Are We ‘Black No More’? Not Quite

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(The Root) — Although 2012 did not produce the Mayan apocalypse, it did produce an unending drumbeat of claims for “postracial America.” So much so, I suspect, that if Harlem Renaissance novelist and essay writer George Schuyler had lived through it, he would be inspired to write a whole new version of his classic novel Black No More.

In the main, the book is a biting satire of the dilemmas created by race and race prejudice in the United States, with the plot driven by the deeds of Harlemites Max Disher and his friend Bunny Brown. They concoct a way to make black people white. Yet as the book unfolds, the problems associated with race seem to infinitely multiply rather than vanish. There is a lesson for us there.

Think about all the grist for Schulyer’s mill we received over the past year. In January of 2012, researchers declared it to be “The End of the Segregated Century.” No sooner, however, had this conservative Manhattan Institute report come out than it became the subject of a wave of criticism. Of course, everyday experience and common sense makes it evident that distinctly black communities and “the ghetto” have not disappeared.

If we artificially set a criterion of 80 percent black neighborhoods as meaning “segregation,” then yes, we’ve experienced big declines in racial isolation. The end of segregation? Not hardly. As research by sociologist John Logan showed, a majority of urban blacks still live in neighborhoods that demographers classify as “highly segregated.” But if you’d read only the headlines, you’d have inferred that we were rapidly becoming “black no more.”

Take the case of marriage and the family. Back in February the headlines told us that “Interracial Marriage Seen Gaining Wide Acceptance” (New York Times) and “Intermarriage Rates Soar as Stereotypes Fall” (Washington Post). And indeed, a Pew Center study showed that 8 percent of all marriages and fully 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 involved people of different races or ethnicities. Certainly this is real change from the Jim Crow past.

But don’t let headlines create too distorted a picture for you. Every now and then it helps to look at all the numbers. In this instance, a full 85 percent — the overwhelming majority — of all marriages in 2010 occurred within traditional racial and ethnic boundaries.

Helping to keep things in perspective is the 2011 incident involving the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Kentucky, which banned interracial couples from membership and certain church services. And in 2012, Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson, a black couple, were initially forbidden to be married in the predominantly white Crystal Springs, Miss., church they attended. It is a little early, perhaps, to declare us postracial on the marriage front.

(The Root) — Although 2012 did not produce the Mayan apocalypse, it did produce an unending drumbeat of claims for “postracial America.” So much so, I suspect, that if Harlem Renaissance novelist and essay writer George Schuyler had lived through it, he would be inspired to write a whole new version of his classic novel Black No More.

In the main, the book is a biting satire of the dilemmas created by race and race prejudice in the United States, with the plot driven by the deeds of Harlemites Max Disher and his friend Bunny Brown. They concoct a way to make black people white. Yet as the book unfolds, the problems associated with race seem to infinitely multiply rather than vanish. There is a lesson for us there.

Think about all the grist for Schulyer’s mill we received over the past year. In January of 2012, researchers declared it to be “The End of the Segregated Century.” No sooner, however, had this conservative Manhattan Institute report come out than it became the subject of a wave of criticism. Of course, everyday experience and common sense makes it evident that distinctly black communities and “the ghetto” have not disappeared.

If we artificially set a criterion of 80 percent black neighborhoods as meaning “segregation,” then yes, we’ve experienced big declines in racial isolation. The end of segregation? Not hardly. As research by sociologist John Logan showed, a majority of urban blacks still live in neighborhoods that demographers classify as “highly segregated.” But if you’d read only the headlines, you’d have inferred that we were rapidly becoming “black no more.”

Take the case of marriage and the family. Back in February the headlines told us that “Interracial Marriage Seen Gaining Wide Acceptance” (New York Times) and “Intermarriage Rates Soar as Stereotypes Fall” (Washington Post). And indeed, a Pew Center study showed that 8 percent of all marriages and fully 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 involved people of different races or ethnicities. Certainly this is real change from the Jim Crow past.

But don’t let headlines create too distorted a picture for you. Every now and then it helps to look at all the numbers. In this instance, a full 85 percent — the overwhelming majority — of all marriages in 2010 occurred within traditional racial and ethnic boundaries.

Helping to keep things in perspective is the 2011 incident involving the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Kentucky, which banned interracial couples from membership and certain church services. And in 2012, Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson, a black couple, were initially forbidden to be married in the predominantly white Crystal Springs, Miss., church they attended. It is a little early, perhaps, to declare us postracial on the marriage front.

The current habit of America’s vastly exaggerated self-congratulation for each minor to modest step toward racial progress is a case in point. Following Schuyler’s insight from Black No More, all the bellowing about moving toward postracialism reveals less about how far we’ve come and much more about about just how far we have yet to go.

Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.

 

Source: http://www.theroot.com/views/are-we-black-no-more-not-quite?page=0,1&wpisrc=root_lightbox

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