In the realm of race, the trend is blend

November 29, 1996|By Ben Wattenberg

MUCH, BUT NOT ALL, of what is going on in the realm of race is hard to appraise.

On Election Day the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) passed by 54 percent to 46 percent. Opponents say CCRI will destroy affirmative action. Supporters (like me) think it will de-emphasize preferences.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled that certain majority black congressional districts were invalid and that race-conscious districting sent a "pernicious" message. Many civil rights leaders said the court's decision was a disaster, that whites won't vote for blacks, and that the number of black members of Congress would sharply decline.

But the five black members who were re-districted into majority white districts all won. Civil rights leaders now say they won only because affirmative action had first made them incumbents. Others (like me) applaud the result and note that every politician has to start out as a nonincumbent.

The only black member of Congress who did lose in 1996 was a quite conservative Republican, Gary Franks of Connecticut, whose loss had nothing to do with racial redistricting.

Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., who is black, bade Mr. Franks farewell, calling him a "Negro Dr. Kervorkian." In response, Mr. Franks noted that Mr. Clay had not been one of his principal admirers.

The titles of two new books tell you more than you want to hear about the matter: "The Coming Race War in America: A Wake-up Call," by columnist Carl Rowan, and "The Coming Race War? And Other Apocalyptic Tales of America After Affirmative Action and Welfare," by law professor Richard Delgado.

Exit polls on Election Day set up a hypothetical race for the presidency between Gen. Colin Powell and President Bill Clinton. Mr. Powell won by 11 points. A new trial heat by Fox matched Vice President Albert Gore and Mr. Powell. The general was up by 28 points.

Some brass at Texaco said some very bad words, or used a nasty tone, or both, about blacks. The company is accused of obstruction of justice in a race-discrimination law suit. Black Texaco employees have received a $176 million settlement.

The vast majority of white Americans believe O.J. Simpson is guilty of double murder. The rate of blacks who believe him innocent has fallen substantially, although it is still more than half, according to CNN-USA Today.

Hard to sort out. Trends are not apparent.

But there is some newly refined data that does seem to show a strong tendency.

Melting pot, not mosaic

There has been a long argument about whether America is a "melting pot," or rather just a "mosaic," a "salad bowl" or a "stew," whose definitions can range from glorious groupism to tribal co-existence.

Americans of European ancestry have melted. Results from the 1990 Census show that 84 percent of all Polish Americans have married exogamously (that is, married non-Polish American partners).

Euromelt has been going on for a quite a while. But what of newer immigrants and nonwhites?

Sociologist Zhenchao Qian of Arizona State University has used census figures to calculate that just under half of young Asian Americans had out-married as of 1980. In 1990 the proportion had climbed to almost two-thirds.

Among young Latinos, out-marriage constituted 30 percent of the unions recorded in 1980 and 36 percent in 1990.

The trend is blend, toward melt, not mosaic.

Exogamy among blacks

The starkest change, from the lowest base, has occurred among African Americans.

Writing in the New Democrat, Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute and Timothy Sullivan of Southern Illinois jTC University have used census figures and data from the National Center for Health Statistics to compute a timeline for new marriages involving at least one black partner. In 1970 just 3 percent married whites. The rate was 7 percent in 1980, 11 percent in 1990 and 12 percent in 1993.

Does all this mean that as we move into the next century race will be much less of an issue? That we will all end up bland and blended? That (as I believe) we will fulfill our difficult destiny as the first universal nation?

Not so fast, says Professor Richard Alba of the State University of New York, and the dean of the study of exogamy in America. Intermarriage, he says, is indeed a critical step in the process of assimilation. But marriage rates are generally low within the black community.

The issue of race has been with America from day one, and it's not going away.

He does note, however, that for the first time there is serious evidence that blacks are becoming a serious ingredient of the melting pot of exogamy.

Ben Wattenberg, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is host of the weekly public television program "Think Tank."

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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