By Marcia Alesan Dawkins
It’s official. We’re a “miscegeNation.” The 2010 Census results are reminding us that multiracialism is not only our destiny but our reality. We’re seeing the rise of the most diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history with a record low white population—the millennials. According to The New York Times, “Young Americans are far less white than older generations, a shift that demographers say creates a culture gap with far-reaching political and social consequences.”
Perhaps no popular culture image provides a more accurate snapshot of this shift better than the “Mix 2Gether” commercial for Activision’s DJ Hero 2 video game. Released in October, the commercial features interracial partygoers who “mix it up” interpersonally and sexually—by sharing birthmarks, braces, tattoos, skin tones, body parts and affection. These images suggest that the time for multiracialism is now. That multiracialism is young. That it is reflected best on bodies and in media. And, important, that it is marked by an absence of face-to-face dialogue.
Does today’s focus on multiracialism mean that we’re finally seeing the end of racism? Or does it mean that racism has simply gone underground?
The answer depends largely on talking and to whom we talk. Many would like to believe that our comfort with categorizing people as multiracial has erased racism and the stigma of interracial relations. Here is a perfect example: In defending herself and the tea party against the NAACP’s charges of racism, Sarah Palin calls on her own multiracial family as evidence in a Facebook post titled “The Charge of Racism: It’s Time to Bury the Divisive Politics of the Past”:
“I just spent a few beautiful Alaskan days with some beautiful Americans in my husband’s birthplace—they are Todd’s family and they are Yupik Eskimo. In the decades that our families have blended, I have never heard one proud, patriotic member judge another member based on skin color. … Being with our diverse family in a melting pot that is a Native village just days ago reminded me … that [it is foreign to us to consider condemning or condoning anyone’s actions based on race].”
Translation: Multiracial families bestow the skill of racial reconciliation that will result in the end of racism. What is more, multiracial families can even promote the end of race. Palin is not the only one who expresses such views. The politically correct lip service that says that multiracial individuals and families are not racist and naturally racially progressive abounds in the press and blogosphere.
This sexy-but-flawed way of thinking is based totally on appearances. Because of our nation’s history of slavery, segregation and interment, racism is conflated with physical racial separation. As a consequence racial progress is conflated with racial mixing. Multiracial individuals and interracial families are touted as icons of racial healing because they are thought to have special insights based on what they are—mixed. In his 2008 “A More Perfect Union” speech, President Obama addressed how absurd this kind of thinking is. He said that his grandmother “once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.” The president also implied that the idea of multiracials ending racism ignores the fact that interracial romantic relationships still experience higher rates of failure and divorce than same-sex relationships (i.e., his own parents’ divorce; Halle Berry’s and Gabriel Aubry’s custody battle over their daughter, Nahla).
If we still think that being multiracial or being part of a multiracial family automatically ends racism, then we must consider the cases of Lawrence Dennis and Leo Felton. Dennis, the multiracial right-wing fascist, was charged with sedition for allegedly seeking to establish a Nazi regime in the U.S. during World War II. Felton, a multiracial white supremacist, was convicted of bank robbery and plotting to blow up Jewish and African-American landmarks around Boston. The child of an interracial couple, Felton wrote a letter in which he criticized his parents and said he is “an unrepentant enemy of the multicultural myth.” Multiracial backgrounds did not encourage these men to become racial healers.
As strange as it might sound, today’s fascination with appearances and with multiracial identities may prove to be tragically more effective at hiding racism than healing it. Rather than attending only to increasingly diverse appearances, we should pay attention to what’s going on beneath the surface—in people’s hearts and minds and, equally important, in public policies these hearts and minds create. For it is there that we can win the battle against racism’s increasingly pernicious and colorblind qualities.