Changing Colors

America’s shifting demographic landscape requires seeing beyond black & white.

A friend who is a professor tells the story of a student protest over services at the University of California at Santa Cruz. At one point, leaders directed the students to cluster in smaller groups — African-American, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic, and white. As they headed for their designated areas, however, an audacious young woman, the daughter of an East Indian and an American Indian, refused to go along. To the assembled, she boomed, “The mixed-blood group meets here.” For a moment, everyone paused, considered her, and then kept walking.

That pause can only grow as our demographic and political landscape transforms. As Tiger Woods has come to symbolize, America is changing colors. More and more of us are of mixed ancestry. And biological definitions of race are, scientists tell us, specious. So it is ironic when progressives staunchly defend racial categorization (including the “one-drop rule” definition of blackness championed by Southern slaveholders), as well as race-based affirmative action (co-opted by Richard Nixon to divide labor from civil rights groups). In “The End of the Rainbow,” Michael Lind argues that such a strategy is politically disastrous. He advocates a class-based alliance capable of challenging a new multicultural right.

Nonetheless, the dismantling of affirmative action threatens the delicate balance we have achieved in our schools. Classroom diversity is not only better for the country, but also educationally valuable. Students and teachers at Boston Latin School, which has spent two decades reconciling academic excellence and diversity, tell Bebe Nixon, in “Race to the Top,” both what troubles them about the weakening of their affirmative action program and what is enduring about their school.

Art Spiegelman also addresses troubling questions, in “Getting in Touch With My Inner Racist,” when his 4-year-old son makes a disturbing announcement. Are our children condemned to repeat our mistakes?

In “A Brave New You,” Walter Truett Anderson suggests perhaps not.


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