"You're not worried about me marrying your daughter," James Baldwin told a white southerner during a television debate. "You're worried about me marrying your wife's daughter. I've been marrying your daughter ever since the days of slavery.1
Mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, zebra, half-breed, spurious issue, multiracial, biracial, mixie. These are a few of the terms that have been used to describe persons of so-called mixed racial ancestry in the United States. Some of these terms are relatively new whereas others are centuries old, reflecting the fact that although issues of mixed race may be a current concern they are by no means a new one. Historically, mixed-race matters have gone hand in hand with questions of race itself. Soon after the earliest Native American-African-English contact in what would become the United States of America, such persons began to exist and began to multiply. For the most part, however, they and their descendants have been assigned, relegated, categorized, and classified racially in ways that deny or otherwise ignore portions of their ancestry, especially any European component. They have generally been required by prevailing racial understandings to identify with a single non-white racial group. 2 In the case of Afro-Americans especially, the willingness to accept singular racial categorization despite a history defined in large part by extensive population mixture is one of the most puzzling and illegitimate aspects of the race concept.
As a result of federal requirements to comply with antidiscrimination laws stemming from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the last quarter of the twentieth century witnessed the codification of American popular understandings of race into a government-mandated system of racial classification and statistics that extended to every government agency, every activity or institution receiving federal funds, every business of more than 100 employees, and every American citizen. 3 Michael Omi and Howard Winant provide a partial summary of the breadth of federal racial categorization in the United States:
How one is categorized is far from a merely academic or even personal matter. Such matters as access to employment, housing, or other publicly or privately valued goods; social program design and the disbursement of local, state, and federal funds; or the organization of elections (among many other issues) are directly affected by