With us the two great divisions of society are not rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.
The great majority of intermarriages take place between Hispanics, Asians and whites. If there is a great population of multiracial people, it's almost certain that they will be some combination of Hispanic and white, or Asian and white. Undoubtedly, some of these people will "become" white in our racial discourse. To paraphrase myself, by 2050 or so, we'll have a large population of white people with Latino or Asian last names, and a cultural understanding similar to the descendants of ethnic European immigrants.Of course, the American racial landscape goes beyond white/black/Latino/Asian. Which is why it's important to understand the significance of a black/non-black divide. On nearly every measure -- from income and education to housing and health -- the distance between blacks and everyone else is large and enduring. Upwardly mobile immigrant groups have always counterpoised themselves against the descendants of slaves in an effort to attain the privileges of whiteness. This is a simplified analysis, but my guess is that the dynamic will remain, with a few alternations. Some ethnic immigrants may never "become" white, but since blackness retains this social stigma, it's very likely we'll understand them as non-black, which in practice, is the same.
This is a depressing perspective. But it's not only the likely truth about our future, it's the truth about our past. The first thing to understand is that race, as we know it, is an invention and a re-invention. You need not go back but a century to see people referring to the "Irish Race" or the "Italian Race." or the "Hebrew Race." Indeed, by the standards of the 19th century racialism, today's "white people" are an unholy, mongrel mix.
And so it has long been with "blacks," an ethnic group whose members range in appearance from Beyonce and Charlie Rangel to Yaphet Kotto and India Arie. I love my family. But the photos from our Christmas Eve dinners immediately reveal that the notion that we're all of the same "race" is not so much a statement of phenotype, but of culture and sociology. It should not be forgotten that both America's president and First Lady have "white" ancestry.
Well-meaning neophytes often suggest that if people of different "races" screwed each other, we'd all look the same, and our problems would disappear. Unfortunately, such magical thinking underestimates the abiding complexity of human thought.In fact people of different "races," have been screwing for over two millenia. Our response--over the past 500 years--has been to invent more races.
The focus on sex, and even child-bearing, is ultimately obscuring. Miscegenation is a term invented during the run up to the Civil War. It specifically refers, not to sex between various races, but sex between blacks and whites. By that point, "miscegenation" was so widespread that it had reached the White House. But it changed nothing. Sex was never the point. Preserving power for a Calhoun's broad American aristocracy was. The thinking was not limited to the South and did not die after slavery. The first suburbs bore those same pretensions of a broad gentry. And almost every one of them excluded blacks. The impact of that exclusion, and that mindset haunts us to this very day.
It's flattering to think our open sexual selves might erase the last vestiges of the white supremacy. This is exactly backwards. Our increasingly open sexual selves (to the extent they exist) are the result--not the cause--of the fall of white supremacy, all of which have led us to a place where a black man is in the White House.
But "whiteness" remains the big tent, resilient against the entreaties of one. It is the exclusion of that "one" which gives the thing meaning.