One of the most e-mailed and tweeted stories yesterday involved students from the University of Maryland, but it involved a subject very close to the heart of Southern California. The New York Times piece explored the emergence of a mixed race America created by immigration and intermarriage through the members of the university's Multiracial and Biracial Student Association, a group of students of mixed racial and ethnic heritage ranging from black-white to Japanese-Irish who are proud to identify as such.
According to the story, one in every seven new marriages in this country is between people of different ethnicities or races (there's a nifty graphic). Mixed race Americans are "one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups," and racial statistics from the 2010 census, which will soon be released, will likely reveal more along the lines of this trend.
But a mixed race nation, even one with a mixed race president, doesn't necessarily translate into a post-racial society. There was this perspective, which was interesting:
No one knows quite how the growth of the multiracial population will change the country. Optimists say the blending of the races is a step toward transcending race, to a place where America is free of bigotry, prejudice and programs like affirmative action.
Pessimists say that a more powerful multiracial movement will lead to more stratification and come at the expense of the number and influence of other minority groups, particularly African-Americans.
And some sociologists say that grouping all multiracial people together glosses over differences in circumstances between someone who is, say, black and Latino, and someone who is Asian and white. (Among interracial couples, white-Asian pairings tend to be better educated and have higher incomes, according to Reynolds Farley, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.)
Along those lines, it is telling that the rates of intermarriage are lowest between blacks and whites, indicative of the enduring economic and social distance between them.
There was also a thoughtful reaction to the piece in a blog titled Mixed Race America, the work of Jennifer Ho, a University of North Carolina professor of American and Asian American literature who is partly of Chinese Jamaican descent. Ho writes:
I suppose what seems new is the freedom with which people are choosing to identify as mixed race. That the idea that one must only choose a singular race out of loyalty or social stigma or ethnic nationalism no longer rules the day.
However, the academic in me can't help but think about these choices occurring in the backdrop of a university setting. In other words, do mixed-race people feel as much choice as to how they identify if they are living in mono-racial areas where there may be a stigma to identifying as mixed-race or perhaps more accurately, to not identify within a particular racial or ethnic sphere would mean having charges of being a "sell out" or "acting white" leaving one in a socially vulnerable position--and would this also be exacerbated by one's other, potentially minoritizing, identities, like being gay/lesbian/bisexual/non-Christian/atheist/other-abled/working-class/poor?
Good story, good questions.