Multiracial Families Research Paper Starter

Multiracial Families

(Research Starters)

This article considers the history and the contemporary context of multiracial families in the United States. It begins by summarizing the history of interracial unions under colonialism and slavery. It then covers the laws and court cases that prevented and ultimately enabled interracial marriage. Multiracial families are formed by adoption as well as by marriage and childbearing, and a historical discussion of interracial adoption is presented. Demographic statistics on interracial families, marriages, and adoptions are included. The article also covers contemporary controversies around interracial adoption, marriage, and childbearing.

Keywords Adoption; Civil Rights Movement; Lynching; Marginalization; Mestizo; Passing; Race



Multiracial families have been a part of the American landscape since Europeans began to colonize North America. At first, multiracial families were formed by American Indian women who bore children to white male colonists. Unlike in many colonies in South America, such interracial unions and the children who resulted were not looked upon favorably, and eventually more white women came to the colonies to marry male settlers. Later on, when the transatlantic trade in African slaves began to supply the colonies with substantial numbers of black people, white male colonists began impregnating enslaved black women. There was no penalty for raping a slave at any point during slavery, and even after slavery was abolished white men were unlikely to be punished for raping black women. In fact, since the children of women who were enslaved were born into slavery, impregnating a black slave, whether by rape or consensual sex, could produce a valuable financial commodity for a white male slave owner. Because both before and after slavery few white families acknowledged their relation to the biracial children resulting from these unions, the children became members of black families. Throughout the postslavery period and up until the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, black men were threatened with lynching if whites so much as suspected that they had been romantically or sexually involved with white women. However, some white women did bear black men's children, often placing these children with black families for adoption unless they were light skinned enough to pass as white.

Multiracial families were formed by American Indians as well. Many American Indians in the South intermarried with blacks during the period of slavery. In some cases, the blacks were free; in others, they had run away from white slave owners or had themselves been the slaves of American Indians. The racial status of families formed in this way depended on which parent was black and which was American Indian. In many American Indian tribes, tribal identity and personal property passed through the mother's lineage, so the offspring of American Indian fathers and black mothers often had dubious tribal status and were subsequently dropped from the tribal roles (Miles, 2005).

Though interracial childbearing was not at all uncommon throughout the early history of the United States, multiracial families were considered improper by the general American public. There were a number of reasons for this opposition to interracial marriage and childbearing. Some people believed that mixing the races was immoral, drawing on religious ideas about the divine separation of the races (McKee Evans, 1980). Others believed that racial mixing would dilute the genetic strength of the different races. Regardless, the opposition to interracial mixing led to the adoption of laws against miscegenation across the United States (Sealing, 2000). In 1929, thirty US states had some legal prohibition against miscegenation, while four other states had previously repealed such laws. Some of these states allowed individuals with less than one half black ancestry to marry whites; others required less than one eighth black ancestry or forbade anyone with any trace of black ancestry to marry a white person. Eighteen of these states also forbade marriages between whites and Asians or Native Americans (Plecker, 1929). Even where interracial marriages were not explicitly forbidden, legal structures made them less likely. For instance, the 1922 Cable Act, a federal law, stripped women of their citizenship if they married individuals who were not eligible for citizenship, as Asian immigrants then were not (the Cable Act was repealed in 1936). While some states abolished their anti-miscegenation laws during the civil rights movement, such laws were declared unconstitutional only in 1967 with the United States Supreme Court decision on Loving v. Virginia.

This court decision paved the way for an increase in interracial marriages, but the continuing legacies of discrimination and segregation meant that white Americans and African Americans remained unlikely to wed one another. It was another factor that played the largest role in the expansion of interracial marriages in mid-century America: the war bride. War brides were women who married United States soldiers stationed in their countries. Marriages between servicemen and women from the countries in which they were stationed were not necessarily interracial—thousands of British and Australian women became war brides. However, women from the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam and American servicemen who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War became the first sizable and visible population of interracially married individuals in the United States. In fact, a special law was passed in 1945 to facilitate immigration by these women. By 1980, there were approximately 45,000 women of Asian descent living in the United States who had come to the country as war brides (Saenz, Hwang, & Aguirre, 1994).

While, historically, multiracial families were most often created through interracial marriage and childbearing, starting in the mid-twentieth century the number of multiracial families created by adoption across racial lines began to increase. Though a few families adopted interracially on an informal basis in earlier years, often because of unwanted interracial childbearing by a relative, large numbers of interracial adoptions did not start to take place until World War II. After the war, white families in the United States began to adopt children from Asian countries. Many of these children had been orphaned or otherwise displaced by the violence in their countries of origin; others were fathered by American servicemen and faced exclusion in racially homogeneous communities. The majority of internationally interracially adopted children—six out of ten in 2007—continue to come from Asia. In 1990, the single country sending the most children to the United States for adoption was South Korea, and in 2000 it was China. China also held the top spot between 2009 and 2012, while South Korea was fourth (Bureau of Consular Affairs, US Department of State, n.d.). While domestic interracial adoptions have been rarer than international ones, this process, too, has been formalized since the 1950s. The primary motivation for the establishment of domestic interracial adoption has been a move away from orphanages as the primary site for housing abandoned or orphaned children. The 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services found that 40 percent of all adopted children were adopted into families in which the adoptive parent or parents were of a different race, culture, or ethnicity than their child (Vandivere, Malm, & Radel, 2009).


A Profile of Multiracial Families

The 2000 Census documented over 54 million married couple households in the United States. Of those, 3.6 million, or 6.7% could be considered multiracial marriages. Of these, 1.1 million are marriages involving at least one person who is a member of two or more races, leaving 2.5 million marriages involving two individuals of different single racial identities. The 2010 Census showed that the number of opposite-sex interracial or interethnic married couple households increased by 28 percent between 2000 and 2010 from about 7 percent to about 10 percent (US Census Bureau, 2012). The 2010 Census also found that 18 percent of unmarried opposite-sex couples and 21 percent of unmarried same-sex couples were in interracial or interethnic. Among the racial and ethnic groups about which the Census collects data, there are very different rates of intermarriage. American Indians are the most likely to marry members of other races, while white Americans are the least likely. Intermarriage rates also vary significantly by gender in certain racial and ethnic groups.

Among whites, people of Hispanic origin, Native Hawaiians...

(The entire section is 3853 words.)