threat to america’s essential character

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

By Daniel T. Lichter, Special to CNN

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.


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3 thoughts on “threat to america’s essential character

  1. Well, as far your own experience not fitting with statistics, not every child is created within a legal marriage. I certainly wasn’t. In my very small circle, I only know of two parents of multi-ethnic children. One parent was married at conception and the other was not. The unmarried parent later married within her own ethnicity.

    Also, you said it yourself that you’re congregating with like people. You’ve all been here in whatever number, but it feels different when you’re all in the same room (hypothetically and literally speaking) as opposed to spread across a huge country.

  2. I think you’re right that a lot of white people feel threatened by the change in demographics in this country. They can’t wrap their heads around the fact that we have a biracial president and that the country is changing–for the better, I might add.

    How else to explain all the Tea Party hoo-ha about “taking our country back”? Back to what? One blogger rhapsodized about how great it was in the “good old days” of a hundred years ago. In 1900 the average life span was 47; the main cause of death was by infection; women didn’t have the right to vote and were still basically chattel. Good? I don’t think so.

    I love reading your blog and those of other biracial bloggers, like Honeysmoke and Mixed Chicks. You all give me new perspectives to think about, and that can only be a good thing. For all of us.

  3. Sometimes it seems like there are so many of us–mixed people and families–but yet people still seem surprised at my existence at times. Like, are they not noticing we are here? I wonder if my own perception that there are more of us is really more due to me being hypersensitive to the issue and noticing more than other people would.

    BUT, an important thought I have about these recent articles on IR marriage is this: Are people like us (and others) becoming more likely to not fill in race, even on the census? I think maybe so, and if so, that means IR marriage numbers are higher than they can get stats for. My hubby and I decided not to fill in race on this decade’s census, but we might next time, and we did fill it in last time in 2000. My best friend who is also biracial and married to a white guy didn’t fill in race either on her census.

    (As for my own parents, they weren’t married and both went on to marry within their so-called race, so they were never in the stats.)

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