There’s an opinion piece in the New York Times by Moises Velasquez-Manoff which talks about (drum roll please) biracial people. As he mentions:
Multiracials make up an estimated 7 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, and they’re predicted to grow to 20 percent by 2050.
Thus, I suspect that sometime in the next few decades, we will start talking about race in terms of precise racial percentages, such as “100 percent White” or in rarer cases, “25 percent White, 25 percent Asian, 25 percent Black, and 25 percent Native American.” (Incidentally, I’m not sure why the article uses “Biracial” when “Multiracial” would clearly have been a more appropriate term; it was likely due to the Barack Obama factor.)
The phrase “precise racial percentages” is misleading. Since all humans came from the same ancestor, at some point in history we must have been “one race.” For the sake of defining these racial percentages, we can take a date — say 4000BC — when, presumably, the various races were sufficiently different, ensconced in their respective geographic regions, and when interracial marriages (or rape) was at a minimum. All humans alive at that point thus get a “100 percent [insert_race_here]” attached to them, and we do the arithmetic from there.
What usually happens in practice, though, is that we often default to describing one part of one race, particularly with people who are \(X\) percent Black, where \(X > 0\). This is a relic of the embarrassing “One Drop Rule” the United States had, but for now it’s probably — well, I hope — more for self-selecting racial identity.
Listing precise racial percentages would help us better identify people who are not easy to immediately peg in racial categories, which will increasingly become an issue as more and more multiracial people like me blur the lines between the races. In fact, this is already a problem for me even with single-race people: I sometimes cannot distinguish between Hispanics versus Whites. For instance, I thought Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were 100 percent White.
Understanding race is also important when considering racial diversity and various ethical or sensitive questions over who should get “preferences.” For instance, I wonder if people label me as a “privileged white male” or if I get a pass for being biracial? Another question: for a job at a firm which has had a history of racial discrimination and is trying to make up for that, should the applicant who is 75 percent Black, 25 percent White, get a hair’s preference versus someone who is 25 percent Black and 75 percent White? Would this also apply if they actually have very similar skin color?
In other words, does one weigh more towards the looks or the precise percentages? I think the precise percentages method is the way schools, businesses, and government operate, despite how this isn’t the case in casual conversations.
Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that I have as we move towards a more racially diverse society, as multiracial people cannot have single-race children outside of adoption.
Back to the article: as one would expect, it discusses the benefits of racial diversity. I can agree with the following passage:
Social scientists find that homogeneous groups like [Donald Trump’s] cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to groupthink and less likely to question faulty assumptions.
The caveat is that this assumes the people involved are equally qualified; a racially homogeneous (in whatever race), but extremely well-educated cabinet would be much better than a racially diverse cabinet where no one even finished high school. But controlling for quality, I can agree.
Diversity also benefits individuals, as the author notes. It is here where Mr. Velasquez-Manoff points out that Barack Obama was not just Black, but also biracial, which may have benefited his personal development. Multiracials make up a large fraction of the population in racially diverse Hawaii, where Obama was born (albeit, probably with more Asian-White overlap).
Yes, I agree that diversity is important for a variety of reasons. It is not easy, however:
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.”
I cannot agree more.
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.
Ouch, this felt like a blindsiding attack, and is definitely my main gripe with this article. In college, I had two roommates, both of whom have a different racial makeup than me. They both seemed to be relatively popular and had little difficulty mingling with a diverse group of students. Unfortunately, I certainly did not have a “diverse group of friends.” After all, if there was a prize for college for “least popular student” I would be a perennial contender. (As incredible as it may sound, in high school, where things were worse for me, I can remember a handful of people who might have been even lower on the social hierarchy.)
Well, I guess what I want to say is that, this attack notwithstanding, Mr. Velasquez-Manoff’s article brings up interesting and reasonably accurate points about biracial people. At the very least, he writes about concepts which are sometimes glossed over or under-appreciated nowadays in our discussions about race.