The obsessing of many Americans about race is not only undiminished by decades of improvements in race relations, it seems inversely related to improvements. The better things become, the more vehemently some people, white and black, insist that progress is, if not chimerical, certainly minimal and fragile.
The Democratic Party worries that progress threatens its ability to mobilize its African American base by cultivating fears. Some professional civil rights groups have a stake in an undiminished sense of victimhood. And many liberals relish what they consider the black-and-white clarity of race as an issue.
However, because Hispanics have supplanted blacks as America's largest minority, it is time to remove the race question from the census form. This would move race more toward the margin of American consciousness, where it belongs, and would be more true to racial and ethnic realities. And it would fuel the wholesome revolt against the racial and ethnic spoils system that depends upon racial and ethnic categorizations.
So argued Harvard social scientist Nathan Glazer in the fall 2002 issue of the Public Interest, an argument pertinent to Supreme Court deliberations about the constitutionality of the racial preferences in college admissions. Born irrational, the classifications are rapidly becoming anachronistic.
Irrational? Glazer asks: "Why does Hispanicity include people from Argentina and Spain -- but not from Brazil or Portugal? Are there really so many races in Asia that each country should consist of a single and different race, compared to simply 'white' for all of Europe and the Middle East? Why indeed do people of Spanish origin merit special treatment, as opposed to people from Italy, Poland or Greece?"
Anachronistic? Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School wrote in the December issue of the Atlantic Monthly about how "free trade in the marital marketplace" can produce a beneficent "creolization" or "browning" or "beiging" of America. The number of black-white marriages, although still fewer than 1 percent of marriages, has increased more than sevenfold since 1960, from 51,000 to about 360,000 today. In 1990 only 8 percent of black husbands had white wives, and only 4 percent of black wives had white husbands. But among married U.S.-born Asian Americans age 25 to 34, 36 percent of husbands and 45 percent of wives had white spouses.