Are There Really Just Five Racial Groups?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-08-17 22:47Z by Steven

Are There Really Just Five Racial Groups?

Slate
2012-05-17

Brian Palmer, Chief Explainer

How the government developed its racial-classification system.

For the first time in history, more than half of American children under the age of 1 are members of a minority group, according to figures released Wednesday by the Census Bureau. Everyone is familiar with the federal government’s classification of race and ethnicity—white, black or African-American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Why did we settle on these particular groupings?

Because they track discrimination. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for maintaining the nation’s racial-classification system, have always admitted that the categories have no scientific or anthropological basis. They were designed in the 1970s to help track compliance with civil rights laws, and are meant to identify groups that are vulnerable to discrimination. There are other considerations, as well. The geographic nature of the categories—aside from Hispanic, which has always been the most nebulous because of its linguistic basis—are supposed to make it reasonably easy for Americans to identify their own backgrounds. Individual federal agencies may choose to split up the OMB categories for more detailed data. The Census Bureau, for example, breaks “Asian” into several subgroups, such as Asian Indian, Chinese, and Filipino.

Our modern racial-classification system is far from the first in U.S. history. The federal government asked about race indirectly (are you a slave or a free man?) in the inaugural census from 1790—although more for the purposes of the “Three-Fifths Compromise” than to prevent discrimination. In addition, early American law limited citizenship to whites, so the census had to distinguish between whites and everyone else. (African-Americans became eligible for citizenship in 1868, Native Americans in 1924, and Asian-Americans in 1954.) As people of different backgrounds intermarried and interbred, the government’s attempts to delineate people by race became increasingly tortured. For example, the 1890 census categories were white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian. (Census takers carried detailed instructions on how to explain the groupings.) Race categories continued to vary for most of the 20th century. The 1920 census listed the races as “White, Black, Mulatto, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hindu, Korean, and Other.” The 1960 census used different terminology, listing “White, Negro, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Other.”…

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‘Stunning Portraits of Mixed Race Families’?: Slate’s Human Zoo of Race Mongrelization

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-06-29 19:15Z by Steven

‘Stunning Portraits of Mixed Race Families’?: Slate’s Human Zoo of Race Mongrelization

We Are Respectable Negroes: Happy Non-Threatening Coloured Folks, Even in the Age of Obama
Wednesday, 2014-06-25

Chauncey DeVega, Editor and Founder

Am I the only person who found Slate.com’s photo essay “Stunning Portraits of Mixed Race Families” to be very problematic?

To my eyes, it contains and channels the echoes of race science and eugenics wrapped in a veneer of praise and curiosity for “unusual” and “fascinating” bodies.

Questions of race and representation were and remain central to the dynamics of the global color line. The ways in which certain types of people and bodies are visually represented through film, photographs, paintings, and other mediums reflect the dynamics of power.

Whose eyes are “we” seeing through? What assumptions are driving the Gaze? How are the bodies and people in visual images posed and positioned relative to one another? Who is included? What types of people and bodies are excluded?…

…The contemporary American fascination with “mixed race” and “biracial” identity is a reflection of changing demographics and globalization; it is also a surrender to and performance of a shallow type of faux cosmopolitanism.

Ironically, the race scientists of Nazi Germany and the United States, as well as the photographer Cyjo (whose work was featured in Slate’s essay) who fetishize and find something “stunning” or “interesting” about “mixed race” and/or “biracial” people (what are fictive identities, social constructs, as there is only one race, the human race) share some common assumptions.

One, that those types of “racial” identities are somehow new or novel. In fact, human history is a story of “miscegenation” and “interracial” intimacy. Two, that those types of bodies and individuals merit study and analysis because there is some connection, either implied or explicitly stated, between genes, color, culture, destiny, and personal, as well as national “character”…

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Stunning Portraits of Mixed-Race Families

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United States on 2014-06-29 17:10Z by Steven

Stunning Portraits of Mixed-Race Families

Slate
2014-06-24

David Rosenberg, Editor of Slate’s Behold blog

Fascinated by the evolution of identity, the photographer Cyjo, who styles her name CYJO, has created a series of portraits that examines how race, ethnicity, and heritage contextualize a person as an individual, and how they coexist within the framework of a family.

Cyjo identifies herself as a Westerner of Korean ethnicity (she was born in South Korea and raised in the United States) and photographed the series “Mixed Blood” from 2010–13 in both New York and Beijing. She has explored the dynamic between individual and collective identities in her previous work via a more abstract approach, but, with “Mixed Blood,” she uses the more literal approach of portraiture.

Over time, as humans migrate and change environments, the definition of identity has evolved to adjust to a broader definition of race and ethnicity. Cyjo pointed out that, in 2000, the United States Census for the first time allowed people to choose more than one identifier when noting their race. Almost 7 million people chose to count themselves as mixed race, a number that has continued to grow over the past decade and a half…

Read the article and view the photo essay here.

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Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-04-16 19:53Z by Steven

Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?

Slate
2014-04-15

Jamelle Bouie, staff writer covering politics, policy, and race

How Hispanics perceive themselves may shape the future of race in America.

The Trayvon Martin shooting was hardly in the national consciousness before fault lines emerged around the case. Was Martin as innocent as he seemed? Did Zimmerman fear for his life? Did Martin provoke the incident? Was Zimmerman a racist?

Perhaps most controversial among all of these was the question of identity. Yes, Trayvon Martin was black, but is Zimmerman white? For Martin’s sympathizers, the answer was yes. For Zimmerman’s, the answers ranged from “it doesn’t matter” to he “is actually a Hispanic nonracist person who acted in self-defense.”…

…According to Pew—and echoing the results in the last census—the United States is just a few decades away from its demographic inflection point. Come 2050, only 47 percent of Americans will call themselves white, while the majority will belong to a minority group. Blacks will remain steady at 13 percent of the population, while Asians will grow to 8 percent. Hispanics, on the other hand, will explode to 28 percent of all U.S. population, up from 19 percent in 2010. Immigration is driving this “demographic makeover,” specifically the “40 million immigrants who have arrived since 1965, about half of them Hispanics and nearly three-in-ten Asians.”

But the thing to remember about the Hispanic category, for instance, is that it contains a wide range of colors and ethnicities. In the United States, Hispanics (or more broadly Latinos) include Afro-Brazilians, dark-skinned Puerto Ricans, indigenous Mexicans, Venezuelan mestizos, and European Argentinians, among others.

To say that America will become a majority-minority country is to erase these distinctions and assume that, for now and forever, Latinos will remain a third race, situated next to “non-Hispanic blacks” and “non-Hispanic whites.” But, as the Zimmerman controversy illustrates, it’s not that simple…

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Baseball’s Secret Pioneer

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-02-14 22:40Z by Steven

Baseball’s Secret Pioneer

Slate
2014-02-04

Peter Morris, Baseball Historian
Haslett, Michigan

Stefan Fatsis, Sports Writer

William Edward White, the first black player in major-league history, lived his life as a white man.

On June 22, 1937, Joe Louis knocked out James Braddock with a right to the jaw to become the world heavyweight champion. At a time when Major League Baseball was still a decade from integration, Louis’ victory in Chicago’s Comiskey Park was a triumph for black America, and for racial progress. “What my father did was enable white America to think of him as an American, not as a black,” Joe Louis Jr. told ESPN in 1999. “By winning, he became white America’s first black hero.”

Three months before the fight, another notable moment involving race and sports occurred in the same city: the death of a 76-year-old man named William Edward White, of blood poisoning after a slip on an icy sidewalk and a broken arm. Fifty-eight years earlier, White played a single game for the Providence Grays of baseball’s National League to become, as best as can be determined, the first African-American player in big-league history. Unlike Louis’ knockout, though, White’s death merited no coverage in the local or national press. A clue as to why can be found in cursive handwriting in box No. 4 on White’s death certificate, which is labeled COLOR OR RACE. The box reads: “White.”

William Edward White was born in 1860 to a Georgia businessman and one of his slaves, who herself was of mixed race. That made White, legally, black and a slave. But his death certificate and other information indicate that White spent his adult life passing as a white man. Since the 1879 game was unearthed a decade ago, questions about White’s race have clouded his legacy. If he didn’t want other people to think of him as black, did he actually break the sports world’s most infamous racial barrier? Or is the reality of his racial heritage, and the difficult personal issues it no doubt forced him to confront, enough to qualify him as a pioneer? Should William Edward White be recognized during Black History Month alongside Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson and other groundbreaking African-Americans?

These are complicated questions. Allyson Hobbs, an assistant professor of American history at Stanford, says the practice of “racial passing” in America dates at least to runaway slaves in the 1700s. Slaves, she says, often attempted to pass as white to gain their freedom but then lived out their lives as black. By the Jim Crow era, when William White came of age, the social and economic advantages of living as white—and the disadvantages of living as black—were so profound that people who could successfully pass did so and never looked back.

“People who passed did not want to leave a trace,” says Hobbs, whose book A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life will be published by Harvard University Press in the fall. “They did not want to leave records, they did not want to have anyone find them, to discover that they were passing. It’s very difficult to get a well-rounded image of these people’s lives, and that’s by their design. It’s a hidden history, and it’s one that can be very frustrating because there is often so little data available about these people.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Won’t Somebody Think of the Children

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-30 04:00Z by Steven

Won’t Somebody Think of the Children

Slate
2013-03-27

Brian Palmer, Slate’s Chief Explainer

Do opponents of marriage equality always claim that they’re merely worried about the kids?

During yesterday’s oral arguments over the constitutionality of California’s ban on gay marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that there is “considerable disagreement among sociologists” as to whether being raised by a same-sex couple is “harmful to the child.” The lawyers arguing the case repeatedly brought up the landmark 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia, which struck down interracial marriage bans. Did supporters of the ban argue that interracial marriage was harmful to children in that case, too?

Absolutely. The state of Virginia presented two arguments in support of its interracial marriage ban in 1967. The first was that the authors of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution explicitly stated that they did not intend to strike down anti-miscegenation laws, which were common in the 19th century. The second argument was that interracial marriages were uniquely prone to divorce and placed undue psychological stress on children

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The Real American Love Story: Why America is a lot less white than it looks

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-02-15 05:00Z by Steven

The Real American Love Story: Why America is a lot less white than it looks

Slate
1999-10-05

Brent Staples

The PBS broadcast last month of An American Love Story—a 10-hour film about an interracial family—spawned a great deal of chatter to the effect that mixed-race couplings were the wave of the future. In fact, they are the wave of the past. Interracial marriages accounted for only 2.2 percent of all marriages in the Current Population Survey of 1992, a gain of only two-tenths of a percent over 1980, and the number of mixed couplings actually decreased slightly in 1991. The census pattern suggests that slightly more interracial couples will fall into each other’s arms in the coming years but that there will be nothing resembling a dramatic acceleration of marriage across the color line.

But America already has almost 400 years of race mixing behind it, beginning with that first slave ship that sailed into Jamestown harbor carrying slaves who were already pregnant by members of the crew. Americans have grudgingly accepted the fact that sex between masters and slaves such as Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was frequent, leading to a many-hued race of people who do not look African at all, even though they call themselves “African-American.” Outside of recent African immigrants to the United States, there are virtually no black Americans of purely African descent, which is to say no black people who lack white ancestry, left in this country.

Four centuries of race mixing have had a similar impact on Americans who define themselves as white. Convincing estimates show that by 1950 about one in five white Americans had some African ancestry. This inheritance most often arrived at the bedroom door in the form of a fair-skinned black person who had slipped over the color line to live as white. Put another way, most Americans with African blood in their veins think of themselves as white and conduct themselves as such—and check “white” when they fill out census forms…

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White Weddings: The incredible staying power of the laws against interracial marriage

Posted in History, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-09-04 16:57Z by Steven

White Weddings: The incredible staying power of the laws against interracial marriage

Slate
1999-06-15

David Greenberg, Associate Professor History, Journalism & Media Studies
Rutgers University

Last week, the Alabama Senate voted to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition against interracial marriage, 32 years after the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s similar ban. Hadn’t these archaic laws gone out with Bull Connor? I asked myself as I read the news account. And haven’t we been hearing that America has rediscovered the melting pot, that in another generation or two we’ll all be “cablinasian,” like Tiger Woods?…

…When you think about it, it makes sense that some Alabamians found it hard to jettison overnight a 300-year-old custom. Laws against interracial marriage—and the taboos against black-white sex that they codify—have been the central weapon in the oppression of African-Americans since the dawn of slavery. President Abraham Lincoln’s detractors charged him in the 1864 presidential campaign with promoting the mongrelization of the races (that’s where the coinage “miscegenation,” which now sounds racist, comes from). Enemies of the 20th-century civil rights movement predicted that the repeal of Jim Crow laws would, as one Alabama state senator put it, “open the bedroom doors of our white women to black men.” Fears of black sexuality have been responsible for some of the most notorious incidents of anti-black violence and persecution, from the Scottsboro Boys to Emmett Till.

Intermarriage bans arose in the late 1600s, when tobacco planters in Virginia needed to shore up their new institution of slavery. In previous decades, before slavery took hold, interracial sex was more prevalent than at any other time in American history. White and black laborers lived and worked side by side and naturally became intimate. Even interracial marriage, though uncommon, was allowed. But as race slavery replaced servitude as the South’s labor force, interracial sex threatened to blur the distinctions between white and black—and thus between free and slave. Virginia began categorizing a child as free or slave according to the mother’s status (which was easier to determine than the father’s), and so in 1691 the assembly passed a law to make sure that women didn’t bear mixed-race children. The law banned “negroes, mulatto’s and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women, [and] their unlawfull accompanying with one another.” Since the society was heavily male, the prohibition on unions between white women and nonwhite men also lessened the white men’s competition for mates. (In contrast, sex between male slave owners and their female slaves–which often meant rape—was common. It typically met with light punishment, if any at all.)…

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Blood Simple: The politics of miscegenation

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-09-03 17:33Z by Steven

Blood Simple: The politics of miscegenation

Slate Magazine
1996-08-22

Eric Liu

The “Negro problem,” wrote Norman Podhoretz in 1963, would not be solved unless color itself disappeared: “and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means—let the brutal word come out—miscegenation.” Coming after a lengthy confession of his tortured feelings toward blacks—and coming at a time when 19 states still had anti-miscegenation statutes on the books—Podhoretz’s call for a “wholesale merging of the two races” seemed not just bold but desperate. Politics had failed us, he was conceding; now we could find hope only in the unlikely prospect of intermarriage.

Podhoretz’s famous essay was regarded as bizarre at the time, but 33 years later, it seems like prophecy. We are indeed intermarrying today, in unprecedented numbers. Between 1970 and 1992, the number of mixed-race marriages quadrupled. Black-white unions now represent 12 percent of all marriages involving at least one black, up from 2.6 percent in 1970. Twelve percent of Asian men and 25 percent of Asian women are marrying non-Asians. Fully a quarter of married U.S.-born Latinos in Los Angeles have non-Latino spouses. We are mixing our genes with such abandon that the Census Bureau is now considering whether to add a new “multiracial” category to the census in the year 2000. This orgy of miscegenation has not yet brought the racial harmony for which Podhoretz longed. But recent publicity about the intermarriage figures has stirred hope once again that our racial problems might be dissolving in the gene pool…

…Race, you see, is a fiction. As a matter of biology, it has no basis. Genetic variations within any race far exceed the variations between the races, and the genetic similarities among the races swamp both. The power of race, however, derives not from its pseudoscientific markings but from its cultural trappings. It is as an ideology that race matters, indeed matters so much that the biologists’ protestations fall away like Copernican claims in the age of Ptolemy. So the question, as always, is whether it is possible to break that awful circle in which myth and morphology perpetually reinforce one another…

…One possibility is that all multiracials, over time, will find themselves the intermediate race, a new middleman minority, less stigmatized than “pure” blacks (however defined) but less acceptable than “pure” whites. Their presence, like that of the “coloreds” in old South Africa, wouldn’t subvert racialism; it would reinforce it, by fleshing out the black-white caste system. Again, however, the sheer diversity of the multiracials might militate against this kind of stratification.

Yet this same diversity makes it possible that multiracials will replicate within their ranks the “white-makes-right” mentality that prevails all around them. Thus we might expect a hierarchy of multiracials to take hold, in which a mixed child with white blood would be the social better of a mixed child without such blood. In this scenario, multiracials wouldn’t be a distinct group—they would just be distributed across a continuum of color.

Sociologist Pierre van den Berghe argues that such a continuum is preferable to a simple black-white dichotomy. Brazilians, for instance, with their mestizo consciousness and their many gradations of tipo, or “type,” behold with disdain our crude bifurcation of race. Yet no amount of baloney-slicing changes the fact that in Brazil, whitening remains the ideal. It is still better for a woman to be a branca (light skin, hair without tight curls, thin lips, narrow nose) than a morena (tan skin, wavy hair, thicker lips, broader nose); and better to be a morena than a mulata (darker skin, tightly curled hair). Subverting racial labels is not the same as subverting racism.

Still another possibility is that whites will do to multiracials what the Democrats or Republicans have traditionally done to third-party movements: absorb their most “desirable” elements and leave the rest on the fringe. It’s quite possible, as Harvard Professor Mary Waters suggests, that the ranks of the white will simply expand to engulf the “lighter” or more “culturally white” of the multiracials. The Asian American experience may offer a precedent: As growing numbers of Asian Americans have entered the mainstream over the last decade, it is increasingly said—sometimes with pride, sometimes with scorn—that they are “becoming white.”…

…These cautionary scenarios demonstrate that our problem is not just “race” in the abstract. Our problem is the idea of the “white race” in particular. Scholar Douglas Besharov may be right when he calls multiracial kids “the best hope for the future of American race relations.” But even as a “multiracial” category blurs the color line, it can reaffirm the primacy of whiteness. Whether our focus is interracial adoption or mixed marriages or class-climbing, so long as we speak of whiteness as a norm, no amount of census reshuffling will truly matter…

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