The number of mixed-race babies has soared over the past decade, new census data show, a result of more interracial couples and a cultural shift in how many parents identify their children in a multiracial society.
More than 7 percent of the 3.5 million children born in the year before the 2010 Census were of two or more races, up from barely 5 percent a decade earlier. The number of children born to black and white couples and to Asian and white couples almost doubled.
“I think people are more comfortable in identifying themselves, and their children, as mixed race,” said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed detailed census data on mixed-race infants. “It’s much more socially acceptable, more mainstream, to say, ‘That’s what we want to identify them as.’ ”
The District, Maryland and Virginia all lag behind the national average in multiracial children, but that is changing rapidly.
In both Fairfax County and Montgomery County public schools, for example, about 4.5 percent of the student body is more than one race. With 8,200 in Fairfax schools, the ranks have multiplied six times in the 15 years since the district started keeping count. The 6,500 mixed-race students in Montgomery would fill three high schools.
Though mixed-race children are increasingly common, parents say it can be tricky talking to them about race.
Thien-Kim Lam, a Silver Spring mother of two, is a first-generation Vietnamese American married to an African American. Their daughter, who is 6, has started to notice that she doesn’t look like her mother.
“At the very beginning, I thought if I didn’t talk about race, she’d just be colorblind,” said Lam, who writes a blog on raising biracial kids in a race-conscious world; its name comes from what she tells strangers who see her for the first time with her children — “I’m Not the Nanny.”
“But it’s important to teach them to be proud of who they are,” she added. “I see it as a chance to teach my daughter to accept her two parts, a new combination — half me and half of her dad, the perfect color in between.”
Frey said the census statistics on children with black and white parents in particular show a country that is advancing toward the day when race loses its power to be a hot-button issue.
People who identify themselves as one race tend to be older. They reflect a society in which laws prohibited interracial marriage and states such as Virginia enforced a “one drop” rule designating anyone as black if they could trace even one drop of their blood to an African American ancestor. President Obama, for example, identified himself as one race — black — on his census form, even though his mother was white.