifying multiracial people who don't conform to the traditional single-race categories that society has used all their lives."
Chen said that the typical racial categories used today are social constructions that can change over time, rather than classification based on biological differences.
People were first allowed to select more than one race on the 2000 Census, and more than 6.8 million people did so. People reporting themselves as multiracial are most highly concentrated on the West Coast – nearly a quarter of people in Hawaii identified as two or more races – but the multiracial demographic is growing.
By 2010, that number grew by 32 percent, with about 9 million people reporting that they identified with two or more races. It far outpaced the overall population growth – 9.7 percent – and some multiple-race groups grew by more than 50 percent.
The data show that the United States population is becoming more diverse, and new research emphasizes that recognition of that diversity is important to multiracial people.
In another presentation at the APA convention, Jessica Remedios of Tufts University spoke of her findings on how highly multiracial people value being correctly identified.
Misidentification of multiracial people can often draw controversy, as in the case of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who was acquitted of murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Though Zimmerman identified himself as Hispanic (his mother is Hispanic and his father is white) many media outlets, including CNN and The New York Times, labeled him as "white Hispanic."
The classification sparked a national debate about stereotypes and racism. Some argued that labeling Zimmerman as white supported the idea that he profiled Martin, an unarmed black teenager, when he shot him.
Participants in Remedios' study indicated that they would be more interested in meeting people who correctly identified them as multiracial. They had their photos taken and were told that they would trade the photo with a person in another room, who didn't really exist. All participants received a white person's photo and were then asked to identify that person's race, add comments and answer a questionnaire about how interested they would be in meeting the person in the picture.
The participants were under the impression that the fictional person in the other room would do the same for them, and read comments that the researchers developed for the person they thought had viewed their photo.
"Our research found that multiracial people expect positive interactions with people who accurately perceive their racial backgrounds because that affirms their self-perceptions," Remedios said in a statement.