Phil and Sonya Thomas continue to fight their local school system. As they wait for the proceedings to begin, they feel the matter could have been avoided if their son’s teacher would have listened. Now, the matter has escalated to this. With their lawyer at their side, the parents watch as the principal defends the teacher: she was justified in labeling their son. The school system experts also support the teacher. Sonya Thomas struggles to reframe herself. “We don’t care what the experts say. It isn’t the school’s right to categorize our son. You are only looking at the outside.” She breaks down. “Why can’t you accept that our son isn’t white? He’s a black American.” The room gets quiet.
The US Dilemma
As many voters turn their attention to the presidential election, the media continues to remind us of race. With a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, Barak Obama makes us uneasy with his racial background. Some people view him as “too black” while others declare that he is just “not black enough.” Individuals with a mixed heritage betray our hidden beliefs and sometimes our prejudices. For example, rapper Kanye West in 2006 told Essence Magazine, “If it wasn’t for race mixing, there’d be no video girls.” Growing up in Louisiana, we lived with a one-drop rule. The one-drop rule holds that individuals with any degree of African ancestry cannot be white. In fact, it makes that person 100% black. In this narrow viewpoint, regardless of the race of the mother the child is determined black. Therefore, regardless of a person’s racial preference, society seeks to make its own judgment of an individual based on a person’s skin color. In most cases, society forces children to make a decision early in life. Shouldn’t we be free from societal racial classification? Let’s further explore this unique situation.
The Historical Perspective
During slavery and the Jim Crow Era, racial laws were developed to prevent intermarriage and co-mingling with other races. In the South, determining one’s race was a fact of life. The term “mulatto” was originally used to describe the union of whites and blacks. From 1870 to 1880, multatto included quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Demographics are now changing in America. According to the US 2000 Census, there are 3.1 million interracial couples. In fact, one in every 20 children is born from a mixed-race heritage. Many people focus solely on black and white integration. However, this multigenerational movement is far more extensive. According to University of Michigan researchers, Asian Americans have the highest outmarriage rates among racial and ethnic groups (about one and a half million children under age 17 had one Asian parent and another non-Asian parent in 1990). Many of today’s most talented celebrities come from a mixed heritage. They include Dwayne “The Rock,” Johnson, Halle Berry, Vin Diesel, Derek Jeter, Rachel Smith, and Tiger Woods. For many Generation Xers and Millenniums, the formation of a multiracial society is normal. Many older Americans are not as comfortable with interracial mixing. However, they aren’t the only individuals dealing with racial problems. Many times multiracial children have a difficult time coping with a racially charged society. Charlotte Nitardy, in her article “Identity problems in biracial youth,” noted that biracial children have issues with racial identity problems. In many cases, biracial children are faced with choosing one racial group and rejecting the other in order to survive in society.
The Real Challenge
Are the old racial labels outdated for this multiracial generation? Anne Tsui and Barbara Gutek, authors of Demographic Differences in Organizations, maintain that there is still unrest about diversity. They explain, “Below the surface of increased activities and some apparent progress in diversity efforts by companies lie feelings of discomfort, frustration, confusion, and even anger, among women and men, ethnic minorities and the white majority.” Today’s children have little concept of segregated living. Dating outside of one’s race is pretty common in most communities. The US Census has been in charge of tracking the racial classification in this country. Clearly, checking one box or multiple boxes for one racial identification may not be practical now. In fact, because of interracial dating, social demographic changes, and individuals’ right to self-determine their racial preference, the census data may make little sense for the America of the future. Consequently, it may become a distant memory as the multiracial generation continues to expand across America. Unfortunately, society still wrestles with how to deal with this multiracial generation. Will America be ready for a multiracial president or a growing self-identifying multiracial generation? I am optimistic that we are ready. The clock is ticking on America.