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February 6, 2009

the goldening of America

i've written here before about interracial relationships and racial identity, but just in a few short years much has changed. there are now a million more Americans identifying as mixed-raced than only 8 years ago, in 2000 , when the United States census finally allowed people of multiple races, like myself, to come out of the "Other" shadows and into the more honest daylight of "Check All That Apply." the dawn of the Obama presidency has caused an immense amount of national reflection on race & identity, and i rejoice that the most powerful and public face of America is not only dark-skinned, but a mixed-race and mixed-culture one at that.

recently, Newsweek magazine ran an article chock-full of fascinating new statistics about race relating to "Who We Are Now." apparently, the community i live in, Los Angeles, barely lost out to the Bronx as the nation's most diverse community. if you choose two people at random in my county, the chance they will be of different races or ethnicities is a whopping 89%. (the Bronx came in at 89.7%.) i've long held the belief that L.A., and large urban centers in general, are more tolerant/liberal in general because if you aren't even vaguely open-minded and not threatened by people Other Than Your Kind, you cannot survive in such cosmopolitan centers. i always give the example that if you go to the post office, out of the ten people in line, there will be at least one representative of each major ethnicity there with you...and you won't even notice. and now, here's this spiffy statistic to back me up!

since i'd begun reading this article at the gym (a run on the elliptical = catch up on Newsweek reading time ) i decided to do an unscientific experiment to prove my post office theory. i counted about 20 people in my field of vision, and here's how they broke down: 11 were not white. 6 were white. 4 were of indeterminate ethnicity. forty-five minutes later, at the end of my run, i counted 20 people around me again: 8 were not white. 10 were white. 2 were indeterminate. (i say "unscientific" because "white" simply meant "light skin & generally Caucasian features," and i only had profile on half these people, plus a lot of sweat in my eyes.) now, maybe the only thing in common all 21 of us had at those two counting moments was our decision to exercise in public, but otherwise, i think i can safely say that all of us found it completely unremarkable that the person puffing away beside us on the next treadmill probably didn't share our skin color, home culture, or possibly even first language.

and this, says Newsweek, is who we are now. this is the present and future America, like it or not. perhaps some swaths of America have yet to experience this, due to geography & history (Slope County, North Dakota: 0.8% diverse), but given the growth of immigration, minority birthrates, and - i think most importantly -- societal acceptance of minority & mixed-race people, even Slope County may start getting more colorful within the next generation or two. in 1995, acceptance of interracial marriage was 54%. i find this astonishing, that as late as the mid-nineties, half of Americans still had issues with my parents' relationship - but today that acceptance rate is 80%. perhaps this is because the percentage of people who say they know a mixed-race couple has risen from 58% in '95 to 79% today, and over a third report that they or a close family member are married to or live with a partner of a different race/ethnicity. personal relationships and experience go a long way towards multicultural acceptance - i've had more than one conversation with people whose attitudes about Those People changed dramatically after rooming with, or befriending , or even falling in love with One Of Them. suddenly, Those People simply become people, and that One Of Them is just "my friend" or "my roommate," or -- my favourite -- "my love." perhaps the media would like to paint this "new" multicultural tolerance as a generational sea change, but i still think that this is really where peaceful diversity starts: one person at a time, one relationship at a time, one comfort zone expansion at a time.

Raina Kelley, a writer for Newsweek who herself is in an interracial marriage, has a biracial baby whom she calls "golden," after his neither black-nor-white skin tone. contemplating the nation that he, and the other 4.9 million multiracial Americans are now living in, she asks, "Isn't the real secret of American freedom that we don't have to accept the roles that society assigns us? Our newly elected [biracial] president ignored the racial stereotyping that seemed to limit what he could accomplish in this country...perhaps as the number of multiracial Americans continues to grow, there will be a plurality of golden people who are impossible to positively identify as one race or the other." this, she says, will force others to "accept that color does not contribute to the content of one's character because we won't know which set of stereotypes to apply to whom."

i find this concept intriguing, that as my generation of mixed-race kids - well, we're pretty much adults now - quickly becomes one of the last to be considered out-of -the-norm, we'll be somehow leading the way for this huge new crop of little golden babies to never have to "choose one box only," to be proud of and accept all sides of their racial heritage, even as they figure out what kind of cultural identity to have. my kids will have to navigate being multi-racial, multi-cultural, and hopefully multi-lingual -- i want them to be aware of this from the very beginning. sure, i've had plenty of interesting situations in which people don't know how to identify me: American? European? Asian? but i never before thought of my existence - and my willingness to openly discuss racial identity and cultural choices - as a way to move statistics and effect societal change. that's exciting - but let's be realistic: it doesn't matter if you're of one, two, or six ethnicities; it doesn't even matter which one(s): as long as you're willing to have an open mind, see individuals before a grouping, and talk about prejudice openly, you're golden too.

who knows, you might find a new roommate, make a new friend...or find the love of your life.

Posted by hadashi at 11:28 AM | Comments (3)