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Miscegenation Ball, Cont.

Channing Kennedy complicates the beiging of America conversation:


Jamelle's basing this on intermarriage rates, and qualifies it by saying that some nonwhites will never "become" white. An example: by some economic and health metrics, Asians are already doing better than white people -- but averages don't tell the whole story, of course, and poor Asian communities often deal with systemic oppression doubly, both as immigrants and as people of color.

Working-class folks in San Francisco's Chinatown are kept vulnerable with the same mechanism as all undocumented immigrant workforces: Threats of deportation keep efforts to organize at bay, and workers have no option besides long hours, low pay, dangerous conditions, and no sick leave. And, as a historically nonwhite neighborhood, Chinatown deals with the same aftershocks of racist zoning and lending policies that destroyed so much of black Detroit. 

Multiple families, or spouses sending remittances back home, are packed into single-resident occupancy flats since nothing else is affordable -- which meant that the foreclosure crisis hit Chinatown as hard or harder as it did any other once-redlined community. Add to this a manufacturing sector that evaporated once regulations on offshore labor were relaxed, perfect-storm conditions for untreated mental and physical health issues, and language and time constraints keeping workers out of job training programs -- well, it should come as no surprise that SF Chinatown's unemployment rate was a full 30 percent back in 2007, pre-crash. 

A couple of things. First, it's wise to beware of averages, as they often obscure complexity. Second, I think that a constant influx of immigrants does change how different groups are viewed by society. Third, I strongly implied yesterday that all non-black immigrants will eventually be seen as white. This is a sweeping generalization that will very likely not be born out. I shouldn't have written that.

With that said, I think it's worth interrogating this a little more. Channing is discussing something we don't see enough of--a group of non-black people who are poor. But his point about the obscuring effect of averages does not simply hold true for Asian-Americans, it holds true for all Americans. Bemoaning the unemployment gap between whites and blacks is important, but it's obscures the fact that there are areas throughout this country of entrenched white poverty--not in seemingly distant Appalachia, but in Baltimore. Hence noting that blacks suffer from a specific, enduring, and unique form of bias--one that has proven impervious to rampant and constant interracial sex--does not mean that everything's going swimmingly for everyone else. 

The problem is that issues that are surely experienced in other communities, are nigh characteristic of black communities. It may be true that Chinatown suffers from the same aftershocks of racist zoning and lending policies that destroyed black Detroit. (And I would have the second half of that claim further investigated.) The problem is that black Detroit is not a particularly original story for African-Americans. Indeed, virtually anywhere black people live in significant numbers you find widespread poverty, failing schools, and a shocking number of men under the supervision of the state. 

It's always hard to have this conversation on the Left. An insistence on the singularity of the black experience--one I which I would argue for--so often comes off as an insistence that no one else is hurting, or no one else suffers from racism, or that said racism is "less important." I don't believe that. But as I've gotten older, I've also come to dislike the "people of color" analysis. It must be said, however painfully, that we are different, and we suffer from different maladies. It's true that human hate and bigotry are at the root. But white racism is not monolithic. It is, if anything, shockingly dynamic. Ossian Sweet is a regrettably original.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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