A “Mixed-Race” Nation Isn’t the Same as a Post-Race One

A “Mixed-Race” Nation Isn’t the Same as a Post-Race One


Dom Apollon

The Web is still buzzing with chatter over a New York Times feature last weekend that explored how and why an increasing number of young people identify as “mixed-race.” The Census Bureau will release race-based data from its 2010 decennial count later this month, and everybody from sociologists to marketers are eagerly waiting to see what the next generation of Americans, dubbed the “Millennials,” looks like. If the Times story is correct, a whole lot more of them are people who aren’t invested in a racial identity—or, at least not a singular one.

But the story got me thinking about focus groups I’ve been conducting for the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, over the past few months. We’re talking in Los Angeles with separate groups of 18 to 25 year old African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Whites. Our project is not yet complete, but already the conversations we’ve heard within our four groups, including with a handful of respondents from multiple racial/ethnic backgrounds, suggest a significant gap between the sort of individual identities that the Times explored and the broader reality in which those young, post-identity people live.

It’d be easy for the casual reader to conclude from the Times piece that this growing group of individuals who refuse to be pigeon-holed into distinct racial or ethnic classifications will inevitably transform our society into one without racial prejudice. As the Times’ reporter explained, optimistic observers “say the blending of the races is a step toward transcending race, to a place where America is free of bigotry, prejudice and programs like affirmative action.”

Well, that sounds so nice and inevitable, doesn’t it? The problem is, it’s an optimism born of our society’s collective, subconscious yearning for relief. Relief from what, you ask? Relief from the deep discomfort we continue to feel about race, and the continued racial disparities (in high school and college graduation, unemployment, wages and work standards, homeownership, etc.) that challenge America’s understanding of itself as a place defined by equal opportunity…

…But the fact that some young folks are ticking off multiple boxes on surveys to express their racial and ethnic identities doesn’t mean much if the opportunity gap between whites and people of color throughout society is not changing, too. When we see less disparity in outcomes in education, in health and health care, in housing and more, then we’ll know we’re approaching something close to a “post-racial” society…

Read the entire article here.

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