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By Werner Sollors. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. xvii + 574 pp. Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index. $39.95.
If there is a current hot topic in ethnic studies it is multiraciality. In 1997 the United States Office of Management and Budget (which sets up categories for the Census Bureau) revised the way it counts people by race. Instead of insisting that people check one box only, it now allows individuals to check as many ancestries as they feel apply. This recognizes at least two themes of race relations in recent decades: (1) a sharp increase since the 1960s in the amount of interracial marriage, hence of people with multiple ancestries, and (2) a modest softening of the lines between the races, so that individuals have felt freer than ever in the past to claim both or all the parts of their heritage. This is not to suggest that race is becoming less important in American public life - on the contrary, it continues to shape people's life chances far more drastically than white conservative rhetoric would have us believe. Nonetheless, it is to suggest that the days of the one-drop rule, when any known minority ancestry made one only and completely a member of that minority community, are passing.
One can see the new multiracialism in a recent spate of biracial biographies, autobiographies, and thinly fictionalized narratives: Heinz Insu Fenkl, Memories of My Ghost Brother (1996); Wade Hall, Passing for Black (1997); Patricia Penn Hilden, When Nickels Were Indians (1995); Marsha Hunt, Repossessing Ernestine (1996); Lisa Jones, Bulletproof Diva (1994); Yelena Khanga, Soul to Soul (1993); Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, The Sweeter the Juice (1994); Jane Lazarre, Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness (1996); James McBride, The Color of Water (1996); Scott Minerbrook, Divided to the Vein (1996); Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father (1996); …