Today was going to be a post about talking with my grandmother, but a timely post relating to it being the observed anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth seemed appropriate. Prompting this topic change, a friend of mine from high school, whom I believe is a German currently living abroad in London, posted this article reflecting on the state of the races in public education. To sum it up, we are more segregated today than we were at the time of King's assassination, we are not doing enough to reverse this trend, and there is evidence that this is quite harmful to our education system.
Fortunately for you, my dear reader, I abhor doom and gloom calls to action. If forced to confront something horrible, say in an ad on Hulu, I am quite likely to make an internal joke about it in order to maintain my sense of self worth, such as it is, in the face of tragedy that I feel I can do nothing meaningful to ameliorate. So, rather than lament about racism in modern America, let us look at the richness that we have available to us.
It should not be news to you that the US has a long and sordid history of inter-racial interaction. To hit some lowlights, there was the acquisition of our geographical location from people who happened to already be living here, the enslavement and subsequent suppression of a rather large people group, concentration (I mean internment) camps, eugenics, and human experimentation, to list the worst ones to come to mind. However, keep in mind that our nations particularly vile history is, in big part, due to our rich diversity in people groups.
There is a correlation between how uniform a nation's population is and how much unrest it experiences. From this fact one can draw one of two conclusions, segregationists are justified and we ought try to keep races separate, or we here in the United States have a great opportunity to learn to coexist, a skill critically important as the world's far flung regions become more closely intertwined. Since I am not so much for segregation, I favor the latter.
How unique is our situation? I didn't look through the entire CIA world fact book, but here are some highlights. The UK, which appears to have a much more urbane view on racial equality, about 90% European. The data for France is less clear, since they have laws forbidding racial identification in census data, but working it out from a Wikipedia article, I estimate their European population to be at least 90% of the total. Germany is also at about 90%, as is Russia. In Sweden, that Western European socialist paradise, Swedes and Finns already make up 90% of the population between them. Consider the US, which is only 80% white, and here even the white population is more diverse than in a typical Western European nation. It is only natural that we have rockier racial relations, although this does not absolve us the responsibility to work through them.
The only other country with an 80-20 split that I found, South Africa. There was one nation that had an even smaller majority population, which was Canada. While we all no Canada is pretty much a Utopian dream state, another factor in their rather low atrocity to racial diversity ratio is their cultural view on race. Consider that, of the 34% of their population that is non-European, 26% is listed as mixed background. In the US only about 1.5% is listed as mixed background, and I seriously doubt these two numbers are measuring the same population.
In the US there has been a strong push to fit into neat categories, much to the detriment of inter-racial families, not that there weren't other factors mitigating against them. Consider our president, often called the first black president of the US. Calling him the first interracial president of the US somehow lacks the same kick in our society. Furthermore, the US census does not have a separate neat category for Latina/Latino peoples, so they tend to be in that 80% white. If one considers them to be, in some way, separate from white Americans, then it is projected that by the year 2050 whites will be a minority in the US, albeit the largest one at slightly less than 50%, but a minority nonetheless.
But wait, which nation has the low atrocity to racial diversity ratio, that's right, Canada. I think that there is much to be copied from their approach. Continuing the move away from a dichotomous classification of one's racial identity is an important step. If we cannot acknowledge that two races can equitably coexist inside one person, it seems a grim potent for their peaceful cohabitation of our nation. To take this a step further, I think that it is important to deprioritize racial affiliation. This does not mean ignoring unpleasant facts like the disproportional poverty levels in one people group over another, but rather examining if confounding factors like economic class of one's parents are better indicators than race. In short, I worry about our future if we continue to wrestle with the problem of inter-racial relations, but if we reframe the question as one of intra-humanitarian relations, keeping in mind the historic context which includes race without giving it undue significance, then I think we can forge ahead to a better future.