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When the ‘race’ gets strong, everybody wants in

Race is a hot issue anywhere on the planet and has been throughout human history. Waves of European immigrants (not to mention those from other continents) have been shunned upon in America’s past. After generations they became more accepted. But I am not trying to single out America. This phenomenon probably speaks about human nature more than anything else.

The Irish, the Italians, the French, and so on were originally known as just themselves, but over time they became ‘whites’ in America. It is with this interesting observation from blogger Adam Serwer recently (“The New White Folks“) and insightful comments (also recently) by raventhorn2000 about China that drew me into writing this post. First, this is what Serwer said:

the definition of whiteness in the U.S. is hardly static and shifted dramatically less than a century ago when we began to consider Jews, Italians, and Irish people white. Before then, there was a lot of ethnically charged pseudoscience about the inborn, immutable tendencies of each group that today sounds really idiotic. But the point is even when as the U.S. gets browner, many of the people who were once considered brown are going to start considering themselves white.

His remarks were in response to Matthew Yglesias’s article (“The Kids Are Less White“) about racial make-up of America (relevant passage below):

I think this is a widely misreported trend. When the New York Times recently did a piece on me, Ezra Klein, Brian Beutler, and Dave Weigel exactly zero people complained about the massive over-representation of people of Latin American ancestry that reflected. People saw it as a profile of four white dudes. Which is what it was. But my dad’s family is from Cuba, Ezra’s dad’s family is from Brazil, and Brian’s mom’s family is from Chile. That’s kind of a funny coincidence, but the combination of continued immigration and intermarriage means that over time a larger and larger share of American people will be partially descended from Latin American countries. That will probably change various aspects of American life in various ways. But we’re not going to become a predominantly Spanish-speaking country, race isn’t going to stop being a social construct, and it won’t cease being the case that the primary “race issue” is the gap between black people (almost all of whom are in part descended from white people) and a fairly miscellaneous group of socially dominant whites.

Now, if we extrapolate this phenomenon of intermarriage into the future for 1000 years, how would the ‘White’ race look like in America? I think the answer is obvious; it’d be more brown.

The other question is then why are the Cubans, Brazilians, and Chileans come to think of themselves as whites? And, few generations ago, the Irish, the Italians, and etcetera made that transition. I think the answer is simply that ‘whites’ are viewed as being more dominant and successful. It is human nature to want to be identified with success.

I imagine during the height of the Roman Empire’s wealth and power, most under its rule were proud to call themselves ‘Romans.’ In our recent trip to China, a friend’s mother told us that the original Beijingers’ numbers are dwindling comparing to ‘outsiders’ moving in. Beijing’s population has swelled to 19 million in the last few decades and the original was only four or 5 million. Beijing residents had a sense of superiority simply because they have been much more well off compared to the bulk of the rest of China. If we ask migrant workers in Shanghai about how they are viewed by the residents, I bet they will say Shanghainese think they are inferior. When the workers themselves have a chance to claim they are Shanghainese, I bet they will.

Race overall is not static and shifts slowly throughout history. The more dominant ones naturally absorb new colors and shapes.

When we keep the just described phenomenon above in mind and China’s 5000 year history, then the fact that 92% of China claims Han ethnicity speaks to tolerance and acceptance.

As of 2010, 72% of Americans claim themselves White. In 4700 more years, can we expect the White race in America to claim 92%?

Marriage is a function of acceptance, and if one race or both rejects, then colors don’t mix. Some “human rights” activists like to play this race game – but I will save that topic for another post.

  1. xian
    May 7th, 2011 at 21:17 | #1

    Hm. I don’t think comparing Han which denotes an ethnic group with “White”, which implies color, makes a lot of sense. I know Latinos, Indians and East Asians who act white, like the same things white people do, but will never identify themselves as white because they look too different. Appearance counts.

    As far as mixing goes, in a 1,000 years I’d imagine there wouldn’t be whites or perhaps even Hans or anything else. At this rate we’re heading towards one inextricable race: human.

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