Thursday, January 31, 2008

Watching Michael Lind Change America's Racial Categories to Support His Own Half-Baked Ideas

Shorter Michael Lind: Don't worry America, your future is safe. Latinos are nothing like the blacks. You see, they are actually white.

I hesitate to actually recommend this Michael Lind piece in the British journal Prospect, but it's so astoundingly bad that I'll link to it anyway.

Lind's thesis is that all these myths about America (it's about to be taken over by fundamentalists, the Boomers are bankrupting the nation, it will be soon be non-white) are just that, myths.

The problem comes when Lind starts making shit up about race. Lind says that the idea of a future non-white majority is ridiculous because Latinos are actually white. He attacks the racial classification system in America, which is fine. But that system reflects actual beliefs among Americans that if you have one drop of non-white blood in you, then you are not white. Lind writes:

According to the government, "Hispanics" may be of any race as long as they are of Latin American ancestry. So, a blond, blue-eyed Argentinian-American whose grandparents showed up from Germany in Argentina mysteriously in 1946 is a "Hispanic" while an Arab-American Muslim is a "non-Hispanic white."

He's right these categories are stupid. But it is how Americans have thought for a very long time. Has he not read Twain's Puddinhead Wilson? You know, the story where two very white men in antebellum America are switched at birth. The slave mother put her very white baby in the master's son's crib and took the master's son and put it in the slave crib. This is not discovered until they are adults. Then they take the supposed master's son, who has turned into a real jerk, and put him in the slave cabins.

They were both white, but it didn't matter. While interracial relationships are becoming more common, including in small southern towns, that doesn't mean that society as a whole think their kids are white. Stupid classifications like this are going to continue, but this is also how many Americans will think of these people. So in their own way, these seemingly arbitrary categories are actually somewhat useful.

Lind is happy to note that 1/2 of second-generation Latinos speak no Spanish at all. Is this a good thing, as Lind suggests? That's the problem underlying this whole article. I don't generally think of Lind as a racist and maybe he just explained himself poorly. In fact, I still don't think Lind is a racist, despite this article's sheer badness. But he seems to assume that America should be a white nation and that all of these statistics he cites are good news. I have no idea why except that he thinks they mean that America won't experience any race wars. Well, great.

Also underlying this whole argument is that African-Americans are going to remain non-white, and well, what are you going to do. He cites a statistic showing that blacks are starting to marry outside their race, which he considers great, but sad that more don't. I'm not sure if it's great or not--to me it just is--but it's certainly not great because all this intermarriage will create the non-racialized American nation Lind seems to want.

But Lind sure seems awfully happy to report that Latinos and Asians are really white and because of this, America's future is secure.

However, you can't just redefine the nation's racial categories to make your argument. That's just weak.

Via Eric Rauchway at Edge of the American West who asks, "I don’t think Lind means that if there were going to be a non-white majority, that we could consider that America no longer still works, or that it would no longer be a great power. Does he?"