Multiracial population growing

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Joshua and Sheronda Smith live in Evans with their four mixed-race teen children from Sheronda's first biracial marriage.

Sheronda Smith crossed the color line for love in her first marriage. So when she did it again, she and her husband, Joshua, expected the disapproving looks they sometimes got from strangers.

Sheronda is African-American and Joshua is white. Both are stationed at Fort Gordon. They live in Evans with their four mixed-race teenagers from Sheronda's first marriage.

"It's a tough fight to make a biracial marriage work," Sheronda said. "You've got to work at it and be willing to fight for what you have."

That fight might be getting a little easier for her and her family.

Figures from the 2010 census show the mixed-race population is still small in number, but growing fast.

In Georgia, 2 percent of the population is now multiracial, up from 1.2 percent in 2000. That's a 68 percent increase in 10 years, making it the fastest growing racial demographic in the state. Nationally, multiracial population growth rate was about 50 percent.

Richmond and Columbia counties also saw increases. Richmond County's multiracial population grew from 1.6 percent to 2.6 percent between 2000 and 2010, up 62 percent. In Columbia County, it grew from 1.1 percent to 2.8 percent, up 151 percent.

Though the starting point from 2000 was a small number, those changes represent real progress, said William A. Reese, an Augusta State University sociology professor.

"What's more important than an increase in the multiracial population is what that means," he said. "It means more people from different races are marrying."

Among sociologists, marriage is considered the final barrier between races. Racism is considered over when intermarriage becomes common, Reese said.

The multiracial population is probably growing for two reasons, he said. There are more biracial couples, meaning more biracial children. But there are also more people identifying themselves as multiracial, instead of choosing one race or another.

When biracial unions succeed, producing a Tiger Woods or Barack Obama, it goes a long way toward removing the stigma from such relationships, Reese said.

"Stereotypes and prejudices are based on ignorance. So, when there's a dramatic example of success, it does a lot to break down the stereotype," he said.

Sheronda said she has seen plenty of those stereotypes during both marriages. Some close friends distanced themselves. The service at restaurants was sometimes slower. Real estate agents steered her family toward poorer neighborhoods. A neighbor refused to wave back to her when she walked up the street, hand in hand with her husband.

"My husband and I just looked at each other," she said. "I know it was because he was there. I've waved every time I've passed her house and she always waved back before."

Despite such incidents, she sees small changes in attitudes. In the past when she registered her kids for school, she was advised to check the box saying they were black. When she moved to Evans in 2006, there was a box for five races and also a box that said "biracial."

"It was like, wow, what's that? I'd never seen that before," she said. "I think people are becoming more aware. They're recognizing there are people who are biracial."

Increase seen in area, state

Percentage-wise, the fastest growing racial demographic in the state of Georgia, including Richmond and Columbia counties, are those who consider themselves mixed race.

 20002010CHANGE
Richmond County3,2305,23062%
Columbia County1,3913,489151%
Georgia114,188191,56968%

Source: 2010 census