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US Study Implies Female Students More Likely To Embrace Mixedness

student reading But just how valid is the data?

A recent study by Lauren Davenport, Assistant professor of political science at Stanford University in the February issue of the American Sociological Review has produced some interesting data about how children with parents of different races racially identify themselves.

Social scientists have estimated that by 2050 one in every five Americans will be mixed-race. The one-drop-rule and other social pressures make accurate estimates very difficult to predict so any data that can give us some idea of how this group see themselves in relation to others can be useful.

Titled, "The Role of Gender, Class, and Religion in Biracial Americans' Racial Labelling Decisions," the study relies on data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey. Every year, thousands of incoming freshmen at hundreds of community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities across the United States complete the survey, which the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles conducts. For her study, Davenport pooled data from the 2001, 2002, and 2003 CIRP Freshman Surveys, giving her a sample of more than 37,000 Asian-white, black-white, and Latino-white racially mixed students.

She discovered that gender played a big role in whether children with parents of different identified themselves as multiracial. Among children of black-white unions, 76% of the female freshmen defined themselves as multi-racial, whereas only 64% of male freshmen from the same background did.

A similar pattern appeared for children of Latino-white unions, with 40% of females defining themselves as multi-racial, but only 32% of males, and for children of Asian-white unions, with 56% of females, and only 50% of males.

Davenport speculates in her study that in general it may be easier for biracial women to cross between societies, because they are stereotyped as 'a mysterious, intriguing racial 'other,' while racially mixed men may be more likely to be perceived simply as 'people of colour.' Davenport's argument: "the different ways that biracial people are viewed by others influences how they see themselves."

Sharron Hall Editor of puts it slightly differently but comes to the same conclusion, she says, 'males are seen as more of a threat to ideas of white privilege and so their non-white racial background will be automatically assigned to them regardless of how they define themselves and especially if they exhibit strong masculine behaviour. Males may also have come up against racism on more occasions than their female counterparts and some may have taken on a non-white monoracial identity as an act of allegiance to and understanding of their ethnic brothers and sisters.'

Davenport also noted that status played a role in how the young people identified themselves in that the richer a family is the more likely the children are to identify themselves as white. Sharron hall says that 'large amounts of money tend to whiten any complexion and many affluent individuals will feel comfortable describing themselves as white. After all, the luxurious lifestyle they will be leading will be more associated with whiteness and their social networks will be less likely to challenge that idea of whiteness when it is associated with a luxurious lifestyle.'

Sharron Hall adds: 'I am somewhat disappointed by Davenport's statement that 'for some, a multiracial label reflects a desire to socially distance and distinguish oneself from blacks." This is a stereotypical assumption that in reality is extremely rare and has been used by both black and white to marginalise and alienate mixed-race individuals for too long. Whilst I expected this sort of statement to have been made by the media I am surprised it came from the researcher and it makes me question the validity of the whole research.

Sharron also says: 'It is worth noting that this data is now more than ten years old and who is to say if those mixed-race individuals feel the same today. The data would be more valid if the data was more recently gathered. Whist I recognize the need for mixed-race individuals to be able to racially identify themselves any way they like and I welcome any research that shows this is happening I am concerned about the political and social agendas that may be operating behind such research.' It will be interesting to see how this data is used in the future.

Click here to view the original article The American Sociological Review:
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