DNA testing might improve the depend of the multiracial inhabitants: NPR
About 1 in 10 people counted in last year’s US census couldn’t find a single check box to reveal their racial identity.
Your multi-faceted responses to the race question for the 2020 head count helped create the data released this month for redrawing voting cards, enforcing civil rights laws, and providing federal funding to local communities.
Now demographers and other researchers are trying to figure out why the number of people who have identified with more than one race has increased by a staggering 276% over the past decade.
Children, Census Changes, and DNA Testing
When experts look at the changing numbers, three main factors have emerged as drivers of this boom.
A growing proportion of children in the United States are born to parents who identify with different racial groups.
For the 2020 census, the Census Bureau changed the question of race and the categorization of responses. (If you wrote in an answer that the federal standards were, for example, “Hispanic or Latino”, that answer was put in the “Some Other Race” category.)
And more people may be rethinking what they are telling the government about their identity. Some demographers wonder how much a relatively recent trend could have contributed to this growth – the rise in home ancestry testing.
It is difficult to determine exactly how large the influence of these tests on the census results was. However, many researchers agree that the cost of home textiles has decreased in recent years, which has helped shape an increasing proportion of the country’s ever-changing ideas about the social construct of race.
Many home ancestral DNA testing kits require participants to submit a saliva sample. Cayce Clifford / Bloomberg via Getty Images Hide caption
Cayce Clifford / Bloomberg via Getty Images
Cayce Clifford / Bloomberg via Getty Images
Genetic markers vs. social experience
While DNA ancestry test takers are likely to make up a portion of the US population – 16%, according to a 2019 estimate by the Pew Research Center – the breadth of the marketing efforts of companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, which owns the AncestryDNA run service, not to be underestimated, warns Jenifer Bratter, a sociologist at Rice University who studies multiracial identity.
“The public has taken up the idea that you can find out who you are with a test that is supposed to analyze your genes,” says Bratter. “What this does for anyone who deals with racial identity and racial demographics is that we think about how genetic ideas about race circulate in public.”
“These genetic ancestry tests can advance the concept of breed to more closely match genetic ancestry, including information about very distant ancestors, rather than some sort of more modern family history or personal social experience,” says Sasha Shen Johfre, a Ph.D. Stanford University Sociology candidate who co-authored a study recently published in Demography.
The results suggest that adults 50 and older are most likely to identify themselves as multiracial in surveys after receiving a report on the potential roots of their family tree based on a DNA analysis of their saliva. The study of more than 100,000 adults registered in the United States as potential bone marrow donors also found that DNA test-takers were particularly likely to identify with three or more racial groups.
Many people who identify themselves as white but not Latino often buy these test kits for themselves in order to claim a different identity and use the results as evidence of a particular ancestry, according to research by Wendy Roth, a sociologist from the University of Pennsylvania, which looked at how genetic ancestry tests affect racial and ethnic identities in the United States
“Native American people were the only identity people really wanted to have and prove,” says Roth.
“In and of itself, it doesn’t tell you your race or ethnicity,” says Roth. “What these companies are telling you is that you are likely to associate a certain amount of your genetic markers with certain populations more often than with others.”
Roth is concerned about the potential impact of genetic ancestry testing that affects the way some people report their race for census training.
“There will be many more people who are not marginalized in terms of their social experiences and claim to be part of marginalized groups,” said Roth of the likely impact of parentage tests on the census. “When it comes to understanding discrimination or inequality, we will have very imprecise estimates.”
From DNA smear to census form
Still, some people who took last year’s census say that DNA ancestry testing was a useful tool to better understand the complexities of their family history and how they shaped their racial identity.
Jonathan Marshall of Fort Myers, Florida, with grandparents from Barbados, Spain and the UK, says he grew up in Trinidad and has never “uniquely” identified with any race.
“I’m just a product of all of these blends. From an early age, we’ve always been taught that what makes you, ”says Marshall. “My mother’s mother, she is of Asian descent, which I used to think was Japanese.”
But after taking a genetic ancestry test, Marshall says he now thinks his family’s Asian heritage came from China. On the 2020 census form (which did not have an “Asian” box, but offered options for certain Asian groups), his wife ticked the “Black”, “White” and “Chinese” boxes for him. Without the test results, Marshall says, “I would probably have gone to another Asian country.”
At Jelmarie Maldonado’s home in Manchester, Connecticut, DNA test results helped fuel a family battle last year.
Both Maldonado and her mother agreed to tick the “Puerto Ricans” box to answer the census question of “Hispanic, Latino, or Hispanic ancestry”. But there was initially no consensus on how to respond to the race issue.
“When I was growing up, we were all white,” says Maribel Rodríguez, Maldonado’s mother.
“I refused to just tick the ‘white’ box,” said Maldonado, whose test results, like her mother’s, showed an “ethnicity estimate” that included percentages for “indigenous Puerto Rico” as well as regions in Europe and Africa. “It would deny this culture, this ancestry, these people who came here to the island and survived all adversities against them, if I were here.”
Maldonado says she might have just checked the “Some Other Race” box, but ticked the categories for “White,” “Black,” and “American Indian or Alaska Native,” in addition to writing in “Taíno” based on the DNA test results “for the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico.
And Maldonado did the same for Rodríguez, who says she eventually shared her daughter’s perspective after pondering the test results and conversations about racial inequality in the US that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years.
“The fact that people are really embracing who they are,” says Maldonado, who works as a digital strategist for Define American, an immigrant advocacy group, “I think it’s a bigger sign of the awakening that is taking place in society that we are not moving towards a racial eutopia, but towards a society that actually considers and celebrates differences rather than judging or suppressing them. “
The limits of DNA testing and racing data
While the rise in the number of people reporting multiracial identities for the 2020 census may help paint a more thorough portrait of the country’s diversity, these new racial data don’t reveal much either.
“Five people who tick the same two or three boxes in the census can lead very, very different lives,” says Miri Song, a sociologist at the University of Kent who is writing a book about multiracial white people in the United States. Some of them may have white spouses. Some of them may have non-white spouses. Some may have co-ethnic spouses with whom they share an ethnic heritage. Some may be racially politicized.
For Aliya Saperstein, a sociologist and demographer at Stanford University who co-authored the study recently published in Demography, it all underscores the ongoing challenge of measuring race, with an ancestral testing effect on the list of complications.
“There is no doubt that this is a development that demographers will be closely following over the next decade,” says Saperstein.
Publisher’s Note: Ancestry.com is one of NPR’s financial backers.