Whiteness transformed: The racial order in 2042

Filed under: Visions 2042 |

By Alison D. Goebel

I am a white middle class woman.  I grew up in the 1990s in the middle class suburbs of Chicago, one of the nation’s most segregated cities.  While I had classmates who were Arab American, Asian American, Latino and 1.5 generation Eastern European American, they didn’t live on my street, they lived elsewhere.  I don’t know where African American classmates, a handful at best, lived.  Occasionally, I might attend a birthday party at an Indian American friend’s house or pick up a Korean American pal for band practice.  These were always brief visits.

When I reflect on those fleeting moments I spent eating birthday cake in basement rec rooms or waiting on front porches, I’m struck by how vividly I remember my friends’ embarrassment.  Ashamed that their parents preferred, or only spoke, Polish or Spanish; uncomfortable that their families called them their given name, instead of the anglicized version I knew them by.  I clearly recall schoolmates minimizing their school absences for Eastern Orthodox and non-Christian holidays and self-consciously eating lunches which didn’t smell, look, or taste like mine.  I don’t remember any heritage clubs existing.  Racial, ethnic, or cultural pride wasn’t cool in suburbia, even as late as 1999 when I left for college.

Since then, ethnoracial pride has become a fact of life in Chicagoland and beyond.  And as a result, people and institutions in the United States can no longer ignore the increasingly complex ethnoracial landscape of which we are a part.  Although people of color and “racial” discussions are simultaneously reviled (note Arizona, with the passage of SB 1070) and celebrated (for example, through festivals or community cultural centers), racial understandings are changing.

With another giant step towards racial equity, by 2042, whiteness will no longer initiate embarrassment in people, about their histories, their languages, or their own families.  In being middle class, my friends and neighbors will no longer feel obliged to—or be accused of—“acting white.” The presence of my middle class whiteness will not silence, denigrate, or dismiss others. My phenotype will no longer accord me so many privileges.  To set the stage for this shift, much more needs to be done in the next thirty two years.

First, housing and neighborhoods will need to continue to integrate.  Already cities, suburbia and the rural U.S. are becoming more racially diverse.  Although gentrification and economic redlining whitens or keeps many places white, the economic crisis of 2008-09 has halted the runaway building of high-priced condos and financially exclusive new homes.  The housing collapse has also checked spiraling housing costs.  With comprehensive federal assistance programs over the next three decades, more and more people can have access to affordable and safe housing around the country.

Integrated neighborhoods are a key component of the movement toward racial equity.  In integrated neighborhoods (just like in monoracial or monoethnic areas), neighbors regularly interact with and observe each other.  Chasing down a runaway pet, smelling barbeque from the next house over, or waiting together outside an apartment building during a false fire alarm create moments that highlight our human similarities.  Chit-chat and shared experiences, even if temporary, can challenge and transcend presumed racial differences, giving us new and more accurate experiences from which to build our understandings of race.  Close friendships sometime arise out of neighborly relations; usually they don’t, but basic civil, neutral, relations often do.  In practicing civility and accepting difference, ethnoracial and cultural variation becomes unremarkable.  The embarrassment my classmates and I felt around each other would have been much reduced if we had regularly spent time seeing each other in our home environments, fulfilling our daily familial and neighborly duties.

Second, integrated neighborhoods mean integrated public schools (pre-kindergarten to university).  Like in integrated neighborhoods, integrated schools encourage children and young adults to socialize with each other in multiracial settings.  For young children, the educational environment fosters play and interactions with each other.  In those moments, children ask each other questions about their lives, and thus their racialized experiences.  Older students find commonalities in making fun of the same dorky teacher or suffering through the same tests, as well as participating in organized activities like sports and clubs. Race is not ignored or denied in any of these situations, but it is simply not the most important vector along which a relationship is made.  However, the trust that comes out of that friendly relationship allows for more honest and reflective conversations on race, racialization, and racism.

Today teachers are increasingly trained to teach a curriculum that accurately reflects the United States’ multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural past and present.  In a quarter century from now, it should be standard in all classrooms that educators teach a curriculum that sincerely includes (throughout the entire school year and not just in designated months) people of color.  Institutionalizing such standards contextualizes contemporary struggles for equity and justice and counteracts white supremacist media and legislation that demonize immigrants, people of color, and ethnonational Others.  A multiracial curriculum also forces white students, teachers, staff, and administrators—not just students of color—to thoughtfully engage with diversity. No longer will students of color be burdened with the responsibility, or feel compelled, to teach peers (and teachers) about their histories and experiences.  Multiracial and multicultural lessons will reflect lived realities, eliminating embarrassment about, for example, culturally particular holidays (like Día de los Muertos) and ethnoreligious practices (such as keeping kosher or halal).


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Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

0 Responses to Whiteness transformed: The racial order in 2042

  1. Although whiteness may not be considered “standard” in 2042, it will still be highly valued. White Supremacy is not devalued by the increasing numbers of non-white people. I envision a future America where people are living in race/culture segregated communities (which is not necessarily a bad thing). The lack of whites in these communities may “allow” people to express their ethnicity in a more authentic way. However, the power structures and the policy makers at local, state and national levels will still be those high value people considered closest to white.

    For real-world, modern day analogues, look at the political/power structure in Brazil. Sure, the country has all kinds of mixed race people dancing in the streets and eating strange foods, but the country is run by light-skinned politicians and the devout pray to a white Jesus. The money, power and influence goes to those closest to white. I won’t even mention South Africa, except to say, yes they elect Black politicians, but who owns property, who controls the economy?

    The author and her near-white ancestors will do just fine in a future like this. The rest of us Darkies will do fine, too, as long as we realize where the buck stops. Wrap me in Kente cloth and I may fail to notice how the society at-large is failing to educate my children and polluting my environment. Feed me some chitlins to keep me from choking on the bile that rises up when I see my land stolen and my labor devalued. Thank you for allowing us this opportunity to express our culture.

    June 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm

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