Are We ‘Black No More’? Not Quite

All of this postracialism talk says more about how far Americans have to go than how far we've come.

Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson, whose church refused to marry them because they are black (WPTV)
Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson, whose church refused to marry them because they are black (WPTV)

(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.