Far From Heaven
The small but growing minority of children with parents of different races is calling America's centuries-old racial classification system into question. Should children of interracial marriages be classified as "multiracial," "biracial"--or not racially classified at all? The campaign to add a "multiracial" category to the census of 2000 was defeated by the black civil rights establishment, which feared that the numbers of "official" blacks would decline as a result. Ironically, black civil rights leaders are today the last defenders of the "one-drop rule," inherited from American apartheid, which says that anyone with even one African ancestor is "black." They succeeded in blocking the adoption of a multiracial category by the census, which, however, permitted individuals to check more than one box. This political compromise, which had the absurd result of allowing the US population to add up to more than 100 percent of itself, permitted almost 785,000 Americans to say that they were both black and white. (Don't even ask about "Hispanics/Latinos," a category that is based on immigration or descent from immigrants from a particular designated set of foreign nations, and includes people of all "races.")
The "multiracial" and "biracial" labels are based on the premise that most American people are divided "naturally," as it were, into five distinct races, and that all other Americans must be defined in relation to two or more of the big five. Even if it had a name other than "multiracial" or "biracial," a proposed sixth official US race would still be a catchall category. The children of white-Asian marriages may have nothing in common with those of Asian-Latino marriages, and they form at best a mere statistical category, not a genuine cultural "community."
The attempt of government to pigeonhole Americans by race is most obnoxious in the case of "race-matching," or the attempt to match adopted children to adoptive parents of their own official "race." Kennedy's passionate and well-reasoned polemic against this concludes: "The United States should prohibit all governments under its aegis--federal, state, and tribal--from engaging in race matching." He goes further: "If dismantling [racial] affirmative action must be part of the price of effectively doing away with race matching, it is no more than I, for one, am willing to pay."
The insistence of many progressives that the elimination of government racial labels and race-specific policies must await the complete extinction of racist sentiments in the American population reverses the cause-and-effect relationship. It makes no sense to say that race doesn't matter, on the one hand, while insuring that how the federal government classifies your race makes a difference in access to benefits or even to adoptive parents. The fact that there are still bigots in America should not prevent the federal government from treating all Americans as individuals. And if conservatives want to quote Martin Luther King Jr. and adopt the liberal integrationist position as their own, this is proof of the success of the civil rights revolution in transforming American thinking about race even on the right.
We will never eliminate the vestiges of caste from this society by multiplying the number of castes. The United States ought to go from having five official races to having none--preferably by
the census of 2010 or 2020. The mainstream left opposes the abolition of racial classifications because it wants to preserve race-based social programs like affirmative action--while the mainstream right has appealed to white backlash by adopting the color-blind ideal of liberal integrationists as its own. Whatever one thinks of the motives of the right, the race-conscious left has pursued a failed strategy since the civil rights revolution. Need-based social programs, which benefit the black and Latino poor disproportionately even if they help a greater number of needy whites, are far more popular than race-specific programs with white voters, who will remain a majority of the electorate until late in this century or beyond. The warnings of liberal integrationists like Bayard Rustin against the left's adoption of programs that don't benefit at least some whites have been vindicated--along with the prediction of conservative segregationists like Bilbo--that the end of segregation would lead to the blending of the races in America.
"Malignant racial biases can and do reside in interracial liaisons," Kennedy observes. "But against the tragic backdrop of American history, the flowering of multiracial intimacy is a profoundly moving and encouraging development, one that lends support to Frederick Douglass's belief that eventually 'the white and colored people of this country [can] be blended into a common nationality, and enjoy together...the inestimable blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"