Friday, April 11, 2014

What happens when the illusory "them" becomes one of "mine?"

As a lover of the big picture, I particularly enjoyed the latest report from Pew Research on the big demographic changes underway in the U.S. As a side note, its interesting that they published this one in a way that caters to an online (rather than paper-based) audience. Sign of the times?

The big trends they focus on are the browning of the younger generation just as the predominantly white boomer generation enters their "golden years." For a few years now, pundits who have noted these trends have been forecasting an imminent battle between the two. For example, back in 2010, Ron Brownstein wrote: The Gray and the Brown: The Generational Mismatch. Perhaps the doomsayers predicting a great clash are right.

But there's one portion of the Pew Report that might wreck a bit of havoc on those predictions.
Here’s an interesting question: By 2050, will our racial categories still make much sense? These days our old labels are having trouble keeping up with our new weddings. A half century ago racial intermarriage was illegal in a third of the states and a gasp-inducing taboo just about everywhere else. Today, nearly one-in-six newlyweds marry across racial or ethnic lines.
This strikes me as the fulfillment of every racist's nightmare come true. While I can't claim to understand the mindset, the underlying fear seems to have always been: "my daughter might date/marry one." And it was the prospect of little brown babies resulting from that kind of union that instilled panic.

Some of us who have grown up during this transition have seen father/mothers, grandparents, extended family and friends have to struggle as this trend became a reality with their own loved ones. It doesn't end the racial dynamics, but it does transform them in interesting ways. All of the sudden it might be their grandchild who is racially profiled or "stopped and frisked." And just imagine what happens when one of them is the victim of race-based fear leading to a "stand your ground" moment.

Meanwhile, the children of these unions are growing up with one of their own occupying the White House. Don't think they haven't noticed.
As a biracial American, for the first time in my adult life I'm really proud of my country. Even though the "national conversation on race" is turning out to be like trying to use an iPhone to call someone on a CB radio, my people are coming to light in the public consciousness in a way that we never have before. This is our moment. I hear that CNN's next big series will be called "Beige in America." 
These young people are going to change the nature of the conversation about race in this country. There are an awful lot of white (and black, ie Cornell West) people that are still wedded to the old frames and aren't going to like that much. But eventually the "Beige in America" are going to have their say about it all.

So I'd like to go back to the question the Pew report asked: "By 2050, will our racial categories still make sense?" First of all, the truth is that those categories have NEVER made sense.  They've always been an illusion. What white America might be about to learn is what happens when the illusory "them" is one of "mine."

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