What happens when people don’t fit our categories?

Minnesota’s become more racially and ethnically diverse over the past 20 years. But the way we examine trends among people of color hasn’t changed a whole lot. We still pretty much use black, Asian, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian to categorize people of color.

Those categories are increasingly irrelevant and that has huge implications for how the state tries to tackle problems in the future.

Researchers at Minnesota Compass posted this look at Minnesotans younger than age 20 who identify themselves as multiracial.


Minnesota saw a 51 percent increase between 2000 and 2010 in the number of people counting themselves part of two or more races.

It’s easiest to see those trends in education.

In the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey, 7 percent of the ninth-graders responding described themselves as mixed race and another three percent didn’t know or declined to answer.

In college, the number of Minnesota undergraduates identifying their origins as being from “two or more races” has jumped the past few years. Here’s a chart from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education


It won’t be surprising in a few more years to see “two or more races” as a category larger than Asian or Latino students in Minnesota colleges.

If you’re someone who believes that racial diversity is a strength and that we already label people way too much based on their race or ethnicity, these are positive trends.

If you’re a policy maker, though, the trends create some practical problems.

How do we examine economic success, employment trends, the education achievement gap and other big topics in Minnesota if people increasingly don’t fit into the categories that have been built to look at that data?

If, for instance, we see “Latino graduation rates” fall, will it be because the graduation rates really worsened or will it be because that data simply missed students who graduated but identified themselves as multiracial?

The trends go back for decades. The numbers were small enough then that they didn’t really matter.

They matter now. The people of Minnesota are changing. The ways we examine economic, employment and education data need to change, too.