I study biracial identity in America. Here’s why Meghan Markle is a big deal.
Growing up in the late ’80s as a biracial girl, I never had a mixed-race princess whose image I could sport on my backpack or my lunchbox. There was little to no representation of my identity — almost no characters in movies or television shows, no musicians or celebrities who identified as mixed-race.
For today’s biracial youth, Meghan Markle, the actress who is marrying into the British royal family — and who has defined herself publicly as “a strong, confident mixed-race woman” — represents the biracial role model I didn’t have growing up.
My mother is white and my father is black, and as a social psychologist, I research mixed-race identity and perceptions of biracial people for a living. The history of biracial couplings and children in our country is fraught: The “one drop” rule that categorized people with any African ancestry as “colored” was legally codified in a couple of states in the early 1900s. Interracial marriage was illegal in some states starting in 1664 until 1967 with the famous Loving v. Virginiacase, and it wasn’t until the year 2000 when the option to “check all that may apply” for race appeared on the census.
(Although legally the “one drop” rule is not in use today, it is often informally used when white people visually categorize racially ambiguous people, particularly when they believe they are under some type of social threat.)
Slow social acceptance of multiracial identities remains the norm, even though it is at odds with changing US demographics now more than ever. The biracial population is one of the fastest-growing groups in our country. Other communities of color have long argued that representation of one’s race within the media, our government, and our schools is critical to children’s successful life outcomes and aspirational goals. Yet who can biracial kids look up to if the popular press and culture avoid this racial identity?
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