Photo Credit: Quest101
One thing I love about living in California is that the area is not just diverse – many parts of the US have racial and cultural diversity – but that the area has been diverse for such a long time. From the Punjabi-Mexicans of Yuba City to the Gosei generation of the Japanese-Americans, this area has had, and continues to have both a striking ability to maintain important pieces of cultural continuity of immigrant groups and a high degree of intermarriage and mixed-race kids. As I walk down the streets of San Francisco everyday, I’m struck by the number of people who look like they could have very diverse backgrounds.
Which brings me to the main topic of the day – the future of mixed-race-ness. You may have run across this idea before – that, in the future, we’re all going to be some beige color. Heck, Russell Peters even has a few words on the topic:
Of course, it’s not so simple as all that. Yes, it’s true that interracial marriages – and presumably mixed-race children- are on the rise world-wide. But it seems unlikely, at least to me, that interracial marriage will suddenly skyrocket in the places it needs to – like India and China – in order to have a “homogeneous” world population in two hundred or three hundred years. And then there’s the complications of slower intermarriage and changing birth rates. As one of the commenters on Razib of Gene Expression’s blog posts on this topic points out, attempts to “average out” the current world population into an average man don’t work very well, since they don’t take into account current and future birth rates:
Even ignoring the laws of hereditary when it comes to appearance and assuming there is no selection effect on different features one still needs to look at the time scales on which a blending of races would take place and take note of the differential birth rates.
We can’t project indefinitely but lets say three decade predictions are not completely useless and lets assume there is no quick rebound in fertility after the demographic transition in the works. If one takes there to be a hundred million or so more Ameridian, a billion more African, and say 500 million more Indian, and a hundred million less European faces in a composite of a “future human” one would get a much better if still deeply flawed picture.
Still as a member of a mixed-race family, with an eventual expectation of mixed-race kidlets, I find these sorts of “averagings” interesting, even if they aren’t particularly accurate. The face at the top of this post is one population-weighed average created using measurements from different racial groups. The one to the left is created by using four composite of Northwest European, South & West Asian, East Asian and African faces. I still haven’t decided whether I think the first or the second is a more accurate representation of the current population, averaged out.
In the end, though, I think the most interesting piece of this “mixed-race” future is how it will affect society and social interactions. First there’s the claims that mixed race people increased genetic diverseness makes them more attractive and/or healthier. Then there are the claims that an increased percentage of mixed-race people will decrease racial tensions and general prejudices.
For the first claim regarding genetic fitness, well, I’m rather skeptical of most social science claims of this type – they tend to be a bit shoddy on the science side of things. If it turns out to be true, cool, but I don’t think it’s worth losing any sleep over it. The second claim I see as pretty naïve, although stemming from understandable premises. As Ta-Nehisi Coate, one of my favorite bloggers on race (and a host of other topics), writes:
There is some truth to that–people tend to discriminate against people who are different from them, and the most obvious marker of difference is phenotype. From this perspective, a black/white marriage is a blow against racism, and our history of white supremacy, because it produces kids who presumably don’t represent the phenotypical extreme of blackness or whiteness. The hope is that one day, we’ll all be beige hence rendering racism inoperative, hence the “Beige Theory” of fighting racism.
It may seem, at first glance like the ancient marital beef between blacks and whites extends from how different we look. But it’s so much more complicated. And humans being humans, even if we were all beige, we’d find some way to discriminate. Assuming that we can destroy whiteness or blackness, assumes that these are actual, tangible things which can’t be redefined, refitted and reformed. But history says otherwise, and I’d argue that should we ever become one race, we’d basically create new ones.
Circling back, it’s true that the interracial couple is striking a blow against white racism–but not because they’re creating a beige kid. They’re striking a blow because they’re thinking more about their own individuality, their own humanity, than about convention. We can all applaud that–and while applauding it, understand that the notion of fucking our way out of racism, presumes too much of our good will, and too little of our imagination.
In other words, racism is not the ultimate fight – it’s all based on prejudices and stereotypes, which are used to discriminate against groups. Race is just been the most convenient marker for separating out and grouping people – and has been since the Age of Discovery, when global trade and interaction really took off. Instead of imagining a future where we all look the same, where racism dies and another prejudicial -ism begins, we should focus on people’s individuality and unique humanity.