AskDefine | Define multiracial

Dictionary Definition

multiracial adj : made up of or involving or acting on behalf of various races; "a multiracial society"; "multiracial government"

User Contributed Dictionary



multi- + racial


  1. Composed of, or having a mixture of, multiple races

Extensive Definition

The terms multiracial and mixed-race describe people whose parents are not the same race, or the descendants of such mixed people.
Multiracial also describes a society or group that is composed of people from more than one racial or ethnic group.

What makes a person multiracial?

See also Admixture
According to Michael Levin, most people can be clearly identified as belonging to one race or another, meaning that most people can trace at least 75% of their ancestors to the same geographic region associated with a major racial group. However Levin insists that anyone with fewer than 75% of their ancestors originating from the same broad geographic region should be considered multiracial: Hybrid populations with multiple lines of descent are to be characterized in just those terms: as of multiple descent. Thus, American Negroids are individuals most of whose ancestors from 15 to 5000 generations ago were sub- Saharan African. Specifying 'most' more precisely in a way that captures ordinary usage may not be possible. '> 50%' seems too low a threshold; my sense is that ordinary attributions of race begin to stabilize at 75%. An individual, half of whose ancestors are East Asian and half Caucasian, is to be categorized as just that, of half northeast Asian and half Caucasian ancestry. Nothing in continental cladistics precludes mixed ancestry, any more than the concept of a breed of dog excludes mixtures.
Meanwhile the company DNAPrint Genomics analyzes DNA to determine the exact percentage of Indo-European, sub-Saharan, East Asian, and Native American heritage someone has and assigns the to the categories White, Black, East Asian, Native American, or mixed race accordingly. According to U.S. sociologist Troy Duster and ethicist Pilar Ossorio: Some percentage of people who look white will possess genetic markers indicating that a significant majority of their recent ancestors were African. Some percentage of people who look black will possess genetic markers indicating the majority of their recent ancestors were European.

Words for this concept, including from other languages, used in English

In the English-speaking world many terms for people of various multiracial descents exist, some of which are pejorative or are no longer used. Mulato and mestizo are used in Spanish and métis in French for people of multiracial descent, and these terms are also in certain contexts used in the English-speaking world. In Canada, the Métis are a people of mixed white and First Nation descent. Terms like "mulatto" for people of partly African descent and "mestizo" for people of partly Native American descent are still used in English, but mostly when referring to the past or to the demography of Latin-America. "Half-breed" is a now old-fashioned and pejorative term used for people of partial Native American ancestry. Mestee, once widely used, is now used mostly for members of old mixed-race groups, such as Melungeons, Redbones, Brass Ankles and Mayles.
In English, the terms "miscegenation and "amalgamation" have been used for "race-mixing", but these terms are now often considered offensive and are becoming obsolete.

Place in society

Societal acceptance of interracial marriages and the children born from interracial relationships varies widely from person to person and region to region, and over time. In Nazi Germany, harsh race laws were enacted to establish racial purity, although Nazi soldiers in Scandinavia (a few countries considered by the Nazis to have a mostly "Nordic" population) interbred with local women. Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons were considered to be equal to Germans in the Nazi worldview. In the United States, especially the South, marriage between African Americans and European Americans has historically been looked down upon and legislated against through anti-miscegenation laws. These state laws were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia. As recently as 2003, Taylor County High School in Taylor County, Georgia has held separate prom celebrations for black and white students; however, some similar phenomena occur equally because of cultural differences and not specific prohibitions on marriage or dating. However, recent data suggests that multiracial marriages are becoming increasingly common in the United States, including the South.
Censuses notwithstanding, any count of numbers of mixed-race people is subject to dispute. People may identify themselves as members of one single racial category despite having (potentially many) ancestors belonging to other categories, for various reasons. For instance, genetic studies of Afro-Caribbean people show an ancestry that is on average 10% European and 90% African. Also, a considerable portion of the U.S. population identified as Black actually have some Native American or European American ancestry. Some of these categorization phenomena occur due to current or past cultural stereotyping or segregation.
Multiracial individuals are often stereotypically presumed to have struggles with identity crises, perhaps due to having a sense of identity that is very different than people who claim to be of just one race. Most multiracial people cannot or do not identify with just one group.

Latin America

Mestizo is the common word used to describe multiracial people in Latin America, especially people with and Amerindian and Spanish or other European ancestry. Mestizos make up a large portion of Latin Americans including a majority in some countries.
In Latin America, racial mixture was officially acknowledged from colonial times, resulting in an official nomenclature for every conceivable mixture present in the various countries. Initially, this classification was used as a type of caste system, where rights and privileges were accorded depending on one's official racial classification. Official caste distinctions were abolished in many countries of the Spanish-speaking Americas as they became independent of Spain, but several have remained in common usage to this day.
Race and racial mixture have played a significant role in the politics of many Latin American countries. In some countries, notably Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama, Belize, and other Latin countries, a majority of the population can be described as biracial or multiracial (depending on the country).
The Mexican philosopher and educator José Vasconcelos authored an essay on the subject, La Raza Cósmica, celebrating racial mixture. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who is himself of Spanish, indigenous and African ancestry, has made positive references to the mixed race ancestry of most Latin Americans from time to time.


According to the 2000 official census, 38.5% of Brazilians identified themselves as pardo skin color. That option is normally marked by people that consider themselves multiracial (mestiço). The term pardo is formally used in the official census, but is not used by the population. In Brazilian society, most people that are multiracial call themselves moreno, light-moreno or dark-moreno. These terms are not considered offensive, and focus more on skin color than on ethnicity (it is considered more like the others human characteristics such as being tall or short).
The most common multiracial groups are between African and European (mulato), and Amerindian and European (caboclo or mameluco). But there are also African and Amerindian (cafuzo), and East-Asian (mostly Japanese) and European (ainocô). All groups are more or less found throughout the whole country. Most of the Brazilian multiracials, however, have three origins: Amerindian, European and African.
Since multiracial relations in Brazilian society have occurred for many generations, today, some people find it difficult to trace their own ethnic ancestry, and there is a high level of integration between all groups. However, there is a great social and economic difference between European descendants (found more among the upper and middle classes) and African, Amerindian and multiracial descendants (found more among the middle and lower classes).

South Africa

Multiracial South Africans are commonly referred to as coloureds. According to the 2001 South African Census, they are the second largest miniority (8.9%) after white South Africans (9.2%).

Malaysia and Singapore

Malaya's population comprises many ethnic groups, with the Malays making up the majority, close to 60% of the population. By constitutional definition, Malays are Muslim who practice Malay norms and culture. Therefore, technically, a Muslim of any race who practices Malay norms and culture can be considered a Malay and have equal rights when it comes to Malay rights as stated in the constitution. About 25% of the population are Malaysians of Chinese descent. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 8% of the population. About 90% of the Indian community are Tamils but various other groups are also present, including Malayalis, Punjabis and Gujaratis. There are also various non-Malay peoples who are designated as indigenous, mostly in East Malaysia. These make up about 7% of the population.[citation needed]
Non-Malay indigenous groups make up more than half of the state of Sarawak's population, constitute about 66% of Sabah's population, and also exist in much smaller numbers on the Peninsula, where they are collectively known as Orang Asli. The non-Malay indigenous population is divided into dozens of ethnic groups, but they share some general cultural similarities. Other Malaysians also include those of, inter alia, European, Middle Eastern, Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese descent. Europeans and Eurasians include British who colonized and settled in Malaysia and some Portuguese. Most of the Middle Easterners are Arab descent. A small number of Cambodians and Vietnamese settled in Malaysia as Vietnam War refugees.
Population distribution is uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated on the Malay Peninsula, while East Malaysia is relatively less populated.
Due to the rise in labour intensive industries, Malaysia has 10 to 20% foreign workers with the uncertainty due in part to the large number of illegal workers, mostly Indonesians. There are a million legal foreign workers and perhaps another million unauthorized foreigners. The state of Sabah alone has nearly 25% of its 2.7 million population listed as illegal foreign workers in the last census. However, this figure of 25% is thought to be less than half the figure speculated by NGOs. Interracial partnerships are also on a steady rise in Malaysia, most notably in the cities, eg. Kuala Lumpur.
According to government statistics, the population of Singapore as of September 2007 was 4.68 million, of whom 3.7 million were Singaporean citizens and permanent residents (termed 'Singapore Residents').[57] Chinese formed 75.2% of 'Singapore Residents', Malays 13.6%, Indians 8.8%, while Eurasians and other groups formed 2.4%.
In 2006. the crude birth rate stood at 10.1 per 1000, a very low level attributed to birth control policies, and the crude death rate was also one of the lowest in the world at 4.3 per 1000. The total population growth was 4.4% with Singapore residents growth at 1.8%. The higher percentage growth rate is largely from net immigration, but also increasing life expectancy. Singapore is the second-most densely populated independent country in the world after Monaco, excluding Macau and Hong Kong, which are special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China. In 1957, Singapore's population was approximately 1.45 million, and there was a relatively high birth rate. Aware of the country's extremely limited natural resources and small territory, the government introduced birth control policies in the late 1960s. In the late 1990s, the population was ageing, with fewer people entering the labour market and a shortage of skilled workers. In a dramatic reversal of policy, the Singapore government introduce a "baby bonus" scheme in 2001 (enhanced in August 2004) that encouraged couples to have more children.[58]
In 2006, the total fertility rate was only 1.26 children per woman, the 3rd lowest in the world and well below the 2.10 needed to replace the population. [59] In 2006, 38,317 babies were born, compared to around 37,600 in 2005. This number, however, is not sufficient to maintain the population growth. To overcome this problem, the government is encouraging foreigners to immigrate to Singapore. These large numbers of immigrants have kept Singapore's population from declining.

The Philippines

There has been Chinese presence in the Philippines since the ninth century; although large scale migrations of Chinese to the Philippines only started during the Spanish colonial era, when the world market was opened to the Philippines. It is estimated that among Filipinos, 10% have some Chinese ancestry and 2% are “full-blooded” Chinese.
According to a genetic study which included 28 genotyped individuals from the Philippines, 3.6% of the population is of European descent A large part of this European introgression is very likely of Spanish origin. Filipinos with a mix of Spanish ancestry, Spanish mestizos, are particularly visible in show business, and some leaders in Philippine business and commerce are of Spanish descent.


India has more than two thousand ethnic groups, and every major religion is represented, as are four major families of languages (Indo-European, Dravidian and Tibeto-Burman languages) as well as a language isolate (the Nihali language spoken in parts of Maharashtra). Further complexity is lent by the great variation that occurs across this population on social parameters such as income and education.

United Kingdom

In 2000, The Sunday Times reported that "Britain has the highest rate of interracial relationships in the world". Census data shows the population of England (as a sub-section of the UK) to be 1.4% mixed-race (2001), compared with, for example, 1.4% in the U.S. and therefore are the same (2002 estimates; see below). However, the U.S. figure largely does not include mixed-race people who have a black parent. Also, as most of the English population is of one race (white) — more so than in the US — there are fewer opportunities for interracial relationships in England. In support of the report's conclusions, it can be calculated that 14.4% of English residents not identified as white are mixed-race, compared with 7.5% in the U.S.
In England many multi-racial people are from the British Caribbean. Some, like Formula One driver, Lewis Hamilton are referred to or describe themselves as 'black', but the majority of mixed race Britons identify themselves as 'mixed race' as indicated by the 2001 census. Many people are partly Welsh or partly Italian or partly of Irish Descent but such people cannot be described as 'mixed race' as they come from the same racial background (i.e.: Caucasian). The correct term for such people is 'mixed ethnicity', not 'mixed race'. The 2001 UK Census included a section entitled Mixed to which 1.4% (1.6% by 2005 estimates) of people responded, which was split further into White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African and Other Mixed.
Cities/ Regions with notable Multiracial/ Mixed Race populations


Multiracial Canadians, in 2006 totalled 1.5% of the population, up from 1.2% in 2001. The mixed race population grew by 25% since the previous census. Of this, the most popular combinations were multiple visible minorities (for example, both black and South Asian), followed closely by white-black, white-Latin American, white-Chinese and many other smaller mixes.
Another 1.2% of Canadians are Metis (descendants of a historical population who were partially Aboriginal and European, particularly French, Scottish, and Irish ethnic groups. see also Métis people (Canada)
This brings a total mixed population of up to 3%, greater than that of the United Kingdom, and the United States, in terms of percentage.

United States

The proportion of multiracial children in the United States is growing. Interracial partnerships are on the rise, as are transracial adoptions. In 1990, about 14% of 18- to 19-year-olds, 12% of 20- to 21-year-olds and 7% of 34- to 35-year-olds were involved in interracial relationships (Joyner and Kao, 2005). Given the variety of the familial and more general social environments in which multiracial children are raised, along with the diversity of their appearance (vis-a-vis their component races and their family members), it can be difficult to make generalizations about multiracial children's challenges or opportunities. The racial social identity of children and that of their parents in the same multiracial family may vary or be the same. Some multiracial children feel pressure from various sources to "choose" or to assimilate into a single racial identity, while others whose identity or lifestyle is perceived to be closer to some of their component races than others may feel pressure not to abandon one or more of their ethnicities. Still other children grow up without race being a significant issue in their lives.

Categorization and censuses

Some multiracial individuals feel marginalized by U.S. society. For example, when applying to schools or for a job, or when taking standardized tests, Americans are sometimes asked to check boxes corresponding to race or ethnicity. Typically, about five race choices are given with the instruction to "check only one." Many other such surveys include an additional "other" box, but this unfortunately groups together individuals of many different multiracial types (ex: European Americans/African-Americans are grouped with Asian/Native American Indians).
There remain many circumstances in which biracial individuals are left with no real response when asked for demographic data. But multiracial people won a victory of sorts after years of effort when in 1997, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) changed the federal regulation of racial categories to permit multiple responses, resulting in a new format for the 2000 United States Census, which allowed participants to select more than one of the six available categories, which were, in brief: "White," "Black or African American," "Asian," "American Indian or Alaskan Native," "Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander," and "Other." Further details are given in the article: Race (US Census). The OMB made its directive mandatory for all government forms by 2003.
In contrast, the United Kingdom Census 2001 offered specific mixed-race categories: "Mixed White and Black Caribbean", "Mixed White and Black African", "Mixed White and (South) Asian", and "Other Mixed", as well as "Other ethnic group".

Formal recognition of legitimacy

In the past, laws based on racial classifications restricted the free choice of a marriage partner of the other sex in the United States, in Nazi Germany and in South Africa under Apartheid. Such laws were enforced in many individual states of the United States until 1967, in Nazi Germany from 1935 until 1945, and in South Africa under Apartheid from 1948 until it was repealed in 1985. Such laws targeted marriages between whites and people of other races. In 1935, Nazi Germany enacted a law that was part of the Nuremberg Laws which prohibited marriage between Germans and Jews, which were classified as a separate race, as well as Gypsies and blacks.. In South Africa, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act prohibited marriage between whites and non-whites (which were classified as Black, Asian and Coloured).
In the United States, the various state laws were known as anti-miscegenation laws. Such laws in all states applied to marriages between "Caucasians" and African Americans ("negroes" and/or "mulattoes"), and in some states also to marriages between white Americans and Asian Americans and/or American Indians.
By the 1920s, the various Asian groups that had arrived in the United States were all judged to American courts to be non-white. In several states, Asian Americans were prohibited from marrying whites. In anti-miscegenation laws of several states, Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans were classified as members of the "Mongoloid race", Filipino Americans as members of the "Malay race" and Indian Americans were classified as "Hindus" or "Hindoos".
Hispanic Americans of partial African and/or Native American descent were in certain states in theory legally forbidden to marry whites, but often they were regarded to be white. On the other hand, the state of California took no legal steps against marriages between Mexican Americans and Punjabi immigrants, although it prohibited the Punjabis from marrying white Americans.
In 1947, the Mexican American Andrea Perez and African American Sylvester Davis were refused a marriage licence because their marriage would have violated California's anti-miscegenation laws, which prohibited marriage between whites and non-whites. Perez was judged to be white. However, in a landmark decision the California Supreme Court in Perez v. Sharp (1948) repealed California's anti-miscegenation laws because they ran counter to the Constitution of the United States.
In 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that all remaining anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, after years of legal challenges by plaintiffs and civil rights organisations, and since then such laws have had no legal force. In 2000, Alabama was the last state to officially remove its unenforceable anti-miscegenation laws from its state statute.



  • Joyner, Kara and Grace Kao. 2005. "Interracial Relationships and the Transition to Adulthood." American Sociological Review 70(4):563-582.
  • Freyre, Gilberto. "The masters and the slaves: a study in the development of Brazilian civilization". Translated by Samuel Putnam. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946.

External links

multiracial in Korean: 혼혈
multiracial in Japanese: 混血
multiracial in Polish: Wielorasowi
multiracial in Portuguese: Multi-racial
multiracial in Swedish: Chino
multiracial in Chinese: 混血兒

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