A recent USA Today article condenses a growing and culture-changing trend in America: the sharp increase in marriages between people of different races and ethnicities.
Over the last 50 years, according to a Pew Center research report, the number of mixed marriages in America has grown by more than 12 percent. About one out of every seven marriages in 2008, the study finds, was between partners of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. According to the article, immigration to the United States from around the world only compounds this phenomenon.
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"We seem to have a much more open society than we had 30 to 50 years ago, with a more diverse population," says Jeff Passel, the lead researcher on the study. "There are more opportunities for people of different groups to come together and interact — where we live, work and go to school."
One of the more interesting statistics revealed in the study is the fact that although White-Hispanic unions are the most common interracial marriages in America, 22 percent of newly married Black men tied the knot with women who are not Black.
"If you look back at data from 50 years ago, such marriages were illegal in many parts of the country," Passel says of the single most surprising finding in the report.
From pop culture and language to social norms and ethnic customs, there are numerous examples of all the interesting ways American culture is becoming more blended. People are increasingly sharing, swapping and borrowing the symbols, expressions and cultural markers long associated with particular ethnic groups.
And as more people of different ethnic groups intermarry, there are more and more children of mixed parentage that come of age with a sense of American identity that is broader than race and ethnicity and not pinned to any single racial identity.
But has America moved beyond race?
Some argue that without clear racial categories and with such a fluid culture, questions of race and identity become more complex. How do we, for example, address social or economic problems rooted in the legacy of racism while upholding the idea of an American melting pot that values looking beyond race and instead examining the content of each individual’s character? Or, how do we continue to balance encouraging racial pride and celebrating diversity as we march to the great promise of a post-racial ideal?
Even more thorny is the question of how society will honestly, capably and finally address legitimate racial problems or economic ones that are tied to race if we lose our historic understanding of racial categories as we’ve come to know them and do away with the contexts that help us understand them.
In the midst of such questions, multi-racial Americans are more assertive and vocal than ever. They reject the notion that they have to accept one race over the other based on historic injustices like the one-drop rule. When President Obama checked African American on his census forms, he angered multi-racial advocates all over the country. One Asian mother of children who are White and Asian wrote, “I am the mother of biracial children (Asian/Caucasian) and believe that multiracial people need to be accepted and acknowledged -- even celebrated. The president's choice disappoints me, and it seems somewhat disingenuous. Obama, who has also referred to himself as a 'mutt,' made a big deal during the 2008 campaign of being able to relate to Hawaiians and Midwesterners, Harvard grads and salespeople, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, whatever -- precisely because of his ‘unconventional’ background and multicultural exposure. On the census, however, he has effectively said that when it counts, he is Black.”
The president justified his position by saying, “I self-identify as an African American. That's how I am treated and that's how I am viewed. And I'm proud of it."
As America becomes more multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial, expect the questions and conversations about race and the approaches we take to address them to become more complex and more intense.
And as we arrive at different understandings of race, and we inevitably will, we’ll have to each play a role in making sure that those definitions include a sense of history, a heart for justice, and a keen eye on an inclusive future that is neither shortsighted nor tunnel-visioned