I’m loving the ideas raised in this piece reflecting on the Pew Research Center’s report on interracial marriage which I blogged about earlier this week. Was that this week? Anyway, I think it’s healthy for white identity to be “threatened”. I’ve been under the impression that white identity is without definition beyond the color and the perks that come with it. Perhaps the perceived “threat” will bring about a deepened awareness of the struggle to maintain personal identity in the face of adversity, stereotypes, and societal expectations. For thoughtful “minorities” this endeavor is par for the course, however it seems to me that the majority of the “majority” do not expend energy grappling with such issues. By being called upon to do so, a new common ground may be created. A ground upon which we collectively come together to redefine “America’s essential character”. Other than that, all I have to say is that I was shocked by the stat that less than 5% of whites marry outside of their race. Not because I was under the impression that the number would be large, but because in the last couple of years I’ve witnessed (and am thrilled to be a part of) the blossoming of a community of biracial people who are proud and happy to be such. Where did we all come from if the numbers are so low!? I suppose that in the grand scheme of things there still aren’t all that many of us. I simply went from 0-60 in a flash, so to speak.
U.S. far from an interracial melting pot
Ithaca, New York (CNN) — According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, one of every seven new marriages in 2008 was interracial or interethnic — the highest percentage in U.S. history. The media and blogosphere have been atwitter.
Finally, it seems, we have tangible evidence of America’s entry into a new post-racial society, proof of growing racial tolerance. Intermarriage trends are being celebrated as a positive sign that we have come to think of all Americans as, well, Americans.
But others have an entirely different take — a more ominous one. They see increasing interracial marriage rates as proof that the country is amalgamating racially.
To them, intermarriage is a putative threat to whites and America’s essential character. Their concerns are heightened by recent Census Bureau projections that the U.S. will become a majority-minority society by the middle of the century.
My research with Ken Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, indicates that for American’s youngest residents, that future is now. Nearly half of U.S.births today are to minority women.
It’s time for everyone — on all sides of this issue — to relax and take a deep breath. The reality is that racial boundaries remain firmly entrenched in American society. They are not likely to go away anytime soon.
We are still far from a melting pot where distinct racial and ethnic groups blend into a multi-ethnic stew.
Indeed, seemingly overlooked in the Pew Report is the finding that less than 5 percent of all married whites have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. The vast majority of whites today — as in the past — marry other whites.
What is changing are marriage patterns among America’s minorities, but in ways that are not easy to understand or summarize in short news releases. (Pew used the categories of non-Hispanic whites, blacks, Asians, American Indians and Hispanics.)
For example, Pew reports that the share of newly married blacks with spouses of a different race increased threefold between 1980 and 2008. Media accounts have variously trumpeted this as good or bad news for America’s future, depending on the presumptive beliefs and attitudes of their audiences about racial matters.
It is easy to forget the U.S. Supreme Court waited until 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, to outlaw state prohibitions against interracial marriage. Increases in black-white marriages, at least on a percentage basis, are large because baseline numbers are very small.
Romantics like to believe that love is blind. We embrace the idea that falling in love is a product of our emotions rather than rational deliberation. Of course, the empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Love may be blind, but it clearly is not color-blind.
Indeed, for all the hyperventilation, the demographic reality is that only about 15 percent of newly married blacks today became married to whites or other minorities. This is hardly a basis for celebrating a new racial tolerance in America or, if you prefer, for now believing that white identity is rapidly being lost to interracial intimacy and childbearing.
Unfortunately, most of the nation’s headlines ignored Pew’s observation that intermarriage rates with whites actually have declined among Asians and Hispanics since 1980. This is something new.
My research with Julie Carmalt and Zhenchao Qian, to be published in Sociological Forum, documents recent declines in intermarriage rates among U.S.-born Hispanics and Asians after decades-long increases. Declines in intermarriage have been largest among the second generation, the U.S.-born children of immigrant parents.
Among second-generation Hispanics, for example, intermarriages with whites declined by more than one-third between 1995 and 2008. Over the same period, they became more likely to marry Hispanic immigrants.
Since 1980, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of native-born Asian women marrying Asian immigrants.
One explanation is that substantial new immigration has simply expanded the marriage opportunities for native-born Hispanics and Asians. But it is also likely that the extraordinary recent growth of the immigrant population has reinforced a new sense of identity rooted in shared ethnicity and culture. This seems to have encouraged more in-marriage with co-ethnics at the expense of more out-marriage with whites.
Demographers sometimes consider intermarriage to be the final step in the assimilation process, or an indicator of racial boundaries or lack of them. The current retreat from intermarriage among America’s non-black minorities raises new questions about racial and ethnic balkanization in America.
Issues of race and immigration are an important part of the public dialogue.
In today’s highly charged political environment, it is easy to latch onto information that buttresses our own point of view and preconceptions.
Unfortunately, short headlines and easy-to-digest narratives about rising intermarriage rates tend to oversimplify or even distort a complicated statistical story that is still unfolding.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel T. Lichter.
I’m thrilled to know that The Public Theater is once again “putting this mosaic out into the world.” And that Ruben Santiago-Hudson has biracial kids. And that he speaks openly about it. Actually that’s not extraordinary, but I didn’t know that about him before. I love The Winter’s Tale. My favorite monologue is in it. If I weren’t too persnickety to wait in line for hours for tickets, I would be sure to see this. However, it’s not gonna happen. My loss, I’m sure. Just for clarification, the “yay” is for depicting a “non-traditional” marriage/family. Not for Hudson marrying a Swede and having mixed kids. Although I like that a lot too.
Actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson and his twins Trey and Lily attended the “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” film premiere on February 17, 2010 in Westwood, California.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson Tells the Tale
The actor discusses starring in the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Winter’s Tale.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson has been the epitome of excellence for over 30 years; winning a Tony Award for Seven Guitars, numerous honors for the HBO adaptation of his acclaimed solo play Lackawanna Blues, and plaudits for his direction of several shows including Things of Dry Hours and The First Breeze of Summer. This summer, he’s starring in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of The Winter’s Tale, and in the fall, he’ll be back co-starring on ABC’s hit crime drama Castle. TheaterMania recently spoke with Santiago-Hudson about these projects.
THEATERMANIA: What made you want to do The Winter’s Tale this summer rather than just take a nice breather between shooting Castle?
RUBEN SANTIAGO-HUDSON: I just love the challenge of doing Shakespeare. I am part of the Public Theater family and I got a call to look at the play, and before I could even finish it, I said I’d love to do it.
TM: Your character, Leontes, is considered one of the most difficult in the canon, since you accuse your wife and best friend of infidelity without any seeming cause. How do you justify that?
RSH: It is a challenge to make that action comprehensible to the audience. But I look at the text. Polixenses may be my friend, but he’s stayed with my family for nine months — and I think if anyone stayed that long at my house, I’d find fault with them. And I am sure over that time, Leontes has seen some glimpses of unusual behavior — perhaps wearing less clothing around each other or laughing too loud.
TM: Still, you cause your wife to kill herself and banish your infant daughter. How is the audience supposed to sympathize with that?
RSH: I hope the audience sees that I balance my cruelty with much love and that my actions came from defending my honor and that my rage is from jealousy and madness. It’s important that I am not just being the stereotypical angry black man. And when it all comes clear, I’m the most penitent person — I’m almost a saint by the end of the play.
TM: As is typical of many productions at the Public, the cast is completely multi-racial. For example, your wife, Hermoine, is being played by Linda Emond, who is white. What are your thoughts about this?
RSH: I think it reflects the mirror of modern society. When you look in the newspaper, you see Sandra Bullock with a black child. And this play reflects what my real family looks like — my wife is Swedish and our children are biracial — so it’s great to put out this mosaic to the world. And I think we should put the best artists we can on stage, and what I love about the Public Theater’s audience is they feel the same way. They don’t care if the king is black and the queen is white; they’re out there to see this play done well.
Linda Emond and Ruben Santiago-Hudson
in rehearsal for The Winter’s Tale
(© Nella Vera)
Fantastic commentary on something that I totally missed in the media. I honestly don’t know who Drake is. I’ll look him up in a sec…. Oh. I see. Anyway, Whitney Teal makes such great points here (a fav being that one would never compare G.W. Bush to Eminem), and has me wanting to make a list of all the “kinds of biracial” that I can imagine. And then I want to study the intricacies of the experiences that molded the various varieties of biracialness. I love biracial. It never gets old for me. I suppose you can call me Captain Obvious for that statement.
Is One Mulatto the Same as the Next?
By Whitney Teal
Has the election of President Obama changed the way we think about biracial people in this country? I’d argue that it’s questionable. Especially when people are drawing comparisons between the prez — a half-white, half-Kenyan, Ivy League-educated lawyer — and Aubrey Graham, otherwise known as Drake, who is a half-Jewish and half-African-American entertainer from Canada. Yeah, I don’t see the similarities either.
thomas chatterton williams
But TheRoot.com contributor Thomas Chatterton Williams, who describes himself as the son of a black father and a white mother,” seems to think that the two mulattoes (his word, not mine) deserve a comparison. Yes, Williams thinks that it’s helpful to compare a Canadian rapper and the President (as he puts it, one of the “most visible mulattoes living and working today”). And he’s not alone, either. A few months back, a couple of my Twitter friends and I ripped Chester French band member David-Andrew ‘D.A.’ Wallach a new one for tweeting that he was discussing “all the similarities” between the two men. When I asked him to explain himself, he replied, “For one, I think they’re both extremely studied.” Womp, womp, cop-out. Lots of men are studied. President Obama and Drake are both, simply, biracial. And they’re not even the same “kind” biracial either, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference.
When I showed my sister the story on The Root, she screamed (via Google Messenger) and replied, “Obama and Drake in the same sentence? Do people mention [President] Bush and Eminem in the same sentence?” She’s right. White men are allowed to choose their own identities. Black men not so much, and biracial men certainly not. Which begs the question, why can’t we see that one biracial person is not the same as the next?
In general, polite company, we as general, polite people, recognize that a person’s experiences are not solely dictated by their race or ethnicity. For example, I don’t think people considering Lucy Liu, a famous actress, and Connie Chung, an award-winning journalist, would try and argue that the two have much in common, at least on the surface. The same with Denzel Washington and Reggie Bush, or Barbara Streisand and Heidi Fleiss. No comparisons. But people, general and polite as they are, still seem to view the experiences of biracial people in this country as singular in nature.
And often, as The Root essay explores, polarizing. “Mixed-race blacks [...] are the physical incarnation of a racial dilemma that all blacks inevitably must confront: To sell out or keep it real? That is the question,” writes Williams, who spends the better part of 1,000 words waxing on about the definition of authentic blackness (or at least how he sees it). According to Williams, a mixed-race person must choose to be black, like the president and like Drake, who “both proudly define themselves as black.” A mixed-race person must then “act black,” which Williams sees as wearing loose clothes and playing basketball.
If blackness meant just one thing, and if mixed-race people were able to align themselves with just one part of their identity, then his essay might hold more weight. But black people don’t have just one identity, at least not to ourselves. Hollywood directors, novelists and journalists may see us as trash-talking, saggy pant-wearing basketball fanatics, but I don’t think that’s how we see ourselves. And by asserting that he can turn his black switch on and off, simply by altering the fit of his pants, Williams — though he may identify as black — shows how much he doesn’t understand the complexity of black culture.
Which is why I don’t believe that we should automatically label mixed-race people as black; they’re mixed-race. Being biracial may be similar to African-American culture, just as West African and West Indian cultures share similarities to black culture, but ultimately have their own dialects, dress, worship practices, food and courtship rituals. But biracial people etch out their own identities. Sure, they may be similar to that of African-Americans or other cultures. But it’s limiting to both black and biracial people when society automatically labels anyone with brown skin and textured hair black. Whether we’re talking about President Obama or anyone else, what it means to be biracial is an entirely individual question.