The Future of Race in America
Jenée Desmond-Harris, Senior Staff Writer
Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a three-part series. To read part 1, click here.
Will we ever abandon stereotypes? Will “people of color” act as a group? Here are four possible theories about where we are headed as a country.
(The Root)—When it comes to race in America, there’s no question that things are changing.
Here’s what we know for sure: The country is becoming more diverse. Half of kids under age 5 are members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Non-Hispanic white Americans will almost certainly be outnumbered by everyone else over the next three decades. Americans who consider themselves multiracial are growing in numbers faster than any other group.
Then there’s the part that the census can’t measure—the stories that reveal that racial identity is getting more complicated and convoluted all the time: a teen who once called herself Latina “coming out” as black; a woman everyone thinks is Greek announcing that she’s biracial; the news that 12 percent of Jewish households consider themselves “multiracial or nonwhite”; a leading African-American history scholar’s discovery that he has 49 percent European ancestry…
…Is this a sign that we’re swiftly approaching an America in which we all look about the same, and we will dispense with the messy and imprecise exercise of putting one another into racial categories?
Almost certainly not. Experts agree on that.
So what are their predictions about the future of race in America? How might the ways in which we think about it and talk about it actually change in our lifetimes? If we’re not postracial—or even close—what are we? And where are we going?
The only real consensus about the answer to this complicated question is, it depends.
Here are four very different theories about the evolution of race in America and what exactly the meaningful changes that are within reach will require from all of us.
1. We could all finally reject the idea that biology divides human beings into five racial groups. But science isn’t enough. It will take a political movement.
Dorothy Roberts, author of Fatal Invention: How Politics, Science, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century, says it’s no longer a secret or even a little-known fact that what we think of as “race” is simply a set of political categories that were created to govern people.
According to the University of Pennsylvania School of Law professor, the information has been out since the scientists who mapped the human genome declared that racial differences didn’t exist at the genetic level.
Sure, says Roberts, race “uses various biological demarcations that help distinguish who belongs to one or another [group]. But those—skin color, hair color, the shape of the nose or the lips—are only part of what we use to determine what race someone is.” Thus, the same person’s racial identification could change with time, place and perspective—or even over a lifetime—and is impossible to pin down objectively in the way that good science would require…
…2. We might develop more accurate ways to describe our identities. But only if the census does it first.
Kenneth Prewitt, author of What Is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans, sees an American population rapidly outgrowing what he calls “the 18th-century, antique races” that currently appear on the census and other government forms.
But, he says, it’s difficult for people to identify themselves in nuanced ways—and even harder to make accurate social policy—when newspapers, statistics and accountings of disparities all use those federally mandated categories that fail to reflect the details of our actual experiences…
Read the entire article here.