A project of Brooklyn Historical Society
Interracial Brooklyn
A close-up of the 1880 US Census form showing the "Personal Description" section which includes "Color" and these options: White, Black, Mulatto, Chinese, and Indian. CLICK TO ENLARGE

If you want to see more of the old census forms, visit RaceBox.org or ipums.org. The wild variation in racial definitions over time is one indication that race is not inherent in ourselves, but rather race is a social construct that we create, and thereby something that changes with time.

To further complicate the issue, prior to 2000 the census only allowed respondents to “pick one” race. Starting in 2000, respondents were encouraged to “pick one or more.” The new multiracial option is an appropriate way to deal with the real multiraciality of our population, but the multiracial option also opened up enormous new numbers of multiracial categories, and new definitional problems for the measurement of intermarriage.