“The Myth of a White Minority”

Sociologist Richard Alba wrote a NYT op-ed in June about the fluidity of being white in the United States amidst a growing multiracial population:

But the forecast of an imminent white minority, which some take as a given, is wrong. We will seem like a majority-white society for much longer than is believed…

Some of the mixed children now classified as minorities surely will think of themselves mainly as whites when they grow up; researchers have already found a significant group of American adults who declare themselves as non-Hispanic whites to the census, but acknowledge having some Mexican ancestry. Others may have mixed or even minority identities, but will be “sociologically white,” integrated into white communities and family networks and seen as essentially no different from anyone else.

According to the new Pew report, adults from mixed white and Asian backgrounds feel they have more in common with whites than they do with Asians; almost half have friendship circles that are mostly made up of whites; and two-thirds live in mostly white neighborhoods. Two-thirds of the multiracial Americans in the report who have some white ancestry are themselves married to whites.

We can grasp these emerging social realities by remembering our history of assimilation. At midcentury, religious boundaries were highly salient in white America. Catholics, Jews and Protestants were distinct populations, whose social lives were largely confined within their own group. Yet in only a few decades, the differences faded, and interaction across the boundaries proliferated. It was not that people ceased being Catholic or Jewish. But the public faces of those identities became much more muted and rarely intruded on everyday life. The Jewish intermarriage rate, around 10 percent in 1950, climbed to 58 percent by 2013.

What racial and ethnic categories mean are not static. And if white continues to be a privileged status, some will want to identify with it among their options and other might not. And, of course, existing whites might contest these dynamic boundaries. For example, would southern whites accept as white a growing number of Latinos who have both Latino and white heritage?

This all makes measuring race and ethnicity more interesting moving forward. The Census Bureau is already thinking of changes for the 2020 decennial census.

Derek Jeter as an example of the kind of world MLK envisioned

A sociologist argues that Yankees star Derek Jeter is an example of the kind of world Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned:

The son of a white mother and a black father, Jeter experienced racial prejudice from both groups as a boy growing up in Kalamazoo, Mich., and playing in the minor leagues down south. Even as recently as 2006, according to O’Connor, Jeter received a “racially-tinged threat” in his mail at Yankee Stadium, a threat the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Unit considered serious enough to investigate…

But Dr. Harry Edwards, a sociologist and black activist of the 1960s who has spoken and written extensively on the subject of race and professional athletics, explained Jeter’s appeal as a combination both of his unique attributes as an athlete and individual, and as a sign that the United States, throughout its history often bitterly divided along racial, ethnic and territorial lines, is moving toward an era of diversity and inclusion.

“I think it’s absolutely appropriate in the 21st century that a Derek Jeter should be the face of the premier baseball team in this country,” Edwards said. “When you talk about leadership and production and consistency and durability over the years, what he has achieved and what he has accomplished, and more than that, the way that he has done it is just absolutely phenomenal. He is one of our real athletic heroes and role models to the point that his race or ethnicity does not matter.”…

Derek Jeter’s way, the way of hard work, discipline and exemplary behavior, would have made Dr. King proud.

Tiger Woods, pre-scandal, may be another good example.

At the same time, this analysis makes me a little nervous. As some examples from Jeter’s own life suggest, we still have a ways to go. While it is notable that we now have visible multiracial leaders who appeal to a broad swath of America, at the same time, Jeter is a role model because he is successful at what does, going to multiple All-Star games and winning multiple World Series championships. Would Jeter be revered in the same way if he was from the Dominican Republic or from the south side of Chicago or from a farming community in North Dakota? What if he spoke about racial issues or wasn’t such a classy figure and “acted out”? In the end, does his celebrity make it easier for the average multiracial American? Are Americans only willing to look past Jeter’s background because he is a classy winner?

How being multiracial affects self-reported health

It is only in the last 11 years or so that official forms (like the Census) have allowed individuals in America to identify as being from more than one race. A couple of sociologists argue that this multiracial identification impacts self-reported health:

Bratter and Bridget Gorman, associate professor of sociology at Rice, studied nearly 1.8 million cases, including data from more than 27,000 multiracial adults, from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) questionnaire…

The new study found that only 13.5 percent of whites report their health as fair to poor, whereas most other single-race or multiracial groups were more likely to report those health conditions: 24 percent of American Indians, 19.9 percent of blacks and 18.4 percent of others. Single-race Asians were the least likely to report fair-to-poor health – only 8.7 percent did so.

While differences in self-rated health exist between single-race whites and multiracial whites, the percentage of single-race blacks who rated their health as fair to poor is nearly identical to that of multiracial blacks. The same is true for single-race and multiracial Asians.

“Our findings highlight the need for new approaches in understanding how race operates in a landscape where racial categories are no longer mutually exclusive yet racial inequality still exists,” said Bratter, director of Race Scholars at Rice, a program within the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “This extends beyond health data to other measurements of well-being, income, poverty and so much else.”

The key question here seems to be whether multiracial individuals experience the same health outcomes as single race individuals.  From this description, it sounds like this study suggests that being multiracial and white has different health outcomes compared to whites while being black or multiracial black has the same health outcomes. This would make sense given what we know about health differentials by race (more than genetics and extending to areas like life expectancy).

(I searched the journal Demography for more information about the conclusions of this study but it must not be listed yet.)