A project of Brooklyn Historical Society
Why Teach Kids about Mixed Heritage?

Mixed heritage is not a new invention, and mixed-heritage people are not new to this country. As race lines have been politically drawn and re-drawn, mixed-heritage folks have found ourselves being defined by anything from “one drop” to full-fledged; labeled according to what we are and what we aren’t. These race categories have determined access to rights such as land ownership, voting, citizenship, and marriage. 

According to the 2010 United States Census, approximately 9 million individuals, or 2.9% of the population identify as multi-racial. 2000 was the first year that the structure of the census enabled individuals to identify as multi-racial. We still do not have ways of identifying mixed heritage on the United States Census. 

Mixed-heritage and mixed-race identities challenge people’s understanding of race. The question "What are you?” is posed daily to many mixed-heritage folks. Inherent in that question is a desire to easily categorize people according to race/ethnicity/origin, and therefore mixed-heritage people must explain their “ambiguous” identity.

Often mixed-heritage people are not fully welcomed into the racial or ethnic groups of their ancestry because they may not “look” or “sound” or “act” [fill-in-the-blank] enough.

Some people perceive mixed-race individuals as a “model minority,” who “get the best of both worlds,” and represent the end of racism.

There is a trend of recognizing certain positive characteristics of some mixed-race people: for example, celebrating fusion cuisine and multilingualism, or glorifying lighter-colored skin, “good” hair, and “exotic” attractiveness.  These assumptions, although they may sound like compliments, still label mixed-heritage folks as “others.” In addition, these assumptions about mixed-heritage folks often reinforce harmful racial and ethnic stereotypes of whole groups. Ultimately, we see that racial hierarchies have remained firmly intact despite a long history of racial and cultural blending in this country.


IMAGE: 2010 US Census Brief: Percentage Change in Two or More Races Population