After the nation’s first black president, we now have a white president with the whitest and malest cabinet since Ronald Reagan’s. His administration immediately made it a priority to deport undocumented immigrants and to deny people from certain Muslim-majority nations entry into the United States, decisions that caused tremendous blowback.
What President Trump doesn’t seem to have considered is that diversity doesn’t just sound nice, it has tangible value. Social scientists find that homogeneous groups like his cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to groupthink and less likely to question faulty assumptions.
What’s true of groups is also true for individuals. A small but growing body of research suggests that multiracial people are more open-minded and creative. Here, it’s worth remembering that Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, wasn’t only the nation’s first black president, he was also its first biracial president. His multitudinous self was, I like to think, part of what made him great — part of what inspired him when he proclaimed that there wasn’t a red or blue America, but a United States of America.
As a multiethnic person myself — the son of a Jewish dad of Eastern European descent and a Puerto Rican mom — I can attest that being mixed makes it harder to fall back on the tribal identities that have guided so much of human history, and that are now resurgent. Your background pushes you to construct a worldview that transcends the tribal.
You’re also accustomed to the idea of having several selves, and of trying to forge them into something whole. That task of self-creation isn’t unique to biracial people; it’s a defining experience of modernity. Once the old stories about God and tribe — the framing that historically gave our lives context — become inadequate, on what do we base our identities? How do we give our lives meaning and purpose?
President Trump has answered this challenge by reaching backward — vowing to wall off America and invoking a whiter, more homogeneous country. This approach is likely to fail for the simple reason that much of the strength and creativity of America, and modernity generally, stems from diversity. And the answers to a host of problems we face may lie in more mixing, not less.
Consider this: By 3 months of age, biracial infants recognize faces more quickly than their monoracial peers, suggesting that their facial perception abilities are more developed. Kristin Pauker, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and one of the researchers who performed this study, likens this flexibility to bilingualism.
Early on, infants who hear only Japanese, say, will lose the ability to distinguish L’s from R’s. But if they also hear English, they’ll continue to hear the sounds as separate. So it is with recognizing faces, Dr. Pauker says. Kids naturally learn to recognize kin from non-kin, in-group from out-group. But because they’re exposed to more human variation, the in-group for multiracial children seems to be larger.
This may pay off in important ways later. In a 2015 study, Sarah Gaither, an assistant professor at Duke, found that when she reminded multiracial participants of their mixed heritage, they scored higher in a series of word association games and other tests that measure creative problem solving. When she reminded monoracial people about their heritage, however, their performance didn’t improve. Somehow, having multiple selves enhanced mental flexibility.
But here’s where it gets interesting: When Dr. Gaither reminded participants of a single racial background that they, too, had multiple selves, by asking about their various identities in life, their scores also improved. “For biracial people, these racial identities are very salient,” she told me. “That said, we all have multiple social identities.” And focusing on these identities seems to impart mental flexibility irrespective of race.
It may be possible to deliberately cultivate this kind of limber mind-set by, for example, living abroad. Various studies find that business people who live in other countries are more successful than those who stay put; that artists who’ve lived abroad create more valuable art; that scientists working abroad produce studies that are more highly cited. Living in another culture exercises the mind, researchers reason, forcing one to think more deeply about the world.
Another path to intellectual rigor is to gather a diverse group of people together and have them attack problems, which is arguably exactly what the American experiment is. In mock trials, the Tufts University researcher Samuel Sommers has found, racially diverse juries appraise evidence more accurately than all-white juries, which translates to more lenient treatment of minority defendants. That’s not because minority jurors are biased in favor of minority defendants, but because whites on mixed juries more carefully consider the evidence.
The point is that diversity — of one’s own makeup, one’s experience, of groups of people solving problems, of cities and nations — is linked to economic prosperity, greater scientific prowess and a fairer judicial process. If human groups represent a series of brains networked together, the more dissimilar these brains are in terms of life experience, the better the “hivemind” may be at thinking around any given problem.
The opposite is true of those who employ essentialist thinking — in particular, it seems, people who espouse stereotypes about racial groups. Harvard and Tel Aviv University scientists ran experiments on white Americans, Israelis and Asian-Americans in which they had some subjects read essays that made an essentialist argument about race, and then asked them to solve word-association games and other puzzles. Those who were primed with racial stereotypes performed worse than those who weren’t. “An essentialist mind-set is indeed hazardous for creativity,” the authors note.
None of which bodes well for Mr. Trump’s mostly white, mostly male, extremely wealthy cabinet. Indeed, it’s tempting to speculate that the administration’s problems so far, including its clumsy rollout of a travel ban that was mostly blocked by the courts, stem in part from its homogeneity and insularity. Better decisions might emerge from a more diverse set of minds.
And yet, if multiculturalism is so grand, why was Mr. Trump so successful in running on a platform that rejected it? What explains the current “whitelash,” as the commentator Van Jones called it? Sure, many Trump supporters have legitimate economic concerns separate from worries about race or immigration. But what of the white nationalism that his campaign seems to have unleashed? Eight years of a black president didn’t assuage those minds, but instead inflamed them. Diversity didn’t make its own case very well.
One answer to this conundrum comes from Dr. Sommers and his Tufts colleague Michael Norton. In a 2011 survey, they found that as whites reported decreases in perceived anti-black bias, they also reported increasing anti-white bias, which they described as a bigger problem. Dr. Sommers and Dr. Norton concluded that whites saw race relations as a zero-sum game. Minorities’ gain was their loss.
In reality, cities and countries that are more diverse are more prosperous than homogeneous ones, and that often means higher wages for native-born citizens. Yet the perception that out-groups gain at in-groups’ expense persists. And that view seems to be reflexive. Merely reminding whites that the Census Bureau has said the United States will be a “majority minority” country by 2042, as one Northwestern University experiment showed, increased their anti-minority bias and their preference for being around other whites. In another experiment, the reminder made whites more politically conservative as well.
It’s hard to know what to do about this except to acknowledge that diversity isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable. It can make people feel threatened. “We promote diversity. We believe in diversity. But diversity is hard,” Sophie Trawalter, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, told me.
That very difficulty, though, may be why diversity is so good for us. “The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise,” Katherine Phillips, a senior vice dean at Columbia Business School, writes. “You have to push yourself to grow your muscles.”
Closer, more meaningful contact with those of other races may help assuage the underlying anxiety. Some years back, Dr. Gaither of Duke ran an intriguing study in which incoming white college students were paired with either same-race or different-race roommates. After four months, roommates who lived with different races had a more diverse group of friends and considered diversity more important, compared with those with same-race roommates. After six months, they were less anxious and more pleasant in interracial interactions. (It was the Republican-Democrat pairings that proved problematic, Dr. Gaither told me. Apparently they couldn’t stand each other.)
Some corners of the world seem to naturally foster this mellower view of race — particularly Hawaii, Mr. Obama’s home state. Dr. Pauker has found that by age 7, children in Massachusetts begin to stereotype about racial out-groups, whereas children in Hawaii do not. She’s not sure why, but she suspects that the state’s unique racial makeup is important. Whites are a minority in Hawaii, and the state has the largest share of multiracial people in the country, at almost a quarter of its population.
Constant exposure to people who see race as a fluid concept — who define themselves as Asian, Hawaiian, black or white interchangeably — makes rigid thinking about race harder to maintain, she speculates. And that flexibility rubs off. In a forthcoming study, Dr. Pauker finds that white college students who move from the mainland to Hawaii begin to think differently about race. Faced daily with evidence of a complex reality, their ideas about who’s in and who’s out, and what belonging to any group really means, relax.
Clearly, people can cling to racist views even when exposed to mountains of evidence contradicting those views. But an optimistic interpretation of Dr. Pauker’s research is that when a society’s racial makeup moves beyond a certain threshold — when whites stop being the majority, for example, and a large percentage of the population is mixed — racial stereotyping becomes harder to do.
President Trump campaigned on a narrow vision of America as a nation-state, not as a state of people from many nations. His response to the modern question — How do we form our identities? — is to grasp for a semi-mythical past that excludes large segments of modern America. If we believe the science on diversity, his approach to problem solving is likely suboptimal.
Many see his election as apocalyptic. And sure, President Trump could break our democracy, wreck the country and ruin the planet. But his presidency also has the feel of a last stand — grim, fearful and obsessed with imminent decline. In retrospect, we may view Mr. Trump as part of the agony of metamorphosis.
And we’ll see Mr. Obama as the first president of the thriving multiracial nation that’s emerging.
What will President-Elect Trump do for or against the Multiracial Community?
by Susan Graham
Since November 8th I’ve seen the so called “leaders” in the so called “multiracial community” avoid this question. The majority of them are Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, or something other than Republicans. They are all over the map geographically. They like to call themselves “academics” and give that as a reason to avoid writing real political papers. Now that they have confused what the academics think, they slink back into their tiny university closets and lock the doors.
If you read any of the online community sources like Facebook, Mixed Studies, Swirl. MASC and more, you have a hard time finding anything other than pleas for money, reviews about the “Loving” movie, or pros and cons about President Obama’s personal racial identification. Let me digress for a moments and add my own feelings on this. I would have loved nothing more than for Barack Obama to embrace a multiracial identity, but he just wasn’t feeling it, his reason being what his white mother and black father advised him, how his white grandparents raised him, how politics work best, or any other number of things. Our loss.
We can’t talk about the election without bringing in Hillary Clinton. She never did anything for the multiracial population and trust me, she was asked several times, as was her husband when he was President. So, she didn’t actually cancel out our community, she ignored us, which was worse. The Clintons were so pro-minority that they were clearly in favor of the one-drop rule by default. An office in Harlem and a residential compound in the white area of town. Maybe that makes them think they are some kind of multiracial citizens. And I really do like them!
Speaking of liking people, I believe you can like someone and not have the same political views that they do. Honest. I like a few Republicans because I can pick and choose individuals who I like from groups of people without selecting an entire group.
Let’s look at where things stand for the multiracial community now. Yeah, I’m sharing with the people in the movement who are clueless—you know who you are and so do we. I don’t “report” on what multiracial star is mad at who, stories about families in Zimbabwe, or the history of Thomas Jefferson, so I’ll keep it to policy issues if you know what those are.
OMB, which stands for Office of Management and Budget has a director. His name is Shaun Donovan. He’s never returned our calls, letters, or emails. He would much rather we just didn’t exist. Oh, wait a minute! President Elect Trump has nominated a new OMB Director, along with the new regime. His name isRep. Mick Mulvaney (R.-S.C.). Max Stier wrote in The Hill,
”While OMB has a reputation for being “the agency of no” because of its role protecting the president and the administration’s budget and policy priorities, it can do more to clarify where agency leaders have flexibility to test new approaches, identify areas that are off-limits, provide air cover to test new ideas without fear of reprisals and serve as an incubator for change.”
What might this mean? Actually, your guess is as good as mine with this new president. But wouldn’t it be nice if they did some real housecleaning at the OMB and The Census Bureau?! Can you imagine what life would be like without Nicholas Jones in it? Now that would be a nice indication of smaller government.
By the way, Katherine Wallman at OMB retired January 1st, just in time to make decisions on race and ethnicity issues. She’s the same Wallman who pretty much screwed us over when it came to nomenclature and tabulation of “two or more races” in the 1990s. Could things get better? Nah.
They could actually do away with the Census Bureau if it wouldn’t mean all those lost jobs for Washington demographers and statisticians. But on the other hand, does this government have a real need to know where all the Muslims and Jewish citizens and immigrants live? Maybe, just maybe there will still be a working Congress with some possible roadblocks. Perhaps some checks and balances will work just a bit.
Oh, and one more thing. There is a public hearing this week in Chicago hosted by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, which is involved in decision making for the multiracial population. Good luck trying to get information on it. If you do, please let us know. After all, we can’t know everything.
I watched President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. I cried because our Commander-in-Chief gave a speech from his heart. I cried because of his successes and his failures. I cried for the people he helped and the people he could not help.
There was one thing that Barack Obama could not give to Americans: the answer to the “What are you?” question. It’s the one question every multiracial person is asked many times during their lifetimes. It quite literally means what is your race? Our current President is multiracial. We have been told that he self-identifies solely as African-American, which is his right and his choice. We respect his choice. He does not use the term “multiracial” to answer the “What are you?” question, but over 17 million other multiracial Americans would like that option. Millions of multiracial children would prefer to embrace their entire heritage when describing their racial identification. They should have the choice.
Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally) has been actively seeking inclusion of the important term “multiracial” on federal and state forms requiring racial classifications since 1990. We have testified at the request of OMB and the U.S. Census. My son was the youngest person to testify before Congress on an issue. He was eight-years-old at the time. He will be 32 in August and the federal government still does not acknowledge him as multiracial. We did win the ability to check more than one race on most forms, but not to use the dignified, perfect terminology our children so deserve. My children and millions like them are not mulatto, mixed, halves, or many other terms. They are proudly of two or more races—they are proudly multiracial.
We understand, in some ways, why President Obama did not wish to give children the multiracial option, since he, himself, identifies as monoracial. It is a personal matter for him. But, our children have waited eight more years so that he did not have to make the decision for the civil rights of America’s multiracial population.
You, Hillary Rodham Clinton, are the hope for our multiracial children. Make the right change. Let’s talk.
A high-ranking member of our family administration, who wishes to remain anonymous, has the audacity to characterize me as “contrary.” She has never understood that I am just an early adopter of enlightened views that the masses eventually will embrace.
For instance, I’m still waiting for America to elect our first African-American president. In my view, Barack Obama is just another in the long line of white guys to hold that office. Long before we knew what the prez put on his census form, everyone looked at Obama’s dad and considered Barack “black.” Well, I find it just as reasonable and a lot more logical to look at Obama’s mom and declare him “white.”
Why not? This “one-drop of black blood” thing for assigning race is not only old school, it is colonial Virginia old school, which over time has become generally accepted. Both whites and blacks like it because it makes it quick and easy to categorize folks. Black people also find it appealing since we then can claim mixed-race celebrities as one of us. (This can sometimes lead to buyers’ remorse, however. In my barbershop, as Tiger Woods’ personal problems surfaced, the talk quickly went from, “Our brother, Tiger, has got that golf thing whipped” to “What was that Asian dude thinking?”)
Obama missed a lot by not playing his “white race” card. He could have had birthers tied in knots over Kansas instead of Kenya. He could have explained his attendance at the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church by saying he was just doing research on black folks. It also would offer an account for Obama’s lame basketball game. And don’t give me that, “Well, he certainly looks black.” Hello, so does Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and no one challenges his authenticity.
Maxine Waters, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are starting to tilt in my direction as they criticize Obama for not being “black enough.” Well, duh, maybe the man wasn’t black to begin with. What brother do you know who was reared in Indonesia and Hawaii? Even if my man started out certified 100% African, growing up in those two places would have sucked all the black out of him.
OK, so up to now, no one but me considers Obama white. But why isn’t he ever referred to as biracial? How can that be overlooked? Americans claiming multiracial identity is burgeoning, with one in seven marriages now multiracial and mixed-race individuals are a population that has increased by roughly 35% since 2000. (Interestingly, the rates of intermarriage are lowest between blacks and whites. Go figure.)
Anyway, the aforementioned critic embedded in my marriage advises, “Enough with the labels” and says that my inverting stereotypes is hardly constructive. Once again, she’s right, of course. In truth, no matter how you come at it, there’s no excuse for putting people into boxes based on their birth.
I think it is Dr. Seuss who appropriately said: “A person’s a person, no matter how” bred (or whatever).
Study: Majority of Americans think that President Obama is biracial
A new study shows that a majority of Americans think that President Obama should present him not as black, but as a biracial. This interesting finding has implications for the policy of racial identity in the United States.
American inhabitants are racially categorized. Traditional categorization into white and black citizens was implemented as a tool to maintain the social hierarchy. But after successes of the civil right movement, this division started to serve as a tool to allocate resources for disadvantaged groups. However, more and more individuals have mixed racial background.
“There is evidence of widespread discrimination against multiracial individuals by both whites and blacks,” the scientists say. Present census allows identifying oneself as a multiracial person. But what is the public opinion on such identification? This question was explored by Jack Citrin and his colleagues at the University of Berkeley.
Interestingly, their research design was inspired by one controversial decision of Barack Obama. “When President Obama classified himself on the 2010 Census as “black” rather than biracial the New York Times proclaimed: It’s Official: Barack Obama Is the Nation’s First Black President,” the sociologists say.
However, it is well-known that his racial background is mixed. Obama is a son of white woman and black man. Many critics argued that U.S. president missed a very good opportunity to support citizens having multiracial identity. His supporters replied that this choice mirrored expectations of most Americans who perceive biracial individuals as black.
Citrin and his associates tested this hypothesis empirically. “Respondents were randomly assigned to three conditions—a control, a treatment that described the president’s biracial ancestry, and a treatment that combined the biracial ancestry information with a statement that Obama had in fact classified himself as black only. All respondents were then asked how they felt Obama should have filled out his Census form,” the researchers explain.
Results were somewhat surprising. Most of the participants indicated that Obama had to identify him not as black, but rather as biracial. “Mixed-race politicians may come to perceive this public acceptance and more frequently embrace multiracial identities that could chip away at racial polarization,” the authors of the study published in Social Science Quarterly think.
Article: Citrin, J., Levy, M. and Houweling, R. P. V., 2014, Americans Fill Out President Obama’s Census Form: What is His Race?, Social Science Quarterly, 95: 1121–1136, source link.
There are more than 9 million multiracial people in the United States, more than signed up for the Affordable Care Act.
Yet those 7.1 million are getting recognition from our government. Multiracial people are not. -Susan
Last night, the first open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act came to an end.
And this afternoon, we announced that 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through the new Health Insurance Marketplaces.
That doesn’t count the more than 3 million young adults who have gained insurance under this law by staying on their families’ plans. It doesn’t count the millions more who have gotten covered through the expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It doesn’t include the more than 100 million folks who now have better care — who are receiving additional benefits, like mammograms and contraceptive care, at no extra cost.
Now, millions of our fellow Americans have the comfort and peace of mind that comes with knowing they’re no longer leaving their health and well-being to chance. For many of them, quality health insurance wasn’t an option until this year — maybe because they couldn’t afford it, or because a pre-existing condition kept them locked out of a discriminatory system.
Today, that’s changed. And while our long-broken health care system may not be completely fixed, it’s without question a lot better. That’s something to be proud of — and there’s no good reason to go back.
Regardless of your politics, or your feelings about the Affordable Care Act, millions more Americans with health coverage is something that’s good for our economy and our country.
At the end of the day, that is what this law — and the other reforms we’re fighting for, from a 21st-century immigration system to a fairer wage for every American who’s willing to work for it — are all about:
Making sure our country lives up to our highest ideals.
I am thankful to be your President today, and every day. And I am proud that this law will continue to make life better for millions of Americans in the years to come.
We have to wonder if multiracial boys and young men will be included in this. -Susan
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
February 27, 2014
FACT SHEET: Opportunity for all: President Obama Launches My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to Build Ladders of Opportunity For Boys and Young Men of Color
“I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential.”
– President Barack Obama, January 28, 2014
“There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”
– President Barack Obama, July 19, 2013
President Obama is taking action to launch My Brother’s Keeper – a new initiative to help every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead. For decades, opportunity has lagged behind for boys and young men of color. But across the country, communities are adopting approaches to help put these boys and young men on the path to success. The President wants to build on that work. We can learn from communities that are partnering with local businesses and foundations to connect these boys and young men to mentoring, support networks, and skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way up into the middle class. And the Administration will do its part by helping to identify and promote programs that work.
That starts by using proven tools that expand opportunity at key moments in the lives of these young people. The President believes this includes ensuring access to basic health, nutrition, and to high-quality early education to get these kids reading and ready for school at the youngest age. But that’s not enough. We need to partner with communities and police to reduce violence and make our classrooms and streets safer. And we need to help these young men stay in school and find a good job– so they have the opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities and build decent lives for themselves and their families.
New Presidential Task Force to Expand Opportunity. President Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, an interagency effort, chaired by Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, that will help us determine what public and private efforts are working and how to expand upon them, how the Federal Government’s own policies and programs can better support these efforts, and how to better involve State and local officials, the private sector, and the philanthropic community in these efforts.
The Task Force will work across executive departments and agencies to:
Assess the impact of Federal policies, regulations, and programs of general applicability on boys and young men of color, so as to develop proposals that will enhance positive outcomes and eliminate or reduce negative ones.
Recommend, where appropriate, incentives for the broad adoption by national, State, and local public and private decision makers of effective and innovative strategies and practices for providing opportunities to and improving outcomes for boys and young men of color.
Create an Administration-wide “What Works” online portal to disseminate successful programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.
Develop a comprehensive public website, to be maintained by the Department of Education, that will assess, on an ongoing basis, critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color in absolute and relative terms.
Work with external stakeholders to highlight the opportunities, challenges, and efforts affecting boys and young men of color.
Recommend to the President means of ensuring sustained efforts within the Federal Government and continued partnership with the private sector and philanthropic community as set forth in the Presidential Memorandum.
Investments from Leading Foundations and Businesses to Advance the Achievement of Boys and Young Men of Color. Leading foundations and businesses have long worked with others in philanthropy to create opportunities for young men and boys of color and today are committing significant resources to research critical intervention points in the lives of boys and young men of color; change the often-damaging narrative about them; and catalyze coordinated investments to seed, replicate, and scale up effective community solutions.
The foundations supporting today’s call to action have already made extensive investments, including $150 million in current spending that they have already approved or awarded. Building on that, today these foundations are announcing that over the next five years they seek to invest at least $200 million, alongside additional investments from their peers in philanthropy and the business community, to find and rapidly spread solutions that have the highest potential for impact in key areas, including: early child development and school readiness, parenting and parent engagement, 3rd grade literacy, educational opportunity and school discipline reform, interactions with the criminal justice system ladders to jobs and economic opportunity and healthy families and communities.
The foundations will work over the next 90 days to design a strategy and infrastructure for coordination of these investments, which can be aligned with additional commitments from a diverse array of actors from other sectors.
These foundations, who are joining President Obama at today’s announcement, include The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The California Endowment, The Ford Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Open Society Foundations, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and The Kapor Center for Social Impact. Many of the foundations are members of the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color – a coalition of philanthropic institutions committed to leveraging philanthropy’s role in improving life outcomes for boys and men of color.
In addition to the leadership from the philanthropic community, the My Brother’s Keeper initiative will leverage participation from the business community and elected officials to support this cross-sector effort. As part of today’s announcement, President Obama will meet with a number of business leaders – including Joe Echevarria of Deloitte, Magic Johnson of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake Partners, Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association and Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment – to discuss ways in which they and their companies can work with the Initiative to improve the life outcomes of boys and young men of color.
The President will also be joined today by public sector leaders including General Colin Powell, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Honorable Michael Bloomberg. Additionally, several other prominent members of the business community—including Rosalind Brewer of Sam’s Club, Ken Chenault of American Express, and Don Thompson of McDonald’s—have already expressed their support for this effort, and the White House expects additional commitments in the coming days and months.
* * *
Data shows that boys and young men of color, regardless of socio-economic background, are disproportionately at risk throughout the journey from their youngest years to college and career. For instance, large disparities remain in reading proficiency, with 86 percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade – compared to 58 percent of white boys reading below proficiency levels. Additionally, the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic young men who are unemployed or involved in the criminal justice system alone is a perilous drag on state budgets, and undermines family and community stability. These young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder than their white peers and account for almost half of the country’s murder victims each year.
The effort launched today is focused on unlocking the full potential of boys and young men of color – something that will not only benefit them, but all Americans. The Task Force and new private sector partnership will take a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to building ladders of opportunity. Both the Task Force and the partnership will take action immediately while planning for long-term success.
In an interview with the BBC this week,Oprah Winfrey said of President Obama: “There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs. And that occurs, in some cases, and maybe even many cases, because he’s African-American.”
With that remark, Winfrey touched on an issue that many Americans have wrestled with: To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?
To some degree, the answers lie with the questioners. There are different perceptions of racial realities. What some see as slights, others see as innocent opposition. But there are some objective truths here. Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.
“If black people in this country are so mistreated and so disrespected, how in the name of Sam Hill did you happen? Would somebody explain that to me? If there’s a level of disrespect simply because he’s black, then how, Oprah, have you managed to become the — at one time — most popular and certainly wealthiest television personality? How does that happen?”
No one has ever accused Limbaugh of being a complex thinker, but the intellectual deficiency required to achieve that level of arrogance and ignorance is staggering.
Anyone with even a child’s grasp of race understands that for many minorities success isn’t synonymous with the absence of obstacles, but often requires the overcoming of obstacles. Furthermore, being willing to be entertained by someone isn’t the same as being willing to be led by them.
And finally, affinity and racial animosity can dwell together in the same soul. You can like and even admire a person of another race while simultaneously disparaging the race as a whole. One can even be attracted to persons of different races and still harbor racial animus toward their group. Generations of sexual predation and miscegenation during and after slavery in this country have taught us that.
Alas, simpletons have simple understandings of complex concepts.
But it is reactions like Limbaugh’s that lead many of the president’s supporters to believe that racial sensitivity is in retreat and racial hostility is on the rise.
To be sure, the Internet is rife with examples of derogatory, overtly racial comments and imagery referring to the president and his family. But the question remains: Are we seeing an increase in racial hostility or simply an elevation — or uncovering — of it? And are those racist attitudes isolated or do they represent a serious problem?
Much of the discussion about the president, his opposition and his race has centered on the Tea Party, fairly or not.
In one take on race and the Tea Party that went horribly wrong this week, Washington Post opinion writer Richard Cohen wrote:
“Today’s G.O.P. is not racist, as Harry Belafonte allegedabout the Tea Party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”
What exactly are “conventional views” in this context? They appear to refer specifically to opinions about the color of people’s skin.
Cohen seemed to want to recast racial intolerance — and sexual identity discomfort — in a more humane light: as an extension of traditional values rather than as an artifact of traditional bigotry. In addition, Cohen’s attempt to absolve the entirety of the Tea Party without proof fails in the same way that blanket condemnations do. Overreach is always the enemy.
I don’t know what role, if any, race plays in the feelings of Tea Party supporters. It is impossible to know the heart of another person (unless they unambiguously reveal themselves), let alone the hearts of millions.
But nerves are raw, antennas are up and race has become a lightning rod in the Obama era. This is not Obama’s doing, but the simple result of his being.
As swimmer Michael Phelps knows, one of the highest priorities of food corporations is maintaining their squeaky clean mainstream appeal. This usually involves companies giving wide berth to any manner of controversy, but Cheerios ignored this policy four months ago. In June, the cereal company released a 30 second television commercial that featured a mixed race married couple. The only detail of the ad that deviated from standard cereal advertisement conventions was black man and white woman actors playing the parents in the all-American family.
Whether or not Cheerios predicted the commotion their commercial would cause, we don’t know. Regardless, the ad first met backlash –negative reactions drove YouTube to disable comments on the online video– but then an overwhelming show of support from Americans. The multiracial community applauded Cheerios for depicting a family on television that looked more like theirs.
Aside from generating good publicity for Cheerios, the advertisement has drawn attention to the growing number of mixed race marriages and multiracial children in the United States. In 2010, 8.4 percent of all marriages were between individuals of a different race or ethnicity.
Though this number is only a small fraction of the married population, it marks an all time high for American intermarriage. These numbers will likely bloom in coming years: 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 were interracial and more than one-third of Americans claim that a family member or close relative is married to someone of a different race or ethnicity. Nearly one quarter of new marriages in Western states are interracial (the percentages dwindle moving East, but mixed marriages in the Midwest and Northeast are 11 and 13 percent respectively.)
The increasing prevalence of mixed marriage is accompanied by a growing number of Americans who identify as multiracial. 2000 marked the first year the Census allowed citizens to mark more than one box indicating race, a significant development given approximately 9 million Americans identify as multiracial. Comparing the 2000 and 2010 polls reflects the complicated territory of racial identity and categorization in the United States: the number of Americans who identified as both white and black increased by 134 percent from the 2000 census.
Obama and his mother. Flickr. Creative Commons License
Nine million, or three percent, of Americans currently identify as more than one race and in the coming decades this number is bound to soar. “The crop of students moving through college right now includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States,” according to the New York Times. “They are only the vanguard: the country is in the midst of a demographic shift.”
Multiracial children are the fastest growing youth demographic in the country. According to the 2010 census, their population increased by 50 percent since 2000. But the jump signifies more than many births of multiracial babies. It also indicates that increasing recognition of mixed ancestries is freeing Americans to embrace their multifaceted roots (heritages that don’t necessarily fit into one box).
“I think people are more comfortable in identifying themselves, and their children, as mixed race,” William H. Frey, a demographer from Brookings Institution said. “It’s much more socially acceptable, more mainstream, to say, ‘That’s what we want to identify them as.’”
This trend indicates the changing face of America in the coming decades. Older Americans tend to identify as one race; their identities are more strongly influenced by an era when race was a factor that separated and subordinated. Now, Frey says, “One out of six kids who used to be thought of as just black will now grow up thinking of themselves as white and black. This is a huge leap.”
Growing acceptance of mixed ancestries is not without its special challenges. Singer Beyoncé Knowles was accused of trying to distance herself from her African-American roots by some in the black community after she starred in a L’Oreal commercial that boasted her Native American and French, as well as African American, roots. And though President Obama’s election was a landmark event in America’s racial legacy, it also provoked debate in the minority community, ‘is he America’s first black or biracial president?’
Multiracial families and individuals are also sharing their struggles in a society that is not yet accustomed to racial ambiguity. Featured in NPR’s “The Race Card Project,” Wilma Stordahl, a white Seattle resident of Norwegian heritage, discussed her experience with strangers who have asked her about her biracial sons. ”In my 20s, I wanted to call them mixed-race. I wanted to say that they were some other thing, some other category than what was listed on all the forms that you fill out,” Stordahl said. “But I was repeatedly corrected.” Many reacted to Stordahl’s unambiguously dark, half Norwegian half African-American, children by telling Stordahl, “No, honey — your son is black.”
Another mother of biracial children, Thien-Kim Lam runs an online blog “I’m Not the Nanny.” The title is a reference to Lam’s experiences repeatedly being mistaken as the nanny of her half Vietnamese half African-American children. Her blog discusses teaching race to children, recommending books, toys and movies that teach diversity, in addition to handling more common Mom-blog fare like crafts for kids and tech tips.
In its commercial, Cheerios’s recognized that many American families (like many more in the future) don’t fit into the mainstream mold. The publicity for intermarriage and multiracial Americans was doubtlessly beneficial, but the conversation it generated – even the exposure of widespread bigotry – did even more. For most Americans racial identity will never be as simple as checking off a box, but if conversation continues to be encouraged by initiatives like “The Race Card Project,” America will grow more gracefully into it’s multiracial future.