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Race, Immigration, and Multiraciality in the Twenty-First Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2012

Jennifer Lee*
Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine
Frank D. Bean
Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy, University of California, Irvine
*Professor Jennifer Lee, Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-5100. E-mail:


At the beginning of the twentieth century, Southern states decreed that one drop of African American blood made a multiracial individual Black, and even today, multiracial Blacks are typically perceived as being Black only, underscoring the enduring legacy and entrenchment of the one-drop rule of hypodescent. But how are Asians and Latinos with mixed ancestry perceived? Based on analyses of census data and in-depth interviews with interracial couples with children and multiracial adults, I find that the children of Asian-White and Latino-White couples are much less constrained by strict racial categories. Racial identification often shifts according to situation, and individuals can choose to identify along ethnic lines, as White, or as American. Like their Irish and Italian immigrant forerunners, the Asian and Latino ethnicities of these multiracial Americans are adopting the symbolic character of European, White ethnicity. We appear to be entering a new era of race relations in which the boundaries of Whiteness are beginning to expand to include new non-White groups such as Asians and Latinos, with multiracial Asians and Latinos at the head of the queue. However, even amidst the new racial and ethnic diversity, these processes continue to shut out African Americans, illustrating a pattern of “Black exceptionalism” and the emergence of a Black–non-Black divide in the twenty-first century.

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Copyright © W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research 2012

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