An article on the issue of documenting one's multiracial lineage
- "Blacks" and the Disclosure of their Multiracial Roots
(excerpts from an article written by By Eric Schmidt
(NYT), Vicksburg, Miss., for the New York
Times, National Desk, March 31, 2001)
When Milton Heard was filling out the census form for
his family last year, he hesitated where it asked
the race of his two sons, Jacob and David.
Mr. Heard, who owns a women's apparel and
cosmetics store here, is [categorized as] "black".
His wife, Chong Suk, is Korean.
His sons, ages 21 and 17, are "black" with distinct Asian features.
For the first time, the 2000 census allowed Americans
to check more than one category to identify their race...
''I thought about it and ... I didn't feel there
was enough information about what the government
was trying to do,'' said Mr. Heard, who is 76.
More than 550 miles and a cultural world away in Lawton,
Okla., in the shadow of sprawling Fort Sill, Neil Domingo,
a retired Army staff sergeant, recalled weighing the
same decision and coming to a different answer.
''I identify with being "black", but I'm also Hispanic,''
said Mr. Domingo, 53, who said he described
himself both ways in the race category.
''Why cast away my 'black' or my
Latin heritage when I can mark both?''
The suspicion harbored by Mr. Heard and the openness
of Mr. Domingo are attitudes reflected in the census,
which found that Mississippi had one of the lowest multiracial
responses in the country, while Oklahoma had one of the highest.
And those polar views reflect the [so-called] "black"
community' in America, which IS NOT MONOLITHIC in its
politics, its socioeconomic status, its intermarriage
rates or `how it perceives itself racially'.
A look at these two places with thriving `African-American'
communities underscores how much the concept of race is
influenced by recent memories of segregation and oppression,
levels of integration and different views of history.
Census figures show that more than 2 percent of all 281.
4 million Americans said they belonged to more than one race.
But about 5 percent of all "black" people said they were
multiracial, double what many government demographers and civil
rights leaders had predicted based on surveys in 1996 and 1998...
[In Comanche County, Okla., which includes Lawton, many
"blacks" celebrate their diversity, a result they said of
more than a century of intermarrying with American Indians
and of the Army's influence in integrating military towns...
It is difficult to say whether the differences in two
counties is the cause of their different political
and social views -- or the result of them...
Representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma, the only "black"
Republican in Congress, who is also part Choctaw Indian, said,
''It's hard to be from Oklahoma and
not have some native American blood.''
For many of the more than two dozen "blacks" interviewed
in these two counties, separated by history, geography
and culture, racial identity seems influenced by forces
less biological than social and environmental...
In Oklahoma...[the so-called], "blacks" and native Americans
have a racial relationship that spans nearly 200 years...
Blacks were freed after the Civil War, and over the years were able
to buy land and established all-black towns throughout the state...