Policies of Racial Classification and the Politics of Racial Inequality
Jennifer L. Hochschild
Department of Government
Vesla Mae Weaver
University of Virginia
Department of Politics
In Suzanne Mettler, Joe Soss, and Jacob Hacker (eds.). Remaking America: Democracy and Public Policy in an Age of Inequality (forthcoming, Nov. 2007).
Introduction: Policy, Politics, Inequality, and Race
In 1890, the United States census bureau reported that the nation contained 6,337,980 negroes, 956,989 “mulattoes,” 105,135 “quadroons,” and 69,936 “octoroons.” In the early twentieth century it also reported the number of whites of “mixed parentage,” the number of Indians with one-quarter, half, or three-quarters black or white “blood,” and the number of part-Hawaiians and part-Malays. The boundaries between racial and ethnic groups, and even the definition of race and ethnicity, were blurred and contested. By 1930, however, this ambiguity largely disappeared from the census. Anyone with any “Negro blood” was counted as a Negro; whites no longer had mixed parentage; Indians were mainly identified by tribe rather than ancestry; and a consistent treatment of Asians was slowly developing. In other work we examine how and why these classifications rose and fell; here we examine the consequences for contemporary American politics and policy.
Official governmental classification systems can create as well as reflect social, economic, and political inequality, just as policies of taxation, welfare, or social services can and do. Official classification defines groups, determines boundaries between them, and assigns individuals to groups; in “ranked ethnic systems” (Horowitz 2000), this process enshrines structurally the dominant group’s belief about who belongs where, which groups deserve what, and ultimately who gets what. Official racial categories have determined whether a person may enter the United States, attain citizenship, own a laundry, marry a loved one, become a firefighter, enter a medical school, attend an elementary school near home, avoid an internment camp, vote, run for office, annul a marriage, receive appropriate medical treatment for syphilis, join a tribe, sell handicrafts, or open a casino. Private racial categories have affected whether an employer offers a person a job, whether a criminal defendant gets lynched, whether a university admits an applicant, and whether a heart attack victim receives the proper therapy. In these and many more ways, racial classification helps to create and maintain poverty and political, social, and economic inequality. Thus systems of racial categorization are appropriate subjects for analysis through a policy-centered perspective because they are “strategies for achieving political goals, structures shaping political interchange, and symbolic objects conveying status and identity” (p. 2 of Intro). Race is also, not coincidentally, the pivot around which political contests about equality have been waged for most of this country’s history.
The same classification system that promotes inequality may also undermine it. Once categorization generates groups with sharply defined boundaries, the members of that group can draw on their shared identity within the boundary to mobilize against their subordinate position – what one set of authors call strategic essentialism (Omi and Winant 1994). Thus classification laws are recursive, containing the elements for both generating and challenging group-based inequality. For this reason -- and also because demographic patterns and other social relations on which classification rests can change -- categorizations are unstable and impermanent.
We explore these abstract claims by examining the past century of racial classification in the United States. That period encompassed significant change in systems of classification and their attendant hierarchies; thus we can see how classification and inequality are related, as well as tracing the political dynamics that reinforce or challenge inequality-sustaining policies. From the Civil War era through the 1920s, the Black population was partly deconstructed through official attention to mulattos (and sometimes quadroons and octoroons), then reconstructed through court decisions and state-level “one drop of blood” laws. As of 1930, a clear and simple racial hierarchy was inscribed in the American polity -- with all the attendant horrors of Jim Crow segregation. However, the one-drop policy that reinforced racial inequality also undermined it. From the 1930s through the 1970s, that is, the Black population solidified though a growing sense of racial consciousness and shared fate, and developed the political capacity to contest their poverty and unequal status.
Even this story is still too simple; while racial policies were deepening inequality and creating the conditions to contest it, the remnants of the old classification scheme continued to have an impact. The category of mulatto disappeared, but the intra-group disparities that it implied did not. Inequalities among Blacks, especially but not only in terms of skin color, have persisted into the twenty-first century with almost no public recognition. Thus classification systems can have a third impact, beyond reinforcing inequality and helping to create the conditions for fighting it; they can mask disparities, which restricts citizens’ capacity to derail them.
Currently, the Black population is being partly deconstructed again, through official recognition of the new multiracial movement and through engagement with the growing Hispanic community and immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. The United States is wrestling with an unstable set of conditions: mostly-unrecognized but persistent skin color differences among Blacks, the growth of a class structure and political disparities among Blacks, a new multiracial advocacy community, a continuing ideology of racial solidarity in the Black community, and a principle of colorblind equality held by many Whites. The possible implications of all of this for racial classification are multiple. Whether changing classification systems will reinscribe racial inequality as some fear, or allow submerged inequalities and old hierarchies to be vigorously fought as others hope, remains to be seen. Thus a central element of democratic citizenship is at stake.
We aspire, in short, to make both particular and general contributions to this volume. In particular, we show how the policy-centered perspective operates outside the more-commonly studied social welfare system. In each era between the Civil War and the new millennium, contending political forces shaped official policy; the new policy helped to reshape political forces; and the new forces in time contributed to a new policy. That construction of the American racial order in the twentieth century is too simple and linear, of course, but we lack the space to develop all of its complexities here. What we can do is trace the stages of racial classification policy and their connections with politics and inequality in order to show how a policy-centered perspective illuminates American racial dynamics.
More generally, we hope to establish in this chapter a larger argument about democracy and public policy in an age of inequality. Just as American politics and scholarship are impoverished by paying too little attention to class, so they are diminished by a lack of attention to racial inequality. We mean five things by this. First, a ranked social order created through a system of official classification is itself a structure of inequality. Second, racial inequality is not reducible to an observation that a disproportionate share of a given group is poor or rich; being a member of a favored or disfavored race can shape one’s life chances independently of one’s economic standing. For example, middle-class Blacks remain almost as residentially segregated as do poor Blacks, with powerful consequences for quality of life, school achievement, wealth acquisition, and social relations. Third, the American structure of poverty and inequality is itself highly racially inflected. Fully 24.9 percent of Blacks, compared with 8.3 percent of non-Hispanic Whites, lived below the poverty line in 2005 (www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty05/table4.pdf). Put another way, if Blacks are not included in measures of income inequality in the United States, it declines. The Gini index for all Americans in 2005 was 0.469; for Whites alone, it was 0.461 (www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/h04.html).
Fourth, the existence of socially consensual nominal racial groups (a.k.a. races) partly explains socioeconomic and political inequality. A crucial answer to the old saw of “Why no socialism in the United States?” is that racial hostility and mistrust prevented the working class from consolidating into a powerful movement to contest structures of economic and political inequality. Similarly, one reason why the many poor in the purportedly democratic United States have not wrested political control from the few rich is that the former are deeply divided by racial animosity and mistrust (often fostered by the well-off themselves) [(Morgan 1975); (Woodward 2002)] . Finally, the nature of the racial order partly explains social policies themselves; American policies ranging from housing subsidies to social security to school finance to criminal justice probably would have developed very differently if the Black-White binary had not existed or had been more fluid and fragmented, as in most other nations [(Quadagno 1994); (Lieberman 1998); (Katznelson 2005); (Weaver 2007)].
We share the editors’ goals for this volume of showing that policy change “has both reflected and propelled a major shift in the character of inequality." We do so by demonstrating how the very categories so often used to analyze inequality – Black, White, Hispanic – are not a given, but have causal force in their own right; they contribute to “ shap[ing] coalitions, set[ting] agendas, creat[ing] symbols, alter[ing] interests, influenc[ing] common-sense understandings, and so on."
Racial Classification of Mulattos
Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, individuals were commonly identified as negro or mulatto, with the latter group often subdivided into quadroons and octoroons and sometimes even more finely split into griffes (the child of a Black and a mulatto) or sang-meles (1/64th Black). In principle, these categories identified the precise nature of a person’s lineage; in practice, the categories were typically determined by reputation or physical appearance, with light skin serving as a proxy for mixed ancestry. Thus, for example, in the Louisiana case of State v. Treadaway, the court declared: “The person too black to be a mulatto and too pale in color to be a negro is a griff. The person too dark to be a white, and too bright to be a griff, is a mulatto. The quadroon is distinctly whiter than the mulatto. Between these different shades, we do not believe there is much, if any, difficulty in distinguishing” (State v. Treadaway 1910), quoted in Finkelman 1993: 2111). The Census Bureau also delineated races by mixture, counting mulattos as a separate group from 1850 through 1920 except in 1900, and including quadroon and octoroon at the behest of Congress in 1890 [(Nobles 2000); (Hochschild and Powell 2007)]. Similarly, in 1869 the United States Sanitary Commission published a volume summarizing data on most of the roughly 2,500,000 volunteers and recruits in the Union army. For many tables in the volume, Blacks were separated into “full blacks” and “mixed races” (while Whites were separated into soldiers, sailors, and students) (Gould 1869).
Analysts producing or using census or military data usually accepted the view that Blacks and mulattos were meaningfully distinct. The Sanitary Commission’s report showed that mulattos tended to weigh a bit more than Blacks, although they were not taller, and to have more muscular strength than either Blacks or Whites. Census analysts (“a corps of Negro clerks working under the efficient direction of three men of their own race,” as the director of the census carefully pointed out in 1918) meticulously documented differences in population growth rates, birth and death rates, school attendance and literacy, and migration patterns. [(Bureau of the Census 1918): “Letter of Transmittal,”]. The report showed, for example, that “the proportion attending school in the population of school age among mulattoes exceeds the proportion among Blacks in each section of the country” (ibid., p. 215).
A few people saw mulattos as a separate race altogether. The self-trained social analyst Alfred Holt Stone argued in 1908 that:
The mulatto is not a Negro, and neither written nor social law can make him one. By consent of all parties, including himself, he may be called a Negro. But we can no more make a Negro by such a process than we can alter the life traits and nationality of a Russian peasant by bestowing upon him an English name. The essential fallacy which underlies this classification will sooner or later make the latter impossible to maintain.
In his view, “there can no longer be a question as to the superior intelligence of the mulatto over the Negro” (Stone 1908): 398, 401). Marcus Garvey saw an equally wide gap, but in the other direction – reportedly describing W.E.B. Du Bois as “a mulatto,… a monstrosity” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/peopleevents/p_dubois.html). Still others saw little meaningful difference between Negroes and mulattos; the census bureau frequently disclaimed the accuracy of its own distinctions (especially between mulattos, quadroons, and octoroons).
State laws ranged across this array of presumptions. Elevated legal status for mulattos was the rare exception. Nevertheless, in at least twenty-five laws mulattos were legally distinguished from Blacks, for example by specifying that Whites were forbidden from marrying “Negroes or Mulattoes.” More generally, states’ classifications diverged widely from each other, changed over time, and often contained no clear boundary between groups (authors’ analysis from data in (Murray 1997 ). In three states, marriage to a White was prohibited if the person were one-fourth Black; in seven others the formula was one-eighth while in still others, the law was simply unclear. States could employ one calculus for laws on marriage and another for purposes of segregation; in Tennessee, for instance, a marriage was interracial and therefore illegal if the person was “descended from a Negro to the 3rd generation inclusive” but in another Tennessee law Negroes were defined as including “mulattoes, mestizos and their descendants, having any blood of the African race in their blood.”
These distinctions had deep symbolic and substantive impact; most saliently here, they created inequalities within as well as across groups. We need not detail the stratification between Blacks and Whites in the early days of Jim Crow, or remind readers of the depths of poverty to which designation as Black consigned people. Less well known, for reasons that we discuss below, is the significant stratification between Blacks and mulattos. The inequalities covered all arenas – social, economic, and political. Well before the Civil War, the census office had noted the “preference they [mulattos] have enjoyed in the liberation from slavery” (Bureau of the Census 1864): XXX). Free mulattoes in the lower south were “afforded a status superior to that of Blacks,” and they “tended to dominate the free Black community in both numbers and influence. The lightest of the light-skinned lived almost as well as their White neighbors.” Some owned slaves [(Jones 2000): 1506-07]. Among Union soldiers in the Civil War, lighter-skinned Blacks held more skilled occupations and higher military ranks than their darker counterparts; they were taller (a measure of nutrition) and less likely to die in the war (Hochschild and Weaver 2003). Mulattos were more literate than Blacks, and their children were more likely to attend school (Bureau of the Census 1918), especially chapter 11).
On average, mulattos also enjoyed economic advantages over Blacks. Before the Civil War, free mulattos were more likely to own their own farms (Bodenhorn 2003), and their households had much greater wealth than Black households (Bodenhorn and Ruebeck forthcoming). Those differences continued, and perhaps deepened, after emancipation. “Complexion homogamy” – the tendency for people to marry others of a similar color – prevailed, and couples in which both spouses were mulatto had at least 30 to 90 percent more wealth than partnerships with at least one Black [(Bodenhorn 2006); see also (Reuter 1917); (Gatewood 1990); (Hill 2000)].
Skin color differences similarly structured political opportunities when those became available. Of the two Black senators and twenty Black members of Congress during Reconstruction, only three were not mulattos. Perhaps a majority of the prominent racial leaders of the era were light-skinned or had White ancestors, including Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and A. Phillip Randolph. The status of mulattos was hardly risk-free, but in most cases they were better off and had more resources for fighting or avoiding the worst features of the racial order.
Bottom-up social relations often mirrored top-down systems of categorization. Marcus Garvey observed in 1923 that “unfortunately, there is a disposition on the part of a certain element of our people in America, the West Indies and Africa, to hold themselves up as the ‘better class’ or ‘privileged’ group on the caste of color.... The evil of it is working great harm to our racial solidarity” (Garvey 1969 ): II: 55). Another observer surely exaggerated, but he too worried that “often their [mulattos’] arrogance and intolerance toward the thick-lipped, kinky-haired Negro were more marked than that of the whites, and within two generations after emancipation, they had erected a ‘color-caste’ system within the race somewhat analogous to that prevailing in India” (Brisbane 1949). Black colleges and fraternities preferred light-skinned applicants; churches and organizations made distinctions in who could join or enter [(Frazier 1957); (Graham, L. 2000)]. Charles Chesnutt described a (apocryphal?) group whose “purpose was to establish and maintain correct social standards among a people whose social condition presented almost unlimited room for improvement. By accident, combined perhaps with some natural affinity, the society consisted of individuals who were, generally speaking, more white than black. Some envious outsider made the suggestion that no one was eligible for membership who was not white enough to show blue veins.” To the charge that they discriminated against darker-skinned people seeking membership, the members of the society “declared that character and culture were the only things considered; and that if most of their members were light-colored, it was because such persons, as a rule, had had better opportunities to qualify themselves for membership” (Chesnutt 1898).
On the other side of the fundamental racial divide, the meaning of Whiteness around the turn of the twentieth century was almost as contested as the meaning of Blackness. Congressional committees held hearings to decide whether members of the “Hebrew race” were White, and how to categorize Mexicans (Perlmann 2001; (Hattam forthcoming 2007); (Ma'rquez 1993); (Schor 2000). Before 1870, the census tabulated the few Asians in the United States as White, although a footnote distinguished them; conversely, the 1908 Dillingham Commission’s Dictionary of Races and Peoples described Slavs as quasi-Asian [see (Hodes 2006) on the classification of Asians in 1890].
Courts almost despaired of drawing legal bright lines; as one put it,
Then, what is white? What degree of colorization …constitutes a white person as against a colored person, and is the court to take the responsibility by ocular inspection of determining the shades of different colorization where the dividing line comes between white and colored.
The statute … is most uncertain, ambiguous, and difficult both of construction and application…. There have been a number of decisions in which the question has been treated, and the conclusions arrived at in them are as unsatisfactory as they are varying (Ex parte Shahid 1913): 813).
An array of legal cases, in state and federal courts and across many decades, groups, and issues, ensued before the judiciary was able to settle “what is white.” Criteria included physical appearance (requiring in at least one famous case that the defendant strip before the jury), community recognition, ancestry, behavior, personal history, property considerations, timing of the case, and other factors [(Haney Lo'pez 1996); (Gross 1998); (Elliott 1999). (Mack 1999)]. Two Supreme Court decisions in the 1920s almost resolved the problem, but for decades after that school boards and state regulatory agencies were adjudicating whiteness for children and would-be marital partners [(Douglas 2003); (Kennedy 2003); (Ford 1994)].
The entry of European nationalities into Whiteness is much better known than that of mulattos into Blackness, and its implications for social, political, and economic inequality are clear. Hence we will not consider it further here (Sollors 1989; Gerstle 1993; Jacobson 1998; King 2000; Perlmann 2001; Hattam 2004; Roediger 2005). Suffice it say that we differ from the many legal scholars and historians who have depicted liminal individuals or nationalities as anomalies in a basically dichotomous Black-or-White world. That viewpoint gives insufficient weight to the fact that many public agencies and private actors at the turn of the twentieth century classified an array of groups and people as neither Black nor White, but as something in between and perhaps separate from both.
Thus politics and policy interacted between the Civil War and the Great Depression in a complex racial reorganization with an equally complex impact on structures of inequality. Politics created the policies of emancipation, immigration, and Mexican labor migration. Those broad policies called forth more specific policies from the census bureau, state legislatures, courts, and other institutions that sought to label, classify, order, and otherwise manage people of mixed or ambiguous or merely foreign descent. In the process, mulattos were sometimes distinguished from Negroes and elevated above them; light-skinned people sometimes took advantage of their ambiguous status to escape the poverty and degradation that dogged almost all Blacks. The same dynamics occurred, mutatis mutandis, among European immigrants, American Indians, and Mexican migrants. While the policies remained confused, so did the politics and the structure of race-based inequality, although the basic system of ranked ethnic orders was never threatened.
The One-Drop Rule, Jim Crow, and Racial Politics
From 1930 onward, racial classification changed. Uncertainty about racial classification and boundaries gave way to the clear, simple set of categories with which we are now familiar. Several strands of classification came together to permit that outcome. First, the concept of ethnicity became widely accepted, and enabled officials to locate various European nationalities in the White race. As European immigration declined and immigrants’ children increasingly intermarried, Whiteness was consolidated. Second, protest in response to the 1930 experiment of classifying Mexicans separately ensured that they too were White. Thus the politics of immigration restriction and foreign relations with Mexico, combined with the conceptual breakthrough of “ethnicity,” shaped the policy definition of Whiteness. That policy, in turn, enabled the majority of Americans to see themselves as part of the mainstream and to live in reasonable comfort with the hardening segregation of Jim Crow.
On the other side of the basic divide, the boundary around Blackness was hardened, and the consequences of being labeled as Black deepened, at the same time that more and more people were being placed inside the category of Black. This occurred in several political institutions, more or less simultaneously. At the census bureau, the category of mulatto was dropped in 1930, with these instructions: “A person of mixed white and Negro blood should be returned as Negro, no matter how small the percentage of Negro blood. Both black and mulatto persons are to be returned as Negroes, without distinction.” In state legislatures, “as the likelihood that more biracial people could be classified as White under existing laws increased, the laws became more restrictive, often progressing from one-fourth to one-eighth…, and finally culminating in the one-drop rule” by about 1930 (Wright and Hunt 1900): 524). Virginia provides the classic case. The Black category grew from one-fourth before 1910 to one-sixteenth in 1910; the 1924 “Act to Preserve Racial Integrity” defined Whites as having “no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian” (Finkelman 1993; (Gilanshah 1993). By 1930, Virginia defined Blacks as people with “any Negro blood.” At the same time, the legal rights of mulattos were largely dissolved into those of Blacks only. State laws stopped using the phrase, “Negroes & Mulattoes,” substituting for both terms “Colored” (Higgenbotham & Kopytoff 1989). Only two of the twenty-five state laws that specifically addressed mulattos were enacted after 1930.
In public discourse also, discussion of mulattos as a separate category largely faded away. The term “mulatto” and its variants appeared on average forty-two times a year in the Washington Post between 1890 and 1910 but only seventeen times a year from 1920 to 1940 -- and only eight times a year in the latter period if three outlier years are set aside (authors’ analysis of keywords in the Washington Post, 1865 -2005).
The new one-drop policy was associated with two immediate and related effects with regard to classification: the rejection of explicit multiracial identity within the group, and the suppression of recognition of skin color differences both within and outside the group. Neither Blacks nor Whites described mulattos any longer as evidence of a link between them, even if usually forced and shameful, or as a distinct category meaningful on its own terms. Since 1990, “mulatto” and its variants have appeared anywhere from zero to three times a year in the Washington Post. This was not merely a change in vocabulary, as was the decline of “colored” or “Negro” to describe Blacks; the whole concept of a group that was neither fully Black nor White faded from social legitimacy.
As the law of hypodescent was consolidated, so was Jim Crow segregation; the relationship is mutually causal. Americans found it difficult to have a system of strict and elaborate segregation until they had eliminated the categories that blurred the lines between segregators and segregated. Conversely, the more elaborate and wide-ranging the system of segregation became, the less feasible was occupation of any middle ground. Together, these two policies generated or sustained several forms of inequality. Most obviously, Black poverty and racial economic inequality persisted and perhaps worsened.
We lack systematic income or poverty statistics for the decades around the turn of the twentieth century; the best long-term data are for life expectancy. It was always, and remains, lower for blacks than for whites (in 2000, Blacks could expect to live about 93 percent as long as Whites). But Blacks’ life expectancy actually declined by up to six percentage points as a proportion of Whites’ life expectancy between 1910 and 1940. Table 1 shows the pattern:
Table 1: Life Expectancy for Blacks as a Percentage of Life Expectancy for Whites, 1900-1940
Sources: (Haines 2006a): column 2; (Haines 2006b): columns 3 and 4. 1900 is the first year for which these data are available; they are not available for 1950 and 1960.
Given those results, it is no surprise to find that, as table 2 shows, about two and one-half times as many Black as White families were poor in every year from 1947 (the first year for which these data are available) and 1970:
Table 2: Annual Family Income of Poorest and Most Affluent Black and White Families, 1947-1970 (in 1967 dollars)
Less than $3000
More than $10,000
Less than $3000
More than $10,000
Source: (Bureau of the Census 1975): Series G 16-30.
The policies of the one-drop rule and legal segregation shaped racial politics as well as economic inequality. Most importantly, they denied the enlarged Black population access to political power to change the laws that kept them poor, and legal redress for harms done under those laws. All Blacks, even those with very light skin or many White ancestors, were accorded an unambiguously inferior legal and political standing. Inferior social and cultural status, of course, went along with subordinated economic and political status.
Over the long run, however, the policies of the one-drop rule and segregation, in conjunction with other factors such as a long tradition of racial nationalism and white liberal support, generated a counter-reaction that led to a very different form of racial politics. A black sociologist predicted as much in 1926: "The American Negro will be forced by outside compulsion to maintain his social and physical identity, independent of any purpose or policy on his part. The Negro will thus become one with himself long before he becomes one with the American people" (Miller 1926): 249). That is just about exactly what happened. By 1961, 89 percent of southern Black adults agreed that they felt close to other Blacks, and over three-quarters reported a “good deal” of interest in “how Negroes as a whole are getting along in this country” [authors’ analysis of the Negro Political Participation Study (Matthews and Prothro 1961)]. This was a far cry from the “color-caste” of the early twentieth century.
The politics of racial solidarity directly challenged the politics of racial hierarchy, through bus boycotts, sit-ins, freedom marches, voter registration drives, and other acts. In Albert Hirschman’s terms (Hirschman 1970), once partial or complete exit from being Black was no longer possible for those with light skin or known White ancestry, imposed loyalty to the group became, over several decades, genuine loyalty. Loyalty was followed by an increase in voice, now from a stance firmly within the Black community. Put in other terms, by reinforcing the line between Black and White, the one-drop rule and segregation primed Black group consciousness and reduced the likelihood of division by color, at least in the public arena.
The third effect of the post-1930 system of racial classification, however, reinforced rather than undermining inequality – but in this case within the group. While recognition of skin color differences was officially eliminated and publicly muted, its strong association with economic, social, and political outcomes for Blacks persisted. In the 1961 survey of southern Blacks, family income and years of education were both higher for those identified as light-skinned, and declined proportionally with darker pigments [authors’ analysis of (Matthews and Prothro 1961)]. The 1968 Kerner Commission survey, of Blacks in fifteen major American cities, yielded the same results [authors’ analysis of (Campbell and Schuman 1997)]. This pattern of light-skin advantage within the Black population has persisted to the present, and ranges across arenas as diverse as the likelihood of marrying, visual representation in the media, the length of prison sentences, the chances of becoming a political candidate and winning elective office, and the selection to a judgeship (Hochschild and Weaver 2007).
Light-skinned Blacks seldom, however, combined their status advantages with withdrawal from other Blacks as mulattos had often done; in both the Negro Political Participation Study and the Kerner Commission survey, light-skinned Blacks were just as likely as their darker counterparts to have a strong sense of group consciousness. That pattern, too, has continued to the present. Intra-racial inequality moved in tandem with attacks on inter-racial inequality.
By the second half of the twentieth century, then, most Blacks had embraced the one-drop policy imposed on them by 1930; despite the undisputed fact of racially mixed ancestry, racial mixture disappeared as an officially or unofficially recognized category. The internal politics of the Black community mirrored the external legal standing of African Americans. But with three very distinct consequences: Segregation and hypodescent first reinforced racial inequality and poverty, then fostered the conditions for group solidarity and the generation of energy and resources for fighting racial inequality and poverty. These two dynamics co-existed with a third – paler Blacks continued to enjoy higher social, cultural, and economic status and more political power, although their status was not accorded public recognition. Thus between 1930 and roughly 1990, the policies of American racial classification contributed to a complex, intertwined set of political dynamics – which set the stage for a new round of policy-making.
By the 1990s, while the old politics of racial hierarchy persisted, the United States was moving into a new era of politics and policy-making with regard to, once again, racial mixture. The impact of this new era on poverty, inequality, democracy, and citizenship remains to be seen; all one can do at present is analyze the beginning of a set of dynamics that will take decades to play out.
Racial mixture has reemerged as a political issue because of several policy and social changes. First, as a largely-unintended consequence of the 1965 immigration law, hundreds of thousands and then millions of residents of nations outside Europe began moving to the United States in the 1970s. Senator Edward Kennedy asserted in 1965 that “this bill is not concerned with increasing immigration to this country,” and President Lyndon B. Johnson concurred that “this is not a revolutionary bill. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives or add importantly to our wealth and power.” Both were wrong, as were virtually all other supporters of the Hart-Celler Immigration Act (only its opponents accurately predicted its impact on the demography of the United States) [(Tichenor 2002); (Graham, H. 2002); (Hochschild and Burch forthcoming 2007)].
By 2005, immigrants represented about 12 percent of the American population, and their children added another 12 percent or more. Through both immigration and high birth rates, the Latino population rose from four percent of Americans in 1970 to 13 percent in 2000, and the Asian population similarly increased from one to four percent. And like Europeans around the turn of the twentieth century, contemporary immigrants and their descendents are marrying across group boundaries. About 30 percent of Asian marriages are to non-Asians (Fryer 2005) and that figure is projected to rise to 50 percent soon (Edmonston and Passel 1999). At least 14 percent of the much larger population of married Hispanics have a non-Hispanic spouse (Lee and Edmonston 2005): 25), and these figures too are rising rapidly.
A second policy choice has also contributed to the rising salience of racial mixture in the American racial order. In 1967 the Supreme Court banned state anti-miscegenation laws. Black/White unions, and their bi-racial offspring, remained rare for decades, but are now increasingly rapidly. About 10 percent of African Americans were married outside their race as of 2000, and about a quarter of cohabiting Blacks have a non-Black partner. Over 13 percent of children with at least one Black parent have a non-Black parent as well (Fryer 2005). Given the trajectory of the past three decades, it is reasonable to assume that Black outmarriage will continue to rise, as will the number of partly Black children. And once “a fifth to a quarter of children with a Black grandparent ... also have a non-Black grandparent,... the history of outmarriage in other groups suggests it might well soar within a generation” (Perlmann 2002): 15-16). In short, mixed-race ancestry has returned to salience in the United States.
These changes have contributed to a new politics of multiracial assertion. Advocacy groups argue that multiracial individuals are being treated unequally because of their lack of official recognition, their distinctive medical needs [for example, (Beal et al. 2005)], and their desire to retain multiple identities rather than follow the one-drop rule (DaCosta forthcoming 2007). The mission statement of the Association of Multiethnic Americans (AMEA) reads, in its entirety, “to educate and advocate on behalf of multiethnic individuals and families by collaborating with others to eradicate all forms of discrimination” (www.ameasite.org, emphasis added). One spokesperson developed a "Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People" with twelve elements, including “I have the right… not to keep the races separate within me, … to identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify, [and]… to have loyalties and identify with more than one group of people” (www.washington.edu/alumni/columns/dec96/blurring5.html).
The politics of racial mixture have by now permeated public discourse. The term “multiracial” was almost never used in the Washington Post from the 1870s through the 1950s; it began to be seen in the 1960s, and appeared an average of sixty times a year through the 1990s. Between 1990 and the present, commercial polling organizations, academic survey researchers, or media have asked forty-six questions on national surveys that include the terms “multiracial,” “mixed race,” or “biracial.” At least one major national poll has been conducted with biracial respondents (Washington Post et al. 2001). College campuses have witnessed the growth of many student groups devoted to understanding and expressing multiracial identities. Amazon.com reports tens of thousands of book including the words “multiracial,” “mixed race,” or “biracial.” Advertising firms and marketers are developing new plans based on the premise that “in this new, urban market, it is essential to get beyond ethnic segmentation and understand that it is the very intermingling of cultures and ethnicities that defines the urban sensibility” (Waterston 2004), emphasis in original). The phenomenal rise of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in the national political arena guarantees that multiracialism will remain politically salient at least for some years. 
Policies changed; the political dynamics regarding racial mixture then changed; policy-makers are now scrambling to catch up. At present, official systems of racial classification practice a complex balancing act between competing norms and inconsistent applications. For example, UC Berkeley and Pennsylvania State University treat racial classification very differently, as figure 1 indicates:
Figure 1: Racial Classification Forms from Two Public Universities
On the one hand, for several decades individuals have been able to choose both a Hispanic ethnicity and a racial identity on the census and other official documents – thus resolving (at least for now) the dilemma of the statistical agencies in 1930 about whether there is a Mexican “race.” In addition, for the first time in history the 2000 census invited people to select multiple racial identities – thus recreating, in a very different political atmosphere, the mixed race categories that featured prominently in official statistics, state laws, and court cases between the Civil War and the Great Depression. (Health-related federal agencies have collected data on racial mixture for some time.) The Office of Management and the Budget (OMB) is working to ensure that other federal agencies, such as the military and the public education system, follow suit. Prominent private institutions such as universities, hospitals, and corporations are moving in the same direction, and the media are full of stories and visual images reflecting ethnic ambiguity and multiracial diversity.
On the other hand, as the cartoon in figure 2 satirizes, OMB permits or encourages the re-aggregation of mixed-race individuals into a single race, that of the smallest minority or the one charging discrimination, for many policy purposes and legal cases.
Figure 2: Boondocks Cartoon on Racial Classification
Reprinted with permission.
Most federal policies (such as redistricting under the Voting Rights Act) and many private sector policies (such as affirmative action in universities and corporations) still operate on the assumption that people belong to only one race. The situation with regard to whether Hispanicity should count as another race, like Black or White, or whether it should remain as a separate ethnic category independent of race, is a complete statistical, substantive, normative, and administrative hodgepodge.
There is actually a third “hand” in this balancing act – an effort to avoid racial classification in any form. Some important actors, such as hospitals and schools, find it embarrassing to ask about racial identity and either make an administrative choice by visual inspection, or do not record race at all. A few states are legally banned from practicing affirmative action in public agencies or institutions, and referenda to ban collection of racial data have appeared and may reappear. Thus we see policies that permit or encourage multiracialism, that permit or encourage monoracialism, and that permit or require race-blind practices. The implications of all of this for inequality and citizenship are, not surprisingly, unclear.
The multiracial movement itself is very small at present. Fewer than three percent of census respondents chose more than one race for themselves or their children (if Hispanics are not counted as a race), and only seven states permit people to choose more than one race on official forms (Williams 2006). However, it is plausible that the category will grow rapidly over the next few decades if two conditions obtain. First, the policies and demographic forces that impelled its emergence will need to continue for some decades. And second, the politics of multiracialism will need to develop in a way that make a mixed-race identity attractive to the many Americans who could claim it; while sharing some characteristics with the old interest in boundary-blurring represented by mulattos and whites of mixed parentage, multiracialism will have to take on the connotations of multiculturalism and identity choice if it is to be widely accepted.
Skin Color Disparities Persist
While the politics and policy concerns around racial mixture were re-emerging in the United States during the 1990s, albeit in a very different form from a century earlier, skin color disparities persisted with almost no public recognition and little change. The two issues are related, but not in a simple way. In the aggregate, skin color differences within a given race are obviously a consequence of racially mixed ancestry. But in particular cases, the connection can be weak; a light-skinned Black can have two Black parents and a racially mixed person with Hispanic and American Indian parents may be dark-skinned. Most importantly for our purposes, the political dynamics and policy issues are very different for skin color inequality than for multiracial identity.
Skin tone is a much more fraught topic, and much less part of the public discourse, than is multiracialism. Nevertheless, differential treatment by skin color is arguably more implicated in racial inequality and racially-inflected poverty than is multiracial heritage. People of mixed race on average have a socioeconomic status (SES) between the averages of their parents’ racial group. Multiracial identifiers on the 2000 census were somewhat younger, better educated, and more urban than monoracial identifiers (Hochschild 2005). So multiracials are relatively well-off compared with the average Black. Not so for dark-skinned African Americans (and Latinos, although we do not consider them in this chapter).
Many scholars, using the eight national surveys with a skin color measure as well as local or more opportunistic surveys, have reached the same conclusion: darker skin color within a given race or ethnicity is associated with lower SES. The 2107 respondents of the 1979-80 National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA) (Jackson and Gurin 1987), for example, averaged 10.9 years of schooling. But a gap of almost two years separated the schooling of the darkest and lightest among them. The pattern is the same for income: Blacks’ mean family income in NSBA was $12,417, with almost a $5000 annual difference in family income between the lightest- and darkest-skinned respondents. Put another way, dark-skinned Blacks earned less than 70 percent as much as light-skinned Blacks, during a year in which Black families’ mean income was 63 percent of that of White families.
Other features of life are affected by skin color as well, ranging from length of prison sentences (Burch 2005) and likelihood of death sentences (Eberhardt et al. 2006) to attractiveness as a dating or marital partner (Hunter 2002) to likelihood of being negatively stereotyped (Maddox and Gray 2002) to chances of being nominated for or elected to political office (Weaver 2005); (Hochschild and Weaver 2007). People of all races treat light-skinned Blacks differently from dark-skinned Blacks, although it is not clear that they intend or even recognize such differential treatment. In short, even beyond its impact through the assignment of individuals into nominal racial categories, skin color remains a vital part of private, perhaps subconscious, classification by citizens and public officials alike. As such, it is deeply implicated in racial inequality and poverty, perhaps as much as it was around the turn of the twentieth century.
Nevertheless, the United States has not witnessed a politics of skin color analogous to the politics of multiracialism, never mind the politics of racial group identity. Variation in appearance is neither a source of political mobilization among Blacks nor a subject of public discussion generally. Nor are there policies to address the disparities associated with skin tone. To the contrary: policies to promote racial equality, such as majority-minority districting or affirmative action, treat a given racial category as though all of its members are essentially the same for purposes of that policy. As the editors of this book put it, policies can not only provide benefits (or harms) but can also “obscure which groups are benefiting or being harmed.”
Skin color is not a subject of discourse in the public arena because of one of the other strands of racial politics that we discussed earlier – group solidarity. As Marcus Garvey wrote in 1923, “We desire to have every shade of color, even those with one drop of African blood, in our fold.... Whether we are light, yellow, black or what not, there is but one thing for us to do, and that is to get together and build up a race” (Garvey 1969 ): II: 61). This logic was deeply internalized, was effective, and continues to predominate in the African American population. From this vantage point, any internal difference that diverts attention or generates conflict – differences by gender, class, skin color, sexuality, and so on – should receive low priority until the fight for racial equality is closer to being won. As Cathy Cohen puts it, Blacks “must weigh concern over the respectability and legitimization of Black communities in the eyes of dominant groups against concern over the well-being of those most vulnerable in our communities, as they struggle against very public, stigmatizing issues. It is this tension that informs the indigenous political processes that determine which issues will be embraced by Black elites and organizations” [(Cohen 1999, 15); see also (Shelby 2005) on the need for racial solidarity]. By this logic, light-skinned Blacks should not take advantage of the possible benefits of their position – but also dark-skinned Blacks should not draw attention to the possible additional costs of theirs.
Several other features of the American racial order reinforce the role of racial solidarity in suppressing attention to skin color discrimination. The relatively subtle effects of skin color discrimination can be submerged in perceptions of persistent broad-based racial inequality. Thus in some (though not all) surveys, lighter-skinned Blacks perceive just as much discrimination against themselves and their group as do darker-skinned Blacks. In addition, those who suffer most from skin color discrimination have, almost by definition, the fewest resources and lowest social standing with which to fight it. Because they are subject not only to racial discrimination but also to colorism (Maddox and Gray 2002) by both Blacks and Whites – what Cohen calls “advanced” or “secondary” marginalization (Cohen 1999) -- even when they have wanted to, they have not been in a position to challenge their situation very effectively.
Finally, the whole history of “mulattos” that we recounted earlier in this chapter affects our ability in the present era to publicly discuss skin color differentiation. The history of American racial classification and boundary blurring provides very little by way of a useable past. The language of mulattos, quadroons, and octoroons (never mind griffs, half-breeds, and metis) has been rejected for public use, along with the complicated and ambivalent social interactions, political maneuverings, and individual emotions that that language and its history evoke. It is hard, if not impossible, to find in American history attractive models or tested strategies for negotiating or overcoming intra-group ancestral differences. Racial mixture, in turn, was typically “proven” by appearance, including skin tone – so disavowal of the earlier politics around “mulatto” slides easily into disavowal of any current politics around light or dark skin. Conversely, the history and practice of the one-drop rule has generated a norm, shared across races, of public assertion of social equality within racial groups regardless of appearance or ancestral mixture. In short, the United States lacks both a politics and a policy agenda with regard to skin color inequality.
The Possible Futures of Multiracialism
At this point, no one can confidently predict whether the policies of recognizing multiracialism will persist, whether political contestation around the concept will grow or diminish, or whether recognition of racial mixture or skin color differentiation can make a material difference in reducing racial inequality and enhancing citizenship. There are simply too many variables, interacting in too many ways – and too much room for political entrepreneurship – for any prediction to be worth much.
Consider, for example, the array of responses to the idea of publicly recognizing racial mixture in the 2000 census. All but one member of the Congressional Black Caucus opposed the proposal for a multiracial category. Some opponents feared a diminution of still-essential racial solidarity; as Arthur Fletcher, then chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, commented, “I can see a whole host of light-skinned Black Americans running for the door the minute they have another choice.... All of a sudden they have a way of saying--in this discriminatory culture of ours, ... ‘I am something other than Black’" (Fletcher 1993): 273) Others cautioned against undermining policies designed to ameliorate racial inequality and poverty. Thus Harold McDougall of the NAACP testified to a Congressional committee that
“The creation of a multiracial classification might disaggregate the apparent numbers of members of discrete minority groups, diluting benefits to which they are entitled as a protective class under civil rights laws and under the Constitution. In our quest for self-identification, we must take care not to recreate, reinforce, or even expand the caste system we are all trying so hard to overcome” (McDougall 1997).
Conversely, some people supported official recognition of multiracialism as a first step toward replacing racial classification with color-blind policies and politics. Then-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich (R- GA), testified that “ideally, I believe we should have one box on federal forms that simply reads, ‘American.’ But if that is not possible at this point,… allow[ing] them [i.e. Americans] the option of selecting the category ‘multiracial,’… will be an important step toward transcending racial division and reflecting the melting pot which is America” (Gingrich 1997): 661-662). That is the conservative version of color-blindness; there is also a liberal version, held by people who argue against strong racial identities on the grounds that they inhibit class-based loyalties and political contestation around economic inequality (Gitlin 1995; Wilson 1999; Warren 2001).
Public opinion on the issue of multiracial classification is largely unformed. In 1995, more Blacks (49 percent) than Whites (36 percent) thought the census should add a multiracial category (Newsweek 1995). Overall, only 38 percent of respondents endorsed the addition. In 2001, however, perhaps as a result of the policy change in the census that invited respondents to “mark one or more” race, public opinion shifted. About two-thirds of a national sample then agreed that it is “good for the country… if more Americans think of themselves as multi-racial rather than belonging to a single race” (CNN/U.S.A. Today 2001). There was no material difference between Whites and Blacks in their response. Both survey questions, like most others asking about multiracialism, showed high rates of “don’t know” responses. Looking across the full array of survey items since 1990, it seems clear that on balance Americans now favor recognition of multiracialism and that respondents identified as biracial are largely content with their situation [(Washington Post et al. 2001); (Massey and Charles 2006)]. But none of these views are firmly grounded; political activity could surely push them in one or another direction.
We do not expect to see political activity developing around skin color disparities. The subject is simply too fraught – equally for both Blacks and Whites, although for different reasons. (It might emerge in the Latino population as part of the on-going discussion about the racial classification[s] of Hispanic Americans.) Nor do we expect much decline in African Americans’ perceptions of linked fate and commitment to racial solidarity. After all, unlike most ethnic groups in which those who are upwardly mobile become less ethnically identified, middle-class Blacks are, if anything, more committed to their racial identity than are poorer or less well-educated Blacks (Hochschild 1995).
Reduced to its simplest terms, policies of racial classification over the past century have generated four elements now yoked in unstable tension – differentiation by ancestry, differentiation by skin color, an ideology of color-blindness, and deepening of the one-drop rule for African Americans. In official rules and public discourse, color-blindness contests with one-drop solidarity; in practice, multiracialism and skin color hierarchy complicate both of those simple principles. As a consequence of this history, efforts to “help Blacks” risk disproportionately benefiting the best-off within the group, while efforts to help the worst-off Blacks risk undermining group connectedness. It remains unclear whether fostering the new identity of “multiracialism” or giving attention to the old problem of discrimination against the dark-skinned would weaken, or strengthen, efforts to ameliorate racial inequality and population-wide poverty. The politics of racial classification are in flux, and it is just too soon to determine whether policy makers would best promote justice by reinforcing or by challenging group boundaries. What is clear is that racial classification is a central form of policy-making that affects and is affected by inequality, norms of citizenship, and political formations – but not in any linear or simple way.
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Acknowledgments: The project of which this paper is a part is jointly co-authored with Traci Burch, of the Government and Social Policy Program at Harvard University. She has been fully involved in developing these arguments, but bears no responsibility for the content of this paper. We thank Gwen Clark, Ariel Huerta, Tiffany Jones, Frankie Petrosino, Brenna Powell, Robert Young, and Jasmine Zhang for heroic research assistance. We also thank Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Melissa Nobles, the editors of this volume, and the anonymous reviewers for insightful comments. Finally, we are grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies for their financial and institutional support.
 After a first usage which is often in quotations, we continue by using the terminology common to the time period about which we are writing. We do not thereby endorse these terms, which are often offensive to contemporary ears. But endless quotation marks or phrases such as “so-called …” are tedious to read. Following the same logic, we do not capitalize “negro” until the census bureau itself started to do so, in a 1918 volume
 Before the Civil War, mulattos were sometimes permitted to testify in court cases although Blacks were not, and in carefully specified circumstances, they were permitted to marry Whites (Finkelman 1993).
 Throughout the nineteenth century, “instead of grouping mulattoes into the undifferentiated category of Black, the Lower South treated mulattoes as a third category, an intermediate class between Blacks and Whites. Pragmatic reasons drove southern Whites to maintain this buffer class” (Jones 2000): 1508). South Carolina and Louisiana were especially slow and reluctant to adopt a one-drop rule, preferring often to give special status to mulattos of good reputation.
 The 1930 census enumerated Mexicans separately, after variously categorizing them as White or mulatto in earlier censuses. However, after the Mexican government and members of Congress from districts in Texas protested that Mexican Americans were White, the separate category was dropped
 The Supreme Court similarly recognized deep ambiguity in defining races, even a decade later: “It may be… that a given group cannot be properly assigned to any of the enumerated grand racial divisions. The type may have been so changed by the intermixture of blood as to justify an intermediate classification” [ (United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind 1923): 212].
 Almost all Asians were excluded from the United States, so continuing muddlement about Asian nationalities and “races” had little impact on American society in general. There is a separate, fascinating, story about racial classification of American Indians in the same period, but we save that for another day.
 The legislature, however, had to backtrack from this assertion of white racial purity to accommodate the First Families that claimed descent from Pocohantas.
 But not without a great deal of confusion: “Between 1910 and 1924, for example, a mixed-race person less than one-fourth, who, before 1910, could marry only a white person – barred from marrying a ‘colored person’ under penalty of indictment for a felony – could now marry only another person of color and, if marrying a white person, would be subject to prosecution for that choice. Two mixed-race people who, under the previous dispensation, might have legally married each other as white people (if, for example, each were seven-eighths European and one-eighth African), might now marry each other just as legally as nonwhite people” (Wallenstein 1999): 572 ).
 So did White poverty. Southern elites’ commitment to keep Blacks poor through inadequate schooling, deprivation of public services, and economic peonage kept the south in a state of deep economic underdevelopment, thus harming poor Whites almost as much. White workers, sharecroppers, farm workers, and domestic servants were prevented from unionizing and deprived of most the New Deal benefits either intentionally or as a side effect of keeping Black workers poor and powerless [(Katznelson 2005); (Key 1984 ); (Reich 1981)].
For example, when the census first allowed for self-definition in 1960, there was no “noticeable fluctuation in the number of blacks, thus indicating that black Americans generally apply the one-drop rule to themselves” (Davis 2001): 7).
 Although not immigrants, well over half of Native Americans marry outside their race, and that proportion also is rising (Lee and Edmonston 2005).
 Obama refers to his African father and White American mother in many political speeches, as in, “I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage.... In no other country on earth is my story even possible,” or “it’s [my biracial background] been entirely to my benefit. One of the things that I’m proud of is that I can move between many worlds and I think that’s broadened my perspective” [(Obama 2004); (Roach 2004)].
 These results are based on one-way ANOVAS. The differences in means are statistically significant at the p = .01 level. See also (Edwards 1972); (Keith and Herring 1991); (Hunter 2002); (Allen et al. 2000); (Seltzer and Smith 1991); and (Krieger et al. 1998).
In the 1992-94 Multi-city Study of Urban Inequality (MCSUI), dark-skinned Blacks received on average 12.2 years of schooling; medium-skinned Blacks received 12.5, and light skinned Blacks enjoyed 12.9 years of schooling. These results are based on one-way ANOVAS; p = .000 (for data, see (Bobo et al. 2000).
 p = .001 for Blacks. See also (Edwards 1972; Keith and Herring 1991); (Seltzer and Smith 1991); (Murguia and Telles 1996); (Cotton 1997); (Krieger et al. 1998); (Hill 2000); (Gomez 2000); (Allen et al. 2000); (Hunter 2002); (Bowman et al. 2004).
In MCSUI, the mean Black family income rose from $23,191 for the dark-skinned, to $24,773 for the medium-skinned, to $25,886 for the light-skinned. That is, families of dark-skinned African Americans enjoyed about 90 percent as much income as families of light-skinned African Americans, in a year when the mean family income for Blacks was 64 percent of that of Whites. Based on one-way ANOVAs, for Blacks: p = .114.
 In MCSUI, for example, when asked if other Blacks “treated them differently because of their color,” the lightest set of Blacks were more likely to say yes. Blacks of all shades were equally likely to say that Whites treated them differently based on color.
 Roger Clegg, of the Center for Equal Opportunity, made a similar argument to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: “Insisting that people embrace a racial identity is bad for civil-rights progress and, therefore, bad for civil-rights enforcement. Discrimination is more likely to occur in a society in which people have strong racial identities and an us-them mentality”(Clegg 2002): 2).
 Thanks for Lydia Saad of the Gallup Organization for providing the relevant cross-tabulations.