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Facebook as a Guide for “Multi-racial Understanding”

March 1, 2011

My next installment of “Educating the Masses” is still in the works.  In the meantime, here is a re-visiting of a topic from way back to send on to Racialicious.

With the lead-up to Obama’s inauguration, there was a ton of chatter about multi-racial people and what that meant for the future of the U.S., in regards to racial relations and understanding.  (*1)  Some years passed, the 2010 census went down, and now the conversation seems to have reappeared in the public arena.  (*2)

The ideas are nothing new, of course: there are drastically more people claiming a mixed-race identity than ever before, with the numbers expected to continue trending upwards; and somewhere around 2060, the U.S. is expected to be less than 50% white.  The resulting question is deceptively simple – does this mean that we are getting closer to a “post-racial” world, and that, subsequently, racial conflict and inequality is on the downslope?

My simple answer?  Um . . .

Hell no.  And that’s it.

But for those of you who would like a bit more complicated answer, I’ll see what I can do here.

Check the “Multiracial” Box

I’m going to start this all off with a quick tear through some points I’ve mentioned in the past that touch on why current statistics on “mixed-race” folks doesn’t necessarily mean anything in regards to racial understanding or equality.  For those looking for a quicker-read, y’all can just stick to that.

For those looking for a little bit deeper analysis (and why I referenced Facebook in this post), that will come in the last section.  Cool?

Alright, here we go . . .

Statistics.

First off, I know statistics and how people use (or mis-use) them to come to questionable conclusions, and let’s just say that the statistics we’re looking at here are questionable, at best.  (*3)

It’s basically just a matter of sampling – nobody’s going to deny that “multiracial” wasn’t an official option until the last decade or so in  any official data collection attempts.  So the question is – how can we compare current numbers of “multiracial” folks to past numbers, if there are no past numbers?

We can’t.  At least not accurately.  Instead, folks employ all sorts of other statistical methods (all with their own flaws) to extrapolate that data from what they can find from past records.

But past records didn’t allow for “multiracial” individuals.  For all practical purposes, we’ve been talking “one-drop” up until now, so any “mixed” people were “monoracial” back in the day.  Hell – even Obama isn’t acceptably “multiracial” in a lot of folks’ eyes today.  So any guess – no matter how “statistically rigorous” – on how many “multiracial” folks there used to be is just that: a guess.

So yeah – anecdotally-speaking, it seems like there are a lot more mixed folks, but we can’t really prove that.  It’s probably true, but I bet it’s a much smaller increase than everybody’s claiming.

“Mixed kids are a step towards greater overall racial diversity.”

So let’s say there really is a huge increase in mixed folks in the U.S.  Then what?

The bolded statement above?  A huge assumption that’s not necessarily true, either.

Let me give you an example: take a bi-racial (white/Asian) gal.  Say she marries a “mono-racial” white guy and has kids.  In all likelihood, what are those kids going to look like, and how are they going to identify themselves, racially (and be identified)?  Yeah – probably as “white.”

So, in that case, the mixed girl was actually an interim step towards less blood of color in her family’s genepool.  Add to this example the fact that most white-and-“other” mixed folks tend to marry and have kids with other “monoracial” white folks (especially in Asian communities), and it just stretches out the case that mixed kids often lead to less racial diversity on an overall level.

Is this the majority of the cases?  (*4) Maybe, maybe not.  But it’s certainly common enough to dispense with that particular myth, and call into question the drastic increases expected based on current numbers.

“Brazil.”

Brazil is ridiculously mixed (between 40 and 50% of the population).  There are specific names for many of the different racial combinations possible, because it’s so common.

So Brazil must be “post-racial,” right?  Um.  Not so much.  The racial hierarchy remains the same, color-wise (lightest skin at the top, darkest at the bottom). They just have more names for the “in-between” folks.  Subsequently, there is just as much (or more) racism and conflict, but with more epithets to throw around.

Great.

In the States, Hawaii is the most-mixed State by far, and the extent of racial conflict (kids throwing stones at white people in the street, for instance) and tension definitely competes for the highest in the U.S.

In real life, greater levels of true diversity (ie. not just a couple “token” folks, but more evenly-represented groups) tend to bring on greater levels of conflict.  Because, in those situations, when there is cultural misunderstanding and/or negative interactions, the “majority” doesn’t have the overwhelming numbers to make the “other” folks just “shut up and take it.”  Suddenly, “those minorities” are actually speaking their minds and standing up for themselves on a regular basis – and this shakes things up, obviously.

“We’re all human beings.”

We are.  It’s true.

However, that doesn’t make race “not matter.”

It does mean that some mixed folks have better racial understanding and ability to “see it from both sides.”  It also means that plenty of mixed folks have no f-ing clue, or don’t care, or “don’t want to get involved” just like all the rest of humanity.  Meaning a whole lot more ethnically-ambiguous folks like me doesn’t necessarily suggest that “understanding” is going to increase at all

And finally . . . “The Social Network”

So I don’t agree with the pundits.  I don’t think the numbers mean what other folks want them to mean.  Great.

That said, it’s more than that.  Because I worry about how people are using these numbers.  How people are talking about the “inevitability” of a more-diverse nation, and the subsequent “inevitability” of greater racial understanding as a result.

My problem with that is that it’s so passive, and it completely ignores how social/political change actually happens in the world.

To better understand what I’m getting at, let’s check out Facebook, the newest world superpower:

The most current statistics I can find seem to have Facebook carrying about 250 million users, with the numbers continuing to increase.  (*5)  The site is pretty much omnipresent, as far as modern media goes,  they made a dramatic movie about it that got all sorts of Oscars love, and now folks are claiming Facebook’s responsibility (along with Twitter, of course) in fomenting revolution across the Middle East . . .

Now how the Hell did that all happen?

To state the obvious – they created a social movement, which worked like any other social movement:  First, some guy (or multiple guys – I’m not trying to judge) got an idea and got a bunch of hard-working folks together.  Then, these folks took all sorts of risks and developed a product.  Next, they convinced other folks higher up to take their own risks to fund it and push it out into the world, “early-adopters” took some social risks to get on board, then more folks, bla, bla, bla . . . and then Facebook took over the world.

But was any of it “inevitable”?

Well, let’s look at Facebook about five years ago:  Lots of folks were using their product, they were in the public eye, they were getting a decent chunk of MySpace’s market share.  Other up-and-coming social networks were out there, too, but Facebook was near the top.

So what if the Facebook folks had seen all that and said, “We’ve arrived. We’ve been increasing in size steadily, and if we continue to grow like that, we’re going to be huge in five years.  So let’s just chill on it, leave our product as-is, and wait for the world domination to begin . . .”?

Um.  Right.  That seems patently ridiculous, and it’s obviously not what they did to become the power that they are today.

And yet, with another social trend – that of “increased multi-racial individuals in the States” – we all want to read the statistics and pretend that it’s all going to continue and keep getting better without any extra effort on our part.  Folks want the comfort of thinking, “I don’t have to actively do anything at all, and racial conflict will handle itself – see the numbers?”

As if thousands of individuals (maybe millions) haven’t sacrificed and risked and fought for the last many generations to get to this point.  As if thousands (and millions) more won’t have to fight to keep up the momentum and get beyond this current, still-unequal, state.  As if Facebook could have gotten so huge without “normal” people signing on as active users.

The same applies to the U.S. today.  Everybody got all “rah-rah” and excited about voting for Obama, patted themselves on the back and hit the streets for his victory, and then said, “we arrived.”  And now?  Our lawmakers are more racist (Arizona), classist (Wisconsin), and nationalist (“outsourcing” debates), than any other period in my generation’s lifetimes.

Because Facebook has active users, and Obama got the equivalent of millions signing up for an account (a vote) without ever checking or updating it.  And then everybody gets disappointed with the results?  Please.  The U.S. president only has the power to do what is “safe” or generally acceptable enough to get away with.  And if the general public isn’t doing the work to make “equality” safe or acceptable for the lawmakers to act on . . ?

So.  There are probably more mixed folks in the States.  Meaning more interracial relationships.  Possibly meaning a little bit more racial understanding in the world.  Right now.

But where is it all heading?  That, we can’t know.  No passive numbers or statistics can tell us that.  Only the actions of large numbers of individuals.  Only risk and hard work.

And right now?  While a bunch of us are passively looking at these statistics or patting ourselves on the back for a freaking vote, the Tea Party and Arizona and Wisconsin lawmakers are getting active users ala Facebook.

So great – you signed up for an account.  But now what are you going to do to make your “social network” mean something?

(this article was written by the CVT, who has no affiliation, public or private, with Facebook or any of their people . . .  really)

(*1) I wrote on it back then.  However the writing was, in my opinion, pretty bad, which is why I’m “re-visiting” in this fashion, but if you want to check it out for a laugh, it’s here.

(*2) With articles such as this one from the New York Times.

(*3) I’ve seen some pretty shady “data massaging” in my past work in the field of Psych research.  Sadly, I’ve since learned that that’s pretty standard practice, which is why I’m certain that the majority of scientific “findings” out in the world are complete fabrications.  When results are the only way to get more funding (via grants, etc.), people do what they have to do to get “results.”

(*4) I’m kicking myself here, because I read a great article that had all the numbers on this many years ago, and I haven’t been able to track it back down.

(*5) Unfortunately, I’m not one of those 250 million, cuz I live in China.

2 comments

  1. I’d just like to say that your site is absolutely amazing. As an Asian American, I never really thought about any of these things until recently, as I’m writing a blog about Asian American identity for my writing class, I stumble upon a LOT of blogs concerning Asian American issues. I am leaving a comment on this post, but I read your education for the masses posts, and it has shed light on so many things and really opened my eyes. Bravo on a great great blog, I am kicking myself for not discovering this earlier!


  2. [...] a Guide for ‘Multi-racial Understanding’By Guest Contributor The CVT, cross-posted from CHOP-TENSILSWith the lead-up to Obama’s inauguration, there was a ton of chatter about multi-racial people and [...]



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