For Release Sunday, July 4, 2010
America is changing: we have a black president, increasing diversity in the ranks of the nation’s CEOs, and a new generation seemingly at ease with racial and other differences. And a lot more change is in the works: by 2042, the county will be majority-minority, by 2023 the majority of those under the age of 18 will be youth of color, and this year or next will the first (but not the last) in which the majority of births in the U.S. will be to black, Latino and Asian parents.
It’s enough to make pundits wax about a new “post-racial” era in which race and ethnicity are less salient as social and political categories. But despite what is surely a startling shift in attitudes (Tea Party undertones notwithstanding), the income gap between African Americans and Latinos on the one hand and whites on the other has remained stable since the mid-1970s, even as the recent wave of foreclosures has shattered the wealth of those homeowners, disproportionately of color, who came late to the housing boom.
So why, then, the “post-racial” appeal? Part of it, of course, stems from the hope that some of America’s thorniest problems — the residues of slavery, Jim Crow, and racially restrictive immigration laws — will just go away. Part of it is that race is difficult to talk about: whites with the best intentions worry that they will say the wrong thing while people of color resent it when they are seen through the sole prism of their skin and not their full identities.