Race, Marriage and the beige-ing of America
Every time immigration debates pop up, I think about how we’ve treated previous waves of immigrants. Each successive wave of newcomers was first viewed with suspicion and hostility. That suspicion and hostility eventually gives way to some degree of assimilation into whiteness.
‘The Beige and the Black’: Segregation in Marriage
Twelve years ago, the New York Times magazine published a piece by Michael Lind on race, intermarriage, and demographic trends titled The Beige and the Black.
According to Lind, demographic trends suggest there will
not going to be a nonwhite majority in the 21st century. Rather, there is going to be a mostly white mixed-race majority. After all,
For the 25-34 age group, only 8 percent of black men marry outside their race. Less than 4 percent of black women do so.
And thanks to our history of race and law in this country, any portion of black lineage makes you black. Those bi-racial black people will be legally excluded from this mixed-race majority, and could well be excluded culturally and economically. As Lind explains:
On the positive side, the melting away of racial barriers between Asians, Latinos and whites will prevent a complete Balkanization of American society into tiny ethnic groups. On the negative side, the division between an enormous, mixed-race majority and a black minority might be equally unhealthy. The new mixed-race majority, even if it were predominantly European in ancestry, probably would not be moved by appeals to white guilt. Some of the new multiracial Americans might disingenuously invoke an Asian or Hispanic grandparent to include themselves among the victims rather than the victimizers. Nor would black Americans find many partners for a rainbow coalition politics, except perhaps among recent immigrants.
This may be the most curious twist to our discussions of immigration and the ‘browning’ of America. The degree to which immigrants are assimilated is determined by a mix of educational attainment, ethnic and national origin, length of time in the United States — and perhaps most importantly — color. A 2000 New York Times piece Best of Friends, Worlds Apart illustrates the issue well with its story of two Cuban immigrants, one black and one white.
With this current wave of immigrants — from Central and South America, from Mexico, from Africa, from the Caribbean, from Asia — I wonder to what degree they will become accepted, assimilated or marginalized over generations. And I wonder what that means for whiteness, blackness, and America’s handling of race.