Let’s Not Be Boxed in by Color / Other Americans Help Break Down Racial Barriers

Let’s Not Be Boxed in by Color / Other Americans Help Break Down Racial Barriers

“Let’s Not Be Boxed in by Color”
The Washington Post, Outlook
pages C3

“Other Americans Help Break Down Racial Barriers”
International Herald Tribune
page 9

Amitai Etzioni, University Professor and Professor of International Affairs; Director, Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

In 1990, the Census Bureau offered Americans the choice of 16 racial categories. The main groupings were white and black, which 92 percent of the population chose. The remaining categories were Native American, Aleut and Eskimo, 10 variations of Asian and Pacific Islanders, and “Other.” Some 9.8 million Americans, or 4 percent of the total population, chose “Other” rather than one of the established mono-racial categories—as compared to fewer than 1 million in 1970.

This number will continue to expand. Since 1970, the number of mixed-race children in the United States has quadrupled to reach the 2 million mark. And there are six times as many intermarriages today as there were in 1960. Indeed, some sociologists predict that, even within a generation, Americans will begin to look more like Hawaii’s blended racial mix.

It’s time to acknowledge the increasing number of multiracial Americans—not only because doing so gives us a more accurate portrait of the population, but because it will help to break down the racial barriers that now divide this country. And the place to recognize these new All-Americans is with the next census in the year 2000. Although the actual count will not begin for another two years, the decision about which racial categories are to be used will be made this year — and it is already the subject of considerable controversy…

…Introducing a multiracial category would help soften the racial lines that now divide America by making them more like transitory economic differences rather than harsh, immutable caste lines. Sociologists have long observed that a major reason the United States experiences few confrontations along lines of class is that people in this country believe they can move from one economic stratum to another — and regularly do so. For instance, workers become foremen, and foremen become small businessmen, who are considered middle-class. There are no sharp class demarcation lines here, based on heredity, as there are in Britain. In the United States, many manual workers consider themselves middle-class, dress up to go to work, with their tools and lunches in their briefcases.

But confrontations do occur along racial lines in America because color lines currently seem rather rigid: Many members of one racial group simply couldn’t imagine belonging to another.

If the new category is adopted and, if more and more Americans choose it in future decades, it will help make America look more like Hawaii, where races mix freely, and less like India where castes still divide the population sharply. And the blurring of racial lines will encourage greater social cohesiveness overall…

Read the entire essay here.

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