The Diversity Paradox.
I recently finished a book called "The Diversity Paradox" written by couple of sociologists (I believe) that collates information taken from the most recent census and extrapolates on the changing face of America's ethnic make-up and the way in which this is changing America's view of race and race relations. The study asks how, or if, the increasing numbers of immigrants from Latin America and Asia are changing white America's relationships and attitudes towards its ethnic minorities and suggests that high inter-marriage between Asians or Latinos with whites might be creating a new ethnic line of demarcation in which whites, Asians, and Latinos fall on one side of the barrier, and a disadvantaged black group on the other.
Overall, I thought that the book was very thoroughly researched but I found myself noticing that many of the suggested conclusions of the study defied my observations and presented an overly optimistic (and, even unrealistic) view of the nature of race-relations in America, both in the present and for the future, and seemed to overlook some vital aspects of the Asian-American experience that might have cast doubt on the book's conclusions.
For instance, having spent almost the entire book exploring the idea that high out-marriage rates of Asian-Americans (women, that is) might indicate a blurring of the boundary between white and Asian groups and be leading to greater integration and assimilation (and hence, I presume, greater tolerance), the authors add a half paragraph disclaimer at the back of the book that "there are gender differences (in out-marriage rates) that require further study". Uh-huh. That, to me, renders the conclusions of the previous chapters somewhat inconclusive. But more about this later.
To cover this book, I've focused on two conclusions the study makes, one of which I thought was contentious the other was simply worthy of comment, so I'm not claiming this to be a comprehensive critique.
The first point that the book makes and with which I agree, is the observation that immigrants choose to align with whiteness as opposed to blackness. This is interesting because at the time of early Asian immigration, although blacks were classified as citizens, Asians argued for citizenship based on the idea that they were white and thus eligible even though they could have just have easily (and who knows, perhaps more successfully) argued that they were eligible based on being "black".
So, almost built into the process of acceptance into the privileged class (particularly for a visible minority like Asians) involved an implicit acknowledgement, and perhaps even acquiescence to the notion of an inevitable inferior social status of the black under-class. Interestingly, even since the early days of non-European immigration America's racism created a perceived need for separation amongst its visible minorities as one of the means to maintain the racial hierarchy. In recent years, there has been a blurring of this phenomenon, in the sense that aligning with blacks culturally has become fashionable, although it has to be said that white Americans seem as likely to do this as are immigrant groups.
It is also interesting to note that for Asian-Americans in the culture business, this process of aligning with whiteness has become the most likely avenue of success for those aspiring to mainstream recognition. Hence, much creative work produced by Asian-Americans involves an exaggerated depiction of Asian cultural and human backwardness, an obsequious deference to an imagined concept of white cultural perfection, as well as an almost universal absence of non-white and non-Asian characters, and even perhaps a deliberate blindness to wider social issues that might highlight negative aspects of the white culture that is being aspired to.
The next point of interest is the suggestion that inter-marriage indicates blurring of racial and social boundaries and even, perhaps, acceptance into mainstream society and can be seen as the final step to full assimilation. According to sociologists inter-marriage is the final boundary that is overcome by immigrant groups leading to full integration or assimilation. Recalling the experiences of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe, it had been noted that inter-marriage seemed to be an indication of society's acceptance of these groups as true Americans and led (or coincided) with increased prosperity and social empowerment. Yet, I cannot help but feel as though applying this reasoning to Asian-Americans ignores huge aspects of the Asian experience that were not faced by these earlier Caucasian immigrants, and which continue to be a barrier to Asian-Americans in the present.
Because Asian-Americans grow up in a society that routinely denigrates them, their race, racial characteristics, and their cultures, many of them develope negative attitudes towards themselves and others who look like them. This attitude is often and routinely expressed by Asian-Americans from internet forums and online communities, to works of literature and film but the fact is that Asian children in America learn one thing from American culture and that is to feel shame and embarrassment about themselves. It is a constant stream of exposure to the ubiquitous portrayals and images of Asian deficiencies that proliferate throughout American culture that is the basis upon which many Asians form their ideas about themselves and their identities - naturally they tend not to hold their cultures, race, or even themselves, in high esteem.
This can only place doubt on the conclusion that inter-marriage with Asian-Americans somehow diminishes negative attitudes, or increases tolerance towards Asians because, quite simply, many Asians themselves adopt these negative attitudes. So even though at this point I couldn't state categorically that Asian high out-marriage rates do not increase tolerance, I think it is reasonable to say that cultural denigration of Asians creates a sense of shame and a desire for distance from their culture of origin and ethnicity. Anecdotally, I (and I'm sure many of you) have encountered a good number of Asian-Americans (both who out-date/marry or do not) who, at best, have few positive things to say about Asians, or at worst, are almost vehement in their hostility to their own race or culture. And, no, it's not just date-only-white-guys-Asian women who do this!
Of course, for the Asian minority, high out-marriage rates occur predominantly between Asian women and white men, whilst out-marriage rates for Asian men are relatively low. This should cast some degree of doubt on the conclusion of it being an indicator of improved attitudes because, historically, anti-miscegenation laws and attitudes were primarily designed to prevent white women from marrying or having relationships with minority men, whilst at the same time, white men were routinely engaging in miscegenation with black or Asian women. Because anti-miscegenation had traditionally focused on preventing Asian men from assimilating into mainstream culture it would seem more reasonable to take out-marriage rates for Asian men as a more accurate gauge of a general decrease in negative attitudes.
These out-marriage differences within the Asian community suggests that, at best, it might be more accurate to say that in addition to racial lines that are being re-drawn, for the Asian community there is also a gender line being drawn within the community, with Asian women having smoother access to, and therefore falling on, the "white" side of the divide and Asian men outside of it. The gender imbalance in out-marriage rates for Asian men and women only indicates that it is, perhaps, Asian women who are being "promoted" into whiteness and that the gender differences that are perfunctorily acknowledged at the end of the book is actually indicative of an increasingly profound social separation between Asian men and women. You can think of this as a kind of model minority within a model minority.
Consider also that it has been estimated that between 1945 and 1965 there was something in the region of 100,000 marriages between American G.Is and Asian "war brides", yet, during that period and the subsequent twenty years, attitudes towards Asians didn't really improve and it could be argued that anti-Asianism increased beginning around the late 1970's and continuing, perhaps to this day. So altogether I think it is a dubious claim that inter-marriage carries with it an implicit and inevitable decrease in negative attitudes towards Asians - if high out-marriage rates of Asian women in the 1950's and 60's didn't decrease racism, why should we reasonably believe that it is having this effect now?.
Finally, the biggest obstacle to the Asian minority becoming fully accepted and assimilated (and which is not addressed in the book) lies in the unique political and historical relationship between the US and various Asian countries. Historically, America's attitude towards Asia is founded on its past colonial aspirations. Because America has historically seen itself in civilizational conflict with Asian nations, its attitudes towards Asian people has been and remains, combative, uncompromising, xenophobic, hostile, and intolerant. This is evident to this day - political rhetoric often exhibits these types of qualities and, as I often point out, American culture is suffused with a sadistic violence in its portrayals of Asian men. In fact, recent studies that show Asian children experience high levels of racial harassment from peers and that in the workplace Asians are harassed for any reason, would also indicate that the high inter-marriage rates have so far done little to promote tolerance.
Because immigrants from Europe have never had to overcome this type of civilizational antagonism they have not had to endure the protracted xenophobic stereotyping, political combativeness, and uncompromising hostility that characterizes the Asian experience. I would suggest that anti-Asian attitudes are as common and widely-held now as they were at the time of the Exclusion Acts and the Second World War. It is because Asian children are exposed to hateful images and stereotypes that many of them adopt these same attitudes making it highly plausible that marrying an Asian-American is unlikely to contribute to an increase tolerance or positive attitudes towards Asian people.