Census data counts more multiracial individuals

Photo: UC Berkeley student Austin Houlgate is one of an expanding group of people identifying as mixed race - 2.9 percent of the U.S. population, a 32 percent increase since 2000.
Kevin Foote/Photo
UC Berkeley student Austin Houlgate is one of an expanding group of people identifying as mixed race - 2.9 percent of the U.S. population, a 32 percent increase since 2000.


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With deep-set eyes, dark hair and the strong jaw-line and chin of a Disney cartoon prince, UC Berkeley student Austin Houlgate is difficult to place in a racial category.

Houlgate could be taken for Greek or Caucasian, but placing him unequivocally into a single racial group would be indelicate.

On a rainy day five years ago, Houlgate - dressed in his uniform of black jeans, a maroon polo shirt and non-slip shoes - talked to his coworkers as he waited for his father to pick him up from the Round Table Pizza parlor where he worked.

Houlgate's friends wanted to meet his dad, so he led him inside to introduce them.

"They said in Spanish - so he wouldn't hear - 'That's not your dad, that can't be your dad. He's white, he really doesn't look like you, I don't think he's your dad,'" Houlgate said.

"I said, 'I told you I was mixed Asian and white, I don't know what you want me to say. I mean, I'm pretty sure he's my dad,'" he added with a nervous laugh.

What is now a funny incident to look back on was "kind of jarring" at the time, he said.

"What are you?" is a question that Houlgate, now 22, is all too used to hearing - along with thousands of other people of multiracial descent across the country, in the city of Berkeley and on campus.

Including multiracial individuals in racial data is a new practice at the federal as well as the UC level that acknowledges and corresponds to the changing face of the nation's population.

Multiracial children represent the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. The number of individuals identifying themselves as mixed race has risen by 32 percent since 2000 to compose 2.9 percent of the nation's population, according to 2010 census data.

In Berkeley, the number of residents identifying as multiracial has experienced a percentage increase of over 22 percent, with multiracial individuals now accounting for 6.2 percent of the city's entire population.

However, the census taken in 2010 was only the second to allow respondents the option of selecting more than one racial category.

An even larger portion - approximately 14 percent - of incoming UC Berkeley freshmen between 2004 and 2007 identified themselves with multiple races, according to a study undertaken by Gregg Thomson, executive director of the Office of Student Research and Campus Surveys.

Trends in the campus population tend to precede those in larger geographical scopes and among the broader population, according to Thomson.

The upswing in multiracial students on campus has been "a fairly consistent phenomenon for at least the last decade," he said.

Statistics enumerating the multiracial population have not been historically collected at the campus level, but due to a recent change in the manner in which the UC collects and processes racial data, these statistics will soon be available, Thomson said.

For Houlgate, who filled out a census form in 2010, checking both the Asian and white boxes, the question of race "goes beyond the issue of what box you check and why," and speaks to greater issues of representation and identity.

"People's ideas of race are ossified," he said. "How people identify you, how very narrow and standardized people's ideas of race are ... I don't think those (single) racial categories were ever accurate."

Changes in data collection practices at the Census Bureau and the UC are especially critical in a state as diverse as California, Thomson said.

The number of Californians who identified themselves as being of multiracial descent on the 2010 Census was more than 150 percent greater than the number of Americans as a whole.

"By its charter, (the university) is supposed to represent the composition of the state," Thomson said. "(The changes are) just representing who our students really are."

Tags: US CENSUS BUREAU, UC BERKELEY, 2010 CENSUS


Noor Al-Samarrai covers Berkeley communities.



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