Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Nature's Racial Melting-Pot: The American Empire

The 2010 U.S. census reignited the question of racial identity among multi-racial residents.  “I can’t fit in a single box on the census form” was the typical refrain among the fastest growing segment of the US population.  According to The New York Times in February, 2011, "when it comes to keeping racial statistics, the nation is in transition, moving, often without uniformity, from the old “mark one box” limit to allowing citizens to check as many boxes as their backgrounds demand." The number of mixed-race Americans was at the time rising rapidly, largely on account of increases in immigration and intermarriage. In 2010, for example, one in seven new marriages was interracial. Politically, some racial interest groups believed that the use of a catch-all category marginalized minority races in particular. As a result, the Census Bureau created 63 categories of possible racial combinations (a typical bureaucratic solution to a political problem).

Regardless of how the U.S. Government slices the deck, the reality on the ground was that the United States were finally turning the corner on racial-bonding in the beginning of the twenty-first century; the U.S. had gone from some states outlawing miscegenation (i.e., the mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, or sexual relations) as late as the 1960s to the multiracial segment of the population being the fastest growing.  America in the late twenty-first century would undoubtedly look rather different than how it looked even at the turn of the twenty-first century. We should not be surprised at nature having overflowed the laws that  were designed to keep the races separate, and thus “pure.” What a strange adjective to apply to something like race!

The lesson here is that life is a fluid thing. The naturalist ethic in line with the flow of life tends to have the last word, even though particular laws can seem daunting in their hayday. Any generation can expect that the world it knows will be morphed by life's forces into yet another world even if it takes a few centuries. As strong as they may seem, governmental restrictions in the face of natural forces are doomed to fail, like sandcastles fending against a rising tide. In other words, nature has the last word. In terms of race, nature's instinct can be called a naturalistic ethic because it is in the direction of attraction rather than hatred.

That the multiracial “category” is the fastest growing in the American census can be regarded as the natural solution to racial problems that have plagued North America since the time of the colonies.  Whereas Cortez and his followers in New Spain quickly mixed the Indian, Black and Caucasian races, the British colonies further north quite intentionally kept the three groups separate and distinct. In spite of having some members out of parts of New Spain, the United States followed the British tradition until well into the second half of the twentieth century.

The courageous people who risked pain and even death in the Freedom Ride cracked the societal shell that had enabled the artificial laws to hold nature temporarily at bay. By the 1970s, attitudes in most of the United States were shifting, such that by the turn of the next century race relations in general bore scant resemblance to those back in 1960. Beyond changed race relations, a growing multiracial segment was tasked with making sense of themselves in the new society.

Cheryl Contee, for example, wrote in a CNN opinion piece in 2010, “When I look in the mirror each morning, my face epitomizes the American melting pot. I can’t ignore the pale skin of my white forebears, the slanted eyes of my Indian relatives nor the full lips and curly hair of my African blood.”  However, because there are many white Africans (e.g., in South Africa), her distinction of “white” and “African” is a false dichotomy.  She is treating two different categories as though they were one.  Better stated, Cheryl has Caucasian, Black, and Indian ancestors, hence she is multi-racial.  She puts it as follows: “When I look in the mirror each morning, my face epitomizes the American melting pot.”  Her melting pot constitution is something for her to be proud of because it instantiates the natural, rather than the governmental, solution to what has been an intractable problem in the U.S. for centuries. Looking forward, her situation is one of transition; her great grandchildren may look back at old pictures of Blacks and Whites as strange book-ends.


Cheryl Contee, “I Can’t Fit in a Single Box on a Census Form,” CNN Opinion, March 30, 2010.

Susan Saulny, “Counting by Race Can Throw Off Some Numbers,” The New York Times, February 9, 2011.