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Mixed Race Americans Picture A 'Blended Nation'

The 2000 U.S. census was the first to give Americans the option to check more than one box for race. Nearly 7 million people declared themselves to be multiracial that year, a number that's expected to shoot up in the 2010 count. As more of the nation's population identifies itself as being of mixed race, the authors of a new book say Americans' traditional ideas of racial identity are in for a challenge.

In the book Blended Nation, photographer Mike Tauber and producer Pamela Singh combine portraits of mixed-race Americans with stories of living beyond the sometimes rigid notions of race. The husband-and-wife team tell host Liane Hansen they wanted to highlight the personal experiences of life between categories.

"We really wanted to know what it was like for somebody who checks more than one box to exist in that realm," Tauber says.

Though Singh says she considers race to be a social construct instead of a biological one, she points out that notions of racial identity have concrete applications.

"The concept of race and ethnicity and ancestry are so highly muddled," says Singh. "Yet so many of our educational, social, business and governmental policies are based on fixed racial categories."

According to U.S. Census estimates, multiracial Americans have become one of the country's fastest growing demographic groups. Nicholas Jones, chief of the U.S. Census Bureau's Racial Statistics Branch, says the number of mixed-race individuals has increased about 25 percent since the 2000 census. "These are mainly driven by births of children from interracial parent couples," he says.

Researchers say that as the number of interracial marriages increases, so does the level of social acceptance and awareness about multiracialism.

It's the culmination of a trend that started centuries ago, says Alan Goodman, professor of biological anthropology and dean of faculty at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. "There were certain barriers to having individuals of different ethnic groups and cultures coming together. The first one was barriers of space. But in 1492, those barriers began to fall. Then, there were barriers of law in the United States, and those finally fell in the 1960s.

"I think the real change that is taking place [is] in the way people think about themselves," Goodman says.

The results, like the images in Tauber and Singh's book, create a new portrait of America — which Jones says he expects the next census results to show.

"In 2010, that new portrait will provide information on the racial and ethnic diversity in the population, as well as the changes in the multiracial population," Jones says. "So we are excited to see what we get next year."

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