"Reader Comment/Response"March/April 2012 issue of Poverty & Race
Comment:I was surprised that Manuel Pastor and Vanessa Carter seem to forget that race is socially determined and defined (“Reshaping the Social Contract: Demographic Distance and Our Fiscal Future,” P&R, January/February 2012). Consequently, the authors cannot assume that American racial categories will be the same in 2050 as they are today. Projecting current trends, by 2050, many middle-class people now described as Asians or Latinos will be considered white.
Moreover, with about 10% of today's marriages already interracial, a large number of their children may be defining themselves as multiracials. (Remember, in the l9th century, the then-dominant whites whitened the "black Irish," and in the 20th, the originally "swarthy" Southern and Eastern European "races" who began arriving in the 1880s.) As a result, whites may still be numerically dominant in 2050. It is also possible that the majority-minority "line," should there be just one, will be divided into higher-class/Lighter-skinned people and lower-class/darker ones. Further, if Latino immigration remains low, many present Latinos are whitened and racism remains intense, African Americans will not only be at the bottom but could be farther below the rest of the population economically and politically than today. The programs the two authors discuss aren’t going to help poor African Americans and other dark-skinned people much now, and if my scenario makes sense, we need to start thinking about more drastic policies and how they can be implemented.
Herbert J. Gans
Response:We thank Professor Gans for his response to our article—and are indeed honored that it provoked his interest. We concur that race is a social construct and that it is a very real determinant in the everyday lives of all Americans. And that is exactly why any new approaches to politics, policies and programs must address the realities of racial disparity and avoid the sort of “leapfrogging” to whiteness that Gans raises.
That said, we think he is misreading some key trends in racial identity, misinterpreting our understanding of the importance of Black economic and political progress, and perhaps misreading the logic of our policy recommendations.
First, since the Census introduced the category Hispanic/Latino, the share of Latinos marking white has been on a steady decline. While it’s true that the share marking white rose from 48% in 2000 to 53% in 2010, that seems mostly related to the fact that the question now explicitly (and in bolded text) says that Hispanic is not a race and that respondents must mark a race. Even then, the share marking “other”—essentially rejecting U.S. racial categories—was still 37%. Moreover, in statistical analysis conducted with Laura Pulido of USC, we found that time in country is actually correlated with the share marking “other” rising—there’s something about encountering the anti-immigrant fervor in this country that just beats the “white” out of you.
Even if Gans is right to worry about the temptation of white privilege for Latinos and others, we think the best way to keep that productive sense of “otherness” alive is to strengthen authentic coalitions between Latinos, Asians and African Americans. Indeed, we were somewhat surprised by his sense of our treatment of African Americans, particularly as we have long contended that the only way to secure progress for new immigrants is through investing in the full economic integration of traditional African-American communities. Because of that, we’ve written about workforce strategies that fit both Black and Brown; partnered with a historically Black church to help its leaders renew their new social justice agenda in a now immigrant Latino neighborhood; and highlighted the importance of coalitions in our latest report, All Together Now: African Americans, Immigrants and the Future of California.
Finally, we accept that our policy package—tying disinvested neighborhoods into regional economies; reversing the school-to-prison pipeline; tailoring workforce development programs to specific communities; and putting all this in the context of major tax and fiscal reform—could be more “drastic.” However, we were also considering political feasibility, and we’d be glad to move the needle in the ways that we recommend even as we join with Gans and others in an even more ambitious agenda to achieve equity in contemporary America.
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