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Ethnocentricity and gender preferences in some white Americans' 'support' for 'race-mixing'

I've notice a tendency among some Americans to think that we're ahead of the rest of the world in everything, including 'cultural diversity', 'racial mixing', 'assimilation of minorities' and open-mindedness. This attitude came across quite clearly in a conversation I had with an old white lady who said to me, "Nowhere in the world has racial-mixing been happening on such a massive scale as in North America today! In 40 years or so, people will be so mixed, everyone in North America will be a nice shade of tan". (Now, I don't think this will be a bad thing, but I don't see this happening in Idaho within 40 years.) I replied, "'Races' have been mixing for thousands of years, and the human race still retains distinct ethnic groups." My point is, large-scale racial mixing is nothing new on a global and historical level. Americans are not the first to do it. Civilizations such as the Turks and the Chinese merged various distinct tribes to form a new 'race', and then absorbed more newcomers as time went on.

Not everyone studies ancient world history beyond Europe, so perhaps this diversity-loving white lady should not be blamed for her well-meaning but self-congratulatory 'no-one-else-has-done-what-we-did' statements. But even if we limit ourselves to looking at modern nations, it is quite clear that many countries are already more 'racially mixed' than the US. Brazil has a much higher percentage of mixed race people than we do.1 And did we forget the rest of Latin America with its large mestizo population? Beyond the Americas, mixed-race communities are found all over the world.2

I'm not even entirely sure that we are necessarily better than Europe in every respect when it comes to the diversity of intermarriage and racial-mixing. We may done better than Europeans in allowing the children of immigrants to scale the socio-economic ladder, but the intermarriage rate of Latinos in the US (our largest minority ethnic group) is still lower than the rate of mixed marriages in many multicultural parts of Britain.3 What is also interesting is the observation made by a well-travelled associate of mine: "The most visibly observable difference between 'interracial relations' in multiracial European cities vs multiracial American cities is the higher presence of minority interracial couples in Europe. Black-yellow, brown-yellow and black-brown couples are quite visible, compare to the US, where intermarriage is almost exclusively white-other." I am not as well-travelled as the person who made this comment, but during a visit to London, I saw more non-white interracial couples than I was used to seeing where I live in the US. And I live in an area which has one of the highest rates of mixed race births in the nation.

The myopia of the old white American lady's view is not just a case of simply not seeing beyond our borders. She seems to think that significant North American racial mixing is a modern phenomenon. But even North American 'race-mixing' did not just start today. Not so long ago, many black slaves had children by white masters. This went on for centuries. What about the offspring of this large-scale race-mixing? So conveniently ignored and tagged as 'pure black'. In addition, Africans and Native Americans have intermingled for centuries. In the Americas, Africans have intermarried with other races on a far more massive scale than Europeans have.

A high percentage of Americans are already 'mixed'. Most black Americans know this to be so. Then why do many white Americans still see racial mixing as a new phenomenon? It is only because 'racial mixing' has only recently become more publicly visible to white people. The census counts indicate that more white men today are marrying (instead of simply having illicit relationships with) women of color than white men of their grandfathers' generation, who were governed by anti-miscegenation laws. This does not necessarily mean that more 'mixed' people are being born now than before. Even without the sanction of official marriage for their parents, mixed race babies have been born in this country for hundreds of years. The difference is that there are more people who publicly identify or are identified as 'mixed' today than there were during times when the one-drop-rule held sway.

Many liberal white Americans' attitude towards 'racial mixing' is "It only started happening because WE did it first." Their positivity towards 'race-mixing' is deceptive because it is ethnocentric; it does not take into account the history of people of color in this country, and it prefers to ignore intermarriage between people of color. Another hypocritical aspect of well-meaning white Americans' 'support' of mixed marriages is its subtle preference for 'gender-specific' intermarriages, that is, marriages between women of Group A and men of Group B are more encouraged and accepted than marriages between men of Group A and women of Group B. A US writer of European-descent once predicted: "Everyone will have a Korean grandmother". This statement, perhaps perfectly well-meaning when coming from one individual, unfortunately fits into the larger picture of sexist and racist public opinion which dictates that interracial unions involving Asians should ideally involve only Asian women, and that among all the people of color available for whites to intermarry with, the light-skinned East Asians are the top choice. The writer could just as easily have said, "Everyone will have a black grandmother," or "Everyone will have a Filipino grandfather."

An American magazine featured attractive "multiracial" (all of them part-Caucasian) women mostly from the American continent/Europe and called them "the new racial identity". Are 'multiracial' identities new? Perhaps they are in the US. But other countries have for centuries been home to significant populations that identify themselves as ethnically or culturally 'mixed' - such as the Metis of Canada and the Peranakans of Indonesia.

A.H.


Notes
  1. "Multiracial Communities Around the World", MAVIN, Issue 8
  2. "Multiracial Communities Around the World", MAVIN, Issue 8
  3. "Why Europe fails in its treatment of minorities compared to America", The Economist, Issue November 12th-18th 2005