Note: The following is mostly based on chapter 14 of “Race in North America” (2012) by Audrey and Brian D. Smedley.
Racism in the US is always changing but changes slowly. That means the near future will be pretty much the same, but the longer term it will bring change.
American racism will have to somehow adjust to:
- The rise of Japan as a country fully the equal of the US and Britain.
- The rise of the Black American middle-class and Blacks in important positions in the US.
- Immigration from Asia and Latin America pouring into the US, bringing millions of people who do not fit into the old black-and-white boxes.
- Multiracial identities, particularly those who are half White and half Asian or Latino. It not only challenges the idea that race determines culture and behaviour, but also makes one’s “race” harder to determine and therefore less useful.
- Barack Obama, whose very person goes against everything most Americans think they know about race. He is multiracial. He looks Black but culturally is like Dorothy of “The Wizard of Oz”: a White person from Kansas. American racism is incapable of making sense of him – thus all the Birther and Secret Muslim stuff.
- The Human Genome Project – which left only 0.1% of the genome for scientific racism.
- Asian Americans scoring higher than Whites on IQ tests.
The election of President Obama shows that:
- Racism has weakened in some quarters: he got 43% of the White vote.
- Racism remains strong in others quarters: racial hatred is a big reason people oppose him.
Racism will most likely weaken over time: it is no longer backed by science or law and is becoming less useful as more and more Americans no longer fit into its old boxes.
It is even possible for racism to disappear. While ethnocentrism seems to be part of the human condition, racism is not. As the Smedleys point out, before the 1600s:
At no time were clusters of people homogenized into socially meaningful categories and ranked based on skin color or other physical features, regardless of ethnic affiliations.
The idea of identity being set in biological stone, making some not fully human, was strange and new. It was, for example, unknown to the Greeks, Romans and Moroccans, whose soldiers freely married native women. In most societies your identity followed that of your father, but could be changed through citizenship, religious conversion, cultural assimilation and so on. Who your mother was generally did not matter. That was true of Anglo American society too – till the rise of race-based slavery.
Racism will probably hang on for some time to come: it has so warped the way Americans think that they use it even where it is not necessary, like accounting for why Blacks seem to be so good at basketball.
One way for racism to hang on is to move from “race” to “ethnic group”. Since most people do not understand the difference between “race” (biological) and “ethnic group” (cultural), it would allow American racism to adjust to immigration while holding onto its scientifically unfounded beliefs about the relationship between biology, culture and behaviour.
- Other possible racial futures for the US:
- Other posts based on the Smedleys:
- The black president argument
- Anglo Americans