a good sign for racial politics

In a comment on the racial politics post, Mike Linksvayer writes:

The percentage of marriages in the US that are black/white has increased by something like a factor of three since 1970. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18090277/

Interracial marriages are still a small fraction of the total, but growth shows no sign of abating.

And indeed, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18090277/ is a story titled “After 40 years, interracial marriage flourishing”, which gives the beautiful news that Since landmark 1967 ruling, unions have moved from radical to everyday:

The number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures.

Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7 percent of America’s 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2 percent in 1970.

What a positive sign! I feel a lot more hopeful about the situation. And 7% isn’t just just 3.5 times greater than before, it’s a number that compounds over the generations. I’d consider this a litmus test for acceptable racial politics — when most black or white Americans whose family has been here more than a couple generations are mixed black and white, things are not so fucked up.

racial politics

It’s Martin Luther King’s birthday so I’ve been thinking about racial politics.

For the past couple of years I have been exploring public domain music via archives of sheet music online, and this has turned into an extended dumpster dive into American history. I spend a lot of time with primary historical sources, and whenever I find anything to do with the ethnicity we currently call “black” it is almost guaranteed to be nasty. “Whites” were cruel on a staggering scale.

The cruelty was casual and ubiquitous. Comedy and blackface were inseparable. Artwork virtually always shows “blacks” as caricatures of stupidity and laziness. Song lyrics dipped into nigger and coon references and moved on without noticing.

And at the same time, I can’t believe that “whites” were unaware. The only adults who don’t know that people are people are sociopaths. I think that there were hundreds of millions of people — “whites” — who knew of their complicity in evil.

And many “whites” did become aware. The abolitionist movement was a revolt of conscience. Some artwork by “whites” depicting “blacks” is not caricature. Some writing is not racist. The “whites” involved surely did things that would make our jaws drop, but they deserve credit for doing the right thing.

In a way I have stopped feeling like I belong to a distinct ethnicity which is either “white” or “black.” The ethnicities have lived together as neighbors, workmates, friends, enemies, lovers, business partners, customers, and family for hundreds of years. Our current culture has long since become a hybrid. Most of us are in a subculture which clearly identifies with one ethnicity or the other, but this is an illusion. Our music, art, and language are unified.

That’s why I have been putting “black” and “white” in scare quotes. I’m going to stop doing that now, though, because it’s annoying.

However there is also evidence of a big divide — our continuing physical differences. Blacks and whites look different. For that to be true there must be pressures against interbreeding which have remained intact throughout our long history together. These pressures are still there. They mean that we don’t hang out together, so we don’t mate, so we don’t make interracial babies.

I despair. I can’t stand to be part of yet another generation which accomplished nothing, but I can’t imagine anything I could do.

The civil rights movement was recent. It did made a big difference. I just don’t think that there has been progress since then. We have a new plateau that is slightly better. What will happen in the long run? Historical-scale changes are too slow to see.