Shades of 2050

I have long had a problem with projections of the racial makeup of the USA which implicitly neglect the complexities inherent in the identity of someone of mixed origin. A new study analyzing Census data on interracial marriages between 1980 and 2008 highlights some of the subtleties:

The study also examined trends in biracial and cohabiting Americans.

The study found that people who classified themselves as white-Asian or white-American Indian were more likely to marry whites than Asians or American Indians.

“The rise in America’s multiracial population blurs racial boundaries,” Lichter said.

However, black-white biracial people are still more likely to marry blacks than whites.

First, the simplest way to state the implications of these data is that whites are becoming more Asian and American Indian, while blacks are becoming whiter. At least in terms of ancestry if not identity.

Consider the case of the actor Dean Cain, born Dean Tanaka. His paternal grandfather was of Japanese ancestry. He has a son with ex-girlfriend Samantha Torres. She happens to be a blonde and blue-eyed Spanish model. By the cultural norms of hypodescent Christopher Dean Cain is not a non-Hispanic white. If you have too many people who “look white” but have non-European ancestry hypodescent is not feasible. That was not the case for the United States of America for most of its history. But by 2050 the situation may be very different, and the cultural landscape of race and ethnicity may be very different.* I suspect that many of the assumptions we make about the world of 2050 by naively projecting out growth rates and the cultural mores of 2010 are going to fall into the “not even wrong” category.

* In many Latin American nations it is obviously not the case that mestizos make common cause with indigenous people against white elites as “people of color.”

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