Many Americans assume race is a constant: something people are born into and that — like their birth date or country of origin — simply doesn’t change.
But for a surprising number of us, race is a fluid concept. Polling data show that roughly 8 percent of adults jumped from one racial category to another in recent years. And that has important political implications for the Republican Party.
The best data on race-switching comes from panel surveys conducted by academics. These studies — such as the General Social Survey, the American National Election Studies and the Cooperative Election Study — ask a representative sample of Americans about their views and identities and then contact them again four to eight years later to track how they have changed.
For example, 59 percent of multiracial Trump converts — that is, mixed-race voters who passed on Mitt Romney in 2012 but voted for Donald Trump in 2016 — also switched their race to White. Among multiracial voters who didn’t support Trump or Romney, only 4 percent moved into the White category.
Ricky and Lucy were considered one of the first interracial couples on television, even though Desi Arnaz, who played Ricky on I Love Lucy, came from a white Cuban family. Despite being white, television executives opposed his casting, saying the public wouldn’t go for a “Latin” as the husband of an “All-American girl.” It was only after Lucille Ball insisted that they reluctantly agreed.
His whiteness wasn’t enough for him to go unnoticed, but it did allow him to get as far as he did in show business in 1950s America. A CBS creative consultant on the I Love Lucy 50th Anniversary Special, Alex Abella, who is Cuban-born himself, said to Hispanic magazine in 2001, “If Desi were black or had black blood, he wouldn’t have had any success or been allowed on the air. Americans could accept him because—like it or not—he was white.”