A Mixed Race Surge in the South

March 21, 2011  |  

(New York Times) — For generations here in the deepest South, there had been a great taboo: publicly crossing the color line for love. Less than 45 years ago, marriage between blacks and whites was illegal, and it has been frowned upon for much of the time since.  So when a great job beckoned about an hour’s drive north of the Gulf Coast, Jeffrey Norwood, a black college basketball coach, had reservations. He was in a serious relationship with a woman who was white and Asian.  “You’re thinking about a life in South Mississippi?” his father said in a skeptical voice, recalling days when a black man could face mortal danger just being seen with a woman of another race, regardless of intentions. “Are you sure?”

But on visits to Hattiesburg, the younger Mr. Norwood said he liked what he saw: growing diversity. So he moved, married, and, with his wife, had a baby girl who was counted on the last census as black, white and Asian. Taylor Rae Norwood, 3, is one of thousands of mixed-race children who have made this state home to one of the country’s most rapidly expanding multiracial populations, up 70 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to new data from the Census Bureau.  In the first comprehensive accounting of multiracial Americans since statistics were first collected about them in 2000, reporting from the 2010 census, made public in recent days, shows that the nation’s mixed-race population is growing far more quickly than many demographers had estimated, particularly in the South and parts of the Midwest. That conclusion is based on the bureau’s analysis of 42 states; the data from the remaining eight states will be released this week.

In North Carolina, the mixed-race population doubled. In Georgia, it expanded by more than 80 percent, and by nearly as much in Kentucky and Tennessee. In Indiana, Iowa and South Dakota, the multiracial population increased by about 70 percent.  “Anything over 50 percent is impressive,” said William H. Frey, a sociologist and demographer at the Brookings Institution. “The fact that even states like Mississippi were able to see a large explosion of residents identifying as both black and white tells us something that people would not have predicted 10 or 20 years ago.”

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