Freakonomics Author Takes on 'Plight' of Mixed Race Adolescents
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I was raised to be a strong black woman who stuck it to The Man, but I've spent the past decade sticking it with him. Several of them. Although my American and European white ex-boyfriends have touched every inch of my body's brown flesh, I'm currently happy being single and childfree. According to Freakonomics co-author Steven D. Levitt, I'm a waste! I'd have a really great shot at birthing gorgeous children if I let one of my white boytoys impregnate me.
Steven is a Caucasian man with mixed-race babies on his mind. "What's it like," he asks in his New York Times Freakonomics blog post, "to grow up with one parent who is black and another who is white?" Wait, wait, don't answer that! It's a rhetorical question Steve-O and his Ivy League buddies address in a paper titled, "The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents." Read it here.
The quick and dirty? Biracial kids are sexy, fashionable, mediocre students who grow up with absentee fathers and incomes similar to black kids.' Oh, and, did I mention they're really sexy?
"There are some bad adolescent behaviors that whites do more than blacks (like drinking and smoking), and there are other bad adolescent behaviors that blacks do more than whites (watching TV, fighting, getting sexually transmitted diseases)," Steven and the others write. I'm a sex, dating and relationships writer who developed a fetish for facts while studying multivariate regression analysis in my graduate sociology courses in Florida. I wanted hard numbers. So, I did what Steven probably hoped all of us who read his blog post would do. I read his research.
"The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents" is forty-five-pages long with the last eleven dedicated to graphs, tables and figures. The paper opens with plain English descriptions of interracial couplings. "In 1920, marriages to whites comprised roughly 0.3% of black marriages. By 2000, interracial marriages increased dramatically; 5.9% of married black men chose a white bride and 2.7% of black women chose a white husband." Interesting they don't mention the fact that American blacks and whites were legally forbidden to marry in most states until the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case.
In describing the rise in interracial boinking, the researchers explain, "Mixed race births steadily increase over time, accounting for one in 200 births by the 1980s and one in 70 births in 2000." Cleary the authors didn't survey all biracial kids in the U.S., so I wanted to get a sense of how many people they interviewed to draw their conclusions.
They talked to "304 black-white mixed children." That's not a large sample. What's more? They completely neglected the hapa community as well as children of Latino-Black, Black-Asian and other ethnic pairings. Still, I wanted to dig deeper into their methods. How did they come up with their wacky ideas? Where did they get their numbers?
"Using data from the National Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which surveys over 90,000 individuals who were in grades 7-12 in the 1994-95 school year, our empirical analysis of the plight of mixed race adolescents unearths a rich set of new facts." But, we're not talking about almost 100,000 children, are we? We're focusing on the 300 fashion accessories.
"Of the twenty-one different bad behavior variables that we analyze, mixed race adolescents are worse than both blacks and whites on 15 of them; they fall in between blacks and whites on the remaining 6 measures." What a loaded statement. They hint blacks all act the same and so do whites; therefore, confused biracial kids who don't know how to act simply act out. They state this without taking into account differences in class, sexual orientation, geographic location or a host of other factors:
For mono-racial adolescents, this norm is determined by their race: black adolescents adhere to black norms and white adolescents adhere to white norms. Mixed race children have a choice, they can choose to associate with black children and adopt their norms, befriend white children and adopt their norms, or both. It is this outside option that gives mixed race adolescents a higher cost of group acceptance, resulting in them choosing riskier behaviors to gain such acceptance.
They assume blacks and whites are only friends with people who look like them. If that's true, why does my Flickr photostream look look like endless United Colors of Benetton ads? Surely, I'm not the only black person on the planet with differently hued buddies. But, let's get off of me and turn our attention back to those sexy 300 or so interracial kids -- the darlings of the Harvard and Yale research in question.
Follow a timeline for a second. Their data source, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent -- which they incorrectly called the "National Survey of Adolescent Health" -- came from the mid 1990s. If that's true, how did they gather data on biracial children? The U.S. government didn't officially sanction multiple census box checking until 2000.
Here's how the researchers determined who the biracial kids were. On page nine of The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents," they explain they relied, primarily, on "the child's self-identification." That's tricky. After all, nearly everyone says Barack Obama might be the first African-American president and Halle Berry was the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress -- even though both of their mothers are white.
On television six years ago, I watched Halle tearful in her gorgeous, crimson Elie Saab dress with the fabulous peep-a-boo bodice say, "This moment is so much bigger than me, It's for the women that stand beside me: Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened." The politics of racial identification are slippery, and I think a 45-page paper about "mixed race adolescents" should devote more than a few paragraphs and an extended footnote to the topic.
"Mixed-race kids do have one advantage over white and black kids: the mixed-race kids are much more attractive on average," says Steven. I wondered how the hell he scientifically measured that! In the appendix, he and his fellow researchers explain how they combined and coded their variables for the analysis -- including attractiveness. "At the end of the in-home interview in Wave I the interviewer was asked to rate the physical attractiveness of the respondent on a scale from 1 to 5, where 0 indicates 'very unattractive', and 5 indicates 'very attractive.'" Flipping to the summary statistics page, we discover the interviewers finished their questions then used pens or pencils to note black junior high and high school boys and girls were less pretty than their lighter-skinned counterparts. Race research is uglier than I originally thought!