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Diversity expanding within the growing Black American population, new data show

Data analyzed by Pew Research Center show fast-growing Black immigrant, multiracial, and Hispanic communities — as well as socioeconomic differences between groups.

A pedestrian walked by the "Love Thyself," Afrocentric mural on Quincy Street in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Boston. The city, while not home to a significant share of the nation’s Black population overall, has the third-highest Black Hispanic population among metro areas, after New York City and Miami.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Blackness in the United States has long encompassed a wide range of communities, and in the past two decades as the Black population overall has grown, so too has diversity within it, a new report from Pew Research Center says.

More than 46 million people in the United States self-identified as Black in 2019, representing a 29 percent increase from 2000 and making up 14 percent of the country’s population, newly analyzed data show. Of those millions, a growing share identify as multiracial, Hispanic, and immigrants.

Multiracial Black and Hispanic Black groups, both young and rapidly expanding populations, have each grown by more than 140 percent since 2000, the first year when Americans could choose more than one racial identity on Census Bureau surveys.


Boston, while not home to a significant share of the nation’s Black population overall, has the third-highest Black Hispanic population among metro areas, after New York City and Miami.

Highlighting Black America’s diversity is a complex political undertaking, experts said. Data are likely to overstate changes in the Black community, which in Boston and around the country has always included people with multiracial and multinational lineage — even when national data failed to recognize such backgrounds. Increased attention to difference can serve as a corrective to that erasure, experts said, or as a wedge segmenting a community that has long relied on solidarity and broad coalition-building.

“Generally, participants in Black freedom struggles have welcomed all allies, including African Americans whose mixed lineage showed in their faces. They did so because in the struggle against racist oppression, there is strength in numbers,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. “For that same reason, many civil rights activists have been skeptical of efforts to recognize racial diversity within the group who are categorized as Black.”


“But recent efforts to document the true diversity of people of African descent also can also be seen as a demand for recognition and dignity and be a form of resistance to racism and white supremacy,” she said.

Pew’s analysis of Black Americans’ diversity, largely based on demographic data from the American Community Survey, included several subgroups. Single-race Black people who do not identify as Hispanic accounted for 87 percent of the US Black population as of 2019. One in 10 were immigrants

Multiracial, non-Hispanic people and Hispanic people accounted for 8 and 5 percent of the Black population, respectively.

In reality, there is overlap between these identities: Hispanic, also termed Hispanic or Latino by the Census Bureau, is an ethnicity, not a race, and includes people of many racial identities, including multiracial people. Pew’s analysis treated each group separately to allow for analysis and comparison.

Since 2000, an increasing number of Black Americans have self-identified as Hispanic and multiracial. Both groups are significantly younger than the overall Black population and the United States as a whole: Over three-quarters of Hispanic and multiracial Black people are 38 or younger.

These trends reflect several shifts in the contemporary United States, said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at Pew.

In addition to increased rates of immigration and interracial relationships, Lopez said, shifting social attitudes about racial identity have prompted more Black Americans to identify in multiple ways. Relatively recent Census reporting guidelines that decouple ethnicity from race and allow for multiracial identities have also expanded these groups.


Importantly, an individual’s racial identity is not static, Lopez said. Rather, identity can change along with a person’s experiences as they age and move through the world.

Differences within the Black population do not end at demographics. The Pew research reflects a range of religious affiliations, spoken languages, geographic homes, education levels, and household compositions of Black Americans. Some of these differences fall along racial and ethnic lines — with economic distinctions between subgroups being especially pronounced.

In 2019, the median income of a household headed by a single-race Black person was less than the median income of a Black Hispanic household, despite similar rates of educational attainment in those groups. Black multiracial, non-Hispanic households earned significantly more than either of the other two groups, and also have more degree-holders.

Ultimately, these in-group divides are much smaller than the gap between Black Americans and the United States as a whole. The overall median income for Black households in 2019 was $44,000 — more than $20,000 less than the country’s median.

Median household income for Black people overall has also remained relatively stagnant since 2000, despite massive gains in educational attainment. Lopez said this mismatched progress reflects systemic barriers, as well as financial losses among Black Americans of all backgrounds during the 2008 financial crisis. Pew’s data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which Lopez said will likely result in similarly catastrophic and unequal effects on Black households.


Distinct experiences of American inequality and opportunity have deepened some political fractures among Black people in the United States, said Clarence Lusane, a political science professor at Howard University — with tensions between multigenerational African Americans and recent Black immigrants on the rise in some small, albeit vocal, circles. But ultimately, he said, “The lines are never sharply drawn.”

In Boston, as in much of the country, Black communities have long organized across difference.

The Boston metro area is home to the country’s third-largest Black Hispanic population, with 100,000 residents. Lopez said this number reflects the prevalence of Dominican and Puerto Rican communities in the region.

Massachusetts is also home to a number of non-Hispanic Black immigrant communities. Nationally, most Black immigrants identify as single-race. The vast majority hail from African and Caribbean countries, as well as Guyana, Mexico, and Honduras.

Top metros for Black Americans overall include New York, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, and Philadelphia — each of which have their particular histories of Black migration and unique political landscapes.

The majority of Black Americans — and single-race Black people in particular — live in the South, with Texas, Florida, and Georgia leading the nation. This reflects a slow but steady reversal of the Black exodus from the South that defined the period from 1900 to the 1960s, known as the Great Migration. Black people who identify as multiracial are distributed more evenly across the country, and Black Hispanic people are the only group in which a plurality, 38 percent, live in the Northeast.


“The diversity of the Black American population is captured in this dispersion around the country,” Lopez said.

But even as new aspects of that diversity continue to emerge, Lopez and other experts emphasized that cultural richness and variety have long been the fabric of Black America, in Boston and nationwide.

“People of African descent in what is now the United States are very used to incredible diversity within what they perceive as their race, so there is nothing new about that for most Black people,” said former Massachusetts state representative Byron Rushing.

The composition of that community has changed somewhat in the post-civil rights era. But the real takeaway from Pew’s research is perseverance, not transformation, Rushing said.

“Isn’t it amazing how Black people have stayed diverse, for over a century and a half?”

Dasia Moore is the Globe Magazine's staff writer. E-mail her at Follow her on Twitter @daijmoore.