My colleague for the week, Jamelle Bouie, gets a shout-out from Ta-Nehisi Coates this morning for his assertion that Asians and Latinos will be thought of as "white" in the U.S. in the next 40-ish years, and that America’s essential black-white race paradigm will simply morph a bit, into black-nonblack. (This is in rebuttal to the idea that "race" will disappear entirely someday.)
Jamelle’s basing this on intermarriage rates, and qualifies it by saying that some nonwhites will never "become" white. An example: by some economic and health metrics, Asians are already doing better than white people — but averages don’t tell the whole story, of course, and poor Asian communities often deal with systemic oppression doubly, both as immigrants and as people of color.
Working-class folks in San Francisco’s Chinatown are kept vulnerable with the same mechanism as all undocumented immigrant workforces: Threats of deportation keep efforts to organize at bay, and workers have no option besides long hours, low pay, dangerous conditions, and no sick leave. And, as a historically nonwhite neighborhood, Chinatown deals with the same aftershocks of racist zoning and lending policies that destroyed so much of black Detroit. Multiple families, or spouses sending remittances back home, are packed into single-resident occupancy flats since nothing else is affordable -- which meant that the foreclosure crisis hit Chinatown as hard or harder as it did any other once-redlined community. Add to this a manufacturing sector that evaporated once regulations on offshore labor were relaxed, perfect-storm conditions for untreated mental and physical health issues, and language and time constraints keeping workers out of job training programs -- well, it should come as no surprise that SF Chinatown’s unemployment rate was a full 30 percent back in 2007, pre-crash.
Looking at these non-white communities is illuminating, because they're kept "out" of whiteness by many of the same factors that keep black communities poor.
In the comments of Ta-Nehisi's post, he and Jamelle discuss the one-generation grace period that African immigrants experience before their kids are just black; it seems possible, in that same white-nonwhite frame, that children and grandchildren of Chinatown Asian immigrants actually get a bump toward whiteness via the same Americanizing process. But all the memorized Ke$ha lyrics in the world don’t stop cyclical economic, health, and housing disparities, especially in communities with a constant influx of new first-generation immigrants.
When we're talking intermarriage rates, we're talking community integration, and systemic perpetual poverty is our post-racial society's most powerful segregator. And thus, perhaps, it's the real determiner of whiteness.
(Relatedly, the excellent 2004 no-budget film Take Out is on Netflix Watch Instantly right now.)
-- Channing Kennedy