Introduction to Visions 2042: Notes toward a Racial Order Transformed

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Formally and informally, in ways big and small, in their professional lives, their personal lives, or both, a great many people are working to advance the cause of racial equity and social justice in the United States and around the world. What would the United States look like in a generation or two if the successes of that work matched our aspirations?

This is the central question posed by Visions 2042: Notes toward a Racial Order Transformed, a project of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. 2042 is the year most often forecast by the US Census Bureau as the time when the United States becomes a country with no racial majority. Most Americans assume that in light of recent demographic trends such a tipping point is inevitable and that, once achieved, the moment will be of practical as well as symbolic significance.

Color me skeptical on both fronts. The “inevitability” argument assumes we’ll have similar racial identity options then as now, that the meanings of racial categories will be similar, and/or that similarly situated people will make similar identity choices then as they do now. All this is doubtful. But even if the shift comes, is it necessarily the case that numbers equal power? Not for blacks in South Africa, or Shi’as in Iraq, or peasants in China, or women in the United States and elsewhere, or… For that matter, do people of color and poor and working-class whites in the United States have social, political, or economic clout in proportion to their numbers now?

Still, whether or not demography proves to be destiny, 2042 is a convenient focal point for meditations on our racial future – far enough away for significant change to occur, not so far as to encourage flights of science fictionalizing. This, then, is the premise of Visions 2042: what would the successes of our collective racial justice work look like in that year? If the seeds of transformation are in place right now, how would we recognize them and what might they be? How do we move from here to there? Who has what role to play in that movement?

These are questions we very rarely ask, much less try to answer. This must change. Polls, focus groups, and everyday conversations with friends, family, acquaintances and strangers confirm that most Americans believe we already have “arrived” as a racially enlightened nation. Didn’t we just elect an African American Muslim president, after all? If we cannot articulate a positive vision of a racial future distinct from and preferable to our racial present, how can we expect skeptics to embrace the struggle – and, yes, perhaps the sacrifice – required to get there?

How can we formulate appropriate strategies without a clear vision of what we mean to achieve and some understanding of how our visions may diverge? You and I may both recognize the dismaying number of African Americans and Latinos in US prisons as an indictment of our justice system. But if my preferred future calls for smaller, proportional numbers of blacks and Latinos within prisons, while yours calls for the abolition of prisons altogether, we need to talk.  But first we must think ahead and compare notes on our thinking.

I recently attended the launch of the Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing initiative. One of the speakers there introduced me to the following quotation by TE Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), which wonderfully captures the impulse behind Visions 2042.

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

Starting today, and through Thursday of this week, we post a selection of responses to the Visions 2042 challenge submitted by dangerous women and men of all stripes. We continue to solicit 1,000-2,000 word reflections and will post more essays later in the summer. My heartfelt thanks go to all those who so generously shared their insights, inspirations, and aspirations for a healthier, more inclusive racial future. I hope your words will inspire still others to share theirs.

If you are interested in making a contribution, please contact me at [email protected].

Be well,


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Author: Kirwan Institute (431 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

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