Shades of 2050

By Razib Khan | September 16, 2011 12:49 am

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.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Culture
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Comments (29)

  1. Justin Giancola

    I loves mes some fresh postins..mmmhmm.

  2. Nick

    My wife is from Central America. According to 23andme, she’s ~80% Northern European and ~20% Native American. Since I’m 100% Northern European, my kids are at 90% and are about as pasty white as me. My understanding is that they’re “Hispanic”. Their cousins, who are 75% Northern European and 25% Japanese, would be “white”, I suppose?

  3. #2, in the last census mixed-race people were tabulated as counting in both groups.

  4. Mark

    “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.”

    My brother-in-law has a brother whose admittedly unstable wife first introduced herself to him and his family as bi-racial, specifically, Korean and Spanish. She’s actually Mexican. As my sister said, “It’s fine if you’re Mexican… just be Mexican!”

  5. pconroy

    Razib,

    Good last point – I tend to agree. The US will become more like Brazil, where ethnicity is more fluid, and the category of “White” will be more encompassing.

  6. MikeP

    With regard to Latin American countries, how many have formal and informal affirmative action systems that reward people for being non-white? I have a friend whose grandfather and his brothers emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon in the 1930s. There was never any question that they were white, even in the Jim Crow South they moved to. But his daughter, who is just one-eighth Lebanse, has decided she is Arab American. I seem to be seeing more of this, people with small amounts of Non-Norttern European descent, deciding that they don’t want to be white anymore.

    Second, in Latin American countries, everyone is Hispanic. But in a country where Hispanics are considered a unique ethnic group of their own, how much will that serve to unify people of different races against those of different ethnicities?

  7. Alat

    Second, in Latin American countries, everyone is Hispanic. But in a country where Hispanics are considered a unique ethnic group of their own, how much will that serve to unify people of different races against those of different ethnicities?

    “Hispanic” is a category used in the United States. It is not used by Latin Americans in their home countries to refer to themselves. So the comparison to the U.S. makes no sense.

  8. Justin Giancola

    Joking aside (first post) I think when a lot o’ us white folk be talkin bout white people people in Appalachia, the Ozarks, crackers, cowboys whatever -possibly even mega, exorsist baptists types, or anyone resembling Colonel Sanders or other folks dressed all in white (ie some stereotype of plantation times)- are not really what’s on their minds, not saying they aren’t white, but I think the demographic people actually give two shakes about in regard to the make up of the country are those that express a continuum of the greater civilized culture of Europe, if you know what I mean, not so much the cultural hinterlands. It may present some challenges in quantifying but I think it would be rather intuitive to most on obsevation, and would be a more meaningful demographic than just white people. I may be superimposing some what but I think even if white people were still the majority in the future but consisted of something akin to Idiocracy that would only satisfy the racists.

  9. Justin Giancola

    People talk about hispanic being bs but this all encompassing whiteness does neither address ethnicities people care about nor the culture package most valued.

    Like I don’t think it serves a whole lot when some people on this board sometimes lump middle eastern and white people together as if either group really sees each other as the same, by and large.

  10. Like I don’t think it serves a whole lot when some people on this board sometimes lump middle eastern and white people together as if either group really sees each other as the same, by and large.

    this is a really sloppy and confusing way to put this issue. “white” and “middle eastern” are terms for two different category types, racial and geographical. middle eastern people are multiracial, with a substantial minority being able to pass as white if greeks or southern italians are. the big gap between europe and the middle east is cultural/civilization, with the old christendom vs. dar-al-islam separation. this i think explains why non-muslim middle easterners relatively easily slot into whiteness.* to my knowledge no one thinks that kim kardashian (half armenian) or ralph nader (lebanese) is non-white. nor have i ever heard it mentioned that celine dion is married to a non-white dude just because he’s lebanese (the main issue is that he’s real old). similarly, no one thought of jaques derrida (sephardic jew) or r. j. rushdoony (armenian) as non-white. in fact rushdoony is seen as a major thinker by white nationalist reformed christians. people of muslim familial origin easily lose their non-whitenesss if they’re culturally separated from that identity. no one thinks of steve jobs as non-white because his father was a syrian muslim.

    * a second non-trivial issue is that muslim middle easterners often have some non-trivial sub-saharan african ancestry, which makes them visibly non-white.

  11. also, just to be clear, in the historical record middle eastern people regularly refer to themselves as “white” in contrast with africans or south asians (anti-muslim polemicists like to point out in particular prejudical hadiths in relation to skin color and race, balancing out the racially egalitarian ones). modern middle easterners understand that when compared to westerners they can’t use the word “white” which is reserved for that group, but when talking in the context of other darker skinned populations they’ll do it (east asians are similar, the word “yellow” was selected in the 19th and early 20th century because the older usage of “white” was not practical during the age of white european supremacy).

  12. Liesel

    really sloppy and confusing way to put this issue. “white” and “middle eastern” are terms for two different category types, racial and geographical.

    Yes, equally as sloppy as the US Census counting Hispanic as a race. I find this very confusing for understanding demographic data. Where would Sammy Sosa fit in for example? Why not collect a set of data about race (with options for mixed race) & a seperate set about ethnicty or cultural identification or whatever?

  13. Where would Sammy Sosa fit in for example? Why not collect a set of data about race (with options for mixed race) & a seperate set about ethnicty or cultural identification or whatever?

    that’s what the census does technically. hispanic is an ethnic group. and can be of any race. so about 50% of american hispanics say they are white, 40% “other,” and the other 10% black, mixed-race, etc. but in american colloquial the existence of white hispanics is elided, and the whole group is collapsed into the racial minority category. so when people say white, they mean non-hispanic white. this causes confusions, especially for groups like white cubans who identify as white in most cases, but will “code switch” when in an anglo context.

  14. ackbark

    Also, Cher is Armenian.

    It may be that ‘white’ will evolve into something more like ‘uncategorizable’, at least for the US –‘US white’, with your ethnic pie chart seeming something like a heraldic crest, if not a fingerprint.

    (edit: just looked and Cher is half Armenian and half Cherokee, English and French, and a very attractive pie chart)

  15. #14, she’s part native american too. the main issue in the USA is the issue of african ancestry. if you have any visible african ancestry you’ll be coded as “black.” the nature of the identity of other people is much more multi-textured. if matthew yglesias was 1/4 black and 3/4 jewish his “choices” of self-identification would be more constrained than they are due to his 1/4 cuban and 3/4 jewish origins.

  16. Justin Giancola

    Not being a contrarian but I never looked at kim kardashian as white. No disrespect but I think some of you non-whites over reach in judging how we think.

    And I agree the idea is sloppy, though you may be refering to my post having too much “you know” quality which is also fair.

  17. Not being a contrarian but I never looked at kim kardashian as white. No disrespect but I think some of you non-whites over reach in judging how we think.

    i grew up around more whites than you (i know your background via facebook). in fact, i grew up in a town where being italian was exotic and possibly non-white. in any case, the media makes fun of kim’s fetish for black guys. they wouldn’t do that if they coded her as non-white. your opinion is irrelevant if it’s a minority for this discussion. middle easterners were allowed to be white under segregation and even for purposes of naturalization (though there was some debate about this in the courts). that’s the best “formal “standard i know in lieu of surveys (which exist, and will give really strange results depending on how you “prime” people).

  18. ackbark

    Yes, that’s why I was thinking of it as seeming like a sort of personal crest, with the minority element being the idiosyncratic, defining distinction that makes you who you are.

  19. pconroy

    I’ve known a good few Cubans, and they all identify strongly as White, and never as Hispanic.

    One particular girl I knew was Cuban of Canarian descent, and her father had been a 6′ 4″ blonde and blue eyed, with a broad face and well defined cheekbones – possibly had Guanche ancestry.

    I knew a Cuban guy of supposedly only Spanish descent, who was 5′ 4′, with very short legs and comparatively large barrel chest, which to me signified possible Carib ancestry, nevertheless he strongly identified as White, and corrected anyone who used the word Hispanic.

  20. pconroy

    Justin,

    I grew up in the Irish countryside, and never saw non-Whites – let alone non-Irish – people till I went to high school, and there was 1 Sicilian dude there.

    I view Kim Kardashian as definitely White, although exotic-White. Likewise I dated a Jat Sikh from the Punjab, who looked like Norah Jones, and would too be included as White by just about everyone.

  21. Justin Giancola

    pcon that’s cool dude but you still said exotic white and the point is that its still a bs word that can mean different things to different people. 🙂

    And razib just cause you grew up in Amish country doesn’t mean there were more people in numbers 😉 besides where I actually grew up was very close to Amish and I often saw them. Also I had in class of 700 at any given time 3black people, one east asian and maaybe one s asian. And my mothers side is all northern european mostly brit isle. anyhoo 🙂

  22. #21, i wasn’t talking about amish country. stop talking about shit you don’t know about 🙂 i’m talking about a county where in 1990 all the black people recorded in the census were profiled on the front page (all 10 or so of them). you don’t really know much about what you’re talking about here aside from your own opinion, so pulling “i’m white and i know” rank was kind of a bullshit move. i’ll concede to your opinion if i get a sense you know what you’re talking about in a broad sense, but i don’t think you do. there’s a pretty large survey literature on whiteness, and i’ve read a fair amount of it.

  23. MikeP

    As mentioned before, I live in the Deep South, and one of my best friends is of Lebanese descent. He’s pretty light, but his grandfather and his brothers weren’t much much less lighter and in some ways more exotic looking than KIm Kardashian (think three Jamie Farrs), and they never faced any racial hassles. They joined a white Methodist church, married local white girls and became leaders in the white community.

    I do think the historical tendency in the United States has been to accept those without obvious African admixture as white and certainly for those people to try to be accepted as white. I just question whether there are legal and social forces at work that may reverse that tendency.

  24. Justin Giancola

    geez razib to wonder the knives you would pull on people you really didn’ t like! 🙂 In the end all I’m arguing for is a refining/end to bs words-concepts like white, hispanic as well as caucasoid and mongoloid while we’re at it.

    If things were received unamiably by anyone I’m still getting used to this mobile net stuff and I’m trying to type while working a concert while not getting in trouble; not the best situation for elegant thought construction. I do concede.

    Lastly on the contentious subject of kim: I think the media would make fun of anyone famous who isn’t obviuosly brown having an african fetish as thats the way our media & culture is unfortunately. And maybe A reason I never saw kim as white is the whole time I was aware of her one of my closest friends was middle eastern and I even stayed with his large family for a time so I had first hand examples of the comparisons; he was even half Libyan btw. that should weight my opinion mwuwahaha… tongue in cheek 🙂 no but seriously I think the only thing under criticism was always my opinion.

  25. The cultural definition of race and ethnicity has changed almost every decade lagging only a bit in Census definitions behind popular ones and will no doubt continue to do so.

    The Anglo-White, Asian, Hispanic classication in popular conceptions of ethnicity now aren’t far from the WASP, Jew, Southern European-Irish classification in popular conceptions of ethnicity at least from the late 1800s to about 1950, and I full expect history to repeat itself on that score. The foreign born percentage of Asian and Hispanic minority populations continues to shrink, the intermarriage rates and high and growing, the evidence of assimilation at a high level in later generations is great, social institutions that are openly exclusive on this basis are far more rare than they were then. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the main racial categories for the Census in 2050 was “Eurasian.”

    If one runs numbers that assume generally increasing openness to interracial/interethnic marriage, but also assume that some people deviate from the general trend and place a premium on endogamy, another possibility presents itself. The U.S. could have a lot of people who are “mutts” trending towards fixation proportionate to relative population sizes at zero population growth, and a lot of minorities of unadmixed whites, Asian, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc. whose strong endogamy norms (and probably mildly strong pro-natal tendencies).

    I think evolving attitudes towards African-Americans in that mix are harder to see a trend in and are less predictable. This is complicated by a growing proportion of immigrants from Africa and the African diaspora, and of mixed race people who are part African American, who could serve as a culture “bridge” and make the African-American/Non-African American divide that is starting to emerge less monothilic. For example, my intuition is that a large influx of Ethiopian and Somolian immigrants to Denver is probably changing the ethnic dynamic between American ancestry African-Americans and whites in Denver. Similarly, in high schools with large percentages of both African-Americans and whites, mixed race people who are part-African-American make up a large share of people who actively participate at a social level in both communities (white athletes are another). On the other hand, the stunning surge in the size of the black middle class after the Civil Rights Movement seems to have leveled off quite a bit. Another potential “bridge” that seems plausible is Islam, which could build connections betweeen Islamic immigrant communities and African-American convert communities (which are quite significant in number).

    Demographically, the pressure is always on minorities to be endogamous or blur away. A NH white in North Dakota can end up marrying someone else of the same race and ethnicity without thinking about it. A Korean in Buffalo, New York can’t. Endogamy preferences in the lower percentage components impact the outcome much more than endogamy perferences in the higher percentage components, and the evidence is that the endogamy preference for African-Americans right now is pretty strong. But, that preference is probably pretty fragile – it probably won’t take much of a “defining event” culturally to change those preferences now that cultural preferences are really all that is sustaining it.

  26. geez razib to wonder the knives you would pull on people you really didn’ t like!

    you don’t see their comments. though i keep a few tokens i dislike around to keep me “honest” (though usually i have to ban them eventually; e.g., caledonian).

    The cultural definition of race and ethnicity has changed almost every decade lagging only a bit in Census definitions behind popular ones and will no doubt continue to do so.

    the census can push the change too. e.g., hispanics.

    the intermarriage rates and high and growing,

    no, intermarriage rates have stabilized due to high immigration. when you control for high immigration they’ve gone up, but you can show plenty things when you “control” for conditions which are just part of reality.

    Another potential “bridge” that seems plausible is Islam, which could build connections betweeen Islamic immigrant communities and African-American convert communities (which are quite significant in number).

    the numbers indicate that black muslims are much more prominent among muslim americans proportionally than among blacks. there are more black catholics than black muslims, for example.

    But, that preference is probably pretty fragile – it probably won’t take much of a “defining event” culturally to change those preferences now that cultural preferences are really all that is sustaining it.

    well, in brazil there isn’t much of a black endogamy preference, because an afro-brazilian identity isn’t as coherent and distinct. as long as there is a distinct african american subculture, with its own mores and folkways, i don’t think they have to worry. black americans have deep roots in this nation, and in places like the south they’ve created a parallel cultural universe. in contrast asian and latino immigrants aren’t as segregated with exceptions because they’re new and accommodating to local conditions, and creating parallelisms only when possible.

  27. westernworld

    if people could disentangle their concepts of race, class and ethnicity it would help this conversation a great deal i think.

    the kardashians are a good example of how whiteness works.

    if you’re black, you’re black. even if you have all the money in the world you’re still black. rich black, but black and no the education game doesn’t help it either it may make you an ivy-league
    educated black, but you guessed it, you’re still black or at least african american.¹

    white in america in my experience has become a code for not black, middle class or better. hence the category of white trash for those who are undeniably racially and ethnically but not socially white.¹

    people like the kardashians are allowed to co-opt whiteness due to their socioeconomic status. were they poor uneducated migrant laborers that spoke with an accent they would not be considered white at all, just like the irish back in the day.

    being black³ is the only hard and fast racial division in america i can think of. everything else is social class and ethnicity.

    the hispanic question is a ethnic and not a racial one and will increasingly become so as racial boundaries in the stricter sense blur. what will make a difference to the way the U.S. is in 2050 is not the gene pool a person comes from but their cultural allegiances.
    the hispanic, for want of a better word, community will be interesting to watch as is has unlike any other the critical mass to sustain a parallel spanish speaking infrastructure as well as the direct proximity and impact of a huge spanish speaking middle and south american population.

    they are the first migrants that don’t have to assimilate if they choose so or if things are made unduly harsh and difficult for them. in any case they will change america at least as much as it changes them, not many migrant populations can say that, and in that lies much of the answer of what america will be like in 2050.

    ¹ in a twist of historic irony the southern more inclusive concept of whiteness based on skin color seems to have won out here as far race goes over the northern one based on social standing, while at the same time whiteness for poor whites becomes more precarious.

    ² my grand unified field theory about the term african american being that the black middle class brought it up not be lumped together with their less fortunate brethren.

    ³ being black in the american context is of course also an ethnicity i would never claim otherwise.

  28. pconroy

    Does anyone here think that the US could become majority Spanish or Spanglish speaking in 100-200 years?

  29. westernworld

    “Does anyone here think that the US could become majority Spanish or Spanglish speaking in 100-200 years?”

    i think 100-200 years from now most nation states will have dissolved themselves for better or worse. especially the united states would be a top candidate for all kinds of demographic, economic and ecological reasons to do so in my estimation. i expect water will break the camel’s back first in california then throughout the south-west. just as one example i could think of …

    could what is now the usa become a mainly spanish spoken area? absolutely, till the late 19th century the united states were a peppered with all kinds of linguistic enclaves french, german or swedish and norwegian to name a view . the fact that people migrated did not always mean that they learned english if they could avoid it.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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