These students are part of the growing country-wide phenomenon of individuals who identify themselves as “mixed race.” The number of people who check both the black and white boxes has increased by 134 percent to 1.8 million since the 2000 census, the first time it allowed such an option. Among American children, the multiracial population has increased nearly 50 percent to 4.2 million since 2000.
“The growth of this population is clearly a trend that will surely increase every decade into the 21st century,” wrote history professor Al Camarillo in an email to The Daily.
At Stanford, this rise in the mixed-race population may finally create a multicultural community in which mixed-race students feel they can belong.
Multiracial associations have in recent years been popping up on college campuses all around the country. These organizations aim to promote multicultural awareness and provide students with a safe environment to discuss multiracial issues. Many Stanford students were surprised that an organization for mixed-race students does not exist on campus.
Marcus Turner ’12, who is half black and half Latino and grew up in a predominately African-American community, thinks that it would be beneficial to have a multiracial association on campus. Although Turner was always taught to embrace his African-American heritage and is proud of being half black, he feels unable to identify with the black community at Stanford. His inability to speak Spanish also makes him feel like an outsider to the Latino community. He believes that a multiracial association “would give us a place where we belong.”
Ogiemwanye struggled with where she belonged for much of her life. She did not identify with either race because she “looked different.” For example, her skin seemed too fair and her hair too wavy for her Nigerian background, and too dark and too coarse for her Jewish background. She only began to identify as black during her sophomore year of college. At that time, Ogiemwanye did not consider herself black because she had associated the term black with certain cultural stereotypes.
Before coming to Stanford, Ogiemwanye thought of her experiences as distinct from those of other blacks she had interacted with. Her college studies, which focused on social justice issues, caused her to realize that “race is a social construct.”
Even though others usually see her as black, Ogiemwanye is proud of her black and Jewish identity.
“I’ve taken pieces of both sides and let that be who I am,” she said.
To a similar tune, other mixed-race students–Turner, Markham, Burns, Smith and Krumm–also identify as biracial.
Although Burns, who is often mistaken for being Indian, is only one fourth-white and three-fourths black, she often tells others that she is half white and half black for convenience.
With his curly hair, olive-colored skin and almond-shaped eyes, Krumm–who identifies as Jamaican and white–has been asked if he was a number of races, including a mix of black, white, Chinese and Latino.
Gunther is often mistaken for being completely white, though he’s part Filipino. Because society perceives him as being of one race, he usually identifies as white, unless he is with his family. In middle school, he tried to befriend people in the Asian community but did not feel accepted because of his appearance. Even his Filipino family members jokingly comment, “He’s so white,” according to Gunther.
Owusu had a similar experience growing up half Samoan and half black. He said he has always identified himself as black because he has darker skin and that is how others view him. Yet he still wishes to embrace his other background.
“Whenever I see someone that is Polynesian, I do say I’m half Samoan,” Owusu said. “I’m proud of that.”
Many students agree that society has helped shape the way they identify themselves, for better or for worse. If their physical features are more characteristic of one race than the other, they tend to feel a stronger tie with that aspect of their ethnic background.
Camarillo believes that in the near future students will be able to identify themselves in a different manner.
“A substantial portion of the multiracial population will reject ‘one-race’ categories and will express an identity that can’t be contained in such limited historical terminology (e.g. black, white, Asian, etc.),” he said.
Assistant professor of English Vaughn Rasberry also observed a change in norms concerning racial identity. In Rasberry’s opinion, the increase of individuals in America identifying themselves as mixed race is not just the result of a sociological trend, but “also registers some dissatisfaction with conventional racial or ethnic categories.”
One day, Smith hopes, “someone who is mixed race does not have to ‘choose’ a major ethnicity to identify by, so that we really can be everything.”