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Study: Majority of Americans think that President Obama is biracial

Posted November 10, 2014
Abraham Obama. Image author Ron English. Via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Abraham Obama. Image author Ron English. Via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

A new study shows that a majority of Americans think that President Obama should present him not as black, but as a biracial. This interesting finding has implications for the policy of racial identity in the United States.

American inhabitants are racially categorized. Traditional categorization into white and black citizens was implemented as a tool to maintain the social hierarchy. But after successes of the civil right movement, this division started to serve as a tool to allocate resources for disadvantaged groups. However, more and more individuals have mixed racial background.

“There is evidence of widespread discrimination against multiracial individuals by both whites and blacks,” the scientists say. Present census allows identifying oneself as a multiracial person. But what is the public opinion on such identification? This question was explored by Jack Citrin and his colleagues at the University of Berkeley.

Interestingly, their research design was inspired by one controversial decision of Barack Obama. “When President Obama classified himself on the 2010 Census as “black” rather than biracial the New York Times proclaimed: It’s Official: Barack Obama Is the Nation’s First Black President,” the sociologists say.

However, it is well-known that his racial background is mixed. Obama is a son of white woman and black man. Many critics argued that U.S. president missed a very good opportunity to support citizens having multiracial identity. His supporters replied that this choice mirrored expectations of most Americans who perceive biracial individuals as black.

Citrin and his associates tested this hypothesis empirically. “Respondents were randomly assigned to three conditions—a control, a treatment that described the president’s biracial ancestry, and a treatment that combined the biracial ancestry information with a statement that Obama had in fact classified himself as black only. All respondents were then asked how they felt Obama should have filled out his Census form,” the researchers explain.

Results were somewhat surprising. Most of the participants indicated that Obama had to identify him not as black, but rather as biracial. “Mixed-race politicians may come to perceive this public acceptance and more frequently embrace multiracial identities that could chip away at racial polarization,” the authors of the study published in Social Science Quarterly think.

Article: Citrin, J., Levy, M. and Houweling, R. P. V., 2014, Americans Fill Out President Obama’s Census Form: What is His Race?, Social Science Quarterly, 95: 1121–1136, source link.

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