*35 years ago William Julius Wilson published a book arguing that race was decreasing in significance within American society. It seems that we are seeing his words come to fruition – and not only within the United States.
The presidential election of Barack Obama in 2008 was a monumental step in American history as it confirmed that the populace could put their trust in an African-American to be the face of the country and help direct national policy. But even more telling than that are the demographic and cultural changes that have become cemented in American life since 1978.
Namely, Wilson formulated, researched, and wrote his thesis at the end, and in the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. Wilson is looking at the first fruits of people who benefited from racial integration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and predicting that this first wave of people will be successful with these new opportunities. Whereas generations of African-Americans leading up to 1978 could expect to work in a limited number of jobs, three generations later, we are able to see how integral African-Americans have become throughout all industries.
The Civil Rights Movement is primarily the story of African-Americans gaining increased access to the American dream but the story is not limited to African-Americans. Since the 1950s there has been a steady increase in how many Latinos (both legal and illegal) there are in the country. This has led to statisticians predicting that within the next century Latinos will outnumber Caucasians in the United States. Such a change in the general population will be extremely important in the metamorphosis of our society.
On an everyday level there are some critical changes taking place as well. A television commercial for Cheerios recently ignited a controversy because it matter-of-factly depicted an interracial couple with a bi-racial child. While some people reacted negatively, many more were surprised that there would be a negative reaction. The commercial proved that the people in charge of Cheerios saw nothing outlandish about an interracial couple; furthermore it proves that they thought a majority the American public would also be OK with the family, and that their brand would not be undermined by the commercial. This is because the of the increase in actual interracial couples in the country.
More people of color, and more opportunities for people of color, has led to more mixed ethnicity relationships and families. And this is not a phenomenon restricted to the United States. Many Western European countries are experiencing a similar population surge from their former colonial subjects in Africa and Asia.
There is a book called The Ysis Papers which theorizes that Caucasian people are subconsciously afraid of people of color because of possibility that people of color can eliminate Caucasians by inter-breeding. This may or may not have been true in 1913 or 1813, but if the Cheerio commercial is any indication, it is certainly not true in 2013. Caucasian people, specifically of younger generations are less likely to see their biracial nephew as somehow different from their family, than they are to simply accept him.
The turd in this punch bowl is the rise in violent groups espousing a philosophy that only allows for the success of people of Caucasian descent. I however view these groups and their efforts as the death throes of an outlook and time period ready to fade into history. The actions of these groups are similar to those who opposed multiple religions within one society in years past (think Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries), and yet today most people in our society accept wholeheartedly those of other faiths. The same can be said of the struggle for citizenship privileges by the LGBTQ community, and we see those obstacles being overcome all over the United States. Negative reactions to an individual’s ethnic/racial background are also going the way of the dinosaur.
As someone who weeks ago wrote about the role race played in the Trayvon Martin verdict, I cannot conclude that a post racial society is upon us. But nor should we strive for it. Race/ethnicity is one of the variables of human existence that makes the United States wonderful. But a post racist society is something we can and have been working towards since the 1950s and I dare say progress has been made.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]